Live gain structure / DAW

I am one of those who was taught long ago to set up an input channel (for live mixing) to maximise gain, then mix with faders regardless of any thought for unity gain. I subsequently learnt the ‘unity gain’ approach, but I’ve always had a slight problem with it - I like to see a visual representation of the volume differences within a mix (eg, on the board).

Kinda of like conducting an orchestra, you see all the different parts on the score and you can see where parts work together at different volumes to compliment each other. Unity gain approach minimizes these visual differences, where as the ‘max gain’ idea will clearly show that a lead singer’s volume is higher than a backup singer, even if it means the mixing board looks like a Picasso painting. I kinda like that - the visual aspect, even though I understand the benefits of unity gain.

So, a couple of questions - How relevant is ‘unity gain’ in with a modern digital mixer and DAW? I understand UG from an analogue perspective, but how does it translate to the digital realm?

When I record/create at home, one track at a time usually, there is no immediate reference of overall volume between parts, so I record with decent amount of input, allowing for headroom. Still, it’s only when a number of parts come together that I can ‘mix’ them - but the gain stage essentially has already been set. meaning the ‘mixing’ occurs either all by channel faders, or by reducing the gain on the wav file.

What is a better way to approach this?

I saw a guy using Pro Tools and he did something on a track wav form that I’m not aware of in Cubase. He clicked on a track wav and simply dragged it down to reduce its ‘gain’. (A quicker way of how in CB you can process the gain in the Audio tab). Thus he could then move a fader up closer to unity gain and have the same output. Is this a good thing to be doing or not?

I guess another question is - how much does processing the wav deteriorate the track (eg move the gain up or down 1/2 dozen times)? In analogue it’d be a mess, but in a digital environment - I dunno!

When all is said and done, I try to go with what I call the “Ray Charles test” which is, “yeah, but how does it sound, baby?” That was Ray’s comment when an engineer was extolling all the technology being used on one of his recordings.

I think this is a good post, but you’re also kind of asking, “so how do you do recording engineering, anyway?” And it’s a long answer, as I’m sure you know from your experience working with sound and music recording systems.

I was taught the Unity Gain method as you put it, but the concept of gain staging is what I see and hear top engineers demonstrating and discussing. I think it really is the best way to optimize your signal to noise ratio and get the most of whatever system and listening conditions you’re working with.

Cubase pro 8 has a tone generator tool and that will assist you with your DAW’s gain structure. It’s also helpful for setting up and checking any kind of signal routing and effects processing chains.

As a rule of thumb, I’m finding that I can easily reduce the channel input gains to something like -10 and it’s giving me lots of headroom. What I’m hearing from the top pros all the time is to mind the headroom and leave space for signal processing and the final Mastering, but, optimize the signal to noise ratios in the DAW with good headroom. Turn up your monitors to flatten out the response when checking your mixing. Turn down and check on other speakers and in other places to see how your mixes are translating to different listening conditions. Get some good references mixes saved so you can easily put them against your own and see how you’re doing. This, using reference mixes, has been very helpful for me.

Also, I really am trying to separate the stages of the projects. Stage one is creative and I don’t really mind the mix or levels, I’m thinking about the ideas. However, right away, I’m working on a sound I’m hearing, so one track might get more technical attention, but mostly it’s getting the idea written and recorded. Stage two is mixing. Once the basic project is finished from a creative standpoint, then, I’ll start to try to get some Mixes going and that’s where I start to get the gain staging set.

It would be good if VST synths provided better gain staging tools, like a master tone generator, level setting for each instrument. Something like that.

The metering setting are also a place that can be tricky when setting up your gain stages. Anyway, good luck with it all and I’d like to hear how others deal with their gain staging and mixing set-ups. Huge topic and so important to creating good sounds like those I’m hearing all the time on the “made with Cubase” threads. I hope some others offer a few words on this. And, to OP, there are some other threads that have good info about this. So, keep hunting around the forum for the great tips and ideas. :slight_smile:

Good luck.

Thanks for the info!

Sorry if I wrote my questions poorly - no, not after an ‘idiots guide to Cubase’ response when it is such a powerful tool and I think a tad disrespectful to those who have put in the hours to learn it. (I admit I have much to learn!). I should have probably should have split my questions into a couple of posts! (the first simply being comparing gain staging in an analogue versus Digital environment)

I haven’t used the tone generator tool - I’ll check it out. I love learning new stuff - even if means I’ve been doing it wrong all along! Diving in to the forums is such a valuable resource. The wisdom of the pros is invaluable!

Much of what you posted I’ve also been trying to work in to my routine - especially separating the creative process from the mix process. I just need to do it ‘better’.

Thanks again!

There’s always the ‘Trevor Horn’ approach too… track as close to the finished sound as possible, which is obviously down to one’s own levels of creative vision/skill level… he’s not done too badly out of it :wink:

Sorry to go off on a slight, but related, tangent… has any one noticed that if you route a mono track to a mono group then the metering on the source track changes? If i send a signal that’s peaking at -10dbfs to a mono group the group will still show -10dbfs but the source track will show around -7dbfs… i know cubase uses peak metering but some of my other plugs use RMS metering and looking at the numbers it seems that the source track changes to RMS metering… have scoured the manual and can’t find anything relating to it… anyone any the wiser?

Is your pan law set to -3db?

Ah yes it is… thanks for teh link to the post but i’m none the wiser lol… serious brain fade today…

I thought your question was a good one. Gain staging is, I think, one of the really important concepts in mixing.

Do check out some of the links in Made with Cubase. There’s lots of very talented, experienced people posting here.

Keep at it and I’m sure you’ll hear your work improving. I know I have as a direct result of reading the posts and trying out some of what I’ve learned from the more experienced users. Good luck. :slight_smile:

Just noticed the same behaviour in a project and the pan law is set to ‘equal power’… have spent a fair bit of time reading up on it and think i understand now… so why am i getting the same behaviour? :confused: :confused:

Check your routing and what your source and destinations channels really are (i.e. are they all really mono?).

Also check metering. Is it set to pre- or post-panning?

Hey Lydiot thanks for the reply… not at that machine right now but will check as soon as i can… even it it’s something i’m not understanding it’s something i would like to have a much better grasp of so any help appreciated!

@ Lydiot…

Ok yes i’ve just checked the panner and it was set post pan… i’ve just set up an empty project with a mono channel with a sinewave generator sending out 1khz @ -20dbfs… i then routed it to a mono group and also sent the signal via a post fade send from the original channel to a stereo group, both groups are routed to stereo out. As i now understand (lol) there will be a ‘compensation’ of -3db when the panner is set to cental position when meters are set post pan. It does indeed show -20db on the original channel and -23db on both the mono and stereo groups.

If i set the metering to post fader then both the original track and mono group show -20dbfs and the stereo group shows -23dbs because it’s a stereo channel… that’s’ what i’m seeing and i think i understand now lol…

Cool. Glad you figured it out.

Yeah, it’s just one of those things that’s a part of being an engineer and occasionally leads to head-scratching, at least for us who prefer to be creative as much as possible, rather than technical.

Btw: Be aware that “Direct Out” and sends etc operate slightly differently. Not everything is subject to pan-law. Some is just “downmixed”. I actually don’t care for that at all, because I think the inconsistency is illogical, but it is what it is.

Again many thanks… your question re pre/post pan flicked a switch in my head so i thought i would try a few things out and properly figure it out myself rather than just expecting an answer… I do use external sends etc so again thanks for the info on that… much appreciated!

DAWs can have one of two different approaches to implementing pan laws on mono channels.

The Cubase and Reaper way is to reduce the signal level by the pan law value e.g. 3dB when the signal is panned in the centre position, which then rises back up to the initial value when panned hard left or right. This is done within the panning module, so you only notice the level reduction in the centre position when the channel metering is set to post-panner or you are feeding into another channel (or the master bus) with unity gain so that you notice the drop in level.

On mono tracks, Logic keeps the signal level the same in the centre position, but increases it up to the full pan law value when panned hard left or right.

Stereo tracks when using the balance panner simply reduce the signal on the opposite channel to the panner position. The level on the side to which the panner is set remains constant.

So it’s important to select your pan law before doing your mix. If you decide to change it afterwards, your balance could be affected and you’ll probably have to rebalance some of your track levels to get back to where you were.