Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Well Mike, I bet your head is spinning a bit at this point.
The information you’ve received in this thread is all good, but may be more than you need at this stage.
The video you linked in the first post is a very good one and describes a technique used by many at the beginning of a mix. Consider it (as with so many things in this business) as a “guide line”. As you grow in comprehension and technique the rest will fall in place.
Check out the other videos on the FinishYourSong Youtube page. Upon review I must say they are well presented, clear and concise, and (as an added bonus) done in cubase which which means you don’t need to translate from Daw to Daw. Also the meter colouring as mentioned previously is also described :wink:

Haha yeah, tell me about it…I had to sleep on it a couple nights but I threw together a small mix yesterday and it helped a LOT. Just paying attention to these factors made the end result come out more balanced with a lot less plugin usage.

I’m glad others are getting something out of this thread!

IMO that video is rather misleading since It somewhat confuses -18dB in relation to 0VU. It also neglects to mention that changing the input gains in an existing mix (as portrayed in the video) will also mess up any dynamics effects in the inserts or strip sections (input gain is pre inserts). If you don’t understand these things you could get into an awful mess.

There’s an important reference omitted, and also points out the incorrect implementation of the ‘PRE’ function in Cubase 7 & 8. In Cubase & most DAWs you can select whether the track meters are monitoring PRE or POST fader (VIP in the gain staging argument). In this video (and in this thread), this information is omitted but given the way the video is presented is is clear that the mixer is set to monitor post-fader. Wrong. This does nothing for the gain staging argument.

The general idea is that the gain staging (& matching of input levels is about setting a schema such as 0dbVU = 18dbFS or similar depending on your persuasion; Bob Katz also refs sine wave as 0dbVU = -20dbFS). Whichever, the point is to provide the channels with some headroom and so as to make better use of the overall digital summing as audio passes through the various mixing stages, busses and master fader.

All of which needs to happen in reference to pre-fader metering (i.e., source levels); post-fader metering then is reserved for referencing the final mixdown itself. The point here is that if Cubase track meters are set to pre-fader metering, then it is obvious to see that using the Cubase PRE Gain function (as demonstrated in this video, either via cannel strip of mix console) has absolutely zero effect on the meter levels. Clearly, the Cubase PRE function is inserted post WAV file. This is not a PRE or Gain trim function in the true use of its implementation. Elsewhere in other DAWs this is applied correctly via various means: in ProTools via the ‘Clip Gain’ function on the waveform itself; or in many others via a trim tool.

In Cubase therefore the correct way to set true input gain for pre-recorded files is either to use the level handle on the waveform itself, or to process the audio via gain change; check this via the track set to monitor pre-fader. Unfortunately, the Cubase PRE function is actually set as a post-fader function. Stupid really.

The idea of pre-fader metering should to be applied to both tracking /recording and of course to gain staging, post recording or when receiving files that may be a little ‘hot’ from others; it also VIP applies to gain staging for VIs which are invariably defaulted as way, way too hot.

Lots of great points to consider in the responses above.

A couple things to keep in mind:

  1. Make sure that your meters are set up for INPUT metering, not output. This will let you know what levels are coming into the channel strip. To test this, you should still see activity on the meter even if your fader is all the way down.

  2. If you want a target goal for input levels, use the K-14 or K-20 options in the metering options. That’s what they’re there for! This will drop your 0 dB on the meter to -14 or -20dB. Just to be clear, it won’t drop the levels but will just move the line lower so when you target 0 dB, you’ll have sufficient headroom when it comes time to mix. I use the K-14 system. Another great read is the white paper by Bob Katz on the K-metering system. It should help to clarify things more.

The whole point of all of this is to drop your levels overall so that you don’t clip any plug-ins that you drop on a channel strip, so that you don’t have to use the pre on the channel strip to drop your levels on every track, and you won’t have to drop your master level for monitoring without digital clipping. It’s a concept originally from the analog realm that will improve your tracking & mixing in the digital realm. It’s also meant to leave headroom for a mastering engineer to do his/her thing after a final mix is completed. Hard to do that when your mixes are output super hot with minimal dynamic range!

If you’re using soft-synths, I would go through each instrument you’re using and set the output levels so that everything in your daw is at a nominal level you’re happy with.

Also, keep in mind that you’ll have to adjust your monitor controller levels to hear things at a good reference level from your speakers. Don’t forget that when you open up iTunes, as you might blow yourself out of your chair listening to mastered mixes at full range!

Agree. That’s the general idea.

FYI the PRE section is not post fader.

I’m a big fan of James Wiltshire’s K-Metering (and gain staging) advice as it applies to circuit modeled plugins.

Honestly, I consider tracking to a K-14 spec somewhat of a secret weapon.

(And by tracking I mean either recording or generating sound via VSTis.)

And just as a side note, many VSTi’s have a really hot output. It is perfectly ok to dial down the output on the VSTi itself.

Just to be clear. Do you mean in the channel meter of the input buss? Are you talking about peak levels or average RMS level?

Well this got interesting! I’ve got my coffee in hand and i’m about to catch up on all of this including Bob Katz’s paper.

FYI the PRE section is not post fader.[/quote]

So which one of you is right? I’m not quite grasping this part. The way profdraper described it is really unfortunate if true

In preferences -> metering I dont see anything about k-14 or k-20 system. am i close enough to this by using sustudio’s metering setup described earlier in the thread?

You mean set the output of the synth so that the level hits around -18sh WHILE my channel fader for that track is left at the default 0 position, correct?

I’m including a screenshot and will explain where to find it:
Where it says ‘Digital Scale’, click on it - the metering options are there in a drop-down menu.

That’s one way to set them… Cubase faders at 0 dB and soft-synth outputs hitting your target level.

The cumulative effect of running everything at -18 will add up to a much higher number if you’re mixing your own stuff.

I find -18 a bit too quiet for monitoring, and levels print way too quiet when exporting multi-track stems, as you’re treating -18 as 0.

I would record a bunch of test tracks with your soft synths and see where they land on the output. You may find a different target more useful for your application.

Yes, I monitor using the meter on whatever input channel I’m using. Since the meter colors are universal (except the master), it works out fine. This guy did a great job demonstrating gradual cues on the meter versus abrupt cues.

Channel metering as used in the technique shown, whether pre or post fader (Cubase’s metering are post fader by default (perhaps this is the cause of the discrepency), but can be changed e.g. when tracking) should not be an issue here as the faders are all set at unity gain i.e. 0.
Perhaps if -18 had not been used…
Here’s another example of the same technique

Of course adding to the confusion is that you have to seek this out instead of simply having a Pre/Post position on the channel itself. But, as you point out, a fader set at unity gain will produce negligible results regardless of the meter position - all else being equal. Spending a bit of time setting up your meter coloring is sort of a “set it and forget it” approach IMO and saves me having to monkey around with those pre gain knobs in pursuit of some arbitrary dBFS range.

The PRE section is pre-fader, not past fader, and comes first in the signal chain. It’s in the user manual. The basic signal flow through a channel is in the following order:

PRE section (Phase, Trim, Filter)
Inserts 1-6 pre (position exchangeable with Strip)
Strip (position exchangeable with Inserts 1-6)
Sends pre
Channel Fader / Mute
Inserts 7-8 post
Sends post
Channel Output

Note that when you set the channel meters to “input” you are metering the signal BEFORE it passes through the channel… in other words you are metering the channel input (or what is recorded on the hard disk) BEFORE it arrives at the PRE section.

You shouldn’t have to monkey around with the Pre at all. You should be able to get the desired levels straight from the preamp, with or without a pad, same with whatever mic you’re using.

Glad to see more and more people asking the right questions!

Just to be clear. What -18 are you talking about? Presumably peaks at -18dBFS?