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TRACKING LEVELS
Old 5th November 2002
  #1
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TRACKING LEVELS

yes yes, this thread has been typed to death in the DUC...
but this is my question.
Charles do you or would you track any differently knowing that the mix is going to be Mixed on an outboard console (with plenty of interface direct outs), or if you are mixing in the box...

I know the suggestion is to track quite a bit lower if mixing in ProTools, but if it's going to be mixed on a ssl or what not, is the slight bit of resolution advantage significant at all?

many thanks!
Old 5th November 2002
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Old 6th November 2002
  #3
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Doug,

(Another controversial answer) I approach recording levels to PT the same whether I'm recording for a console mix, or an in the box mix. Since I started out with tape based recording, and I previously recorded my levels to tape (2" or 48 trk digital) as hot as I could without distortion, I simply applied the same approach when I switched to PT about seven years ago. To me this method seems to make sense. When mixing in the box with these levels I've been very happy with my results, so I've seen no reason to change. The same levels have worked fine with console mixes.
Old 6th November 2002
  #4
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Since I mix with a lot of analog outboard inserted on my PT tracks, I'm careful to maintain a semblance of unity gain structure as related to the analog world. Otherwise I'll end-up overdrive the input stage of my outboard or having to trim down all my track level with a plug before it reaches the outboard. Anyway I don't like mixing with all my faders at -20 where there is no resolution to do fine moves. In 24 bits with good to great converters, I don't feel the extra resolution I'd gain from trying to kiss 0dBFs on every track while recording is worth the hassle. (Plus I don't like to soft-limit or to get over's.)
Old 6th November 2002
  #5
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In deference to Charles, I waited for him to post before I chimed in on this.

That having been stated...

Mixing out to an analog console would seem to wipe out any benefit one would get from maximizing "resolution" in recording hot levels in PT.

IOW: This issue is moot.

Now, to overstate the obvious:

One does not want to record TOO hot in PT. Clipping is bad in the digital realm. Don't clip, and be conservative in that regard. Keep those levels well below zero. Meter ballistics vary from system to system, so you don't always know if you're clipping if you're riding the levels really close to clipping in digital.

Sorry if this seems too obvious, but I'm posting with the assumption that lurkers are reading. Digital is not like analog, not at all. Digital doesn't compress the highs as you approach saturation level; on the contrary. There is no "saturation level" in digital. The audio is clean, or it's clipped - and if it's clipped, it's nasty in a totally uncool way.

Why anyone would want to mix out of PT to an analog console is beyond me, but that's the subject of another as-yet unposted thread.
Old 6th November 2002
  #6
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Eric, I understand your point...

However, many people do mix outside of protools, not because it sounds better, but because it's how they get to the result they want to deliver quicker and the way they were originally taught. It's what they've been doing for years and years...they have their same NS-10s (redrivered 30 times), same console placement, maybe a SSL update here and there, and some room treatment issues.
Mixing in ProTools has a learning curve that some of the well known mixers for whatever reason don't take the time or have the desire, maybe because they don't want to repeat what they learned 15 years ago or don't want to change what is working for them now or simply don't have the demand. I don't know.
I think the idea of mixing in ProTools is brilliant...the recall ability and the precision is even more brilliant.

and back to the reason I asked this was simply this...i realize how quick even with the head room of HD, that the mix bus loads up if you ideally want to keep your faders at unity without using plugin gain structures. That being said do you track with peaks maybe around -14 when mixing in ProTools, but if you are going 56 direct outs (rather than just analog inserts) into an analog console, then why not achieve maximum resolution (while still looking out for those peaks and transients that slip through).

Any way, there really is no right answer is there?!, I guess what works is what works....

cheers
Old 6th November 2002
  #7
I feel the answer is -

Whatever level that allows your analog outboard to operate at optimum level.

test it out.

Old 6th November 2002
  #8
Jax
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I understand why someone tracking into PT would want to achieve the highest possible res. by recording as hot as possible. However, that in itself is a hotly debated topic. Just search the DUC to see it argued.

I feel that the key point to discuss when mixing in the box is whether or not there is enough headroom (not in the mix's 2 bus, but in the track itself) to mix super-hot digital signals. I've tried recording for the hottest levels achievable on my system. This always resulted in having a lack of headroom at the mix stage. I stopped working this way and found the ceiling was easier to deal with at mix time. To boot, it sounded better... but I wouldn't cite the myriad of unproven PT digital math voodoo reasons said to explain the improvement in my mixes. The fact that I had enough vertical space to let my mixing happen was the key.
Old 8th November 2002
  #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by Jules
I feel the answer is -

Whatever level that allows your analog outboard to operate at optimum level.

test it out.


so true .... for me that's quite 'yellow' .....
Old 8th November 2002
  #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by Jax
The fact that I had enough vertical space to let my mixing happen was the key.
Exactly!
Old 8th November 2002
  #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by Curve Dominant

Why anyone would want to mix out of PT to an analog console is beyond me, but that's the subject of another as-yet unposted thread.
Maybe becuase (an were only talking hi-end here) there is no competition between mixing on a quality analog board and in PT. Period. the only reason anyone is mixing in PT is becuase 1. budgets 2.Someone hasn't done it yet and they want to be the first to show that they can make it sound as good with that excuse for a mixer inside PT ....and budget. Everyone can argue agianst this all they want to justify ther situation...but being that peolple could save a ton of money (and people like to do that)....tell me why people still opt to mix on consoles when they can? And I mean people that can mix however they want. PT does alot of cool things fast, and helps complete projects cheaply in this time of less than stellar average musicianship...but a first class mixer it is not. And anybody arguing otherwise (imo) has an agenda and has not done both, or can't hear the differrence...which is saying alot, because the majority of clients can (when they're given the choice).
Ask any experianced engineer..."Do you wanty to mix this on [pick:8078 w/moving faders/SSL J/G/E etc,...ect; OR ProTools" almost ALL will pick the analog, especially if their name is going on it. We like things to sound Great.
Old 8th November 2002
  #12
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Quote:
posted by recorderman:
quote:
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Originally posted by Curve Dominant

Why anyone would want to mix out of PT to an analog console is beyond me, but that's the subject of another as-yet unposted thread.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Maybe becuase (an were only talking hi-end here) there is no competition between mixing on a quality analog board and in PT. Period. the only reason anyone is mixing in PT is becuase 1. budgets 2.Someone hasn't done it yet and they want to be the first to show that they can make it sound as good with that excuse for a mixer inside PT ....and budget. Everyone can argue agianst this all they want to justify ther situation...but being that peolple could save a ton of money (and people like to do that)....tell me why people still opt to mix on consoles when they can? And I mean people that can mix however they want. PT does alot of cool things fast, and helps complete projects cheaply in this time of less than stellar average musicianship...but a first class mixer it is not. And anybody arguing otherwise (imo) has an agenda and has not done both, or can't hear the differrence...which is saying alot, because the majority of clients can (when they're given the choice).
Ask any experianced engineer..."Do you wanty to mix this on [pick:8078 w/moving faders/SSL J/G/E etc,...ect; OR ProTools" almost ALL will pick the analog, especially if their name is going on it. We like things to sound Great.
We had diffused the potential for a spat over this issue in another thread, where I respectfully deferred to Casey and Chris for their preferences in a work environment, so I don't want to backtrack and appear to be throwing gasoline back onto this fire.

But I would like to briefly respond to the above post.

Recorderman,

Thank you for your set of opinions, but have no doubt that is exactly how I regard them: As your opinions, nothing more.

I have spent enough time recording (in both analog and digital) to be satisfied with the results I get with Pro Tools.

I have also spent enough time working with, lurking with, studying the writings of, and/or engaging in off-line correspondence with enough professional engineers to be satisfied that the myth of analog console supremacy, from a purely engineering standpoint, is a debatable one. I'm not going to bother dropping names. I know who you are, and so I know you know who I'm talking about.

I think it's best to leave it at that. You have your opinions, and I have mine. We can agree to disagree on this matter.
Old 11th November 2002
  #13
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Quote:
Originally posted by Curve Dominant


I think it's best to leave it at that. You have your opinions, and I have mine. We can agree to disagree on this matter.
Absolutlely....that's the way of the world...and what makes it fun and interesting.
Old 11th November 2002
  #14
s2n
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The problem/mistake that people encounter with Pro Tools is the fact that it doesn't have any metering for 0.0dBVU referencing "out of the box," unless you invest in quality analog VU meters or some software equivalent (Spectra Foo, BF Meter). When all you have as an indicator of level is a clip LED and some calibration that you select your I/O boxes to work at (-18dBFS = 0.0dBVU or otherwise...I prefer -14dBFS), people will naturally/incorrectly/comically(?) want to hit maximum as close as possible without clipping...they wanna use "all the bits." Too bad proper gain-staging is forgotten/neglected when tracking/mixing in Pro Tools. You push your analog gear and the AD/DA converters beyond it's operating level and the breathing room is lost. And, the conclusion is made that Pro Tools sucks.

Observe 0.0dBVU.
Old 11th November 2002
  #15
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Oh...that's it...I'm not "observing my levels"...gee if only I could get some really good meters and see my gain stage properly, then I could make really professional sounding mixes....just like all the other great mixers do.....thanks for the tip
Old 11th November 2002
  #16
s2n
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Recorderman,
I wasn't responding to your comments. I was just making a general observation and commenting on that. Regardless, I don't mix entirely in the box either.
I'd be interested in listening to some of the work you have done.
Old 11th November 2002
  #17
Jax
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If you're interested in talking about digital gain staging (I am!), esp. in PT, there's a thread not too far down this page.
Old 11th November 2002
  #18
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Quote:
posted by recorderman:
Oh...that's it...I'm not "observing my levels"...gee if only I could get some really good meters and see my gain stage properly, then I could make really professional sounding mixes....just like all the other great mixers do.....thanks for the tip
recorderman,

It seemed clear to me that s2n was trying to be helpful with his post.

Since you've indicated you have access to 8078 w/moving faders/SSL J/G/E etc, it seemed obvious you could afford to make the modest investment in a metering plug, which might help you get better Pro Tools mixes. If you're having trouble getting used to the system, a SpectraFoo-type product might help you. Pick up the phone and call Nika Aldrich at Sweetwater, and he could hook you up with something for just a couple hundred bucks.

Recording in digital IS much different than recording in analog. Many of us have had to struggle in various ways to make the adjustment, but it is well worth the effort. This forum is generously created by Julian and moderated by Charles so we can all help each other learn, so let's take advantage in a good-humored spirit, yo?
Old 12th November 2002
  #19
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Topics like this vs. that platform aren't really what this forum is about. The purpose here is education. To share techniques with each other about making + mixing records. In the last few years I've yet to see a thread of the "this vs. that" variety where someone entered it preferring one platform and left it preferring the other. These topics have been discussed at great length and we could repeat all the opinions here, but what purpose would that serve? I'd prefer we don't go there. We won't learn anything except what we already know: there are people who disagree with us.

This thread is about "Tracking Levels". Let's please stay on topic. If you would like to have a "vs." debate, there are a number of other forums on this site that are the perfect place to discuss these topics.

Let's keep the positive spirit we've had going here so far.

Thanks. heh
Old 12th November 2002
  #20
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(Politely side-stepping the above ((as I've already posted my thoughts on this)) ).

As of late, I have been attempting to use the 'reverse mix' method of tracking levels into PT (just made that up)...

Essentially, (what I'm trying to achieve is) to record everything as close as possible to the level it will ultimately be at in the final mix; Of course, this calls for more than a fair amount of speculation/guesswork, but I usually have a pretty good idea of where things are going to need to 'sit' in the final mix when I start.

This BTW, is quite different from my formative years in Digital recording (where EVERYTHING was comp'd/limited and smacking full scale, but not going over).

Takes a lot of discipline to record an important track at -20dB!

I still struggle with the urge to crank it up a little to maximize that resolution!

However, my initial findings are that using this method:

1. Makes setting 'ballpark' levels automatic
2. Interfaces back into the analog mixer/outboard gear easier
3. Sounds much cleaner, less 'digital', more organic (insert favorite buzz word HERE_________________)...

Of course, then I proceed to distortsaturateoverdrive
harmonically enhance the **** out everything!

But that IS a different thread...
Old 12th November 2002
  #21
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Casey,

"2. Interfaces back into the analog mixer/outboard gear easier"

I've been meaning to ask this for a while. Since I use all plug-ins when mixing in PT, I don't understand this problem as well as I should. Is it because the outputs of PT are so hot that they overdrive your analog gear? And/or the trim pots on the interfaces can't be adjusted in such a way to set the right level?

Thanks.
Old 12th November 2002
  #22
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Quote:
Originally posted by Curve Dominant


recorderman,

It seemed clear to me that s2n was trying to be helpful with his post.

Since you've indicated you have access to 8078 w/moving faders/SSL J/G/E etc, it seemed obvious you could afford to make the modest investment in a metering plug, which might help you get better Pro Tools mixes. If you're having trouble getting used to the system, a SpectraFoo-type product might help you. Pick up the phone and call Nika Aldrich at Sweetwater, and he could hook you up with something for just a couple hundred bucks.

Recording in digital IS much different than recording in analog. Many of us have had to struggle in various ways to make the adjustment, but it is well worth the effort. This forum is generously created by Julian and moderated by Charles so we can all help each other learn, so let's take advantage in a good-humored spirit, yo?
Sorry that my humor is so obtuse as to be (seemingly) obtuse. I'll assume that your response up above is also tounge in cheek.
Old 12th November 2002
  #23
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Thanks recordman.
Old 12th November 2002
  #24
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Quote:
Originally posted by Charles Dye
Is it because the outputs of PT are so hot that they overdrive your analog gear? And/or the trim pots on the interfaces can't be adjusted in such a way to set the right level?

Thanks. [/B]
Not exactly...

The analog console and outboard is calibrated to handle FS dig with headroom, but the DACs themselves start sounding thin and screechy as they reach the top of the scale. Tends to occur primarily on sustained sources like bass and hvy gtrs, where the signal is constantly sitting close to FS.

(To my ear) it sounds as though the problem resides in the analog section of the DAC being slightly overdriven. I seem to recall Jules mentioning something about always "pulling the faders in PT down to -10dB at the start of a mix..."

Also, this always seems to happen near the completion of a mix and the only workaround is to select all and lower the faders a few dB, in order to get the offending track to the proper level in the mix. Of course, this also changes all the outboards' gain staging at the same time...

The 'reverse' method I described has thus far negated this phenomena.
Old 12th November 2002
  #25
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Casey,

Wow. Thanks, I just learned something new. I'll remember that.

Would it be possible to compensate by lowering the Master Faders for any of the outputs you are using for outboard? This would allow you to use more digital resolution when recording, and then optimize the "sweeter" (my term for lack of a better) sounding range of the outputs. Does that make sense?
Old 12th November 2002
  #26
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Quote:
Originally posted by Charles Dye


Would it be possible to compensate by lowering the Master Faders for any of the outputs you are using for outboard? This would allow you to use more digital resolution when recording, and then optimize the "sweeter" (my term for lack of a better) sounding range of the outputs. Does that make sense?
(Where's that icon, Jules?)

We've gone round and round on this here at the studio... Yes, it is possible to lower all the faders and mix the higher res tracks @ lower output levels. But, the tradeoff is the resolution of volume automation (which I still use PT for) at the bottom of the fader's scale.

Six of one / half dozen of the other? Sample resolution vs. Signal to Noise...

We've tried both methods, recallibrated, and come to the conclusion that the cure (lowering faders) is worse than the disease. We're tracking though some decent convertors (10 channels of Crane Song+) so the sample resolution thing doesn't present as much of a problem as the fader resolution thing...

Any Rocket Scientists feel free to jump right in!
Old 12th November 2002
  #27
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Quote:
Originally posted by blackcatdigi

Six of one / half dozen of the other? Sample resolution vs. Signal to Noise...

We've tried both methods, recallibrated, and come to the conclusion that the cure (lowering faders) is worse than the disease.
This is partly what I'm trying to figure out...for example...you have stacked BGVs....you know that 10 tracks of them tracked in hot are going to clip the Aux track their going through if run at Unity, and not only that, they would be too hot any way....so do you create a master fader for them, or pull them down, or leave them up and put a EQ with gain on them to lower the gain...??? I don't know

But also, I was originally asking this question from the standpoint of...
You have a project that you know is definately going to be mixed on the Sizzler 9000 of the day. You know that you're going to be running 48 outputs direct to console, therefore submixing minimally(sp) within PT...
Is the bit resolution and s/n then advantageous, changing your gain structure within the console (still trying to keep console faders at unity as well)???

Also, what is the consensus of -14 vs -18 calibration...I recently chaged to -14 and seem to think I made the right choice to drive the analog gear the right way. Cause it seems if you're calibrated at -18 and you're coming anywhere close to FS, that then there already possible issues already on the analog side?!

Thanks for the input, please keep the opinions coming
Old 13th November 2002
  #28
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I'm with Casey on this.

Doug, when stacking loads of vocals (or other things for that matter), I just go easy on the recording level. Especially since I'm gonna insert some analog outboard on the subgroup anyway... When mixing out on an analog board, I don't like having to pad all my inputs across the board!
Old 13th November 2002
  #29
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Quote:
posted by recorderman:
Sorry that my humor is so obtuse as to be (seemingly) obtuse. I'll assume that your response up above is also tounge in cheek.
You're semi-correct in that assumption: I was being semi-sarcastic with that post. Since I'm admittedly semi-knowledgable in these matters, be sure to take my posts semi-seriously.

On the other hand, just because I don't always know what I'm talking about doesn't automatically mean that I'm wrong.

OK, back to the topic...
Old 13th November 2002
  #30
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Casey,

Concerning your "Reverse-mixing" approach to tracking in PT...OK, stop me if you've heard this already, but...

When I was researching PT before jumping in to actually use it, I had found that some peeps were doing this, but for another reason: In the pre-HD systems (TDM), less fader movements = cleaner audio.

They were advocating pretty much what you described: Recording into the system at the approximate levels desired, and leaving the faders at unity as much as possible. They found they got cleaner mixes this way, because the "old math" in the pre-HD TDM systems tended to truncate the audio a bit when the faders got moved too much. Perhaps subtly, even imperceptibly on one solo'd track; but all of those slightly truncated tracks were going into the stereo mix buss...and there it is...THAT SOUND! That friggin' gotdamned PT sound.

It makes me wonder if the issues peeps have had with the PT mix buss actually had anything to do with the mix buss itself.

I'm gonna stop there and await a response to this before I go any farther, and my foot goes so far into my mouth that it starts blocking my breathing passages.

Any thoughts?
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