If I have an audio track that doesn’t clip normally, but I boost it to 6 dB to cause clipping, then reduce the pre-gain at Stereo out to -6dB to compensate, will the output be clipped or will the original audio be preserved?
I’m asking cos I don’t “SEE” clipping in Cubase’s MixConsole (There’s no red as such anywhere), so if my soundcard shows me clipping I just pull down the pre-gain in the final Stereo Out channel till it doesn’t. Is this a valid approach or should I reduce each individual channel separately?
There are a thousand threads about this topic, search for ‘gain staging’.
In short: if your output doesn’t clip, everything is fine. The internal audio engine doesn’t clip (32 bit float has 1500+ db of headroom), you can clip plugins though as each audio processor has a sweet spot levelwise. Usually -18 dbFS.
Plug-ins that are modeled after analogue devices are often designed to distort and clip just like their analog counterparts. So yeah if you clip it at the plug-in that clipped audio will flow through the rest of your signal path. On the other hand overdriving compressors & tape levels can add a pleasant warmth that’s desirable. Then on the third hand a plug-in might be designed to take full advantage of all the headroom that 32 bit float offers and not have any risk of clipping. So it’s important to base decisions on how things sound and not just what a meter or indicator tells you.
THAT has been my philosophy so far. But I’m always eager to learn. I DID search for gain staging and there’s a ton of stuff as you mentioned. So much to weed through!
Could you please list a few DON’Ts when it comes to gain staging? For example currently my approach is to take things down 9-10 dB and work from there and YET I end up going +5-10 dB above in the master. So my current workflow is to keep working till final mix, then pull down master fader pre-gain by 10 dB, insert izotope Ozone 7 limiter and call it a day.
There are no hard rules. I sometimes end up with positive values in the master as well and bring down the pre gain as well. The master is just another channel, feeding it with proper (not unintenionally clipped) audio can of course add up to more than zero, bringing it down at the final summing stage is an adequate way to adjust the level received by the plugins used there. It’s cool to read manuals. Some speak of the operating level, usually -18 dbFS, but that can differ.
In example UAD Studer A800 (tape plug) wants -14 dbFS (equalling 0 dbVU on the plugin if I recall correctly). Which again doesn’t mean it wouldn’t sound good at another input level, but it’s good to know about these things and use them in whatever range consciously
To make mixing easier I’ve decided a simple ground rule; If individual channels (audio and vst instruments) are hitting above -10dBFS they are to “hot” and I lower using the channel pre gain. On the master stereo out bus I have a limiter (Fabfilter Pro-L) to get the proper dynamic range on the over all mix if needed. (I’m mostly aiming at about K-14 levels.)
I read about this approach on some forum a while back (can’t remember where) and it was an eye opener for me. Recording you aim at close to clipping on your soundcard, mixing you want -10dBFS on channels and mastering you can go bananas with limiting/compresson to taste.
Some good info in this thread! Thanks for sharing.
I still don’t get why you DON’T record as hot as possible with the option of turning it down later. If you record something with a mic and boost it later will it null with the same recording made with higher gain (i.e. the only variable is the mic gain)?
The simple answer is that analog equipment (the vast majority) including the standard mic preamps on an interface also has its sweet spot too <> 0 dbVU <> shown as -18 dbFS in Cubase. Driven hotter might or might not have audible effects like coloration or analog distortion/saturation etc., depending on the design of that specific preamp. It’s an artistic decision to make use of such side effects or not.
A current clean standard mic pre might not produce much differences at different gain settings. However, those are things you may not hear on a single track (subtle changes in overtone behaviour and such), but this is stuff that adds up with plenty of tracks.
Another reason: it’s cool to have the headroom (24 bit or more). Pretty relaxed to not having to observe levels all the time if you stay around -8 dbFS peak. Nice for lazy people like me