Should the channel fader match the peak level?

I think this is a bit of a noob question, but I’m trying to work out the best workflow for gain-staging to get my head around it. I don’t record into Cubase, I strictly use samples and VSTis.

If I have a synth bassline playing, for instance, and the channel fader is pulled down to -10dB, should I be using the channel’s input gain or the VSTi’s output to match the fader so that the signal is also peaking at -10dB or is there no relationship between the fader position and signal peak?

I’ve heard the best gain-staging practice is that all faders shouldn’t be too far from unity (0dB) for the mix to sound roughly correct as having faders pulled down too far or pushed up too high can complicate things. I may be simplifying that explanation though. Is it more of a legacy thing or does it still very much apply to ITB mixing? I tend to mix softly (master bus peaking at approx -6dB) so my channel faders are generally all set quite low and far off from unity.

I tend to set the loudest element of my track (usually the kick drum) so it peaks at -10dB but depending on the source, that could mean I pull the fader down to -15dB or only -5dB. Should I be using the input gain so that 0 on the fader is 0dB (or just below) on the peak meter so when I pull the fader down to -10dB, it’ll peak at -10dB or rather should I leave the fader at unity and adjust the input gain so the kick (as the loudest element of track) is peaking at -10dB and do this for all the sounds I bring into the project so when they’re at unity on the faders, they’re hitting -10dB peak, meaning that if I want a particular sound -6dB low than the kick I just have to drop the fader by -6dB rather than some arbitrary amount?

Or should I not be worrying about the input gain as I have the idea of gain staging all wrong?

Thanks for any advice, I hope this makes sense - my wording might not be that clear. :stuck_out_tongue:

I think you have the right idea for gain staging, but I also don’t think it really matters in Cubase.
It’s always a good idea to start with the loudest possible signal, though.
Floating point math is very forgiving, but the more signal it has to start with, the higher the resolution will be throughout.

Actually, the only reason I responded to this thread was to tell a related story about 24 bit digital’s available resolution:
I once got a project to mix from a studio in New York, and instead of sending the raw data files, as requested,
they instead “cleaned up” and set preliminary volumes, then sent us their exported files.
Of course, we ended up needing sections and mic tracks that had been turned off, and the studio couldn’t get the original files to us on the day of the session.
So when one of the tracks faded out early, I naturally boosted it to see how long I could keep it audible.
Well, I just kept doubling and doubling the volume, and it the track just kept on going. We all compared the recovered/boosted signal to the original unfaded signal, and agreed that it sounded just fine!
So from then on, we just boosted every missing track 40 or 60 dB or so, and we mixed the thing.
I’m not making this up!!
I’ve always wondered how there could be that much signal left after fading out to zero, though.
I’m pretty sure they thought the original program was Sonar.
Anyway, since that day I’ve been less worried about losing 6dB in my gain staging!

There is no such thing as gain staging within a sequencer. Pulling your channel track down -10 and leaving the master fader @ 0, will net the identical result as leaving your channel track @ 0, and pulling the master fader down to -10. Outputs from both of these scenarios will null, assuming there are no random plugs inserted (ex., some algo verbs). This holds true for audio as well as VSTs; you needn’t get the “hottest signal” to go to or from your Instr Track, nor to your master bus; it’s not as if a hotter signal going somewhere is going to yield a different result than a signal not as hot - it won’t. Remember - it’s only math. You want to try to avoid clipping, tho; signals slightly in the red (over 0) are ususally ok. It’s the audible clipping that becomes a problem.

Now, once you introduce analog outboard gear, then gain staging comes into play - you want to hit the gear at just the right level. Which of course, may vary from situation to situation.


Thanks a lot for the replies guys, it’s much appreciated!

I can’t afford any outboard gear other than my Novation Nio ( :laughing:) so I guess I don’t need to worry for now. :stuck_out_tongue: