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Old 05-26-2019, 09:01 AM   #41
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Originally Posted by mschnell View Post
And as it's floating point this also holds for -1000

-Michael
I think you and I agree on the majority of points in the thread.
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Old 05-26-2019, 12:18 PM   #42
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If you adjust your monitoring to get 85db spl or so (per channel) with a pink noise at -20dbfs and track at that monitoring level you probably won't need to check your meters. Your ears will tell you if it's too loud.
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Old 05-26-2019, 12:37 PM   #43
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Pro-tip: Actually it's more productive and less time-consuming to simply assume -18 is the optimal level than to concern yourself with mental lists of which is or isn't.
Not sure how pro that tip is.

The only people I've seen sticking to, or talking about, ITB gain staging "rules" are guys who make their living from making online tutorials, with few to no mixing credits on actual records.

Many of the big name mixers can be seen lighting up clip indicators all over their projects. Because it doesn't matter in a floating point audio engine.

The emulation plugin argument is kinda void too. Most of these plugins break up way before the hardware would, because consumers wouldn't think it was doing anything if it was as clean as the hardware, and they are just an effect anyway. Twiddle knobs until it sounds good, don't play "vintage studio simulator"... unless that's what gets you off of course, which is all fine.
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Old 05-26-2019, 01:08 PM   #44
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Not sure how pro that tip is.

The only people I've seen sticking to, or talking about, ITB gain staging "rules" are guys who make their living from making online tutorials, with few to no mixing credits on actual records.
That's true for a lot of things in audio...

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Many of the big name mixers can be seen lighting up clip indicators all over their projects. Because it doesn't matter in a floating point audio engine.
Yep. Some of the biggest names in rock have even chosen their DA for how it sounds when it clips...

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The emulation plugin argument is kinda void too. Most of these plugins break up way before the hardware would, because consumers wouldn't think it was doing anything if it was as clean as the hardware, and they are just an effect anyway. Twiddle knobs until it sounds good, don't play "vintage studio simulator"... unless that's what gets you off of course, which is all fine.
I've given up on emulations. Especially mic simulations. Didn't play around with many others tho.
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Old 05-26-2019, 01:20 PM   #45
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Not sure how pro that tip is.
It's about the only thing I agree with the OP about because small amount of organization does often mean less jumping around and compensating like one will be if they "pay no thought for tomorrow" when making adjustments, it's just less work and likely more efficient across the life of the project. That's what I meant by "fader chasing" but it's organizational/efficiency based only. If one records at nominal levels, they get this for free anyway.
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Old 05-26-2019, 01:24 PM   #46
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It's about the only thing I agree with the OP about because small amount of organization does often mean less jumping around and compensating like one will be if they "pay no thought for tomorrow" when making adjustments, it's just less work and likely more efficient across the life of the project. That's what I meant by "fader chasing" but it's organizational/efficiency based only.
It's just something that happens out of habit for me now. My mixes all come out at around the same level.

It was just the "pro" bit that tickled me, because I've seen a good number of people at the top of their profession obviously not give a damn about it, judging by the red clip indicators on their screens.
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Old 05-26-2019, 01:25 PM   #47
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It's just something that happens out of habit for me now. My mixes all come out at around the same level.

It was just the "pro" bit that tickled me, because I've seen a good number of people at the top of their profession obviously not give a damn about it, judging by the red clip indicators on their screens.
Yea, I get it. Sometimes I think they should ban meters - if you can't hear it, you don't have any business worrying about it (to an extent).
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Old 05-26-2019, 01:48 PM   #48
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I'm not a pro engineer by any means, I was being humorous.
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Old 05-26-2019, 01:50 PM   #49
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I'm not a pro engineer by any means, I was being humorous.
I know, I wasn't trying to attack your "pro-ness", I'm a happy amateur too.
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Old 05-26-2019, 01:56 PM   #50
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One more thing about it though -

There's nothing wrong with adhering to the -18 "rule". It's obviously helped a lot of people get a handle on gain staging and, as Karbo says, keeping a mix manageable and organised.

The problem comes when people start talking about DAW or plugin "sweet spots" as if they are analogue hardware. It just doesn't work like that.

Emulation plugins are just code. You don't generally get unacceptable SNR if you hit them too softly, nor do they set on fire if you hit them too hard. Crank them until you get the sonic effect you are after, regardless of what the nicely rendered VU meters say.
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Old 05-26-2019, 02:16 PM   #51
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It's easier for me, (old-school musician who writes music, plays guitar and is happy with getting analog sounds) to read a few reliable sources on what are the best methods and practices. -18dB was one thing that stuck in my mind and I've used it since and it sounds fine to me.

Then, along come different options that tell me in fact, none of it matters, gain-staging - don't bother with it and just record it in the red until it clips...

So, what in fact is the best method/practice ? Is there an optimal level to record at or are you guys just debating academic technical details ?
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Old 05-26-2019, 02:27 PM   #52
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It's easier for me, (old-school musician who writes music, plays guitar and is happy with getting analog sounds) to read a few reliable sources on what are the best methods and practices. -18dB was one thing that stuck in my mind and I've used it since and it sounds fine to me.

Then, along come different options that tell me in fact, none of it matters, gain-staging - don't bother with it and just record it in the red until it clips...

So, what in fact is the best method/practice ? Is there an optimal level to record at or are you guys just debating academic technical details ?
Recording and mixing are different deals.

When you record, don't clip. That's about it, really. There is no fixing audio that has been clipped while recording. If you are recording in 24 bit, which you should always do, then it is actually pretty hard to record a signal that is too quiet (unless you are doing field recordings of distant nature sounds or something, then you start to battle with the noise of your mic preamps).

Once that audio is in REAPER though, you can't break it. As long as your master output isn't clipping when you render to your final file, it's all good*. If emulation plugins are sounding too distorted, turn down their input or turn up the input level calibration if the plugin has that. If you aren't getting enough grit from an emulation plugin, turn up the input on it or turn down the input level calibration.

It really is that simple.

* You can have every track hitting red clip lights, it doesn't matter. You can turn that level down on your master and the audio will be fine.
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Old 05-26-2019, 02:35 PM   #53
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So, what in fact is the best method/practice ? Is there an optimal level to record at or are you guys just debating academic technical details ?
Why not do some comparing and find out for yourself? Record some tracks nearing 0 dBFS, and repeat for -18 dBFS. Level match them and listen for comparison.
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Old 05-26-2019, 03:16 PM   #54
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Recording and mixing are different deals.

When you record, don't clip. That's about it, really. There is no fixing audio that has been clipped while recording. If you are recording in 24 bit, which you should always do, then it is actually pretty hard to record a signal that is too quiet (unless you are doing field recordings of distant nature sounds or something, then you start to battle with the noise of your mic preamps).

Once that audio is in REAPER though, you can't break it. As long as your master output isn't clipping when you render to your final file, it's all good*. If emulation plugins are sounding too distorted, turn down their input or turn up the input level calibration if the plugin has that. If you aren't getting enough grit from an emulation plugin, turn up the input on it or turn down the input level calibration.

It really is that simple.

* You can have every track hitting red clip lights, it doesn't matter. You can turn that level down on your master and the audio will be fine.
This is my experience too.

I blame the volume wars for some of the confusion.
The -7 LUFS territory CDs will lead you to a low monitor volume. If that's your only experience, you'll be surprised how much you have to turn up the volume to hear raw tracks on the mixing board. Concerned with turning it up that high even! Cueing up a -7 LUFS volume war on a monitor system set for comfortable listening at -13 LUFS will blow you out of your seat!

Now someone comes along and says record at -18db. (You didn't catch the rms part or even know what the hell that means) WTF?! It's already too quiet!


You just have to take the plunge and recalibrate yourself! If you set your volume for -16 to -13 LUFS territory, suddenly it lines up more. It's too loud to the ear just before the red light lights up. That -18db rms actually lines up with peaks not hitting red most of the time when recording.
Comments like "until you get "that guy" on snare" should make you chuckle now.
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Old 05-26-2019, 03:43 PM   #55
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Imagine recording a sine wave at a low level in both 16 and 24-bit. the 24-bit version will be more accurate because there are more "steps" to represent the shape

Is this correct? I thought that all 24 bit gave you was a lower noise floor. And aren't stair steps misleading?
https://www.theverge.com/2015/11/6/9...-res-explainer
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Old 05-26-2019, 06:41 PM   #56
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yea it's correct, 16-bit signed is −32,768 through 32,767 while 24-bit signed is −8,388,608 to 8,388,607

"steps" is not the best word, "values" is better... and I wouldn't say "stair steps"... I did come close but yea it's a "bit" misleading

love that video btw, saw it years ago so it was a nice refresher. noise floor improves as he clearly demonstrates, but so does that quantization error (or jiggly movement in the waveform) of course you can't hear it in most cases, but he doesn't go into how that effect can become exaggerated at lower gain settings... there's probably a better video that demonstrates that out there
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Old 05-26-2019, 09:42 PM   #57
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"steps" is not the best word, "values" is better
Yep. That is why the example of a sine running through A/D -> D/A is misleading. A rectangle signal (which perfectly matches the steps) would get distorted (if you also consider the analyzing and recreation low pass filters the A/D and D/A feature, and which are erroneously ignored by the "steps" example.)
-Michael
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Old 05-27-2019, 03:29 AM   #58
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Thanks for those last two responses - my understanding progresses.
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Old 06-03-2019, 10:22 PM   #59
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While there is a lot of great and correct info in this thread, one very important thing seems to be overlooked. It was mentioned but not highlighted enough.

While I could be wrong, I have an incredibly hard time believing that any mic pre made today actually gets noisier the louder you raise the gain. Sure. You're bringing up noise, but you're also bringing up the signal. So nothing is being fixed by lowering your mic preamp. And if it's too low, you will lose some resolution but the bigger point here is that I simply don't believe that the preamp in question has a better S/N ration when it's hitting the DAW at -30dB or lower. Doesn't make sense. If you want less noise, sing louder. LOL
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Old 06-03-2019, 10:29 PM   #60
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If you want less noise, sing louder. LOL
I feel that with "singing in front of the mic" technical noise problems are not important, and -18dB is a decent rule of thumb to describe a sensible headroom.
Using an analogue compressor might add some freedom here if you feel the need.
But there are much more nasty signal sources, of course, e.g. if you can't control the distance to the mic.

-Michael

Last edited by mschnell; 06-04-2019 at 06:45 AM.
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Old 06-04-2019, 02:47 AM   #61
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While there is a lot of great and correct info in this thread, one very important thing seems to be overlooked. It was mentioned but not highlighted enough.

While I could be wrong, I have an incredibly hard time believing that any mic pre made today actually gets noisier the louder you raise the gain. Sure. You're bringing up noise, but you're also bringing up the signal. So nothing is being fixed by lowering your mic preamp. And if it's too low, you will lose some resolution but the bigger point here is that I simply don't believe that the preamp in question has a better S/N ration when it's hitting the DAW at -30dB or lower. Doesn't make sense. If you want less noise, sing louder. LOL
I don't know about this Kenny.
My past experience tells me that mic pre's introduce more noise as you get closer to 100% full gain.
I could be totally wrong with this assumption, but that would mean many decades years of deluded beliefs < very possible.

EG: a (non digital) guitar amp, there is little noise at a medium loud setting, then wind up the gain to full and the noise very much increases.


Would be good if a much more tech person could chime in on this:
Does signal to noise ratio increase the more gain that is added to an amplifier ? (analog)
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Old 06-04-2019, 05:16 AM   #62
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While I could be wrong, I have an incredibly hard time believing that any mic pre made today actually gets noisier the louder you raise the gain. Sure. You're bringing up noise, but you're also bringing up the signal. So nothing is being fixed by lowering your mic preamp. And if it's too low, you will lose some resolution but the bigger point here is that I simply don't believe that the preamp in question has a better S/N ration when it's hitting the DAW at -30dB or lower. Doesn't make sense. If you want less noise, sing louder. LOL
You're right.

Divided very roughly, there are two large groups of design.

The first is high gain, sometimes older and made for dynamic and ribbon mics. These have more noise at low gain.

The second is medium gain, for the latest condensor mics, with high output and will show considerably more noise at high gain.

A rare few solve this problem by having multiple gain stages, switched in when needed. That's the higher end of the market and they also might have switchable impedance.

Making a good preamp is very simple. Making a universal preamp is next to impossible.
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Old 06-04-2019, 05:25 AM   #63
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I don't know about this Kenny.
My past experience tells me that mic pre's introduce more noise as you get closer to 100% full gain.
I could be totally wrong with this assumption, but that would mean many decades years of deluded beliefs < very possible.

EG: a (non digital) guitar amp, there is little noise at a medium loud setting, then wind up the gain to full and the noise very much increases.


Would be good if a much more tech person could chime in on this:
Does signal to noise ratio increase the more gain that is added to an amplifier ? (analog)
Guitar pre's suffer from a different problem: high impedance.

Due to neodymium magnets, most guitars these days produce a very high output level. Very little gain needed.

But they need impedance transformation. From 1 Mohm to 1 kOhm very roughly. Current gain, not voltage gain. And that makes for very different behaviour, compared to mic preamps. Pumping a lot of current through a high value resistor means a lot of white noise is produced. Add to that unbalanced inputs that might pick up mains buzz and radio signals, and you're in an entirely different world.

Mics have an impedance of around 200 Ohm, needing an input of let's say 1 to 5 kOhm.

I don't know what the impedance of a guitar is, as they seem to vary very wildly, but I believe the input should be 1 M ohm. A thousand times different...
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Old 06-04-2019, 05:51 AM   #64
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Using an analogue compressor might add some freedom here id you feel the need.

-Michael
Just keep in mind that the mic preamp is still coming before the compressor. So any noise issues will actually be worse with a compressor (in the quiet parts).

If I had to guess I would say that the OP is being fooled by hearing the hiss get louder when he (or she) brings up the gain. Forgetting that the signal is getting louder as well. Although it would be fun to perform tests for this.
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Old 06-04-2019, 08:51 AM   #65
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It's not a difficult test to perform. Different preamp will show different results, and the only way to know how yours works is to test.
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Old 06-04-2019, 09:11 AM   #66
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It's not a difficult test to perform. Different preamp will show different results, and the only way to know how yours works is to test.
So do you think it's possible or even probable that a cheap preamp could have an inferior S/N as you increase the gain?

I've never tested it myself and it's never been an issue with my high end preamps but I have worked with some noisey ones (SSL E) and never thought that turning it down would help. But I could be wrong.
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Old 06-04-2019, 09:29 AM   #67
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It certainly is possible. I've run into it in the past, and there are some preamps that are kind of notorious. In some cases it's almost like flipping a switch when you get up above a certain point on the knob. It depends on the circuit design and exactly where the gain knob is compared to the real source of the noise.

Like I said, though, it's easy enough to test. In my experience, though, with most pres recording most things for most types of productions, the difference between tracking at -30 and -18 isn't enough to almost even be worth the time to turn the knob.

In the fit I use for my live bands, consistency is the most important thing. I need to plug the same Mic in the same hole today as I did yesterday and know if has the same amount of gain. The only place on my gain knobs that can know that for sure is all the way down. The vocal mics I use are usually a bit hotter than like an SM58, but not super hot dynamics. I room/stage noise swamps any difference in electronic noise.

I know it's there, though, because I've done tests, and when things get extreme, it gets noticeable. A guitar through a passive DI and into a highish gains amp sim will sometimes show the difference. In the studio I do adjust the gain, but I always set it based on peak levels, and usually pretty conservatively.

Last edited by ashcat_lt; 06-04-2019 at 09:45 AM.
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Old 06-04-2019, 09:36 AM   #68
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Originally Posted by Kenny Gioia View Post
While there is a lot of great and correct info in this thread, one very important thing seems to be overlooked. It was mentioned but not highlighted enough.

While I could be wrong, I have an incredibly hard time believing that any mic pre made today actually gets noisier the louder you raise the gain. Sure. You're bringing up noise, but you're also bringing up the signal. So nothing is being fixed by lowering your mic preamp. And if it's too low, you will lose some resolution but the bigger point here is that I simply don't believe that the preamp in question has a better S/N ration when it's hitting the DAW at -30dB or lower. Doesn't make sense. If you want less noise, sing louder. LOL
^^^This.

One of the differences between class A mic preamps and more budget models is how they respond at the extremes of their input. Going for the hottest level possible without overs is still a bit critical with budget preamps. You can set your class A preamp -36 below unity on the hottest peak and be none the wiser. You'll hear that with a more budget preamp (like the 2 preamps in the MOTU 8287mk3 for example).


Confusion leading to twisting the -18db rms around into attenuating until your peak level is -18db (or -30db!) will result in a noisier and less linear capture. Do that on the budget interfaces with their budget analog front ends and you'll hear that.
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