Final mix has far too narrow dynamic range.

I’ve mixed a song which is largely VST instruments plus vocals. Admittedly the vocals are compressed. However I suspect the dynamic range of the VST instruments is rather narrow (Halion 4 and Symphonic). I’ve analysed the loudness histograms of the final mix during mastering and it looks quite squashed. Meters in Ozone 5 and others indicate narrow range too. Using Wavelab 7, I’ve compared my song with various commercial releases with good production and high dynamic range (e.g. Video Killed TRS (Buggles), Shine (Take That) ) and they are much wider…Though this might be due to spikey, hi-mixed drums.

My question is this: Have I missed something fundamental? Like some kind of “set dynamic range of VST instruments” function in Cubase (or do I just need to “open up” and unclutter my mix).

I realise this forum isn’t a school for recording artists: I only want know if I’ve missed a fundamental set up feature for dynamic range in Cubase 6.5.
Many Thanks for reading…


Could it be that those records are not made with virtual instruments? Or mixed in a software mixer? Or that they’re mixed by mix engineers and mastered by mastering engineers?

I mean, Cubase’s Motif sound set is NOT close to as good as it gets…in software OR hardware…not defending it–just saying, you have to understand there are SO many more factors than the dynamic range of a certain sample set.

There’s not much to go on here–your description doesn’t talk about the actual VSTis used, what the genre of the work is, or include a link to a sample track. But I’ll give it a go anyway :slight_smile:

Reading between the lines here, my guess is that you did miss something that I think is important–the fader on each track… and the ability to automate it. While some mixes are just fine if you just set the fader to one level, that may not be the case if you’re looking for a piece with a lot of dramatic dynamic range. If you want something to swell, you have to automate the volume of the instruments that are supposed to swell. If you want a quiet passage, bring down the volume levels.

Other ideas–

If you’re using Ozone, are you using the dynamics and maximizer modules? Those are designed specifically to LIMIT the dynamic range. Learn how these work and apply them judiciously. You don’t want to be slamming the compressor and limiter the whole time because it will turn the whole track into a sausage.

Are you just making all the instruments too loud so they’re creating a big wall of sound versus having each one sit in its own space?

Older music has more dynamic range than current music which is limited to the Nth degree.

Are you arranging a piece, making sure that not every part is playing all the time? The mute tool is your friend. Don’t have everything playing at the same time. It’s more interesting when you take away things and bring them back in.

One best-practice is to track at K-20. “Track” meaning to record, lay down, or sequence (with VST’s). “K-20” being the level (often referred to as “loudness”) standard proposed by mastering legend, Bob Katz.

By ensuring your VST’s are only just pumping into the reds of the K-20 range spec – overall not too much lower, overall not going too much higher into the reds and not ever clipping past zero – you’re effectively limiting the dynamic range. This seems counter-intuitive when you want an open, wide dynamic range mix, but here’s the thing: by performing this gentle limiting / compression upfront (to K-20), means you need very little (sometimes VERY little) during mixing and mastering.

K-20 seems like a pretty wide dynamic range spec, on paper, but it takes a surprising amount of engineering (compression / limiting) to get stuff to “fit” into it. It’s not always easy. This is because plugins can produce extremely hot and wide dynamic range signals.

Also, if you track at K-20 the summing of those tracks are really going hit at about K-14. And, K-14 is an AWESOME target for most electronic music. It’s open, punchy, has great transients, good RMS and doesn’t take much to squash into a Beatport-ready mix if you really need to push it to a dance floor commercial release specification (“loudness war” arguments aside).

Also, K-14 is a great level for a lot of the newer modeled plugins (like Waves) as they are expecting that input level and are actually modeling distortion at the inputs if you go too hot.

So, work on each track to get it to “just fit” into the K-20 spec. You’ll be amazed at how little buss compression you’ll need (other than some light “glue”) to get you into a good, punchy, mastering-ready mix.

Finally, K-20 stems, when they’re analog summed with a bit of high-gain “crunch,” can sound amazing and by having the tracks at K-20, you’re giving the mastering engineer (if you go that route) a good amount of headroom to work with, too.

The Waves Dorrough meters have “20” and “14” settings that work really well and have some insightful ballistic characteristics that other meters don’t have, but are also very compatible with the K-Metering system. The Brainworx bx_meter has awesome K-20 / K-14 / K-12 meters in it. The bx_meters also have a very novel “floating dynamic range” indicator that shows the true dynamic range regardless of absolute peak – this would be very helpful to you. It’s essentially “crest factor,” for all intent and purpose.

If you can get between 9 and 14 db of dynamic range, that’s really open (rock music); a.k.a. “DR14.” EDM is about 7 to 12db of dynamic range that you want to target for what would be considered good, open dynamics; a.k.a. “DR8.” By comparison most Beatport tracks that are ultra-compressed are only going to be around 6db, 4db, or even down to even 3db of dynamic range! A.k.a “DR4.” DR4 is super crunched – essentially, no dynamics at all during the loudest parts. “DR8” is considered by many dynamic range nerds that study this as the upper-end “sweet spot” to hit – I’ve done a bit of research into this for EDM styles and agree that DR8 is pretty awesome – hot, but not overly squashed (Bob Katz would disagree, probably, and would think that’s still too hot – he shoots for K-12 as the least dynamic [loudest] a track should get). Here’s the link for more on on DR8:

But again, the trick is to compress a bit (I recommend K-20) upfront, on each track, so that you don’t have to squash the whole thing on the buss.

(Sidebar: Another trick for getting a few more db of DR during mastering is to get the mastering compressor “pumping” nicely. Counter-intuitively, using a compressor like this, and at this stage, can actually add dynamics to the mix. I’ve seen hot EDM mixes at around DR6 get back into DR8 territory by simply getting a good pump on the 2 buss.)

James Wiltshire from Loopmasters talks about all this, the K-Metering system, K-14 to K-18/20 tracking. I’ve found K-20 works well, track by track, because your submixes (stems) are then going to be around K-14 when they get summed. So, K-14 is really the target for the pre-mastering-chain buss.

Here are some more references on the issue of dynamic range and fighting the “loudness war”:
the Bob Katz PDF:
a good loudness war example video:

An interesting rebuttal to the loudness war from soundonsound:

I’ve tried them all and these are my personal favorite metering plugins:


Good info above…& the biggest relevant factor here, is the Crest factor, which equates to the rms levels, (the energy of the track) VS the Peak Level ( The Brickwall level of ANY sound information).

Many peeps, either thru wrong compression techniques, No Hi Pass filtering etc, lose the ability to increase their RMS (Energy) levels without giving their track an unwanted Haircut. ( remember Im trying to spell it out in laymans terms here :wink:

EVERY track has UNWANTED values/energy that contributes to the overall RMS value of your track, first step in getting that clean, solid sound, is to remove all & any unwanted contributions (both from the lows, which equates to the “RMS” levels…& the highs (which when being pushed by the aformentioned RMS levels…can equate to possible "Peak"spikes) so before any final mixing OR bouncing of your audio, run a Hi Pass/Lo PAss filter on every single channel…

Secondly…MOVE YOUR MASTER FADER DOWN!! least by 6db, Bob Katz, & a few other WELL more qualified engineers than me, Mix with their Master fader rumped way down…which equates to a more rounded mix, with LOADS of headroom available to the mastering stage…THIS IS KEY to getting a more balanced & “Dynamic” sound. In fact If I rememeber correctly Bob Katz mixes at a ridiculously low Master Channel setting…If memory serves me about -18db on the Master Channel…to compensate He obviously turns his speakers UP!..with his explanation of having a shitload more creative, & exponentially beneficial amounts of Headroom for him to play with, when the track is being Mastered.

The common philosophy nowadays is to have your Master Bus at Odb…then start sticking on Brickwall limiters etc on the Master bus…I have did Both “ways” over the years, on Music ( Electronica Based, with some Analogue recording always involved) & for sure every mix I have done with the Master bus turned DOWN, when it comes to actually MAstering, in the real sense of the word, I have been massively more Happy with the final outcome, when the bus has been turned down, comparing with the Bus at 0db.

Just my 2c…& do yourselves a favour…just TRY it, TRY it on your next project at the Mixing stage, set your faders at Zero…Pull down the Master Bus, by at least 6-9 dB, turn UP your speakers to compensate for your normal listening levels, and then start mixing your track…bounce out your final Mixdown…then start to “Master” your Stereo File…I can assure you…you have a f@cking ton of creative possibilities to play with, MultiBand Compression,creative Equing etc…you can really tighten up your track without coming close to the RMS levels you normally would, or the Peaks you often have to fight with,when rumbling about in Ozone. ( I use TRacks myself,as I find it kicks the arse of Ozone, when Mastering Electronica, certainly when it comes to finely tuning the harmonic content of the Bass region)…getting the region below 250Hz is the NUMBER 1 priority in any electronica track. especially with the extremely high SPLS involved (above 120dB)

The main thing here, is that when you have the Mater Bus down, You have teh headroom to rectify any discrepancies you dont like in the final mix. When you mix at 0bB, you have very little chance of doing that.

Only my opinion! :laughing:

There is absolutely no difference in mixing into 12dB of Master Fader attenuation then exporting or Mixing into the Mater fader at unity, Exporting at 32fp then importing and turning the channel fader down 12dB. It’s the same thing!

Split, maybe your picking up what Im saying wrongly.

Technique = How best to operate within a given goal. The goal here is the Analogue playback limitations all around us. & Im not even going to mention Mixing/Mastering for Vinyl,as in my game this is Still relevant.

There is a complete differentiation from sticking your master bus at 0db, then utilising Brickwall limiters etc… as opposed to reducing your Master Bus and mixing clean.

It is the technique of properly metering & mixing your track to the constaints of the FINAL stereo file playback methods…May I remind you of the point, that at SOME stage your track will be OUTSIDE the floating point domain. I found that although Cubase does FPC …the file you end up with, the file you have to “align to the outside world” is far better off being mixed at a lower level.

Bringing in FLoating point calculations was NOT implied ro spoke about. The technique I am describing is to allow your stereo file to be properly aligned within the Analogue domain & its restrictions. Please dont be pedantic, as I am fully aware of what your implying. and in this instance is irrelevant.

SO what your saying is that the Master Bus LEVEL pays no relevance to the final outcome??? :laughing: Please DO NOT LEAD PEOPLE up the wrong path. Saying there is no difference…is tosh. It is what you end up with is relevant, not FPC, or your idea that Cubase Cant clip…the signal HAS to be replayed thru an Analogue system at some stage. My technique describes how best to get there.

The comparison is a bad one!

The comparison between brickwall limited levels and non brickwall limited levels is irrelevant as far as the Masterbus final level is concerned, as the master level can always be turned down. The point is about producing a final mix level that has some room left for any post mix enhancements. (mixing into a brickwall is not recomended)

Without wanting to be argumentative, turning the master bus down can be viewed as making pseudio headroom in the file, assuming you’re peaking at 0dB (masterbus at unity) and you pull the masterbus back 12dB that would attenuate the mix giving 2bits of headroom (24bit word) and scaling the mix level back by the same amount, this can be achieved at any time after the file creation as if the masterbus had been left at 0dB (no attenuation) with various losses depending on wordsize (32fp, 24, 16 etc)

Mixing into the masterbus (set to unity 0dB) and scaling back the mix at source so the master bus peaks at -12dB would achieve a real 2bit headroom without having to move the masterbus. I suppose the real test is, if anyone could actually tell the difference?

I did not say or imply any of the above!

DO you not understand just how easy it is to make your own supposition or interpretation of a statement, as that is what you made in your reposte (inc eclamation mark).

Stating there is no difference whether you export a file at -12dB or at 0dB (as that is how I read it) “Its the same thing”??? definately when doing a mix, at the aforesaid levels, will 100% end up Balanced differently, when it comes out at the other end.

…but what I can assure you, is, and I did ASK people to try it out & see, if they find that the stereo file they have after final mix, the file they have to actually master…HAS more headroom and leaves one with the ability, to be flexible when it comes to final equing & mastering for the analogue playback systems that is the normal playback means.

Please read my post as a guideline Split. You should understand this, you should realise the difference when it comes to the file to be mastered. (surely?) if not then I advise you to look by the numbers(floating point or otherwise) to grasp the idea that the final file has a set Target. It is NOT an unsurmonious number, or an unlimitless calculation. Every file has to be played back on an analogue system…i.e SPEAKERS!..

As has been mentioned a 1000 times before, use your ears. If the file you have left to master is rumped fully up to 0dB during Mixdown…then you export it, floating point or otherwise…please tell me how much of any headroom or movement regarding equing etc…WHEN there is a TARGET…that target is commonly known as 0dB (with approx -13dB RMS levels) as this is the TRUE limit of your recording, not the ability to do floating point mathematics.

The technique I spoke about is unequivocally AIMED for that target. pure & simple.
This technique AIDS people in avoiding raising their files RMS & Peak levels during the mixing stage, as this should be left to the Mastering stage.

Agree with above by popmann, also:

  • How well the keyboard transmits differences in velocity, in combination with the variation in force that the keys are being struck (i.e., what is the dynamic range of the playing) will make a difference in the dynamic range of the final product.

Oh dear…

If you actually read what I’m writing then you would realise what I’m saying.

Mixing into the master bus with the fader down (your words, 6 or 9 dB) is just setting a lower level for the file.
It does not create more headroom, all you have done is turn the level down. You may as well turn it down 96dB for all the difference it makes. You can scale the mix file just as easily after the fact if you mix too hot.

Now I’m not saying that if you mix with the master fader at 0dB and you think things are getting out of hand level wise that turning the master fader down is not a valid technique to reduce the problem (as we all know, due to the nature of 32 bit floating point mix bus) But why on earth mix into a reduced level on the master bus from the start?

You should be aiming for an accurate mix level with the master bus at 0dB (not the signal peak level)
These days I’m using the SLM128 loudness meter and getting the mixes to sit at -23LUFS +/- 0.1 (Integrated) with the master fader set to 0dB this usually gives plenty headroom for post mix stuff, ie peaking around -12/-13 dBFS.
It also has the added advantage of producing all your mixes to around the same loudness, which can have benefits when mastering.


To the original poster the SLM128 also has a Dynamic Range Meter embedded and is calibrated in Loudness Units :wink:

I see the relevance between peak-oriented metering to loudness-based (average) measurement here as completely moot. because the EBU is using a new scale to define BROADCAST metering levels, either on short term, or even using the integrated method… I see this as absolutely irrelevant to the common denominator 0dBfs. metering whether K metering, the absolutely brand NEW metering system invoked by the EBU known as LUFS! relevant only if your final medium is for Broadcast useage. If I mix and master using this scale metering, and tell the mastering engineer he cannot raise any levels…I would be told go and fuck myself in an Analogue mastering studio when my final medium is for example Vinyl.

I hope this calms the situation somewhat:

My question is this: Have I missed something fundamental? Like some kind of “set dynamic range of VST instruments” function in Cubase (or do I just need to “open up” and unclutter my mix).

I realise this forum isn’t a school for recording artists: I only want know if I’ve missed a fundamental set up feature for dynamic range in Cubase 6.5.
Many Thanks for reading…

He didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition. :mrgreen:

Good and interesting though both points of view are I just think he needs to unclutter the mix. Keeping in mind that the end speakers of some systems can be a tatty transistor radio which would maybe require a different mix than a full on clean club mix.
Though the science will be valuable to him in future I don’t think he needs bogging down in it quite yet.
Could be just a case of too much individual instruments having effects applied rather than sends and muddying the mix?

I’m really having a major problem with this.

Misinterpretation/twisting and just wrong.

Where did I say mixing to 0db Peak?

I said mix to -12/-13 peak

Where did I say that a mix produced with the EBU128 is the final loudness… I didn’t
I said it produces a mix that has -12/-13dBFS peak for later mastering. The rest is is your head. or taken from the EBU 128 guidelines to which I was not referring.

In fact my only reference to 0dB is for the Master fader setting (unity), not the signal level.

Don’t take this personally, I’m merely disagreeing with the rather dubious practice of mixing into a reduced master fader setting to gain a bit of headroom. If you have problems grasping this rather simple premise of leaving the master fader at unity and mixing less hot then so be it.

Also mixing into a reduced master fader setting of say -6dB will not stop signals peaking above that level.

To avoid any further confusion on your part. I am not advocating mixing to 0dB peak. I am advocating mixing to -12dBFS peak and leaving the master fader at unity, unless at some point you find the peak level getting a bit to much and you can’t be bothered readjusting the mix then you can reduce the master fader to get back the desired level.

I hope that is clear.

Maybe if you simply took the time to read my first post, I really dont think we would have wasted useless time on this post. but please believe something …mixing a track while having the Master Bus at OdB & aiming for 0db PEAK on the master channel ( as MOST people DO!!) … and reducing the master bus to -9dB and mixing while aiming for that psuedo peak value…of …-9dB…you end up with a file with more scope to work on. That was simply my point. coming out with an example,whereby you end up reducing the master bus on an Exported Mastered track to end up with the same file…is just plain wrong a comparison.

Read my post split.

Quote@ There is absolutely no difference in mixing into 12dB of Master Fader attenuation then exporting or Mixing into the Mater fader at unity, Exporting at 32fp then importing and turning the channel fader down 12dB. It’s the same thing!"

I strongly disagree here!. and if you were to think about it…you would to. to get to the same volume level, then that would mean EVERYONE having to turn down their Volume level whatever their playback medium by the same margin, that is -12dB… to listen to the track at the same percieved loudness as the masterin g engineer. This is what I am interpreting as just plain wrong, nothing more.

Eh, if you mix to -9 on the meters then it doesn’t matter at all what your master fader is at right? -9db is -9db, that meter is post-fader.
Or this topic is too complicated for me :stuck_out_tongue:


My point was.

Mix a track thats peaking at 0dBFS, export it at 32fp then import it and turn the track down 12dB, export.


Mix the same track into the masterbus with the fader at -12dB it now peaks at -12dB. Export

It’s exactly the same…

Whatever way you look at it the pre fader level will be 0dBFS

Which is not the same as mixing a track to -12dBFS peak with the master fader set to unity.

Again, I’m not saying to reduce a -12dBFS mix by -12dB as the level is already good.

The mixbus summing is being done pre-fader

Strophoid, yes the level is the level…

You might as well get a felt tip pen and draw a line on the screen and mix to that.

Yes probably pedantic but the engineer in me is, the musician in me says who cares as long as it sounds good. But I’m manly in engineer mode.

But, hey whatever works, I shall continue to mix with the fader at unity and shoot for -12dBFS peak.
And I recommend that others do to.

Of course we all know that in Cubases mix engine we can almost mix at any level you want and adjust the master fader to compensate, 2000dB odd headroom is just silly really.

It come down to discipline, control and experience.

really interesting post Jalcide and with links! thanks.

Yep, I second that. Great discussion and useful links. :slight_smile: