Peak metering on Mix Channels - is there any use?

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orthodox
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Post 11 Jan 2022

From my experience, I have never needed to know the peak level on a Mix Channel or whether it might "clip" (except when bouncing it from Reason :puf_smile:). What's interesting for me is VU or Loudness metering, and even those I rarely really pay attention to in mixing. Does anybody have a different view? Maybe I am missing something and there is some sense in peaks?

I'm just thinking about an RE for Mix Channel metering, would a peak meter be any useful?

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selig
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Post 11 Jan 2022

orthodox wrote:
11 Jan 2022
From my experience, I have never needed to know the peak level on a Mix Channel or whether it might "clip" (except when bouncing it from Reason :puf_smile:). What's interesting for me is VU or Loudness metering, and even those I rarely really pay attention to in mixing. Does anybody have a different view? Maybe I am missing something and there is some sense in peaks?

I'm just thinking about an RE for Mix Channel metering, would a peak meter be any useful?
Every single digital tape machine in existence uses peak meters, where analog tends to use VU. This is because clipping is fairly instantaneous with digital recording so peak meters are essential to knowing how much headroom you have.
So it's headroom that peak meters allow us to see, and it's headroom that is important with digital levels since the final delivery is fixed bit format and signals above 0 dBFS will clip.
VU meters show an average level, and average levels are good for attempting to represent how we hear. But a typical audio signal can have varying degrees of difference between peak and average levels. Here's an example of a Kong kit (All Nighter) and the difference between Peak and Average levels:
Image

You can see some sounds have a peak to average (aka crest factor) of well over 20 dB. This means if you set the VU to something even as low as -18 dBFS as some folks suggest, a few of the individual sounds will clip on their own (let alone when other sounds are playing).

Thus, knowing the peak level of your audio signals becomes important in the digital domain IMO. As many here know, I try to keep my peak levels on every individual track around -12 dBFS, which allows me 3-6 dB headroom on the mix bus without having to do anything. Why does it matter? Because once I do that I can just make MUSIC without having to lower the master each time I add a new track etc. Does it make my mixes sound better? Not at all, but it allows me to focus on the sound of my mix instead of worrying if I'm clipping or not, which DOES make my mixes sound better. So it's a workflow decision rather than a sonic decision, if that makes sense.
There are other advantages that speed things up as well, such as already knowing what the loudest part of any track will be, setting compressors and saturation/distortion devices easily because I already know the input level, and making A/B comparisons because I always compensate if adding/cutting level with any process.

I learned this technique from folks far smarter than I am, and have been doing it for so long now I don't even think of it any more. And I can't remember the last time I clipped a mix OR an audio recording. It's part of my overall approach which is summed up by "Less time fixing means more time mixing". :)
Selig Audio, LLC

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integerpoet
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Post 11 Jan 2022

I was about to post this seems like something Selig Gain would already do if it were valuable, when…
selig wrote:
11 Jan 2022
(the usual sort of detailed, well-informed response)

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orthodox
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Post 11 Jan 2022

selig wrote:
11 Jan 2022
... having to lower the master each time I add a new track
That's exactly my workflow, that I'm used to. I'm using a gain fader as the first master insert fx.

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selig
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Post 11 Jan 2022

orthodox wrote:
11 Jan 2022
selig wrote:
11 Jan 2022
... having to lower the master each time I add a new track
That's exactly my workflow, that I'm used to. I'm using a gain fader as the first master insert fx.
If it works for you, keep on keeping on!
:)
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motuscott
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Post 11 Jan 2022

integerpoet wrote:
11 Jan 2022
I was about to post this seems like something Selig Gain would already do if it were valuable, when…
selig wrote:
11 Jan 2022
(the usual sort of detailed, well-informed response)
Indeed!
Who’s using the royal plural now baby? 🧂

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NMHindman
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Post 11 Jan 2022

motuscott wrote:
11 Jan 2022
integerpoet wrote:
11 Jan 2022
I was about to post this seems like something Selig Gain would already do if it were valuable, when…
Indeed!
Beg to differ! Here's a better explanation ;) :


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orthodox
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Post 11 Nov 2023

In addition to the above and so as not to create new topics...

After making a tutorial video on Mini Normalizer RE, I got a bit hung up about different techniques of gain staging in mixing.
I myself tend to highlight two key places where gain control makes the most sense to me: one - just before mix channel faders, to unify their base loudness level and the way it is represented by channel fader positions, and two - immediately after the channel signals are summed up, at the top of the master insert chain, to compensate for the variation of the total signal resulting from changes in the mix scene. The latter point is primarily aimed at normalizing the level for the following master insert chain, which commonly contains compressors, which are level sensitive.
Those are the two ideas I tried to promote in the video:



I would like to hear what you think about that and learn about other ideas, what other points people use for gain staging.

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