gain staging for DAW mixing

Discussion in 'Tracking / Mixing / Editing' started by teleharmonic, Jun 15, 2004.

  1. teleharmonic

    teleharmonic Guest

    Howdy all,

    So, i'm sitting down to mix a song 'in the box'. I start setting levels and generally find that i'm pushing the levels until the loudest track is just below the point of distorting with all other tracks at their relative volume below this (based on what i think the mix should be). The problem is this... when i approach the mix in this manner i find that i am continually having to pull down the master fader. In some cases my master is 12db below unity just to prevent digital overs... then i have to back it off even further if i want to give the mastering engineer some room to manouver the final mix in.

    So, my question is this... am i compromising the fidelity of the recording by gain staging in this manner? Is there an advantage to trying to keep the master fader at unity? should i be backing off on the individual track faders or does it make a difference when summing digitally?

    I can think of three different approaches:
    1) the one i am currently using... blast away on individual tracks and back off the master fader.
    2) back off individual track faders to keep the master fader from overloading
    3) blast away on individual tracks but then strap on equal trim plugins on all individual tracks to get the master fader in control without having to pull back on it. (i really don't know how this would be advantageous but it is a possible approach.)

    any insights into digital gain staging would be helpful.

  2. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    What I do is set the kick and snare to about -6dB (digital scale) on the master bus and then mix everything else in to that. Sometimes I have to back everything down a bit but that is usually a good starting point for me.

    I don't know if keeping the bus up is as important as it is with analog mixing but I do it anyway out of force of habit. It would just bug me too much to see a master fader pulled half way down. I have a feeling that it is better to do it "old school" , even in digital "in the box" mixing.
  3. teleharmonic

    teleharmonic Guest

    thanks for the respone Kurt!

    Certainly my instinct is that i should be taming my tracks better to keep the master at unity... which i will likely start doing as a general practice... however i guess what i was wondering was whether that is important when summing digitally or whether that practice was simply a leftover from analog practices.

    Since i am working in 24 bits i know that i have ample dynamic range on the individual tracks so i assume that backing them off a bit to keep the master at unity will not really affect the noise level of the tracks.

    I guess gain staging in digital just seems a bit more 'theoretical' than it does in analog where different signal strengths really make a huge difference in the character of the sound coming out of a device.

  4. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    It seems to meeee ... that by adding gain at the master bus, you would be asking the CPU to do more math .. at the expense of audio degradation. As with all things, the less you do to it ... the better it will be..
  5. teleharmonic

    teleharmonic Guest

    i suppose that is true... the less things you push around, the less things degrade and since i'm already pushin' the track faders around i should try to limit myself to just doing that.


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