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Whats the difference between gain staging vs increasing/decreasing the audio event waveform?

Are the audio event waveform level relevant when gain staging or mixing?

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by SwitchBack on Sun Mar 17, 2019 3:56 am
Traditionally ‘gain staging’ is the art of setting the levels between analog gear for best recording/playback quality. Simplistic summary: ‘As soon as possible as loud as possible (or required end level, whichever comes first), without hitting unwanted distortion’. In digital only the distortion part is, maybe, still valid. In a practical sense once the signal has passed the ADC the maiden track’s sound quality is more or less fixed. Pulling the event handles makes no audible difference.

Hope that helps :)
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by Tacman7 on Sun Mar 17, 2019 7:34 am
I look at gain staging as adding whatever I need to get something to the level I need.

There's a lot of places where you can adjust the gain, like the event, the track slider, trim on inputs, bus, etc.

But I usually have to add a compressor or preamp plugin or 2 to get more out of a track.

I could turn other stuff down, but this is rock and roll! Turn it up!

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by Daw Stew on Sun Mar 17, 2019 10:06 am
i always gain stage prior to mixing so that every track is at the same volume, a metaphor i use is that its building a house on a level surface.
I always use event gain handles for this part as i want to use my faders for the actual static mix. You can't do that if you've used the faders to gain stage.
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by SwitchBack on Sun Mar 17, 2019 11:07 am
Same here :)
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by kaosikosmos on Sun Mar 17, 2019 11:40 am
Still a bit confusing. Does it mean i can select all events and normalize them, then pull the event handle down to -12 or -6db so all tracks have equal volume with the faders at unity?

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by Jemusic on Sun Mar 17, 2019 12:20 pm
There are two components to a signal. Its peak value and rms value. One should be aware of that. Of course good gain staging in any analog stages prior to entering the DAW still apply but what I aim for is the the same rms values on each track as the signals are coming in i.e. during tracking. A decent VU meter plugin is required to do this properly.

Then you don't need to do anything to the tracks gain wise prior to the mix. All the tracks will be at equal sounding volume. The faders represent the mix then. As they did in the analog days.

You just have to choose an rms ref level. Many use -18 or you can choose one of the three K System levels e.g. -12, -14 or -20. I work with either -14 or -20 a lot of the time.

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by kaosikosmos on Sun Mar 17, 2019 12:44 pm
I am not tracking anything. Mostly just bouncing virtual instrument tracks.
So if i set the volume slider in kontakt to the same db amount each time i bounce the track theres no need to adjust the event gain handles?

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by Jemusic on Sun Mar 17, 2019 12:49 pm
I find that virtual instruments actually vary in their rms levels all over the place to be honest. From a whisper to a roar. There is no actual standard here and they can vary wildly. I put a VU meter in the first slot of the inserts and while they are playing I set their output volume controls so the VU meters are always just reaching 0 dB VU on the meter. e.g. at the ref level.

Their output volumes are the only place that you can actually find tune their output levels. But every virtual instrument has one so they can be easily set usually.

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by kaosikosmos on Sun Mar 17, 2019 1:13 pm
So if you use a mix tool plugin to adjust the gain to reference or just drag the handle in the audio event, its just two differrent approaches to achieve the same result?

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by Jemusic on Sun Mar 17, 2019 1:57 pm
You could leave the volume levels alone on virtual instruments and insert a Mix Tool for sure. But I have found even some instruments like Serum with certain patches will send out levels that are close to clipping even. Clipping their own output stages even. So I prefer to set the actual volume controls on the synths themselves. That way you will always be sure the signal leaving a virtual instrument is at your ref level and not clipping itself.

Some are real quiet too. (Korg Wavestation- needs its output boosted by +6 dB or +12 dB even for some of the quieter patches)

Fine tuning gain handles with audio events is also fine but I find if you get the level right before rendering you don't actually have to do that at all.

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by alcyon972 on Sun Mar 17, 2019 3:49 pm
i always use the mixtool in every track and put a VUmeter on track or master and do a gain staging right before mixing (i mix mostly live venue)

I think its very important with a lot of plug that emulate analog hardware (i use the ssl 4000 and 9000 from softube and the CTC 1 from presonus) and the result is better for me with those plugs if you use the correct levels as expected by the emulation.
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by dgkenney on Sun Mar 17, 2019 9:58 pm
Do yourself a favor and construct a macro consisting of a mixtool with a -12 setting and apply to each new track. This will assure proper headroom in the mains and point out quickly problem tracks that are not recorded with sufficient volume. There will be exceptions to the rule but this is good practice 90% of the time and make sure you have your monitors a proper mixing level.

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by Lawrence on Mon Mar 18, 2019 12:54 pm
Here we go again. I'd like to summarily execute those two words. :) Two things...

1. As JeMusic said... "gain staging" is for keeping proper levels in the analog domain, to reduce distortion and noise. It's - way - less relevant in the digital domain. I know, I know, "analog plugins", etc, etc, etc. I'm not going to open that rabbit hole again.

2. If you are recording the tracks yourself, rendering virtual instruments or not, there is simply no reason at all to print things so hot that you have to circle back and "gain stage" your own previous work. If you are doing that it typically means that you're buying into some other myth during recording or rendering that put you in that unnecessary position in the first place,

One easy way to have lots of headroom like Dan says, if it's ever necessary... select all and fire a macro that normalizes everything to -12 or something. It takes all of 5 seconds.
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by Jemusic on Mon Mar 18, 2019 12:58 pm
If you render virtual instruments at the correct level to begin with e.g. use a VU meter to set to a ref level or you track on the way in to a consistent form of rms ref level then no further adjustment is actually required. Prevention is better than cure.

Many say in the digital world no gain staging is necessary and while that may be true you can apply some principles in the digital world such as keeping track levels consistent rms wise. Just as we did in the analog multitrack tape era. We don't have to record hot for sure like we did back then but the one thing that can be taken from that era is keeping your multi tracks consistent level wise. (rms levels wise that is. Don't sweat the peaks.)

That goes a long way to making mixing much easier.

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by SwitchBack on Tue Mar 19, 2019 8:08 am
Yeah, even with the nearly limitless floating point dynamic range available it’s still good advice to keep digital levels similar to where you would keep them with analog gear. Every dynamics plugin uses a fixed ‘0dBfs’ reference level to relate thresholds to. That ‘0dBfs’ often is the 24 bit fixed point full scale level, the same level as the full scale input level of a 24 bit ADC or the full scale output level of a 24 bit DAC. So even inside a DAW those ‘hardware’ levels have relevance.
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by frank.crow on Tue Mar 19, 2019 8:57 am
This is an oversimplification of course but a good place to start until one grasps the concept of gain staging.

Hornet makes a great (cheap) plugin. You put it across every track. Just let the song play through once and it is adequately gain staged to the parameters you set on the plugin.

I do other stuff too as part of my personal workflow but this is a good technique if one just wants to get to work.

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I’d recommend putting a Klanghelm plugin at the end of your chain (gain control & VU meter) to make sure everything stays where you want it too.

Once again this is an oversimplification.

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by Funkybot on Tue Mar 19, 2019 2:35 pm
These days, I like to keep my levels low-ish. Fun challenge: try to get your levels where your mix already sounds pretty good with all faders at unity. With virtual instruments, it's as easy as doing a pre-mix using the output level of each instrument, but with acoustic instruments and anything else you're mic'ing up or bringing in via a DI, it's not a bad idea to track around the same level you expect to mix at. The added benefit: it makes mixing easy as hell when everything already sounds pretty good before you move a fader.

Now, why even bother? Why not record everything as close to 0dbfs as possible? Well, 1) your converter was likely calibrated to operate with more reasonable reference levels in mind (probably close to -14dbu), and 2) if you're using "analog modeling" plugins, you probably don't want to slam their input unless you're intentionally trying to drive a track into distortion. Remember: most analog modeling plugins are generally calibrated with a reference levels between -18 and -12dbu. If you go hit them a signal peaking close to 0dbfs, then you're going to drive these plugins way harder than anyone in the analog domain ever would (unless they were intentionally trying to distort the signal).

Ideally, you'd do your gain staging on the way into the DAW, but doing it after the fact will still have benefits if you're using analog modeling plugins. So doing the trimming in the DAW or via gain plugins isn't entirely without benefit.
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by kaosikosmos on Tue Mar 19, 2019 3:36 pm
If the point is to get all tracks at the same volume, why not just select all audio events and normalise, then drag them down to -18 or whatever you like? Will doing this change the waveform or destroy the dynamics?

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by Funkybot on Tue Mar 19, 2019 3:47 pm
kaosikosmos wroteIf the point is to get all tracks at the same volume, why not just select all audio events and normalise, then drag them down to -18 or whatever you like? Will doing this change the waveform or destroy the dynamics?


Think of it this way: normalizing works on the loudest peak right? So a picked electric bass might have some loud peaks with the body of the sound, well below. Drums are almost all peaks and vocals may be all over the place. If you normalize everything on peaks, your volume levels would still end up all over the place.

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