The No.1 Website for Pro Audio
 Search This Thread  Search This Forum  Search Reviews  Search Gear Database  Search Gear for sale  Search Gearslutz Go Advanced
Digital gain staging and fader useability DAW Software
Old 2 weeks ago
  #1
Gear Nut
Digital gain staging and fader useability

Hi all,

I'm trying to wrap my head around proper digital gain staging by reading articles like this:
Gain Staging In Your DAW Software |

The main take away is to lower your digital levels. It says that a nominally, signals should be around -18dBFS with peaks around -12dBFS. It even shows how to remap your fader meter colors to reflect this.

The article does address this somewhat, but the problem i have is that if i'm this low in my faders, i'm in the tiny lower part of the fader where it is very sensitive to small movements. The article says to get around this by just working in the -6dBFS area, but doesn't that defeat the point? It seems that a digital fader should be scaled differently than a analog fader from a UI perspective.

I've read about inserting gain/trim plugins first in every channel to provide an negative offset, but that seems sloppy.

How does this work in practice? Have any of you modified your meter's color scales to reflect a lower operating range?
Old 2 weeks ago
  #2
Lives for gear
 
CJ Mastering's Avatar
There are not set fader settings and no set signal settings for gain staging,as its not that simple. There is gain staging in recording, mixing and mastering

Example, in mixing, the more tracks you have in a song, the lower each fader needs to be and the less tracks you have, the higher each fader can be. This is because the sum of 10 tracks at equal volume is less than the sum of 20 tracks at that same db level.
Not to mention, sends and busses and effect inputs and outputs.
CJ
Old 2 weeks ago
  #3
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by txbdan View Post
The main take away is to lower your digital levels. It says that a nominally, signals should be around -18dBFS with peaks around -12dBFS. It even shows how to remap your fader meter colors to reflect this.
I think a better way of thinking about it is this;

- Don't clip any stage where the digital signal is fixed point processing. In most DAWs today this would be the final output stage (going to the Digital-to-Analog converter). This means that it's of little consequence if your signal peaks at -12dBFS or -4dBFS. Of course it is easier probably to just aim for staying below for example -6dBFS and if it ends up being -6, -4 or -10dBFS it doesn't matter much as far as the "quality" of the signal goes.

- IF you have plugins that model analog circuits they may have been programmed to basically distort (act non-linearly) and they might be the most 'clean' at an average digital level of -18dBFS. Some do this some don't. Some allow you to change that number, some don't.

- It is often easier to interact with analog gear by sticking to analog signals around -18dBFS average, simply because analog gear as well as your converters are designed to operate cleanly at around that level.

Quote:
Originally Posted by txbdan View Post
the problem i have is that if i'm this low in my faders, i'm in the tiny lower part of the fader where it is very sensitive to small movements. The article says to get around this by just working in the -6dBFS area, but doesn't that defeat the point? It seems that a digital fader should be scaled differently than a analog fader from a UI perspective.

I've read about inserting gain/trim plugins first in every channel to provide an negative offset, but that seems sloppy.
I too think that is sloppy. Fortunately if you want to avoid that I think most DAWs have the ability to adjust the gain on your "clips" or "events" in your "edit" / "project" window where you have your timeline (i.e. not the mixer). Typically when you change the level of the "clips" the change takes place before the channel - meaning before the inserts and before the fader/panner. So that gets you around this problem.

When I mix for TV I do indeed change clips this way to get them in the ballpark of where I want levels to be, and then my faders remain at unity and I simply place them in trim/touch mode and then ride them when writing automation.

(So to be clear here: It's not the automation of fader levels I'm talking about)

Quote:
Originally Posted by txbdan View Post
Have any of you modified your meter's color scales to reflect a lower operating range?
When I work in Nuendo I have done this, yes. I've upgraded and haven't reset the color preferences, but I believe I had a "low", "good", "high" and "yikes-turndown!!!" color scheme. It was I think green/yellow/red/white or something...
Old 2 weeks ago
  #4
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by txbdan View Post
Hi all,

I'm trying to wrap my head around proper digital gain staging by reading articles like this:
Gain Staging In Your DAW Software |

The main take away is to lower your digital levels. It says that a nominally, signals should be around -18dBFS with peaks around -12dBFS. It even shows how to remap your fader meter colors to reflect this.

The article does address this somewhat, but the problem i have is that if i'm this low in my faders, i'm in the tiny lower part of the fader where it is very sensitive to small movements. The article says to get around this by just working in the -6dBFS area, but doesn't that defeat the point? It seems that a digital fader should be scaled differently than a analog fader from a UI perspective.

I've read about inserting gain/trim plugins first in every channel to provide an negative offset, but that seems sloppy.

How does this work in practice? Have any of you modified your meter's color scales to reflect a lower operating range?
Gainstaging levels are PRE FADER levels (=nominal levels), not the levels reflected by the position of the faders.
So, if you want to gainstage, you set the desired level IN PRE FADER MODE and then you can position your channel fader at any level you wish for mixing.

Success.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #5
Gear Nut
Quote:
Originally Posted by mattiasnyc View Post
I think a better way of thinking about it is this;

- Don't clip any stage where the digital signal is fixed point processing. In most DAWs today this would be the final output stage (going to the Digital-to-Analog converter). This means that it's of little consequence if your signal peaks at -12dBFS or -4dBFS. Of course it is easier probably to just aim for staying below for example -6dBFS and if it ends up being -6, -4 or -10dBFS it doesn't matter much as far as the "quality" of the signal goes.

- IF you have plugins that model analog circuits they may have been programmed to basically distort (act non-linearly) and they might be the most 'clean' at an average digital level of -18dBFS. Some do this some don't. Some allow you to change that number, some don't.

- It is often easier to interact with analog gear by sticking to analog signals around -18dBFS average, simply because analog gear as well as your converters are designed to operate cleanly at around that level.



I too think that is sloppy. Fortunately if you want to avoid that I think most DAWs have the ability to adjust the gain on your "clips" or "events" in your "edit" / "project" window where you have your timeline (i.e. not the mixer). Typically when you change the level of the "clips" the change takes place before the channel - meaning before the inserts and before the fader/panner. So that gets you around this problem.

When I mix for TV I do indeed change clips this way to get them in the ballpark of where I want levels to be, and then my faders remain at unity and I simply place them in trim/touch mode and then ride them when writing automation.

(So to be clear here: It's not the automation of fader levels I'm talking about)



When I work in Nuendo I have done this, yes. I've upgraded and haven't reset the color preferences, but I believe I had a "low", "good", "high" and "yikes-turndown!!!" color scheme. It was I think green/yellow/red/white or something...
Regarding your second paragraph, i've been playing with MJUC compressor plugin and that's what got me doing down this rabbit hole. It says in the manual to shoot for 0dBVU which is the analog equivalent of -18dBFS in digital. Which also coincides with the default calibration setting available in the plugin of -18. So i guess that's how that works. So i want my input to MJUC to be around -18dBFS in this digital domain. If it were real hardware in the analog world, it'd want to be at 0dBVU. Is that right?

Regarding changing the levels of audio events... ah ha! I've literally never done that before in Cubase even though its very simple to drag their level up/down in the audio event. So i suppose modifying the audio event level is pre-insert, pre-fader, like a gain knob on a hardware mixer. That makes sense... wow.

Thanks!
Old 2 weeks ago
  #6
Gear Nut
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prodba View Post
Gainstaging levels are PRE FADER levels (=nominal levels), not the levels reflected by the position of the faders.
So, if you want to gainstage, you set the desired level IN PRE FADER MODE and then you can position your channel fader at any level you wish for mixing.

Success.
This makes so much sense, but i totally missed it. I have a hardware mixer and of course i gain stage it using PFL looks at the meters. Being in analog, i basically stage things close to -2 to 0dB. Why would i not think to do the same thing in the DAW? In the DAW my target will be the -18dBFS. Doing it prefader ensure that the levels are correct going into my inserts/plugins. After the fader is just for mixing to the bus.

I'll have to readup on how to get the meters to show me pre-fader in Cubase.

Another ah ha moment. Thanks!
Old 2 weeks ago
  #7
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Prodba View Post
Gainstaging levels are PRE FADER levels (=nominal levels), not the levels reflected by the position of the faders.
So, if you want to gainstage, you set the desired level IN PRE FADER MODE and then you can position your channel fader at any level you wish for mixing.

Success.
This isn't correct.

Gain staging is just setting gain at any/all stages where you can set it. It can be before, at or after faders.

Anyone using groups/buses to route signals is gain staging in multiple places most likely. All it takes is having a drum kit where you set initial levels on the clips perhaps (or VSTi), route your drum kit to a group for compression for example as a whole which then often results in more tweaking of levels, then you might on top of that have yet another group/bus that receives drums+percussion or whatever which in turn is yet another point where you adjust level.

All of those points are stages. If you change the level there then by definition you're "gainstaging".

That's all it is.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #8
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by txbdan View Post
Regarding your second paragraph, i've been playing with MJUC compressor plugin and that's what got me doing down this rabbit hole. It says in the manual to shoot for 0dBVU which is the analog equivalent of -18dBFS in digital. Which also coincides with the default calibration setting available in the plugin of -18. So i guess that's how that works. So i want my input to MJUC to be around -18dBFS in this digital domain. If it were real hardware in the analog world, it'd want to be at 0dBVU. Is that right?
For nominal operating level, yes.

You would then adjust the level according to your desired results. If your hardware/software introduces non-linear (pleasant) distortion you could for example push the level up to where it distorts. But 'yes', nominal average -18dBFS/0dBVU would be nominal and a good starting point.

Quote:
Originally Posted by txbdan View Post
Regarding changing the levels of audio events... ah ha! I've literally never done that before in Cubase even though its very simple to drag their level up/down in the audio event. So i suppose modifying the audio event level is pre-insert, pre-fader, like a gain knob on a hardware mixer. That makes sense... wow.

Thanks!
Yep, you got it right.

And since you're on Cubase I actually think you have a "gain" or "trim" adjustment at the beginning of a channel, so that's yet another option to adjust levels before inserts, panning and faders.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #9
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by mattiasnyc View Post
This isn't correct.

Gain staging is just setting gain at any/all stages where you can set it. It can be before, at or after faders.

Anyone using groups/buses to route signals is gain staging in multiple places most likely. All it takes is having a drum kit where you set initial levels on the clips perhaps (or VSTi), route your drum kit to a group for compression for example as a whole which then often results in more tweaking of levels, then you might on top of that have yet another group/bus that receives drums+percussion or whatever which in turn is yet another point where you adjust level.

All of those points are stages. If you change the level there then by definition you're "gainstaging".

That's all it is.
You're confusing gain with level.

The way you describe it, everything would be called gainstaging then, even straightforward mixing.

Faders are passive/resistive devices that ATTENUATE level; they do not control gain.
Adjusting the fader levels, into the mix-, group-, or subbuss amps is not gainstaging, since there's no gain applied there; it's called (level) MIXING.

So, gainstaging can only be applied at the stages where there is a gain circuitry, and there's no gain circuitry at fader level.
And the amps at the group busses you mention do not have a gain circuit either; their summing is a result of the levels set by the grouped channels and not by increasing the voltage inside the buss itself.
And the group faders are, again, just passive attenuators.

Of course you do not need to take it from me, but you may try reading about the difference between gain and level.
And if you're still not convinced, we can just agree to disagree.

Regards.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #10
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Prodba View Post
You're confusing gain with level.
No I'm not. "Gainstaging" is about adjusting levels. It's nothing else.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Prodba View Post
The way you describe it, everything would be called gainstaging then, even straightforward mixing.
In a sense it is.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Prodba View Post
Faders are passive/resistive devices that ATTENUATE level; they do not control gain.
Adjusting the fader levels, into the mix-, group-, or subbuss amps is not gainstaging, since there's no gain applied there; it's called (level) MIXING.

So, gainstaging can only be applied at the stages where there is a gain circuitry, and there's no gain circuitry at fader level.
This is merely semantics, and if you think about it you'd be inconsistent in the use of terminology if you applied it consistently. Some preamps have a gain stage and an attenuation stage, but we call it "gainstaging" when addressing the output level of that device if it feeds into another device whose input can't be adjusted.

So say I have an EQ that doesn't have an input control, and before that I have a mic pre that has input gain + output attenuation. I might want to push the levels of the gain section so that the signal distorts internally because it sounds good to me, yet I don't want it to be so hot that it also distorts the EQ that follows; the action of lowering the output of the preamp so as to not distort the EQ would certainly be called "gainstaging".

Additionally, we're talking about a DAW. It absolutely ADDS level. There is no "passive/resistive" in a DAW. There's multiplication. Multiply by zero and you have unity. Multiply by 0.5 and you have attenuation. Multiply by 1.7 and you have gain.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Prodba View Post
And the amps at the group busses you mention do not have a gain circuit either; their summing is a result of the levels set by the grouped channels and not by increasing the voltage inside the buss itself.
And the group faders are, again, just passive attenuators.

Of course you do not need to take it from me, but you may try reading about the difference between gain and level.
And if you're still not convinced, we can just agree to disagree.

Regards.
DAWs. Not hardware.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #11
Gear Nut
I played with this a bit tonight using a test signal generator and a meter plugin (VUMT). It all seems to add up. Cubase's mixer meters are dBFS peak meters it seems.

I did think of one thing. I have a bass recording on a bass track going into a bass bus then into the 2-bus. My input levels are dialed in at -18dBFS RMS into the bass track as confirmed by my meter plugin. Would it not be better to put my compressor plugin (MJUC) on the bass track so that is assured to always get a nice hot/proper input? The track fader then attenuates after the compressor.

The way i had it before was the compressor on the bass bus, but that is post bass track fader so the levels hitting the compressor change with the bass track fader. That doesn't seem good, eh?
Old 1 week ago
  #12
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by txbdan View Post
I did think of one thing. I have a bass recording on a bass track going into a bass bus then into the 2-bus. My input levels are dialed in at -18dBFS RMS into the bass track as confirmed by my meter plugin. Would it not be better to put my compressor plugin (MJUC) on the bass track so that is assured to always get a nice hot/proper input? The track fader then attenuates after the compressor.

The way i had it before was the compressor on the bass bus, but that is post bass track fader so the levels hitting the compressor change with the bass track fader. That doesn't seem good, eh?
It's always a good thing to keep things as simple as possible, and before making things more complicated it's always good to think deeply about what the goal you're trying to achieve is.

So in the case above the question is 'why are you using a bass group track' ("bass bus" as you call it)?

IF you were using something like Pro Tools where all inserts are pre-fader then using an aux makes sense IF you wanted to adjust bass levels before dynamic processing (which would be on an insert on the aux).

In Cubase however we can place plugins either pre- or post-fader on a channel. So if the above was the reason for doing it then you don't have to in Cubase: Simply place your compressor in the last slot (for example) and then automating levels using the fader will change the level that goes into the compressor.

Now, if you don't want to change level before the compressor then 'yes', definitely move the compressor "up" to a point pre-fader.

- Again: Define what your goal is with processing, then route and process.

Last edited by mattiasnyc; 1 week ago at 06:20 PM.. Reason: TYPO
Old 1 week ago
  #13
Lives for gear
 
CJ Mastering's Avatar
Quote:
No I'm not. "Gainstaging" is about adjusting levels. It's nothing else.
Matt you are 100.01% Correct
Quote:
You're confusing gain with level
Without gain, there would be no levels.. Levels exist because of how much gain they have

CJ
Old 1 week ago
  #14
Gear Guru
 
Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by mattiasnyc View Post
IF you were using something like Pro Tools where all inserts are post-fader...
Are you sure? I'm not in front of my rig right now, but I'm pretty sure that the inserts on Audio tracks and and Aux channels are pre-fader, while the inserts on Masters are post-fader. It's a big difference when it comes to deciding whether to use an Aux channel or a Master in a given situation.
Old 1 week ago
  #15
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Are you sure? I'm not in front of my rig right now, but I'm pretty sure that the inserts on Audio tracks and and Aux channels are pre-fader, while the inserts on Masters are post-fader. It's a big difference when it comes to deciding whether to use an Aux channel or a Master in a given situation.
Whoops! Typo.

Fixed.
Post Reply

Welcome to the Gearslutz Pro Audio Community!

Registration benefits include:
  • The ability to reply to and create new discussions
  • Access to members-only giveaways & competitions
  • Interact with VIP industry experts in our guest Q&As
  • Access to members-only sub forum discussions
  • Access to members-only Chat Room
  • Get INSTANT ACCESS to the world's best private pro audio Classifieds for only USD $20/year
  • Promote your eBay auctions and Reverb.com listings for free
  • Remove this message!
You need an account to post a reply. Create a username and password below and an account will be created and your post entered.


 
 
Slide to join now Processing…
Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Similar Threads
Thread
Thread Starter / Forum
Replies
blotto / Newbie audio engineering + production question zone
5
blinkSaunders / Newbie audio engineering + production question zone
8
dannygold / Music Computers
21
mikoo69 / So much gear, so little time
90

Forum Jump
Forum Jump