Recording levels and gain staging for Cubase 5

Hello everyone,

I’ll phrase my question in terms of what I’m seeking to do (hopefully this will narrow the response down a bit): I’ll be recording several songs using a combination of live instruments (synths, drum machines, guitars), vst instruments, and a couple found samples. I’d like to know how to properly set levels at each stage in order to achieve optimal results (clarity, no clipping, flexibility for master house, etc.). I’m aware people vary in their opinions about gain-staging, but all I’m seeking is a workable/safe solution so I can move forward with the project. (I’ve never paid any heed to gain staging practices before but I want to do it right this time).

My signal chain is:

INSTRUMENT (analog) --> FMR PRE --> FMR compressor --> ALESIS multimix (parallel aux send --> lexicon reverb) --> RME Fireface UC (interface/converter) --> CUBASE.

Can anyone detail the amount of gain/input/output level I should apply at each stage (either that or a general working theory that I can take moving forward)?

  1. Instrument
  2. Pre
  3. Compressor
  4. Mixing board/Effects loop
  5. Interface/converter
  6. Cubase

With regards to Cubase: I’ve been reading that I’m to have my peaks be at around -12 in the meter (varies according to opinion) when the signal hits Cubase. Is that about right?

I’m confused about that part. Do I adjust input gain for each channel accordingly, so that the peaks hit -12, or do I control this by means of my interfaces mixing software (totalmix), or otherwise? What for the fader position? Trim?!

At the moment, I’m seeking a way to move forward, more of a what should I try rather than a why behind each process.

Thanks!

Dan

Each device’s output level should be as high as possible without overdriving the next device’s max input level (which is not necessarily -12 dBFS). Unless you think, one of your devices only “sounds” with a certain amount of gain.
You can’ t control gains (for recording) with totalmix ( unless your doing a loopback). Set gains in the analog domain.

ahh okay. That clicked. I appreciate the help. The -12 db(fs) I was referring to was a suggested peak level within the Cubase channel.

Am I right to take from this: run analog equipment warm without peaking, but allow a decent amount of ‘headroom’ in Cubase? (This seems hotly debated…)

First of all, nothing has to be as high as possible. Secondly, many pros record with lower levels since there is no liability to that in terms of signal to noise ratio (like there was with tape) when using 24 bit or 32 float and there is an advantage to it in terms of avoiding inter sample peaks. You can google all that stuff and get it sorted out for yourself. Many pros will calibrate their DAW to 0VU = -20 dBFS. That means if you use a real analog VU meter and it is reading at 0, then your DAW meters will read -20.

Your FMR stuff is unbalanced isn’t it? And I’m not sure if your Alesis is balanced or not, but if it is, that can give you two problems - one is potential ground noise and the other is potentially greater level differences between the two devices since they could be operating at different levels (not that big a deal)

Anyway, your preamp is where you’ll get most of your gain. Set it to where you get your -12 showing in Cubase with no added gain from anything else and then start adding to your input chain. If your compressor reduces gain, you can use its makeup gain and if other inserted devices raise or lower the gain use their inputs/outputs accordingly. Knowing where unity gain is on each device is really valuable.

As you say it’ s hotly debated, but that’ s good starting ppoint.

More or less correct, that’s where any “gain staging” is important.

Intersample peaks are only of concern at the D/A.

Set recording levels in Cubase from the outside. i.e. keep all digital input levels at unity.

Is that not what I implied? :wink:

Hahaha… touche :mrgreen: