Setting Levels Correctly, Recording & Mixing?

Discussion in 'Tracking / Mixing / Editing' started by JoshHPMusic, Dec 28, 2013.

  1. JoshHPMusic

    JoshHPMusic Active Member

    Hey everyone,
    So this might seem a bit stupid, but I feel like I don't know as much as I should know about setting levels.
    For reference, I am using a Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP, with Logic 9, on a quad core 15" Macbook Pro. And my monitors are Yamaha HS5.
    Let's start out with recording levels:
    1) How should I be setting the levels on the Inputs of my interface, vs. the level control in my DAW? (Higher on the interface, or lower on the DAW, or both high, both low? etc.)
    2) Does this vary with different sources? (Microphone, condenser, dynamic, guitar cab, bass direct, etc.)

    And for output/monitoring:
    1) How should I be setting levels on the back of my monitors vs. in the DAW vs. in Saffire Mix Control (interface mixer program)
    2) Does it make a difference?

    Thanks for your help! It is very appreciated.
  2. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    Unless you have some really good reason to change them, leave all digital I/O levels at their default settings. Even the master fader in your DAW should stay at 0dB 99.99% of the time.

    Generally speaking set your preamp gain to result in average digital levels somewhere around -18dBFS. That leaves plenty of room at the top for dynamics. If you need more there's nothing wrong with running lower average levels. Mix level on the main bus meter should be about the same, -18dBFS.

    If you do that and set your monitors to a strong but comfortable level you'll be in the ballpark. If you want to get closer you'll need to read up on the K-system and get a sound pressure level meter.
  3. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    The only thing I would add to what Boulder mentioned is that you need to be sure that you aren't overdriving any one link in your gain chain...for example, on your audio I/O /Preamp.

    Yes, different sources will have different degrees of amplitude... and the gain would need to be adjusted accordingly on the input of your audio I/O. Some singers are stronger than others, different mics have different gain, different guitar amps will have a wide variety of different levels, and you need to be aware of just how hot your incoming signal is. What you don't want to do is to drive one input/ output too "hot" while a consecutive input/output is too shy.

    Listen for distortion, and try to keep all your gain stages at an equal level in relation to each other. This doesn't necessqarily mean that all your input and output levels be exactly the same, but what it does mean is that you don't want to run your pre amp too hot while you have your recording levels set too low... or vice versa.

    Here's a quick and dirty run down on gain staging that you might want to check out:

    Gain Staging
  4. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    When tracking, try as best you can to leave your faders at, or as close to unity/0db as you can, and get your levels sounding like a mix.

    This will generally establish relatively solid gain structure... and result in your "mix mode" fader moves being much less drastic.

    As a matter of practicality, it makes a lot more sense to need to add gain to a channel when mixing as opposed to trying to deal with overages.

    In the days of tape, you could hit it close to, and even into the "red" on quite a few different instruments, and you got this nice warn compression and lovely coloration of tape distortion.

    With digital, once you hit over the limit of the converter (0db), there's a phenomena called noise... and what it really means, is no audio exists... only noise exists that the audio is not recoverable... the signal is gone forever... so, 0db is your enemy. Best advice I can give you, is when tracking, NEVER purposely get close to 0db. Stay out of the yellow unless your channel count is really low... as with the higher the level of the signal, the higher your overall noise floor... resulting in greater chance for loss of clarity.
  5. JoshHPMusic

    JoshHPMusic Active Member

    Well, thanks for the help thus far, everyone.
    One super important question I almost forgot about:

    What about my main computer volume?? Is there a level it should always be set at, to simplify things or for other reasons? (I'm on a Mac, so the volume is in 16 increments)

  6. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    i think 85db on a radio shack meter is fine for a journeyman, no matter the playback system.
  7. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    Does it affect the level of your monitors when using your DAW? If not then don't worry about it.
  8. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    There sure is!!

    You set it to effectively, and hopefully... not blow your stuff up.

    After that, there is no correct answer... other than to understand that you can decide to loose your hearing now... or later. It's up to you.

    The quieter your environment, the longer you'll likely have your subjective hearing intact.

    That warning notice given, I listen to my mixes all sorts of ways... I'll crank it up and do housework... sit down and listen as quietly as I can... like with a small earbud system on a crappy empty3 player... in my car... So, you listen at different volume levels because people listen to music at different volumes.

    Speakers (and technically amplifiers) typically compress the air inside the cabinet as volume is increased... typically resulting in small distortions that mask other signals erroneously.... actually yielding for a general purpose listening environment, something that is the antithesis of your need, in order to deliver the clearest representation of your efforts.

    I have a tendency to leave my volume one or two notches from maximum... mainly as a means of hopefully saving my monitors. But the input from my Mac is routed quite a bit differently, in that my monitors hang right off the converter that I choose... including the input from the mac... But instead of having a feedback issue, I also route the mac through the monitors through a buffered routing system for general playback.

    For you, it really only adds one more reliance on the gozinta and gozouta levels to not blow itself up.

    In most cases, staring in the middle range, you SHOULD be ok... it's equally important to see the input levels on every device... as well as it's output. If it's in the red... turn it down.
  9. JoshHPMusic

    JoshHPMusic Active Member

    How will I know when the levels are at -18dB? Should I leave the track's fader at 0dB? Then how do I actually know when it is at 18dB? I am using Logic 9 btw.
  10. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    For recording leave the track fader where it is. There should be a meter on the track controls that shows you the level of the incoming signal while you're recording. When the thing you're recording is at its normal volume the level should be crossing -18dBFS on the meter fairly often. Read the meter in the software and use the knob on the interface to control the recording level.
  11. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Your interface has a light on the meter clearly marked -18db, which is the 2nd light up from the bottom. use you gain knob to achieve this. this is a common 'input' level setting into logic. You can put your faders wherever you want, whever they sound good, or whever people need them to perform well. this won't effect the level your 'recording' just what you hear.

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