I think we’ve all found ourselves (even after careful gain staging early on) with a mix that either has too little headroom for mastering or is flat out clipping.
Let’s say you’ve mixed a track, you really love the balance, but things are just too hot on the master fader.
Some people have advised me to just pull the master fader down to ‘win’ back headroom but I’m not convinced this method doesn’t negatively effect the quality of the signal, and for the sake of this post I would like to find a better solution.
I have read that some put a gain plugin as the last insert on their audio, group, and fx send tracks and use those to attenuate a mix.
Have any of you tried this? Do you have a better method that you successfully tested and used?
I always use the standard limiter plug in on the master channel so there is no clipping if the signal is too hot and it boosts a lower level so it only ever hits 0db. I don’t change the master fader settings.
It works well for me.
Let me explain - Internally, if your Cubase is setup that way - 64bit Float - YOU CAN NOT CLIP THE MASTER BUS - You can only clip the converters which is fed by the master bus -
I cant remember if there is an input gain on the master fader. This would be the elegant solution. What is a good practice, is to use an extra Mix Bus → that feeds the stereo out bus - Then you can control what is sent to the converters (Stereo out) via a fader.
Remember pre- and post fade will make a difference where your plugins are - The fader will affect this.
All my tracks have considerable volume automation (I use Cubase Pro) and I’ve read that fader resolution (not the audio resolution, but actual fader resolution with respects to how big or small a vol cut or boost needs to be) gets more extreme the lower the fader is. For this reason I think it better to not touch the faders as this may skew the volume balance, but rather just use a gain plugin as the last insert and pull that down instead. I am hoping this makes sense?
Another point (I wanted to avoid mentioning as I don’t want to confuse people) is that I sum analog and have 32 outputs on my Converter - so in my Cubase mixer window rather than having 1 dedicated stereo output I have 8 mono and 12 stereo outputs which are all basically master outputs.
If you are recording at sensible levels, with appropriate headroom (-10dBFS peaks, I would suggest), and you are preserving your peaks throughout the signal chain (trimming out of processors as necessary), then you shouldn’t be going anywhere near clipping. The moment you have to touch that master fader then you would be well advised to go look at whether you are adhering to such basic, time-proven principles - they are as useful as they have ever been.
(All of this assuming you are recording at 24-bit or above)
Technically there’s nothing wrong with moving the master fader, but if you have to…
And don’t forget that many plug-ins are designed to work like hardware and will react differently (and not always desirably) to being pushed hard.
For orchestral stuff I use 4 or 5 groups (Strings / Brass /Woodwind …etc) that feed into the final stereo out. I then use a VCA fader on these groups that acts as an overall trim control. If I find I’ve got things a bit hot overall then the VCA fader just pulls the whole mix down. As @The_Elf mentioned, it’s good to give yourself plenty of headroom in any case, but particularly in longer pieces of music, you can get a bit carried away.
I don’t think you have to worry at all about whether or not it’s 32 bit or 64 bit float as long as it’s float. Also don’t worry about this “fader resolution” because that just means that from one point to another there may (supposedly) be a bigger gap, but that’s not really an issue since you’re not worried about the ‘precision’ going from one point to another, you just want to lower the peak to gain headroom. So it won’t matter if you can’t nail -6dB exactly because of a lack of precision if what you really want to do is just lower the level. No mastering audio process is going to suffer from that being -6.02dB rather than exactly -6dB, right?
Since you have 32 outputs that you’re summing I would still say just lower the master output because that’s the easiest solution - unless you’re clipping the input as you record the 2-track master back. But either way you could just as easily lower the individual outputs’ faders feeding your summing mixer.
I really don’t think there is much to gain from using a plugin other than to have essentially less visual information. With a fader you have a visual cue by looking at it, with a plugin not unless it’s open.
PS: There is a plugin that supposedly does “pure” attenuation on a per-bit basis which again supposedly leads to a cleaner… I guess signal. But I have a really hard time thinking that matters at all in most cases. I forget the name of it.
Is the clipping you’re trying to combat on one or more of the outputs to the analog summing mixer?
And are those clips only small and spurious?
If yes, is there even anything to worry about, since occasional spurious digital clipping is only to be worried about when creating fixed bit audio files, and not a problem (since many versions of Cubase ago) when sending audio to ASIO DA conversion ?
Thanks to ALL who chimed in - very helpful - from what I have gathered, with floating bit audio in the 24 bit and plus realm, turning down the master fader will not reduce bit depth - this was my main concern. Yes, gain staging here is the big one - makes life so much easier down the road and some of your plugins will probably sound better, too. Cheers!
So, I have finally had time to start prepping mixes and tried out some of your suggestions - I had never used VCA Faders before and found that by assigning several VCA Faders to different mix elements (drums, guitars, FX, etc) I was able to solve any headroom issues - I want to keep 6dB of headroom for mastering. However, attenuating the pre gain on my master outputs (I have 20 outputs as I sum with an analog mixer (also works nicely).
Any reason why one of these two methods would be better? Just curios.
Well, if you are thinking about attenuating pre-gain on the master outputs then I don’t see how that’s different from just pulling down the faders, unless you have dynamics processing on those outputs. Of course if you have dynamics on them then either using VCAs for source tracks or pre-gain on master outputs has the same effect of changing the dynamics processing on the output since the input into those plugins will be lower.
Assuming you have nothing on those outputs why not just bring down the faders? If you do that you’ll get a clear visual representation of what you did. You can easily see that the faders aren’t at unity. If you instead use pre-gain then that isn’t visible. So imagine that you come back to your project 5 years from now and can’t remember what you did - seeing the faders gives you a clear clue.
I would also make sure if I were you that you know exactly how VCAs work in Cubase (different from Nuendo). So that just in case you need to change something you know exactly what happens when you do. This is another reason why I think just lowering the faders is the most simple and clear way of going about it. There just is close to zero ambiguity.
(if you have dynamics processing on your outputs also pay attention to if it’s pre-/post-fader)
PS: I think I mentioned earlier that I think it’s easy enough for a mastering engineer to turn things down. If they get only 1dB of headroom it shouldn’t really matter.