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tracking question

Discussion in 'Recording' started by CombatWombat, Jan 18, 2005.

  1. CombatWombat

    CombatWombat Active Member

    So I've been reading up a little bit and I've run into a bit of confusion. I recently read about this "straight line rule" while tracking. I'm sure you all know what that entails. I think I understand this technique, however, what I don't understand is that everyone around here seems to be saying that the way to go is to track everything as hot as you can without clipping so that you have all that room to work with later on.

    The stuff I've been reading is saying that recording using the straight-line rule is "good engineering practice." What am I missing?
  2. CombatWombat

    CombatWombat Active Member

    Did I make no sense at all? I tend to do that when I don't know what I'm talking about.
  3. bhd2vek

    bhd2vek Guest

    What's the "straight line rule"? Got a link?
  4. CombatWombat

    CombatWombat Active Member

    I don't have a link, no. I'll look for one. If I understand correctly, the straight line rule works something like this: when you're tracking, you set all your channel faders to 0 dB and adjust all your levels via the gain knobs and record each instrument at roughly the same volume that you want to use it at in the mix. This way, if someone else is handling your tracks, all they have to do is set all their faders to 0 dB and they have a rough mix.

    Do I understand this correctly? What are the advantages/disadvantages to doing it one way or the other?
  5. Hack

    Hack Active Member

    really you want to listen to how a mic and preamp work together. Sometimes you have to push the fader and sometimes you have to pull it. There is no right and wrong way. But you shouldnt turn the gain knob just to keep your fader at 0. If it sounds better with the gain a little hot but you think its too hot to tape, then back the fader off a touch and leave the preamp where it sounded right.
  6. RAIN0707

    RAIN0707 Guest

    I would say that rule is pretty absurd actually when you think about. Let's say I have a soft synth part like some synth strings that I just want to lay in the background of a track. Tracking that signal at the volume I will use it in the mix would be silly IMO. I was always told that you want to track at around -9 to -6 db if using 24 bit. This way you have headroom and remember you can always attenuate a signal with a fader to make it the volume you want...you can't raise a signal that was too low to begin with to the right level and have it sound as good...it just doesn't work...

    "These amps go to 11..." :lol:
  7. Nemesys

    Nemesys Guest

    The following was snipped from a 1997 Q&A section of Sound on Sound Magazine and it relates a bit to your question. I edited it down a bit for clarity... but see the link if you want to read the whole thing.

    (Dead Link Removed)


    No Gain, No Pain

    "Can you provide an answer to the following scenario, involving recording to multitrack tape and then mixing to 2-track? When track laying, I set my channel and group faders to 0dB, and adjust the input gain on the desk so that the desirable level to tape is achieved. I also use channel PFLs to ensure that the signal passing through the desk is within a usable dynamic range. If the desk and machine are set up properly, then the level to tape and PFL level should be the same anyway. The general concept here is that if the mixer channel is as full of signal as it can be without running into distortion, the signal-to-noise ratio is at its best.

    I then monitor via tape monitor channels on the desk, adjusting individual levels to suit. My question arises when it comes to mixdown. I was taught, and I have read, that one should set levels in the following way: for an average section of the music, set master faders at 0dB. Set channel faders at 0dB. Adjust this average section of the mix by using the input gains at the top of the channel. Faders will probably need to be ridden as the song progresses, but the average mix entails all channel faders being set at 0dB. I like this way of working, since it keeps me organised during a mix, with faders generally in a straight line at 0dB.

    But doesn't this mean that there is a danger of the signal-to-noise ratio of the desk being compromised? For instance, if you have a vocal recorded on tape at a decent level, but that vocal is only intended to be heard quietly in the mix, then with the channel fader set at 0dB, the input gain would have to be fairly low, meaning that the channel itself would have a relatively low-level signal passing through it, with the fader unnecessarily amplifying the spare headroom left in the channel -- ie. the noise. Doesn't it make more sense to set levels for mixing by PFL'ing the channels, filling them up with signal, and then setting the actual mix levels by putting channel faders in appropriate -- but untidy -- positions? If this does make more sense, why is it recommended to mix with faders at 0dB? As I said, this is the way I like to mix, but is it right?

    Dave Howard
    via the internet

    Paul White replies: Technically, using your PFL buttons to set the input gain will produce the best signal-to-noise ratio for each channel, but it is inconvenient if it leaves you with a fader very near the bottom of its travel, simply because the sound is needed at a low level in the mix. The reasoning behind some engineers setting the faders to 0dB, and then tweaking the trim controls to suit, is that you can mix with the faders in a more convenient position. This can, indeed, compromise the signal-to-noise ratio to some extent, but in terms of the actual amount of noise added by the channel in question, it won't be any more than from any other channel that has its fader set at 0dB.

    Normally, if the level were set up using the PFL buttons, when a signal was used at a low level in the mix, its noise contribution would also be lower than the other signals. With a 0dB fader setting, on the other hand, the channel may contribute the same noise as the other channels, but it won't contribute more. It's really a trade-off between convenience and acceptable noise, and providing it only applies to one or two channels, it's probably OK to do. It's perhaps more important to ensure unused channels are un-routed (not just muted), and that your maximum aux send levels are around three-quarters up or more. Gain structure doesn't stop with the input trim control!


    I always prefer to keep most of the faders set to the 'unity gain' position also, but not religiously. I agree with what the other fellow said about how if the preamp "sounds better" driven hot, then you should do that...... but when doing that.... I simply compensate by turning down the input trim on the channel strip.

    I like to set every channel and the master so that the 0dB position on the faders will give me roughly +4dBu signal.... which means that I would almost never ever raise the fader up (as that would lead to clipping in the digital recorder).... but rather... I only bring the channel faders down when I want to adjust them.

    I suspect this is an area that people get real religious about how they set the faders on their mixing board or how they do gain staging in general between pieces of outboard equipment.... so I might get lots of "No, no no... thats not how you do it" rebuttals from others.
  8. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    I attended a NARAS seminar in SF in the early 90's where Roger Nichols spoke ... and he advocated the "sraight line" approach ... although he did not call it that .. He said that he could always tell if an engineer had the mix set correctly by looking at the faders ... if they were all pretty close to unity gain, that the trims were all correct and that the tracks were all recorded at the correct levels.

    In practice, during mix, I have found that this is generally true. I have not heard of intentionally doing this during tracking ... it just seems to work out that when all the tracks are recorded with the correct dynamic range at the correct levels, that the faders will end up near unity gain ..
  9. RAIN0707

    RAIN0707 Guest

    Thank you for the clarification Kurt. That makes much more sense and is defined much different from the initial post. The Roger Nichols definition is more acceptable to me and I tend to agree with it.
  10. CombatWombat

    CombatWombat Active Member

    This is all very interesting. Thanks for the input guys.

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