Reading your initial post, I guess it would be good for you to take a day or so to learn something about decibel, loudness and how the human ear works. There are some nice videos on YouTube explaining different aspects.
Most important aspects maybe are:
Yes, done this. There are a few things that throw me, but I shall leave these issues to another post. I agree with your summary. I understand that both MIDI and dB are logarithmic scales, that LU and dB come in different flavors, that dB is a relative scale (and is often not cited as such) . That there are momentary or peak values, longer term values etc. Under the hood, dB in particular is fiendishly complicated - but let’s not go there. in this thread please.
- Headroom is the difference of your signal level and the maximum possible signal level.*
What I think I have found out about headroom is this:
- That it is not shown on Cubase faders.
- That it matters less in 32 bit sound engines.
- That engineers like at least 6 dB for mastering.
- That it is important to preserve partials, in say cymbal hits -without it, nasty clipping occurs
On dB: One YouTube engineer suggest adding 6 dB to the Stereo out, then composing as normal, then before going to the mastering process, take it off again - viola, 6 dB of headroom. Logically, I can’t see anything wrong with this but I hesitant to employ the technique as I can’t expertly evaluate it.
If I understand you correctly your instruments from libraries contain e.g. 20 different trumpets each of them having a different volume.
Correct. They widely differ in volume even when playing the same articulation. Can be as much as 30 dB!
I would create 20 tracks for the trumpets and a folder track to put them all inside. A folder track is only for display organization and does not influence the sound unless you use something like its mute button. Initially all volume faders should be at 0.
Then I would create a group track and route all trumpet channels to that group. From your description that is basically what you have done already.
Then I would start to have something played at the maximum volume from each of the trumpets (that volume comes from the VSTi you are using).
This is what I have done - which differs a little. I think this also works. Your opinion?
I have created a scalar run for each instrument within its range. Mod Wheel Initialized for 100, velocity at 64 steady and bland. I have left expression alone. Volume CC is . I am using the master key switch instruments for each instrument. I have written all the expression maps. In the Key Editor I have tried to select the same patch, or near as similar - legatos, sustains non vibrato. I have no plugins in use at the moment. I am working one instance of Kontakt/Halion/Play (henceforth termed ‘player’) per instrument.
I note that different libraries have different microphone set ups. Cheap libraries have only one microphone set up, better libraries have up to seven -some of them trees. I feel on the horns of a dilemma with this, because where there are more microphones available, I will use them, but this is not comparing like with like. Of course this effects volume balance.
The channel with the quietest trumpet should be your reference channel. Set it so that its peak display does not go beyond 0dB.
Now you can go through each of your others channels one by one and compare its displayed level with that of your reference trumpet. Lower the volume fader to match the reference volume or even better, do it by ear.
Once you have done the channel by channel settings, you can play back the entire trumpet set and do small corrections to the levels, again by ear.
Later if you want to use the trumpet ensemble in a song you can adjust the ensemble volume by the volume fader of the group channel.
In case you want to work with plugins on the individual track channels, I would use a VCA fader after leveling the entire trumpet section. The VCA fader would be linked to all individual trumpet channels and can reduce their volume evenly to give the plugins some room to work with. Let us know if you need to work with insert plugins on individual instruments.
This seems like good advice. I am still digesting it. Today I plan to investigate VCA faders and try to understand their role. I hope you understand that I need to look at this deeply, as there are 1600 tracks in the Master Template. I don’t want to mess things up and have to unpick it all. I have already has to do this once - unpicking is messy. I need to be sure.
I have a few questions re this paragraph please:
How to adjust gain? My logic is like this. First the sample(s) have their own baked in dB, then (pre-fader) this can be adjusted by:
The volume in the instance of the instrument
The Master Volume of the player
Does it damage a signal to max out a digital volume - if there is no clipping?
My instinct is to use the volumes in the following order. Instance, Player master, Cubase pre-gain.
I think this makes no difference to headroom? Do these adjustments make any difference to headroom pre-fader? This question makes my head spin and stops me from proceeding.
This example was for one set of instruments only and needs to be repeated for each set you use. Basically you level your orchestra. Something the conductor would do in reality.
In the end you would use the volume faders of your various group channels to select , how loud each set of instruments should be.
I think my answer to my own question about this, would be that it would take months to try to balance each articulation, and anyway, when composing there is room for further adjustment.
Each instrument within a section, and each section in comparison to other sections have widely different volumes and timbres.
I did some close studies of two piccolo samples. One from Orchestral Tools and one from East West Quantum Symphonic Library. Out of the box, on a level playing field, the OT piccolo was only just audible (yes really!) whilst the East West Piccolo was robust and of a proper volume. I think the difference was approaching 30 dB.
I then adjusted the gain and used Cubase’s excellent new plugin Supervision, using both trhe loudness meter and the dB meter. I got them to read the same for both plugins. However, my ears told me a different story. They did NOT sound like they were of the same level. I think this was due to the OT piccolo sounding thin and shrill, whilst the EW piccolo had more body, was more fruity.
From this experiment I learnt that it is your ears, rather than even the most accurate LU or dB meter, that must be the final arbiter.
Do you agree? I think you do.
A few further observations on this.
Each instrument is a key switched instrument, capable of many articulations. Different articulations sound at different volumes. The classic example is the difference between pizzicato and arco - arco can be fff but pizzicato can never achieve this. Other instruments have their own idiosyncrasies in this respect
Thank you for your sound advice, I look forward to your reply.