I was reading the thread RE: 32 vs. 24 bit recording. In it someone made a reference to gain staging. As to not derail that topic, I’ve created this one.
Gain staging has been a topic a friend and I have been discussing for the past while. I used to aim to have my input levels hit -3dB (applying compression on the way in) – of course against the advice of all pros. My friend pointed out with 24-bit recording (rather than 16-bit), printing such loud levels was no longer necessary (because of the headroom 24-bit offers, I think). Heeding his advice, I made several changes. I:
- used -6dB as my peak input level
- started using the gain staging in the EQ portion of the channel settings to reduce SD2.0 (and other VSTi) output levels as to not exceed -6dB
- started playing through the entire project and lowering the Gain (not the fader) on the Master channel so the peaks maxed at-6dB
While all this seemed silly to me and I didn’t really understand it (because of the seemingly infinite headroom internal processing seems to allow), I noticed my mixes sounded a lot better. They were punchier. The clarity was better. The imaging was better. And that’s still after applying mastering plugs (Maximizers, et al) in the same way.
He suggested it’s, at least in part, because plugins, especially those made to emulate vintage gear, want to see levels similar to what they saw back in the day (which I guess were substantially lower). He went on to say he uses -18dB for his peak input level when recording, and that lowering channel gain as I’ve been doing defeats the purpose or isn’t as effective.
What are your rules about levels at the input, bus, and master bus (pre-Maximizers et al) stages? And what’s your reasoning?