#1
Hello,

So i'm often reading about gain staging and how it's a good idea to do this properly to maximise headroom and hit all your fancy plugins with the input level they were designed to work best at, being modelled on old analogue gear and all. I'm trying to put this into practise but I have a few questions about workflow.

I have a guitar track in Reaper - I recorded it at a volume so that it hits about -19 on the track fader. -19 of what I don't know but i'm hoping that it's dBfs as this is what I think I needed to be aiming for. I pull up the FX box for the guitar track and slap on Klanghelm's VUMT because for less than €10 of course I want to have a VU meter to confuse myself further. This shows an average level between -15 and -12 and I use the trim knob to bring this up so it's kicking it between -3 and -1. (A.) Should I be doing this? I feel like I read once that those hardware-modelling plugs were designed to take ~0 VU which is why i've done this*.

So next I put an EQ in the chain because my guitar track is full of wine glass music tones because I'm terrible at tracking and like to capture all the resonances. I do some subtractive EQ on a nice plugin that models a piece of hardware that costs more than my house and this subsequently lowers the volume of my track a little so i bump it up with the output knob and put another VUMT instance after the EQ, increasing EQ output until it reads the same as the initial VUMT. I then did this after each following compressor, voodoo, placebo and aesthetic plugin so that at the end of the chain my VUMT reads the same as the first one. (B.) Was I right to do this?

(C.) Now, do I then reduce the second VUMT trim by what I originally boosted the first one at to bring it back down to ~-15 or do I want to be keeping it at ~-3?

*(D.) Is this total BS? I had a quick look in the manual for the Waves API 550 and it didn't seem to mention it.

(E.) Is there anything else I should know/be doing?

From the bottom of my heart to my tinnitus infected ears that makes all of this completely futile - thanks for reading this far, i know it's a lot of questions and rambling but from what i've heard this is an important lesson for new mix monkeys to learn.
"If you want beef, then bring the ruckus." - Marilyn Monroe
Last edited by USCENDONE BENE at Oct 29, 2016,
#2
Rather than address all of your questions directly which I am not sure I fully understand, I'll take a more "best practices" approach.

Digital recording is significantly different than analog recording with different tools and different targets. Combining tools and techniques from both can sometimes spoil the soup. Typically most modern DAWs are designed to give you the best S/N ratio and headroom if you target -12db on the digital meters when recording your initial tracks. Use this as a guide but if a track comes in at -19 and you like the track don't sweat it too much. Adding +7db of gain to reach unity induces very little noise so it's still a keeper. The noise floor is so low that this is just not a problem. If your initial track comes in at 0db on a digital meter, it has printed harsh digital clipping in the signal and will not be useable for your work. Roll off the gain -12db and do another take.

I used VU metering for 30 years in analog recording and it is a trusted old friend, but for a modern DAW I think it just gets in the way and indeed adds confusion. My recommendation is to use the digital meters that are native to your DAW and make minor gain adjustments along the way to preserve unity gain throughout your mix. This will simplify your final mixdown and maintain the best S/N ratio and headroom in your tracks.

More in-depth knowledge on the importance of input gain from SOS:
http://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/gain-staging-your-daw-software#para6
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis
Last edited by Cajundaddy at Oct 29, 2016,
#3
Quote by Cajundaddy
Rather than address all of your questions directly which I am not sure I fully understand, I'll take a more "best practices" approach.

Digital recording is significantly different than analog recording with different tools and different targets. Combining tools and techniques from both can sometimes spoil the soup. Typically most modern DAWs are designed to give you the best S/N ratio and headroom if you target -12db on the digital meters when recording your initial tracks. Use this as a guide but if a track comes in at -19 and you like the track don't sweat it too much. Adding +7db of gain to reach unity induces very little noise so it's still a keeper. The noise floor is so low that this is just not a problem. If your initial track comes in at 0db on a digital meter, it has printed harsh digital clipping in the signal and will not be useable for your work. Roll off the gain -12db and do another take.

I used VU metering for 30 years in analog recording and it is a trusted old friend, but for a modern DAW I think it just gets in the way and indeed adds confusion. My recommendation is to use the digital meters that are native to your DAW and make minor gain adjustments along the way to preserve unity gain throughout your mix. This will simplify your final mixdown and maintain the best S/N ratio and headroom in your tracks.

More in-depth knowledge on the importance of input gain from SOS:
http://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/gain-staging-your-daw-software#para6

Fully agreed. VU meters in a DAW are great to find out what's hitting digital distortion, or to judge your remaining headroom, but they are not something you should rely on for everything.

The best advice I got when switching into ITB mixing was to, like analog, listen critically and see what sounds best. If it sounds good, can anyone tell you that you've used a plugin wrong?
Quote by Watterboy
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#4
Thanks guys. That SOS link confirmed at least one of my crazy workflow ideas:
Just aim for broadly the same level coming out of a plug-in as is going into it, and you won't go far wrong. In other words, try to stick close to the 'standard operating level' between plug-ins, which means peak sample-meter readings of around -10dBFS. You can bypass each plug-in in turn to check levels at each stage.

At least this way I don't trick myself if the volume keeps bumping up after each plug and winds up sounding l̶o̶u̶d̶e̶r̶ better when A/B'ing.
"If you want beef, then bring the ruckus." - Marilyn Monroe