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My Theory About Prosumer Audio Audio Interfaces
Old 10th June 2006
  #1
Lives for gear
 
Silver Sonya's Avatar
 

My Theory About Prosumer Audio

I think I have come to the conclusion that very few people understand the concept of gain structure or headroom within DAW's. Furthermore, I think this is probably the number one problem happening in audio today.

I think one of the reasons many so-called ITB mixes sound bad is for this reason. It's remarkable how often I work (as either a mastering engineer or a mixer) with someone who brings me a DAW session that is just shredding the input or the output of some plug-in or channel or buss. I'm not talking subtle distortion here. Im talking just bone-stupid clipping and harsh, spitty audio. For me, it's painful to even look at the meters, let alone hear the sound. Usually I'll say "Whoa!" and grab the digital fader or input and pull it down and the person will turn to me and say "Why did you do that?"

And I'll explain "Because you were absolutely searing the output of that buss. This is a DAW, you can't do that. It results in completely unmusical clipping and truncated resolution." This is usually followed by me giving about an hour long lecture on the rudimentary principles of gain structure and why it's important. Then the client says "Wow, I never thought about that."

Elegant gain management --- i.e. negotiating your way through the headroom available to you, either in voltage (analog) or data (digital) --- is the most fundamental aspect of recording.

I have a radical concept: what if Protools/Logic/Nuendo, etc. had a bult in alarm that would sound whenever the user overloaded the i/o of a channel, buss, or plug-in within the system? Or better yet: prevented them from doing it at all! Like maybe the fader just won't go as high as you want it to... or maybe at some point, turning the fader up on one channel simply results in all other channels being lowered?

Of course "real" engineers (either seasoned through experience or sometimes formal education) don't have this problem as much as musicians and home-hobbyist types.

The DAW is an unforgiving environment! I long for the days when the home hobbyist was using a Tascam 4-track cassette or maybe 8-track reel-to-reel and maybe a Tapco console. At least then, bad gainstaging at least resulted in something interesting: either analog distortion [too hot levels] or seas of hiss [too low levels].

Man, I'd take some hiss over clipping DAW levels any day!!

So what I want to know is this: is my DAW concept a bad idea? Or a stroke of genius. What if DAWs stopped the user from clipping?

Lemme know what you think.

Cheers,
Chad
Old 10th June 2006
  #2
Gear Nut
 
JazzYoda's Avatar
 

I'd have to say no.. I'd hate to give the designers any more control than they already have. Having a failsafe is a great idea, but sometimes these programs end up with quirks that are dangerous in the real world. I would rather just do it all myself. One failsafe I would like to see is a way to disarm the "record repeat" feature in Logic. If you accidentally hit the mouse, you may lose your recorded file with absolutely no way of recovering it!
Old 10th June 2006
  #3
Gear Maniac
 
JohnNy C's Avatar
 

That is definitely an interesting concept. But I know me personally, when mixing in PT, I absolutely hate when it clips. Immediately my OCD kicks in and I have to clear the red clip meters. And honestly, if a person is distorting a mix that bad, it just won't cut it in the digital world. At least on tape a hot mix will compress and actually sound nice. But in the digital realm it just sounds completely nasty and unforgiving.
Old 10th June 2006
  #4
Lives for gear
 
Silver Sonya's Avatar
 

How 'bout a No Clipping Mode?

Quote:
Originally Posted by JazzYoda
I'd have to say no.. I'd hate to give the designers any more control than they already have.
OK, I understand that. But what if it was a default Safe or "NO CLIPPING" mode that you could turn off?

I would love to see this concept implemented. I've been thinking about it a lot. Think about it: the computer protects you from yourself! It would save me from having to send people's records back to them because I can't master mixes that are unusable. The average DAW user has no idea that this is a problem. I swear. I come across it all the time.

Admittedly, this is not an issue for seasoned or trained professional engineers, but really the so-called "prosumer." I would guess many people who visit gearslutz.com fall into this category, although I'm only speculating.

People seem to want to discuss summing forever, but we somehow bypass discussing such a basic issue! What a strange age we're in!

-- C
Old 10th June 2006
  #5
Gear Maniac
 
Anonymatt's Avatar
 

The DISTORTION is the alarm.

Anyway. Eff 'em.

You can either learn or you can suck. It sucks to suck. I still suck. So I practice a lot. One day I'll be totally sweet.

What if someone is suffering delusions of concerning their audio engineering prowess?

Eff 'em.
Old 10th June 2006
  #6
Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnNy C
That is definitely an interesting concept. But I know me personally, when mixing in PT, I absolutely hate when it clips. Immediately my OCD kicks in and I have to clear the red clip meters. And honestly, if a person is distorting a mix that bad, it just won't cut it in the digital world. At least on tape a hot mix will compress and actually sound nice. But in the digital realm it just sounds completely nasty and unforgiving.
I don't think we are talking about "clipping" here... let me put that another way, I don't think we are talking exclusively about clipping here. You can run your mix hot ITB without any clip lights showing up and still get a mix that will fold in on it's self.

I think we are talking more about headroom in the mix and the fact that is seems like (to me anyway) with a DAW you need to leave even more headroom than with analog. As we all know, well as many of us know anyway, many good analog units will let you push the top of the input without sounding harsh even when clipped but digital is not that way. Even without clipping the buss a digital mix can get small with too much data.

Back down the faders on the mix and things will clear up so yes I agree with the idea that maybe the programmers / developers of the software should put some more headroom into the buss. I would not think of it as the developers having more control over you I would think of it more as the developers realizing that there are limitations to the medium and then work inside these limitations.
Old 10th June 2006
  #7
Lives for gear
 

Couple of things:

As far as the DAW failsafe thing, the Ensoniq Paris system, for all it's quirks, had something going on where when you slammed it, it didn't clip hard (aside from the input A/D).

If you use Cubase in 32bit float mode, you can slam anything so long as you don't slam the master 2-bus.

That said, I agree with the 'f-em attitude. Let them figure it out themselves. These prosumer companies can sell all the equipment they want to the would-be producers, but knowledge is something that you have to work for.
Old 10th June 2006
  #8
Quote:
Originally Posted by Silver Sonya
Admittedly, this is not an issue for seasoned or trained professional engineers, but really the so-called "prosumer."

-- C
I would not be so sure about that. Honestly I started in the analog world and when I got to digital it took me a loooong time to fight my analog days, hell I still fight it.

Many old school guys don't get the subtle tricks to digital (just as many Nu School guys don't know a thing about analog) and then end up hating the sound because of it (there are other reasons they hate the sound as well, lets not go there.. ).

Anyway as with all things there is a pretty big mind shift when going from analog to digital mediums and it takes some getting used to. I would not say that 100% of all "seasoned or trained professional engineers" understand the headroom issues with digital. Some do for sure but you might be surprised how many don't have a clue.
Old 10th June 2006
  #9
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silver Sonya
OK, I understand that. But what if it was a default Safe or "NO CLIPPING" mode that you could turn off?

I would love to see this concept implemented. I've been thinking about it a lot. Think about it: the computer protects you from yourself! It would save me from having to send people's records back to them because I can't master mixes that are unusable. The average DAW user has no idea that this is a problem. I swear. I come across it all the time.

Admittedly, this is not an issue for seasoned or trained professional engineers, but really the so-called "prosumer." I would guess many people who visit gearslutz.com fall into this category, although I'm only speculating.

People seem to want to discuss summing forever, but we somehow bypass discussing such a basic issue! What a strange age we're in!

-- C
As a user configurable option, I don't see how it would be any obstacle to those who actually know how to use their DAW properly. It could be implemented similar to the way in which a secure operating system (and I'm not referring to Windows here) should be automatically configured right out of the box (i.e., the default settings are for options that increase security vulnerabilities to be DISABLED, until the knowledgeable administrator elects to bypass them). In the case of a DAW, the gain staging defaults would be configured to prevent overs as you suggested (great idea IMHO), but would be easily bypassed by almost anyone who contributes constructively to these forums.

Of course there is also the argument, to 'just give em' enough rope' and see who hangs their bad selves with it. Get out the popcorn babe, movies startin'.
Old 10th June 2006
  #10
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Sharp11's Avatar
 

In a way, PT has given us a "fail safe"; the new +12db faders give you lots of headroom before clipping the mix bus.

Ed
Old 10th June 2006
  #11
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AlphaDingo's Avatar
 

Quote:
What if DAWs stopped the user from clipping?
Yeah then we could create a toothbrush that would prevent people from brushing their teeth too hard! Just joking. I see your point but shouldn't some of it at least involve actual skill? Most records sound alike enough as it is, lets not make it more difficult to distinguish one from the other.
Old 10th June 2006
  #12
Gear Maniac
 

i think you've hit on a bigger issue. i think stuff like this is the reason why a lot of people say that digital sucks. it's not that digital sucks it's just that it's a lot less idiot proof than a tascam 1/2 inch 8 track and a mackie board or whatever. ****ty analog sounds better than horribly clipped digital any day. the thing that amazes me is that none of these people go 'gee this kind of sounds like ****.' the positive is that whenever you get the pro tools sessions or whatever you can atleast undo that ****. most of these people will never learn though because most people are ****ing dumb. i was reading an interview with our own bob ohlsson, and he mentioned that he had to take an IQ test to get in at motown. maybe instead of idiot proofing mboxes people should have to take IQ tests. not high enough and you get an xbox instead.


i'm only half-joking.
Old 10th June 2006
  #13
Motown legend
 
Bob Olhsson's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silver Sonya
I think I have come to the conclusion that very few people understand the concept of gain structure or headroom within DAW's. Furthermore, I think this is probably the number one problem happening in audio today.
It's just as true of analog gear.
Old 10th June 2006
  #14
Lots of truth above.

True that many folks don't understand gainstaging now and often didn't in the past. True that some folks never will RTFM. True that hidden gain issues (with plugs, complex routings) probably escape a lot of folks who ought to know better.

And even true that you probably could hit some happy (and optional) middle ground between hand-holding and the creative freedom so many say they crave and so few seem to earn.
Old 10th June 2006
  #15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Silver Sonya
I think I have come to the conclusion that very few people understand the concept of gain structure or headroom within DAW's. Furthermore, I think this is probably the number one problem happening in audio today.

I think one of the reasons many so-called ITB mixes sound bad is for this reason. It's remarkable how often I work (as either a mastering engineer or a mixer) with someone who brings me a DAW session that is just shredding the input or the output of some plug-in or channel or buss. I'm not talking subtle distortion here. Im talking just bone-stupid clipping and harsh, spitty audio. For me, it's painful to even look at the meters, let alone hear the sound. Usually I'll say "Whoa!" and grab the digital fader or input and pull it down and the person will turn to me and say "Why did you do that?"

And I'll explain "Because you were absolutely searing the output of that buss. This is a DAW, you can't do that. It results in completely unmusical clipping and truncated resolution." This is usually followed by me giving about an hour long lecture on the rudimentary principles of gain structure and why it's important. Then the client says "Wow, I never thought about that."

Elegant gain management --- i.e. negotiating your way through the headroom available to you, either in voltage (analog) or data (digital) --- is the most fundamental aspect of recording.

I have a radical concept: what if Protools/Logic/Nuendo, etc. had a bult in alarm that would sound whenever the user overloaded the i/o of a channel, buss, or plug-in within the system? Or better yet: prevented them from doing it at all! Like maybe the fader just won't go as high as you want it to... or maybe at some point, turning the fader up on one channel simply results in all other channels being lowered?

Of course "real" engineers (either seasoned through experience or sometimes formal education) don't have this problem as much as musicians and home-hobbyist types.

The DAW is an unforgiving environment! I long for the days when the home hobbyist was using a Tascam 4-track cassette or maybe 8-track reel-to-reel and maybe a Tapco console. At least then, bad gainstaging at least resulted in something interesting: either analog distortion [too hot levels] or seas of hiss [too low levels].

Man, I'd take some hiss over clipping DAW levels any day!!

So what I want to know is this: is my DAW concept a bad idea? Or a stroke of genius. What if DAWs stopped the user from clipping?

Lemme know what you think.

Cheers,
Chad
I think you are right.

The rot probably set in around about 1999 / 2000. When people were making the transition from analog tape mutitrack, ADAT and crappy converters on DAT players. The earlier digital converters came with an unspoken rule that was Chinese whispered between engineers that you HAD to feed them the HIGHEST possible level - to get the best sound quality or 'the most use of the bits'....

Somewhere along the way a feeling that you had to slam the inputs to DAW converters began to gain acceptance between engineers... (me included) But....as well as clipped audio this methodology never did produce the 2" like saturation slamming tape did. It also freaked out plug in headroom - (leading to more clipping) awkward mix gain staging situations, (with maxed out level.. faders had to be very low) so it's little wonder that folks began to scratch their heads wondering where the 'warmth' was as clipped over driven audio screamed through their DAWs.

Enter the era of the 'warming' plugs. And along with them came the various secret recipe's to end up with bearable audio on your hard drives -

DON'T SLAM YOUR CONVERTERS!
Be mindful of your analog hardware gain staging (pre & compressors)
Calibrate your converters to SUIT your hardware's optimum operating levels (and NOT the other way round!)
Use the new generation of plug ins that dont ruin your signal
Try the warming plug ins or hardware warming boxes like the Fatso or True Tape Emulator
Try ribbon mic's

Anyhow... I agree with the starting post. And as well as the campaign to not crush mix dynamics's in mastering so much that they end up one solid screaming block of digital madness, there should be a campaign to educate folks that simply serving up 'hot level' to a DAW converter is not a 'job well done'.

There is a lot more to it than that...
Old 10th June 2006
  #16
500 series nutjob
 
pan60's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by not_so_new
Honestly I started in the analog world and when I got to digital it took me a loooong time to fight my analog days, hell I still fight it.
it has been a struggle for me.
and i still am not sure, i have started shooting for -10 for my peaks.
all input welcome.
Old 11th June 2006
  #17
Lives for gear
 

Keep in mind some people are still waiting for their solid state gear to warm up. So thats who were dealing with....
Old 11th June 2006
  #18
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synthoid's Avatar
 

This is so right.

It doesn't help that what used to be nice big physical meters peppered all over the equipment racks are now buried inside menues, so that casual glancing at all the relevant points along the gain structure is no longer trivial.

Also, it has been striking me lately how miseading some digital metering is! On the face of the HD24, the meters range from CLIP (OdbFS) to -60dbFS. This leaves 84dB of dynamic range off the registration of the meters! This is hardly unusable territory: most of the dynamic range of a CD could be contained at levels below this registration! More importantly, though, it makes it look as though you are losing almost half your dynamic range by letting levels sag to say -12dB.

And finally the gain structures are genuinely more complicated, or at least a lot different. A digital processing unit can use a lowered output level to gain headroom for the processing that takes place inside, something that can't happen with a gain control on the output of an analog circuit (or at least doesn't happen in practice).

-synthoid
Old 11th June 2006
  #19
11413
Guest
Quote:
Originally Posted by Silver Sonya
Lemme know what you think.
I would say the #1 problem today is "fix it in the mix".

get the sound you want BEFORE it hits the DAW and you'll save yourself a world of hurt....
Old 11th June 2006
  #20
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Masterer's Avatar
 

An alarm that is more irritating than a little red light might be good [say maybe a warning message that briefly mutes audio]. You'd have to let the user disable it.

Anything more intrusive than that would probably kill sales immediately.
Old 11th June 2006
  #21
The Distressor's "daddy"
 
Dave Derr's Avatar
 

FULL SCALE ADC SIGNALS

Quote:
Originally Posted by synthoid
Also, it has been striking me lately how misleading some digital metering is! On the face of the HD24, the meters range from CLIP (OdbFS) to -60dbFS. This leaves 84dB of dynamic range off the registration of the meters! This is hardly unusable territory: most of the dynamic range of a CD could be contained at levels below this registration! More importantly, though, it makes it look as though you are losing almost half your dynamic range by letting levels sag to say -12dB.
-synthoid
Although Im not a big fan of most digital metering myself, the -60 limit on metering seems fairly reasonable, considering if you don't go right up to Full Scale on the ADC, you are losing bits and resolution. This is by definition. If the ADC isnt working right, thats another story.

Its quite simple in some ways. Lets say the ADC measures 65000 steps (about what a 16 bit converter does), if your peak signal stops at -6dBFs (6dB below full scale), you are only measuring 32500 of the 65000 steps, and missing 32500 steps of resolution! You just lost the cleanest bit of your conversion and are now working at 15 bits at best.

AND in actuallity, if you let the peaks only hit -12dBfs, you ARE losing 2 of your best bits of resolution and dynamic range. Your most innaccurate bits are the last bits, and the best bits are the first bits. Algebraically, it only takes 1 bit to lose half your dynamic range (-6dB is one half the voltage amplitude).

So if you have useful music below -60dB it had better be the verrrrrry tail end of a decay or reverb tail, and not a note you want to pick out clearly. The metering is there to help you record right up to Full scale, and encourage you not to record so low as to fall off the meter. Remember that old analog VU meters only showed about 26dB of dynamic range usually, so 60dB should seem like a blessing.
Old 11th June 2006
  #22
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silver Sonya
I think I have come to the conclusion that very few people understand the concept of gain structure or headroom within DAW's. Furthermore, I think this is probably the number one problem happening in audio today.

I think one of the reasons many so-called ITB mixes sound bad is for this reason. It's remarkable how often I work (as either a mastering engineer or a mixer) with someone who brings me a DAW session that is just shredding the input or the output of some plug-in or channel or buss. I'm not talking subtle distortion here. Im talking just bone-stupid clipping and harsh, spitty audio. For me, it's painful to even look at the meters, let alone hear the sound. Usually I'll say "Whoa!" and grab the digital fader or input and pull it down and the person will turn to me and say "Why did you do that?"

And I'll explain "Because you were absolutely searing the output of that buss. This is a DAW, you can't do that. It results in completely unmusical clipping and truncated resolution." This is usually followed by me giving about an hour long lecture on the rudimentary principles of gain structure and why it's important. Then the client says "Wow, I never thought about that."

Elegant gain management --- i.e. negotiating your way through the headroom available to you, either in voltage (analog) or data (digital) --- is the most fundamental aspect of recording.
eveyone with a computer things they can be a mixer, they are going up only using software and never touch a real console. few people are bothering to learn what they are actually doing. most people dont know the difference between bit deepths and sample rates or what the numebrs mean. when ive suggested people learn on an analogue console ive been told i was an idiot and its just not needed when you can do everything in (insert fav software)
some people will even intertialy clip the mix bus hoping for a nice sounding analogue clipping but not realising the difference in the digital domain.

if all the clip lights on every channel and the horible sound arnt enough of a warning then nothign will be. although prehaps a warning on plug-ins may be good, as you dont have the clip indicator there unless you open the plug-in.

Quote:
Originally Posted by not_so_new
I would not say that 100% of all "seasoned or trained professional engineers" understand the headroom issues with digital. Some do for sure but you might be surprised how many don't have a clue.
absolutly but someone who know what they are doing is going to realise there is a problem and full down the faders.
Old 11th June 2006
  #23
Gear Addict
 
edyer's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by synthoid
This is so right.

Also, it has been striking me lately how miseading some digital metering is! On the face of the HD24, the meters range from CLIP (OdbFS) to -60dbFS. This leaves 84dB of dynamic range off the registration of the meters! This is hardly unusable territory: most of the dynamic range of a CD could be contained at levels below this registration! More importantly, though, it makes it look as though you are losing almost half your dynamic range by letting levels sag to say -12dB.
-synthoid
That's a good point. I use the HDXR and the meters have caused me plenty of problems. Mainly with drums. They don't catch the overs fast enough to be really dependable. On some of the drum tracks I have done for other people I have gotten the comment about how low the levels looked.

Part of the trouble with the prosumer thing I think, is that it is hard to get the knowledge without screwing it up for a long time. The manuals suck and most folks just don't know what to look for. I think people assume it needs to be recorded loud.
Old 11th June 2006
  #24
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ripper's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by CorkyTart
Keep in mind some people are still waiting for their solid state gear to warm up. So thats who were dealing with....
Don't get this one, with all due respect.

my solid state gear IS warm: JLM Audio, Chandler, Neve, MCI, Ampex, Cranesong...etc.

Love me tubes (EAR, Telefuken, Manley, etc.) but there are a lot of things about discrete, Class A, and tranny balanced soloid state I LOVE!

I think this thread is spot on! Gain structure cannot be overrated! also, just the "sweetspot" of getting all the related elements exactly where the analogue desks likes them to sit to created the best reslolved whole picture is an important starting point in analogue mixing. Do you get what i mean? i've found this a lot on various analogue desks, which is beyond a matter of clipping or distorting but actually finding where the board feels comfortable with everything (yes, i do speak to my mixing desks! i know, a little weird....)

what jules said about recording levels to digital is true to a degree and i understand the sentiment. what he said about calibrating your digi level to optimimum conditions for your hardware is, IMO, absolutely true.

I mix analogue and i've calibrated my AD/DA's to couple w/ my desk nicely.
I do not clip my convereters, ever, but i do record pretty hot to get optimium digital resolution. Quality of converters and proper gain structure both w/ analogue and digital and in the relationship between the two is incredibly important.

also, if you record on analogue, try NOT slamming the damn tape!!!!
transients and the preservation and capture of, along with a loud average level, is to me what it's all about: punch, definition, clarity, depth.
Old 11th June 2006
  #25
Gear Maniac
 
txgator's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by ripper
Don't get this one, with all due respect.


I'm pretty sure he was making a joke about people "thinking" that solid-state gear needs warm up time like tube gear...
Old 11th June 2006
  #26
Lives for gear
 
ripper's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by txgator
I'm pretty sure he was making a joke about people "thinking" that solid-state gear needs warm up time like tube gear...
guess my brain needed to warm up!!!

oops! thanks for the clarification!!

here's me hiding in emabarrassment>
Old 11th June 2006
  #27
Lives for gear
 
ripper's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by ripper
guess my brain needed to warm up!!!

oops! thanks for the clarification!!

here's me hiding in emabarrassment>

but actually, if you want to exercise your ocd fully (which is one of the best things about engineering!), you should warm up your solid state gear as well:
reason: because here in melbourne we're in denial about the fact it gets cold in the winter... so by warming all the trannies, powered monitors, etc. up prior to a session, your teeth chatter less in the control room thus enabling a lower ambient noise floor.
Old 11th June 2006
  #28
Gear Head
 
ObnoxiousTyrant's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by not_so_new
I don't think we are talking about "clipping" here... let me put that another way, I don't think we are talking exclusively about clipping here. You can run your mix hot ITB without any clip lights showing up and still get a mix that will fold in on it's self.

I think we are talking more about headroom in the mix and the fact that is seems like (to me anyway) with a DAW you need to leave even more headroom than with analog. As we all know, well as many of us know anyway, many good analog units will let you push the top of the input without sounding harsh even when clipped but digital is not that way. Even without clipping the buss a digital mix can get small with too much data.

Back down the faders on the mix and things will clear up so yes I agree with the idea that maybe the programmers / developers of the software should put some more headroom into the buss. I would not think of it as the developers having more control over you I would think of it more as the developers realizing that there are limitations to the medium and then work inside these limitations.
That's exactly right. Anytime you lift a fader ITB or amplify a signal ITB, it increases the harshness or brittleness of the mix. Use a preamp to amplify and if a signal is weak, reprocess it through an OTB preamp. Let the amplifier do the amplification and keep the digital fader at unity or below. Cut frequencies with digital eq's and compressors, don't amplify them.
Old 11th June 2006
  #29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Derr
Although Im not a big fan of most digital metering myself, the -60 limit on metering seems fairly reasonable, considering if you don't go right up to Full Scale on the ADC, you are losing bits and resolution. This is by definition. If the ADC isnt working right, thats another story.

Its quite simple in some ways. Lets say the ADC measures 65000 steps (about what a 16 bit converter does), if your peak signal stops at -6dBFs (6dB below full scale), you are only measuring 32500 of the 65000 steps, and missing 32500 steps of resolution! You just lost the cleanest bit of your conversion and are now working at 15 bits at best.

AND in actuallity, if you let the peaks only hit -12dBfs, you ARE losing 2 of your best bits of resolution and dynamic range. Your most innaccurate bits are the last bits, and the best bits are the first bits. Algebraically, it only takes 1 bit to lose half your dynamic range (-6dB is one half the voltage amplitude).

So if you have useful music below -60dB it had better be the verrrrrry tail end of a decay or reverb tail, and not a note you want to pick out clearly. The metering is there to help you record right up to Full scale, and encourage you not to record so low as to fall off the meter. Remember that old analog VU meters only showed about 26dB of dynamic range usually, so 60dB should seem like a blessing.
Somewhere there needs to be a balance (!) struck between terror of loosing 'the last bits' on the conversion and analog hardware gain staging 'sweet spots' - Engineers need a 'set it and leave it' calibration - so they don't have to keep worrying about it. I suppose another word for this window of level operation is "tolerance".

The concept of tolerance is missing for a lot of DAW users - all they can see is 'slam the inputs / don't lose out on those last bits"

New words but basically I repeat myself...

Here is how I found a converter calibration level for my system..

Pumped signal in to 1176 limiter had input and out put knobs set to the classic 10 O'clock 2 O'clock positions

Calibrated converters to accept this output
a) without overload
b) with a little extra head room just in case.



At my studio - we keep an eye out for digital over lights - but don't sweat levels to the DAW too much

Best to all,
Old 11th June 2006
  #30
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silver Sonya
I think I have come to the conclusion that very few people understand the concept of gain structure or headroom within DAW's. Furthermore, I think this is probably the number one problem happening in audio today.

I think one of the reasons many so-called ITB mixes sound bad is for this reason. It's remarkable how often I work (as either a mastering engineer or a mixer) with someone who brings me a DAW session that is just shredding the input or the output of some plug-in or channel or buss. I'm not talking subtle distortion here. Im talking just bone-stupid clipping and harsh, spitty audio. For me, it's painful to even look at the meters, let alone hear the sound. Usually I'll say "Whoa!" and grab the digital fader or input and pull it down and the person will turn to me and say "Why did you do that?"

And I'll explain "Because you were absolutely searing the output of that buss. This is a DAW, you can't do that. It results in completely unmusical clipping and truncated resolution." This is usually followed by me giving about an hour long lecture on the rudimentary principles of gain structure and why it's important. Then the client says "Wow, I never thought about that."

Elegant gain management --- i.e. negotiating your way through the headroom available to you, either in voltage (analog) or data (digital) --- is the most fundamental aspect of recording.

I have a radical concept: what if Protools/Logic/Nuendo, etc. had a bult in alarm that would sound whenever the user overloaded the i/o of a channel, buss, or plug-in within the system? Or better yet: prevented them from doing it at all! Like maybe the fader just won't go as high as you want it to... or maybe at some point, turning the fader up on one channel simply results in all other channels being lowered?

Of course "real" engineers (either seasoned through experience or sometimes formal education) don't have this problem as much as musicians and home-hobbyist types.

The DAW is an unforgiving environment! I long for the days when the home hobbyist was using a Tascam 4-track cassette or maybe 8-track reel-to-reel and maybe a Tapco console. At least then, bad gainstaging at least resulted in something interesting: either analog distortion [too hot levels] or seas of hiss [too low levels].

Man, I'd take some hiss over clipping DAW levels any day!!

So what I want to know is this: is my DAW concept a bad idea? Or a stroke of genius. What if DAWs stopped the user from clipping?

Lemme know what you think.

Cheers,
Chad
Interesting thoughts, however, I must admit that my view is the exact opposite. People mixing ITB don't really know how to use the headroom that the digital medium (32-bit+) brings, all they do is to watch those clipping indicators and make sure it doesn't show that it's clipping. With 64-bit audio engines the headroom will be even greater and the waste even bigger. It's true that clipping is evil and you need to be careful with it, but in the digital domain clipping indicators should not be taken too seriously, you can't afford it. What you should make sure though is that the data coming in IS NOT CLIPPING! That's what you should really avoid and I think that's where the problem really is. People are recording the signal too hot with too bad pre amps and converters. The manufacturers write in the manual what the reference input signal is. Probably because they know that the cheap op-amps in them start generating distortion with a hotter input signal fed to them. There's a very fine line between a full signal and op-amp distortion. With better op-amps you get less distortion close to the clipping point. When these op amps don't perform well you are facing a situation when you need to trade digital clipping for artificial fullness, or natural fullness with some harshness. Finding the sweet spot is very important and the higher the quality of the gear is the more signal you end up with.

Buy a good converter, find the sweet spot and take well care of the digital headroom ITB. I've read that the Lavry converters are so effective on noise that you can even use them for gaining by clipping them by purpose. I don't know if it's true though since I've never tested it myself, but I'm sure those -10dB before unity reference gain are pretty clean compared to some cheaper converters. That means a full and natural signal with low amounts of digital distortion.
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