Old 09-06-2019, 03:25 PM   #1
CraigG58
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Default Setting drum kit mic recording levels

I posted this as a comment to Kenny Gioia's “Proper Recording Levels in REAPER” video on YouTube, but I'm not sure if he monitors those that are several years old. So, I thought it couldn't hurt to ask here...

For drum kits with many mics (I use 8), setting recording levels has to be an iterative process across all of them, since bleed-through naturally occurs from one into another. Therefore, after setting individual mic recording levels, each will typically record hotter when you play the entire kit.

As a one-man-band in a home studio, when making a test recording of my full kit I obviously can't be sitting in front of my audio interface and DAW displays, to make input level adjustments for each mic on-the-fly. That said, the question becomes what would be the best practice for someone in my situation? I realize I can see peak dB's at the top of each meter after recording, but of course that's the loudest level attained, and not an average.

Alternately, after a full-kit recording, would an accurate way to watch averages be to disarm the drum tracks, set them to all to 0dB, then see where they wind up on the meters during playback?

Anyone else in this boat? I would think it would be a pretty common one, so any ideas would be much appreciated!
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Old 09-06-2019, 05:39 PM   #2
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The only way it works is if there is another person or you move your shit next to your kit.

Of course you can walk back and forth 20 times and still probably mess something up that you don't notice till after 10 takes if you really want to. But it gets old quick

But seriously, only the peaks matter and you just don't wanna clip. Get the peaks around the middle when you're playing as loud as you can, but never near the top. I repeat. DON'T CLIP. That's literally all you need to worry about. Averages don't matter here, only that the loudest hits don't clip.

And I'm not talking about the Reaper meters. I mean the meters on your interface where the mics are plugged in. Clipping there is permanent, while elsewhere in digital land it isn't a big deal.
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Old 09-06-2019, 10:56 PM   #3
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1. Set the initial levels per drum, one at a time.
2. Record yourself playing the entire kit as powerful as it will be while and adjust levels down if needed...

If you leave the faders in reaper at zero with no other volume related changes that will affect the track meters, the meters/levels during playback will be the same as they were when hitting the interface so you can use those after the fact to decide how much you need to gain up or down for which drum. Leave yourself at least 6 dB or more for peaks, drums can poke out and clip when you didn't think they would if you don't leave some wiggle room.
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Old 09-07-2019, 04:02 AM   #4
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[I]I realize I can see peak dB's at the top of each meter after recording, but of course that's the loudest level attained, and not an average.
Peaks are all that matter in this situation.

If you don't clip, you're golden.
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Old 09-07-2019, 09:38 AM   #5
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Thanks for all the input guys, I definitely appreciate it!

I'm aware there are many schools of thought (often subjective) regarding recording levels in the digital world. They may all be valid, depending on your gear and the end result you're looking for.

If nothing else, I wanted to interject my two cents on the subject as perhaps some food for thought...

First, I will say that I definitely subscribe to one thing I've read time and time again:

- When recording at 24-bit, -18 dBFS RMS in digital is the equivalent of the 0VU in analog.

I simply took it as a good rule of thumb while recording analog inputs such as microphones, guitars etc, and it's always worked out very well for me. What I never knew until I watched Gioia's video on the subject is that most digital interfaces and even PC sound cards are calibrated at that level. Therefore, it follows that you'll get the best performance out of that equipment if you operate close to the same.

Until a short while ago, I was using a dedicated digital recorder and transferring track files over USB to my PC for mixing. I decided it was time to start recording directly into REAPER for a multitude of reasons I won't bore you with here, so I picked up a Behringer UMC1820 interface. If I rely on the clip LEDs alone (increasing levels at the interface until they blink, then backing off until they don't), I don't like what I see when it comes to the resulting recorded waveforms in the TCP. They all have “haircuts” here and there, meaning zero headroom. Digital, floating point, or whatever, in my opinion the dynamics which were present during recording in those spots are permanently lost.

Recording tracks at lower levels eliminates this issue (especially when transients pop up, as they always do), leaving plenty of headroom for capturing those dynamics, as well as a good cushion to totally avoid clipping. Naturally, you can always increase individual track levels afterwards while mixing as required, then boost the overall song level during mastering via limiter plugins and the like.

So, my conclusion is there's really no reason to record at hot levels to begin with.

@karbomusic:

Even though I brought up the "check via playback at 0dB" method in my OP, I never thought to cross-check the actual result against the recording peaks... Duh! I just tried it, and you're right on the money. Thanks very much for pointing that out.

Yes, when operating solo, it will still take several trips from behind the drum kit to the interface until you get things in the ballpark, but that work won't usually be necessary for future recordings since you already know roughly where those input levels need to be.

Finally, here is Kenny's video on the subject, for those who may be interested:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJHm931XQGk
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Old 09-07-2019, 10:09 AM   #6
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Don't clip. That's it!

24 bits gives a lot of headroom. As long as you don't clip, you will have the best your equipment can do.


Stuff like shooting for an rms level of -18db is a way of guessing appropriate headroom in most situations that results in avoiding peaks. "If I set for this average level, I probably won't get any peaks."

The goal is to not peak.
When you drive a car, the goal is hitting the speed limit. Not the measured distance you press the gas pedal down.


We can talk about class A mic preamps and how even when you have to turn them WAY down to accommodate for a peak heavy source (eg "that" drummer) they still respond linearly at their lowest levels. A fine thing and can be a fine investment.

But whatever gear you have... just don't peak.
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Old 09-07-2019, 10:19 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by CraigG58 View Post
- When recording at 24-bit, -18dB in digital is the equivalent of the 0VU in analog.
Exactly except it's -18 dBFS RMS and that could vary a dB or few based on the sound card manufacturer but this is close enough for getting the job done. Some sound card manufacturers list what they used in the specs, many don't but -18 is a good enough average for 24 bit sound cards.

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@karbomusic:

Even though I brought up the "check via playback at 0dB" method in my OP, I never thought to cross-check the actual result against the recording peaks... Duh! I just tried it, and you're right on the money. Thanks very much for pointing that out.
Yea, it's a great way to figure out what the original recording levels were, can be extremely handy for us one-man-recordists!
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Old 09-07-2019, 10:33 AM   #8
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If I rely on the clip LEDs alone (increasing levels at the interface until they blink, then backing off until they don't), I don't like what I see when it comes to the resulting recorded waveforms in the TCP. They all have “haircuts” here and there, meaning zero headroom.
That sucks if you have interface clip indicators that don't do their job.

I don't personally buy the notion that audio interfaces somehow sound optimum recording at -18 dB RMS. It's a fine rule of thumb to avoid clipping in most cases, but sometimes the reasoning goes beyond the realm of noticeable, or even measurable, results.

Don't clip. Leave some extra headroom so you definitely don't clip. Job done, get on with making music. It's that simple.
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Old 09-07-2019, 11:06 AM   #9
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Exactly except it's -18 dBFS RMS and that could vary a dB or few based on the sound card manufacturer but this is close enough for getting the job done. Some sound card manufacturers list what they used in the specs, many don't but -18 is a good enough average for 24 bit sound cards.
Another brain fart on my part, thanks for the correction!
I've updated my post to reflect that.
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Old 09-07-2019, 12:02 PM   #10
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If I rely on the clip LEDs alone (increasing levels at the interface until they blink, then backing off until they don't), I don't like what I see when it comes to the resulting recorded waveforms in the TCP. They all have “haircuts” here and there,
That's clipping. You're recording too hot. Back them way off. This is why I suggest playing as hard as you can for tests, then you know you won't be able to clip, no matter how hard you hit when you start recording.
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Old 09-07-2019, 12:26 PM   #11
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Set the input levels so that there is as little noise as possible without unwanted distortion. Don’t worry about the meters. In fact, don’t worry about the waveform. Nobody in the world is ever going to care what your drum recording looks like. Turn the knobs til it sounds good.

Though actually I very often just turn my input gains all the way down and let it go. Doesn’t work obviously if your knobs go down to silence, but mine is +6db minimum. It’s an easy repeatable spot on the knob which leaves plenty of headroom (avoid the disrtion ceiling so we can set our own later) and especially with drums in rock-type setting still better S/N than tape.
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Old 09-08-2019, 09:30 AM   #12
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Yes, of course I'm well aware that I don't want to set input levels so hot that it causes clipping, and also what it looks like in a waveform. That's what I was referring to as a “haircut”, sorry if I wasn't clear.

The clipping indicators are doing their job just fine, and as I was saying there was just a bit here and there (likely due to me not lowering the gain quite enough). There's obviously some wiggle room in making that setting relying on an interface knob and clip LED alone.

I'm now using the method in my OP, which karbomusic also mentioned. When I compare the peaks immediately after recording to the ones on playback with faders at 0dB, they match almost exactly. This works out perfectly as far as I'm concerned... Levels are where I want them to be with no distortion, noise, or clipping.

As far as the relationship between hardware calibration and recommended recording levels, I wouldn't dismiss the advice of Kenny Gioia, who is an extremely experienced audio engineer. As I'm sure most folks are already aware, he also creates the best REAPER tutorial videos on the web, from which I've learned infinity more than simply reading the REAPER user guide alone.

I noted in a previous post that there are many schools of thought regarding digital recording levels, which is what's panning out here. Thanks once again to all, I definitely appreciate everyone's input (pardon the pun).
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Old 09-08-2019, 12:51 PM   #13
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As far as the relationship between hardware calibration and recommended recording levels, I wouldn't dismiss the advice of Kenny Gioia, who is an extremely experienced audio engineer. As I'm sure most folks are already aware, he also creates the best REAPER tutorial videos on the web, from which I've learned infinity more than simply reading the REAPER user guide alone.
He certainly does make the best REAPER tutorials.

If you're talking about the video I think you are, he briefly mentions preamps at the end of his list, but before that is talking about outboard processing, which does need calibrating.

As for preamps, as long as you keep away from the noise floor, which is typically ridiculously low and would only ever be a problem for field recordings, and don't push them too hot, they will have a flat response regardless of gain.

Here's a little bit about that I saw on Neumann's site:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Neumann
Nearly all microphone preamps measure essentially flat within the audible range from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. At least at gain settings up to about 50 dB. At higher gain settings, small nonlinearities typically become magnified; at 60 dB or more, there may be slight high and low end loss amounting to a couple of decibels. That’s why inexpensive preamps often sound a bit dull at high gain settings, although they may sound perfectly fine at lower gain.

[...]

Most audio interfaces (starting at about $ 400), come with decent microphone preamps. They’re usually built around dedicated microphone preamp chips, made by only a small handful of chip manufacturers. Which is why the preamps on most audio interfaces sound quite similar. Chip preamps are very low noise, low distortion and quite transparent up to about 50 dB of gain. At maximum gain (which is usually 60 dB), they tend to lose a bit of punch and sparkle. But they’re better than is commonly assumed. Technically speaking, they may even outperform some coveted vintage preamps. Many of the more affordable external preamps aren’t any better than the preamps in your audio interface; in fact, many of them use the very same preamp chips.
https://www.neumann.com/homestudio/e...ove-your-sound

There is a huge margin to work with when recording at 24 bit. Kenny is great, but until I see evidence to the contrary, I'm not buying that the IC preamps in all audio interfaces are designed to sound best when outputting at -18 dB RMS digital scale, once the signal has gone through the AD convertor.

Don't clip, don't go near the noise floor. You have oceans of space to play with. It's not like tape, or even 16 bit digital recording, where input levels are a genuine concern.
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Old 09-08-2019, 01:36 PM   #14
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I'm not buying that the IC preamps in all audio interfaces are designed to sound best when outputting at -18 dB RMS digital scale, once the signal has gone through the AD converter.
The Neuman quote seemed reasonable... If it matters, it is the analog circuitry in the preamp, -18 dBFS RMS just happens to be what shows up on the digital meters - it would be more accurately worded as best when at analog unity (from an audio signal accuracy perspective) when the preamp is in its nominal area.

IOW, take digital out of it, if you have any decent preamp that is analog, on some piece of analog gear, any non-linearities you can or can't find will have a sweet spot if non-linear.

What do I think? I don't remember preamps behaving exactly the same no matter where the gain knob was, I don't know why that would change if you stick an A/D converter on its output. I do think that is at the far ends of the scale though.
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Old 09-08-2019, 01:54 PM   #15
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The Neuman quote seemed reasonable... If it matters, it is the analog circuitry in the preamp, -18 dBFS RMS just happens to be what shows up on the digital meters - it would be more accurately worded as best when at analog unity (from an audio signal accuracy perspective) when the preamp is in its nominal area.

IOW, take digital out of it, if you have any decent preamp that is analog, on some piece of analog gear, any non-linearities you can or can't find will have a sweet spot if non-linear.

What do I think? I don't remember preamps behaving exactly the same no matter where the gain knob was, I don't know why that would change if you stick an A/D converter on its output. I do think that is at the far ends of the scale though.
Yeah, I knew I didn't construct that sentence very well. I was trying to make the point, as you did, that digital scale is irrelevant to preamps. They eat millivolts

Once you add transformers or tubes or whatever, then you're going to hunt for a sweet spot (which is a matter of taste as to where that lies anyway, to some degree and dependent on application), but I was talking specifically about the IC preamps in audio interfaces. I've never noticed them sounding different at different levels. The Neumann page seems to confirm that.
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Old 09-08-2019, 03:44 PM   #16
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Gonna say again that it doesn’t matter what it looks like. The meters don’t really matter and neither does the waveform display. Noise and distortion are the limits in either direction, and you either navigate between them or you compromise one way or the other for safety’s sake. Listen to what you’re recording. Is there too much noise compared to the signal? Turn up the gain and compensate your playback level and listen again. Is that better? Is there noticeable and unwanted distortion? Turn down gain, compensate playback level... Too much noise AND unwanted distortion? Now you’ve got a problem and get to decide which is worse or else find new gear.

And I say “unwanted distortion” because sometimes it is wanted and/or can help. Half the fun of those fancy vintage/boutique piles of wires is in the way they sound when they’re run a little too hard and start to saturate/overdrive/distort. Most drums are going to end up wanting something to round off the really big spikey transients at some point in the mix process anyway. You’re going to put a saturator of some sort (even if it’s youre favorite channel strip emulation), so sometimes you can just let it go ahead and do that up front. So your waveform looks a little flat-topped. How does it actually sound? That’s the only thing that really matters.
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Old 09-09-2019, 07:15 AM   #17
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If you're talking about the video I think you are, he briefly mentions preamps at the end of his list, but before that is talking about outboard processing, which does need calibrating.
This is the video which I linked in an earlier post, so you won't need to go digging for it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJHm931XQGk

After explaining the video is about recording analog sources, actually the first thing he mentions are pre-amps. He then expands with examples of various analog equipment. Also note that he says “most” analog gear, not “all”.
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Old 09-11-2019, 10:33 AM   #18
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- When recording at 24-bit, -18 dBFS RMS in digital is the equivalent of the 0VU in analog.
During all my recent testing, I have found that many different converters have many different levels for this, even at 24 bit. I have found, by directly measuring voltage that the range is from (so far) -12dBFS to -20dBFS

It REALLY pisses me off that so few manufacturers will actually tell you what that reference level is

Even more infuriating are the forum and facebook idiots who attack you for even asking what that reference level is on a piece of gear. I expect the gearslutz forum to have a significant chunk of "anti-information fanatics" but its surprising how many of these knuckleheads are scattered throughout the net
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Old 09-11-2019, 11:13 AM   #19
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It REALLY pisses me off that so few manufacturers will actually tell you what that reference level is
+1 to your whole post. This is where it actually matters - when interfacing with other analog gear. If you only ever plug in a microphone or guitar, it’s fine. Just avoid noise and distortion. If you want to connect other analog gear, I guess that’s still the rule, but it’s easier to predict at least and sometimes there are good reasons you might want to know how Reaper’s meters correspond to real world voltages in your system. Even just so you can match external gear to ITB emulations.

What makes it even more fun is when the input doesn’t match the output, so that “unity” actually isn’t.

I made a set of plugins a while ago that allow you to tell it your interface specs (if you can find them) and a target reference (I want 0VU to equal -18dBFS), and it would apply gain or attenuation for a sort of automatic calibration.
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Old 09-11-2019, 12:53 PM   #20
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Seems like I remember running a 0 VU signal from my analog gear to the interface line in and checked where it fell post converter aka in Reaper to see of if the spec listed matched up. Does that not work for figuring out what the reference is? Seems like you can just run a known signal in and look at where it falls in Reaper.
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Old 09-11-2019, 01:18 PM   #21
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Thats one way to do it....but as ashcat_lt mentioned above, its not uncommon for that to come out at a different level at the output. In many cases you need to test them both
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Old 09-11-2019, 01:21 PM   #22
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Thats one way to do it....but as ashcat_lt mentioned above, it's not uncommon for that to come out at a different level at the output. In many cases you need to test them both
Yea but if we want to know the SC incoming reference level A/D > DAW (aka then -18 question) that should answer it no?
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Old 09-11-2019, 01:35 PM   #23
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...that should answer it no?
Yeah, assuming you have a reliable source for your reference signal.
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Old 09-11-2019, 01:40 PM   #24
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Yeah, assuming you have a reliable source for your reference signal.
Yea, I was working off of it being important enough to work with external analog gear which should in some form have a meter (usually). They should still put it in the damn spec though - fortunately my RME listed it.
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Old 09-11-2019, 02:23 PM   #25
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Like with any other spec, there’s no real standard for how or if it might be listed. Sometimes it’s as simple as “Maximum Input Level” , but sometimes it’ll be two listings “Nominal Input Level” and something like “Headroom”.
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Old 09-11-2019, 03:24 PM   #26
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Right, my RME is Maximum input level: +19 dBu
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Old 09-11-2019, 04:48 PM   #27
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Right, my RME is Maximum input level: +19 dBu
I’m sure you know, but that means +4dBu nominal will be -15dbFS in Reaper. That’s 3dB less headroom than the -18 “rule”, or basically 3dB “too loud” for an analog emulation calibrated to -18.
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Old 09-11-2019, 05:44 PM   #28
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Yea, though I often explain it, I don't really use the rule.
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Old 09-11-2019, 08:32 PM   #29
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Yea but if we want to know the SC incoming reference level A/D > DAW (aka then -18 question) that should answer it no?
Yup. Seems like even cheap AC multimeters nowadays have RMS on them too
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Old 09-11-2019, 08:35 PM   #30
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I’m sure you know, but that means +4dBu nominal will be -15dbFS in Reaper. That’s 3dB less headroom than the -18 “rule”, or basically 3dB “too loud” for an analog emulation calibrated to -18.
RME used to state that for them 0vu = -15dBFS
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