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in the analog days, did engineers track with peaks at 0VU?
Old 5th October 2016
  #1
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in the analog days, did engineers track with peaks at 0VU?

Or did the average tracking level hover around that area with peaks going over?

Also, in todays 24bit recording world would your sound quality be compromised not sticking to softer tracking levels? And finally, wouldn't using a compressor with low settings while tracking be recommended for this very reason (some people say you shouldn't so to keep your options open)?

I can't put my finger on it, nor prove it, but when I used to track hotter (-4dbfs peak levels I know I know way too hot) my tracks never sounded great. Now, recording softer, I actually feel like my music sounds better and I am not sure if this is just my imagination or not.
Old 5th October 2016
  #2
VU meters don't show peaks. Also the machines were potentially aligned differently for different engineers/ sessions. Per of the alignment is essentially calibrating the meters (simplification) so that 0VU on the meter was some other operating level depending on the tape formulation and how hot the engineer wanted to hit the tape.

Since VU meters react slower than peak, some judgment had to be used when setting levels. Drums might show -10 or lower on the VU, but you would know the peak of as significantly higher. VU on a distorted guitar was much more similar to peak.

Best practices for levels in analog recording to tape with VU meters is pretty different from digital recording.
Old 5th October 2016
  #3
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Yes, in today's 24 bit world tracking softer will mean you have more headroom at mix time, leading to a better sounding final result. Tracking hot means you've already used up your headroom and the only place to go at mix time is into distortion.

I usually aim for peaks around -12.

-Mike
Old 5th October 2016
  #4
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Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by camomiletea View Post
Or did the average tracking level hover around that area with peaks going over?
Assuming by "peak" you mean the visual indication of a mechanical VU meter, it depended on a few things:

The recording level set up on the machine (is "0" 185 nW/M, or 250, or…?); the dynamic range of the source; the harmonic content of the source; the distance of the mic from the source; the headroom of the machine's electronics; and whether you were using high-grade or cheapo tape.

If you were using Dolby A or SR you'd ideally run everything much cooler.

As a side note, the owner of the first "real" studio I worked at had a mantra of "minus two, occasional zero." By which he meant literally that, but he also meant that your job was recording and not to get bothered by all the idiocy in a session that's someone else's job. I still say it to myself all the time.

Last edited by Brent Hahn; 5th October 2016 at 04:46 PM..
Old 5th October 2016
  #5
JAT
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As other have said, it depends. The meters are slow mechanical devices, which is not quite the same as LEDs or computer screens. ;-)

On average you didn't slam them, tho it was an option if the rest of the gear was up to it. Tape can be a wonderful thing - magnetic compression and saturation. Digitial doesn't saturate, and overs turn to hash. Give yourself headroom in the digital domain.
Old 5th October 2016
  #6
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Recording to tape relied on the Engineer knowing the difference between the type of instruments they were tracking and whether more percussive and transient (sn , tambourine,woodblock etc ) or more of an average (vocals, bass etc) They would then hit the tape accordingly to get the best signal to noise ratio without damaging the source...unless they wanted to as an effect.
Old 5th October 2016
  #7
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GreenNeedle's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by camomiletea View Post
Or did the average tracking level hover around that area with peaks going over?

Also, in todays 24bit recording world would your sound quality be compromised not sticking to softer tracking levels? And finally, wouldn't using a compressor with low settings while tracking be recommended for this very reason (some people say you shouldn't so to keep your options open)?

I can't put my finger on it, nor prove it, but when I used to track hotter (-4dbfs peak levels I know I know way too hot) my tracks never sounded great. Now, recording softer, I actually feel like my music sounds better and I am not sure if this is just my imagination or not.
VU meters are still very useful. With all the modelled plugins and the integration of hardware through HW inserts it is important to understand and use the right levels, VU's can make this very easy.
O VU is your goal through the chain from capture. The thing be aware of is how you calibrate in order to get from analog to digital correctly. Its important to understand what that means. -18 is common calibration. That means a steady state sound like a 1k tone will read 0VU on an analoge VU and if you run that through your converters into your DAW the input meter there should read -18dbfs in peak and VU modes.
It gets a bit more complicated after that. Depending on what you are tracking and how you track it even with headroom of 18db before peaks clip, clipping is still a reality you will face. The option to calibrate with more headroom is an option but you may not be doing yourself any favours by doing that as you are these days just putting off the inevitable of dealing with those peaks.
There are 3 ways to deal with a signal that is too wild for your calibration:
-Let it clip
-level it in analog with limiters or compressors or tape or ....
-turn it down and deal with it in the box.
Experience and taste will determine which you choose on which sounds.
Old 5th October 2016
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GreenNeedle View Post
There are 3 ways to deal with a signal that is too wild for your calibration:
-Let it clip
-level it in analog with limiters or compressors or tape or ....
-turn it down and deal with it in the box.
Experience and taste will determine which you choose on which sounds.
Based on your experience and taste, when would you let it clip?
Old 5th October 2016
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Based on your experience and taste, when would you let it clip?
All the time with sharp transients on drums for 1 example. Not always but often its the best sounding option.
Old 5th October 2016
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GreenNeedle View Post
All the time with sharp transients on drums for 1 example. Not always but often its the best sounding option.
We're talking digital, not tape?
Old 5th October 2016
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
We're talking digital, not tape?
The clipping? Yes clipping the converter. If the preamp clips nicely you can use that too. Its a nicer option than jamming decapitator on it in the box imo.
Old 5th October 2016
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GreenNeedle View Post
The clipping? Yes clipping the converter.
I've never heard digital clipping of any sort that I'd call sonically preferable to not clipping. But I'll try to have an open mind about this.

Since you've done this successfully and think it's an enhancement, how 'bout you upload some clipping clips and show us how it's done? I think we'd all learn something.
Old 5th October 2016
  #13
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In the analog days everyone recorded to tape. I ran a small studio back in the late 1980s and we had a few Fostex and Tascam 16 and 8 track reel to reel tape machines. Some of the engineers who would rent out the studio would absolutely slam the VU meters on the tape decks because they wanted to saturate the tape. They were going for a particular sound and it worked really well on drums and synths. Totally different concept than digital recording.
Old 5th October 2016
  #14
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Today like in the analogue days it still depends on too many factors.

Assuming mic and performance are not a factor (which is not true) then it depends also on the sweet spot of the pre you are using.
Then it also depends on the AD characteristics.
It is even not always true that today low level is better.
There's no headroom improvement in recording at -12 vs at -4: if needed you can trim the signal a bit lower and the take could sound better hot with the benefit of not rising overall noise level.

What is true is that tracking at lower level educates you in learning that hot doesn't mean better but also that there are circumstances where 10 dB of S/N could help (e.g. using otb).
Old 5th October 2016
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
I've never heard digital clipping of any sort that I'd call sonically preferable to not clipping. But I'll try to have an open mind about this.

Since you've done this successfully and think it's an enhancement, how 'bout you upload some clipping clips and show us how it's done? I think we'd all learn something.
I think you may be misinterpreting what i mean by clipping. Not to the point of that noisey horrible kakking type sound. Just taking a bit off the tops. Same approach as what tape does, too far is too far. Are you familiar with clipping preamps? Its just anothe form of limiting. This is done on whole mixes too all the time but ultimately its the drums clipping so why not do it early and work with it in the mix. If i posted you some clips you would not hear the clipping, just a higher average level, which is the goal.
Old 5th October 2016
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mudseason View Post
There's no headroom improvement in recording at -12 vs at -4...
Actually, there is. Hitting your ADC at -4 can present your post-DAC gain stages with signals they can't cleanly reproduce.
Old 5th October 2016
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GreenNeedle View Post
If i posted you some clips you would not hear the clipping, just a higher average level, which is the goal.
Try me.
Old 5th October 2016
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Actually, there is. Hitting your ADC at -4 can present your post-DAC gain stages with signals they can't cleanly reproduce.
There is what?
Old 5th October 2016
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Try me.
I wish i had that kind of time. Spend some time with it yourself you will learn more.
Old 5th October 2016
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GreenNeedle View Post
There is what?
Headroom improvement. Not in the digital recording itself, but in the analog gain stages that have to reproduce it.
Old 5th October 2016
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Headroom improvement. Not in the digital recording itself, but in the analog gain stages that have to reproduce it.
Sorry i still dont understand, do you mean the consumer playback system, hardware inserts....?
Old 5th October 2016
  #22
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I remember tracking a lot of sources to tape at +1 to +3. 0db for things like cymbals. I've seen plenty of guys hit the light for +9, but I don't like that sound at all.
Old 5th October 2016
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GreenNeedle View Post
Sorry i still dont understand, do you mean the consumer playback system, hardware inserts....?
Any analog gain stage, starting with the ones at the tail end of the converters themselves.

Not that you're going to, but if you were to track a song into a DAW with everything at around -4 and then bring the individual tracks out to an analog console, it'd probably sound different than if you had tracked everything at -12 or even lower. And not different in a good way.
Old 5th October 2016
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Any analog gain stage, starting with the ones at the tail end of the converters themselves.

Not that you're going to, but if you were to track a song into a DAW with everything at around -4 and then bring the individual tracks out to an analog console, it'd probably sound different than if you had tracked everything at -12 or even lower. And not different in a good way.
Are you talking drums and steady state-ish sounds peaking at -4 verses -12?
That would mean very different average levels across the tracks which is why i like using VU. Peak meters will mess you up if you don't know how to reference them in conjunction with average levels.
Old 5th October 2016
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mudseason View Post
There's no headroom improvement in recording at -12 vs at -4: if needed you can trim the signal a bit lower and the take could sound better hot with the benefit of not rising overall noise level.
yes but my raw takes sound better at -12 peaks than they do at -4 peaks.. They really do. Is this my imagination?
Old 5th October 2016
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Any analog gain stage, starting with the ones at the tail end of the converters themselves.

Not that you're going to, but if you were to track a song into a DAW with everything at around -4 and then bring the individual tracks out to an analog console, it'd probably sound different than if you had tracked everything at -12 or even lower. And not different in a good way.
what about if you reduced the levels in the DAW before sending them out to the console?

Would there be any difference in:

1) recording at -4dbfs peak and turning it down in your DAW to -12dbfs peak before sending to analog console for mixing
2) recording at -12dbfs and sending to analog console for mixing

?
Old 5th October 2016
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GreenNeedle View Post
Are you talking drums and steady state-ish sounds peaking at -4 verses -12?
That would mean very different average levels across the tracks which is why i like using VU. Peak meters will mess you up if you don't know how to reference them in conjunction with average levels.
So are you saying peak meters are not good for big transient material like drums?
Old 5th October 2016
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GreenNeedle View Post
Are you talking drums and steady state-ish sounds peaking at -4 verses -12?
That would mean very different average levels across the tracks which is why i like using VU. Peak meters will mess you up if you don't know how to reference them in conjunction with average levels.
Apologies for answering a question with a question, but... you're using VU meters to set levels going into a DAW because "peak meters will mess you up?"

If that's what works for you, great.
Old 5th October 2016
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by camomiletea View Post
So are you saying peak meters are not good for big transient material like drums?
No, they will tell you where the peaks are! If they are overs in your system and the rms is right, you then need to decide how to deal with them.
Old 5th October 2016
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Apologies for answering a question with a question, but... you're using VU meters to set levels going into a DAW because "peak meters will mess you up?"

If that's what works for you, great.
My point is if you only use peak meters your average levels will be all over the place between steady state type sounds and high transient sounds.
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