Volume - gain staging

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JMT
Posts: 7
Joined: 23 Jan 2021

Post 03 Feb 2021

Does anybody know, Is there a sweet spot volume for reason devices to work at their optimum? Some 3rd party plug ins like incoming volumes to be -18db average.

I cant find this information anywhere.

Thanks in advance

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BRIGGS
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Location: Orange County California

Post 03 Feb 2021

JMT wrote:
03 Feb 2021
Does anybody know, Is there a sweet spot volume for reason devices to work at their optimum? Some 3rd party plug ins like incoming volumes to be -18db average.

I cant find this information anywhere.

Thanks in advance
I'd say it depends on the device, since many of them model the behavior of analog circuitry.

So, I'm going to go with....Let your ears decide. :puf_smile:
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selig
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Post 03 Feb 2021

If you look at the audio input meters you see they turn yellow at -12 dBFS. I participated in many sound banks for Reason, all specified peaks around -12 dBFS when playing typical parts (mono for bass/leads, 4-5 note chords for poly patches). Many years ago I read a post by Paul Frindle (Sony Oxford DSP guy) saying he felt all DAWs should take 10 dB or so off the signal coming into the mixer by default - many, myself included, took this advice to heart and started tracking all audio at least 10 dB below clipping.

Now this is NOT gain staging, which is an analog concept for dealing with differing amounts of headroom from stage to stage. Digital has a consistent amount of headroom at ALL stages, so no need to "gain stage".

What does that mean? There are many reasons to adopt a consistent peak level for all audio signals, and that's what we're really talking about here. We use peak levels for leaving headroom because peaks are what eats up your headroom first. And we make sure to adjust levels after each new processor is added to ensure we are still peaking at the same level.

Advantages to using a consistent peak level for all audio tracks that's well below 0 dBFS:
•You won't clip when recording audio.
•You won't be chasing a mix that clips since you have built in headroom for all channels to be mixed together.
•You can bypass any processor and the level won't change.
•You can anticipate settings for any non-linear processor (dynamics, saturation, distortion, etc.) because you already know the level coming into each processor!

All of the above won't fix your mix in any way, but it will likely speed up your workflow and give you fewer things to worry about.
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selig
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Location: The NorthWoods, CT, USA

Post 03 Feb 2021

JMT wrote:
03 Feb 2021
Some 3rd party plug ins like incoming volumes to be -18db average.
Forgot to address this specifically: any device that is doing analog saturation will respond first to the peaks, so I pay more attention to peak levels. I've always done this, learning early on that some instruments don't show level accurately on VU meters (talking about tracking to analog tape machines). You had to record many parts, like bells and other percussion, with the VU meter barely moving in order to get a clean transient. Of course you risk noise when recording that low so the struggle is real!

Luckily very early on (1984) I got to start recording to digital multitrack, and all digital machines use peak meters because it's the peaks that clip first (and clipping digitally is different from clipping analog!). So I got used to seeing peak levels and working from there, using VU (average) levels only for judging loudness in mixes (in conjunction with peak meters).

The "issue" with VU and RMS reference levels is you cannot predict the peak level. If you compare peak to average levels of raw tracks like drums, you'll see 20 dB or more difference between them. That means if you are seeing -18 dBu as an average level, the peak CAN be clipping. And if your peaks are THAT high, any analog saturation going on is getting hit VERY heavily by the peaks. Besides the fact you are clipping, that also means you got no headroom for summing multiple channels in a mix.

BUT - if you instead keep peaks around -12 dBFS, your average level can range from -30 to -18 dBFS generally speaking. And that is well within the nominal levels of most devices. But as always, listen to what's happening to the peaks, as they are your "early warning" for levels getting too hot - or not hot enough if your intention is to add some analog color! Make sense?
Selig Audio, LLC

JMT
Posts: 7
Joined: 23 Jan 2021

Post 03 Feb 2021

Thank you Selig, really good replies :thumbup:

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