Old 09-15-2019, 04:35 AM   #1
Tubeguy
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Default Your recording levels?

The word goes that levels should be at around -18db. I personally record at around -30db. No noise problem or anything else I can hear. Might sound low but it works out in good balance with my live monitoring levels.
If there is some reason why not to record at low levels I'd be interested in hearing it. After all, it's digital, not tape. With tape I used to push +5db constantly just so I don't have noise
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Old 09-15-2019, 05:12 AM   #2
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If you can't hear a problem with noise once you start compressing and raising levels in mixing, then it's not a problem.

You're talking about RMS levels, right?
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Old 09-17-2019, 09:31 PM   #3
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That's what I'm thinking too. But there seem to be lot of uninfo on the Net claiming that converters are designed to best perform at -18db etc which in my mind is nonsense because what happens when you have an instrument track and only have -40db level on it. Even though it might be recorded at -18db, it's still going to be played back at -40. But it's an interesting topic anyway, might need some technical people to explain it properly.
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Old 09-17-2019, 11:22 PM   #4
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They're actually designed to perform best when not clipping. -18 dBFS RMS is just a loose approximation of what 0VU (coming from the outside world) will fall on the DAWs meters. Think about it, 0 VU can't be 0 dBFS or you'd instantly clip if your analog gear ran > 0VU, because it can, so the reference number is "pushed down" on the digital scale to give wiggle room, that's all there is to it.
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Old 09-18-2019, 02:04 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tubeguy View Post
The word goes that levels should be at around -18db. I personally record at around -30db. No noise problem or anything else I can hear. Might sound low but it works out in good balance with my live monitoring levels.
If there is some reason why not to record at low levels I'd be interested in hearing it. After all, it's digital, not tape. With tape I used to push +5db constantly just so I don't have noise
* notice what karbomusic says.

-18dBFS RMS (measured between 300~500ms time window) is a good practice
In general though I tend to keep the Peaks hitting maximum of -6dbFS PPM (Peak Program Meter) by adjusting the input signal knob (audio interface input) on the loudest part of the performance (test signals); ensures headroom big enough for any TruePeak interpolation jumps that might occur when re-sampling the signal (based on project settings in the DAW or external Converters, internal oversampling, post processing).

It happens that signals come in around -16dbFS Peak or up to -1dBFS. No problem. In the pre-mix phase just turn them up/down accordingly so the Peaks hit the arbitrary (personal preference) of -6dBFS Peak.

Then the first thing (it is now a mixing personal workflow) I tend to use Transformer plugins (such as TrueIron, Omega Transform...) and Kazorg KClip 3 or SIR Audio StandardCLIP to bring signals to clip their peaks around -6dBFS Peak. Use them gently, so when you hear some harmonic saturation happening, stop there and turn back to taste - no need to overdo it!

Then bring all tracks (audio events) to -18dBFS RMS as suggested above and start the real mixing: compression, transient shape, EQs, spatial FX (reverbs, delays), levels, etc.

DISCLAIMER:
Those above are just my personal preferences. They should be not taken as a general rule.
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Old 09-18-2019, 08:07 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tubeguy View Post
The word goes that levels should be at around -18db.
That's been "telephone gamed".

If you don't know how high a peak might be when you are recording, if you set the level for -18db rms (that means the average level - NOT the peaks), that's a good guess that will result in avoiding any peaks that will clip in most situations.

It's a calculated guess to avoid clipping. It's not a target level itself and it's absolutely not a suggested peak level.
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Old 09-18-2019, 10:06 AM   #7
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Sorry to repeat what's been said but the main thing is to avoid clipping. Nothing bad happens when you get close to 0dB but your ADC will hard-clip if you "try" to go over.

And since digital have a ton of dynamic range, nothing bad happens* unless your levels are extremely low.

The bottom line is, digital recording levels are not THAT critical as long as they are reasonable and not clipping.


Quote:
I personally record at around -30db
That should be OK at 24-bits. Each bit represents 6dB of resolution, so at -30dB you're loosing 5-bits (not using the 5 most significant bits). If you're recording at 16-bits, you are only getting 11-bits of resolution!


Quote:
But there seem to be lot of uninfo on the Net claiming that converters are designed to best perform at -18db etc which in my mind is nonsense
Yes, that's nonsense. Typically ADCs & DACs are more linear near their maximum limits. Plus the steps/counts are linear, That means one "count" near 0dB is a smaller dB difference (or proportionally smaller and more precise) than one count at -60dB.


As an analogy, imagine that you are measuring length and one count represents 1-inch, That's your resolution. One inch out of a few feet could be a problem but 1-inch out of a couple of miles is super-accurate.


Quote:
With tape I used to push +5db constantly just so I don't have noise
And, tape can go over 0dB where it begins to soft-clip so it acts more like a limiter. Plus, the NAB tape EQ further "softens" distortion harmonics. Digital (ADCs, DACs, and integer formats) hard-clips at exactly 0dB.



* Low analog levels can a problem because noise is usually fixed and a weak signal gives you a poor signal-to-noise ratio. (At very-low levels or low-resolution quantization noise can also be an issue.)

Last edited by DVDdoug; 09-18-2019 at 10:21 AM.
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Old 09-18-2019, 10:08 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by serr View Post
If you don't know how high a peak might be when you are recording, if you set the level for -18db rms (that means the average level - NOT the peaks), that's a good guess that will result in avoiding any peaks that will clip in most situations.
Well not for drums usually, and especially not when your converters are calibrated to top at at +15 dbVU, and...

The first answer was really the correct one. You probably are compromising your noise floor by a measurable amount. It’s up to you how much it matters on any given track. The best cure for that, btw, is usually to get more level at the source if at all possible before you start turning up interface gain.


Edit - I generally keep my interface gains all the way down except in really special situations. The little extra noise is not worse than nasty clipping ruining a perfect (or only) take.
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Old 09-18-2019, 06:21 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tubeguy View Post
The word goes that levels should be at around -18db. I personally record at around -30db. No noise problem or anything else I can hear. Might sound low but it works out in good balance with my live monitoring levels.
If there is some reason why not to record at low levels I'd be interested in hearing it. After all, it's digital, not tape. With tape I used to push +5db constantly just so I don't have noise

It depends on your converters and preamps but if you dont hear any noise, there shouldn't be a problem. (It can be annoying though having to put gain plugins on the tracks or reducing gain of louder tracks though)

Theoretically, you shouldn't get to 16 bit until you go below -48 Dbfs, but the best converters will only give about 120 db of dynamic range and subpar ones might only be slightly better than -96 db.

But that said noise isnt always that big of a deal anyways.

Ribbon and dynamic mics might actually sound better that low because certain preamps can get noisy at high gain settings.
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Old 09-19-2019, 02:48 AM   #10
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No, noise is no problem for me at 30db. I could probably detect some if I wanted to but considering the noise amps make, any DAW noise would be noting. In fact sometimes I use noisy preamp to get noise if it's called for.
I was mainly interested if there perhaps could be any sound degradation even though I can' hear any. With tapes low levels caused limited range so one had to keep the levels right so I just wondered about digital.
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