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A question about the main ST fader of a digital mixer

Profile picture for user crystaldrone

Hello Everyone,

Good to be back posting here after a long time. Would love your insights on this.

Recently I mixed a couple of tracks and even started casual listening by keeping the main ST fader on my digital mixer (yamaha n12) at -6 db instead of 0 db, and observed that its much more enjoyable.

So I have started mixing by keeping the ST fader at -6 db, because its much more comfortable to analyse and pay attention to dynamics, which is a big part of mixing. And keep the fader at 0 db for mastering so to get true reading on my meters, analyzers and a true picture of what the loudness will be on other systems.

And when it comes to monitor level, I put it up while mixing at -6 db if needed, and put it down while mastering at 0 db. (This is partly because my room isn't very ideal and causes reflections.)

Even though I observed my output to be better and much more satisfactory (and can mix for an extra hour before my ears get tired), I would love to get opinions on whether this is a good approach to stick to?
As in, will I overlook something, or miss out on something or run into problems by keeping different ST fader levels for mixing and mastering? Or by mixing at -6 db?

Thanks all. Great to be here. :)


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Boswell Sun, 03/26/2017 - 15:43

Assuming you are adjusting the analogue signal to compensate for the digital loss, it could be that the reason that -6dB sounds better than 0dB is that you are overloading the inputs of whatever follows your mixer.

I met a similar instance at a colleague's home studio just recently, and it turned out that he was using a TS jack lead instead of a TRS to his powered speakers. The interface's output stage could cope with its -ve output driving a short circuit at up to around half maximum output (-6dB) but not at full levels as shown on the meters.

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DonnyThompson Sun, 03/26/2017 - 23:14

In digital workstations, -18dbfs (roughly) equates to 0db in analog recording.
The plug ins you are using are most likely coded with "sweet spots" of that level - especially those plugs that are simulating analog processing. If you are hitting their inputs any hotter than that, you might have distortion happening before your signal even leaves the individual track/channels .. so if any further routing to sub groups, auggies, or even your master 2 bus is also being overdriven, and if you are also adding further gain that way, then chances are you are too hot in your gain chain. You mentioning that things sound better when you reduce your master bus by -6db is pointing to this as a possible ( probable) factor.
Gain structure is crucial. Go back to your tracks and see what they are doing and how hot they are.

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paulears Mon, 03/27/2017 - 08:40

It's more enjoyable, because it's quieter in the room? There's not supposed to be a difference in sound if you put the fader anywhere you like, just on levels on the meter - if you wish to work at any dB setting, you then adjust the volume of the monitors to work at your desired room level. Using the master fader to do this room level adjustment wrecks your output levels - so this sounds a bit weird?

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crystaldrone Wed, 03/29/2017 - 18:16

Hey thanks everybody for such great inputs!

Since the music I have been doesn't have very high velocities, the peaks hardly go above -10db, and the RMS around -30db.

So what i understand, like @DonnyThompson said, is the need to optimize the gain of each plugin, so that the mixer meter readings are around -18db RMS with the peaks hovering just under 0db, after every inserted plugin and every send. While the ST fader remains at 0db.

And now adjust the monitor level to a comfortable listening level, and skip pulling down the ST fader to -6db. Am I getting it right?

Thank you all again for answering my amateur questions.


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DonnyThompson Thu, 03/30/2017 - 11:55

crystaldrone, post: 448986, member: 50274 wrote: And now adjust the monitor level to a comfortable listening level, and skip pulling down the ST fader to -6db. Am I getting it right?

If you are hitting your master stereo fader too hot, to the point where you are having to cut by -6db, then your gain structure is off. You are mixing into the master fader. Sending it reasonable levels will allow you more headroom, and an even gain chain. There's no reason to turn down your master fader to accommodate for how hot the the input signals are sending it. You need to adjust the individual track levels and subgroup/buses so that you're not whacking the bajeezus out of the master bus.

Your Master Bus ( Master Fader) should not be used for monitoring levels. You should use either the monitor level control within your DAW ( if you have one) or you should lower the output of your sound device to your moinitors, or, if you have active monitors, then lower the volumes on the speakers themselves...

I mentioned the -18dbfs thing, because many of today's plug ins (most, if not all ) are "coded" based on 0db in Analog levels, which equates to -18dbfs ( roughly) in the digital realm of DAW's.
Setting your gain structure so that the inputs of your processor plugs is taking levels at about that mark, insures that you aren't over-driving the inputs to those processors.

You don't need to be recording at RMS levels of -10, -6, or even approaching anywhere near 0db these days.
There was a time, back when digital was in its younger years, (especially with digital tape machines like Adats and Tascam DA88's) where the bit resolution of a signal was dependent upon the amplitude of the input signal, but this is no longer the case. I can't think of any DAW where there would be an exception to this, if you are working at 24 /32 bits.

Beyond sending an amplitude that hits the "sweet spot" of plug processors, it also gives you lots of headroom to work with on the output of those processors. Compressors and Limiters would be prime examples of this.

RMS/LUFS levels have also changed what is considered to be "acceptable" perceived volume levels...this was what put the first nail in the coffin of the "loudness wars" that so badly plagued music during the 90's and lasted through the first decade of the 2000's. Recent changes in broadcast standards ( including internet download and streaming sites) have lowered the RMS of the audio content; some countries have even stipulated that any recordings that exceed -23dbfs will either be turned down by the broadcaster, or in some cases, won't even be played at all. ( EBU-R128 Standard, Europe)

And, the hotter you mix, the more you take away dynamically.

Allow yourself more headroom, hit your plug-ins at a reasonable level ( no one is saying it has to be exactly -18dbfs, it's just that this figure equates to 0db in analog, which is what many plug-processors are set up for and modeled on) and don't use your master bus ( stereo fader) as a studio volume control. Be mindful at all times how "hot" your signals are, where they are going ( buses/subgroups/aux's, etc.,) and, what is happening to the signals at each juncture, so that you have an even gain structure through all the routing of the signal(s).


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bouldersound Thu, 03/30/2017 - 16:20

To add to Donny's info:

The record level for a given track should average around -18dBFS, with peaks going somewhat higher depending on the dynamics of the source. Percussive sounds that don't have sustain should not peak much above -12dBFS, maybe -9dBFS at most. Stay well away from 0dBFS at all times. Doing this should also keep your preamps working in their optimum range and let any analog emulating plugins operate correctly.

Same basic idea for the mix, keep the average level around -18dBFS. Leave the master fader at 0 except when putting a manual fade on a mix.

Playback volume should be adjusted outside of the mixer unless it has a dedicated control room volume knob. This is why many people use a monitor controller.

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crystaldrone Sat, 04/01/2017 - 13:16

@DonnyThompson @Boswell This is gold! Such good reasoning.

Oh right! By keeping peaks just below 0db, I wont be keeping any headroom above the peaks, considering its a digital full scale. Feel much more clear headed about gain structuring and monitoring, and dbFS.

Although would love to know if the mix has an RMS of around -18dbFS, and peaks at around -12dbFS, leaving us with 12db of headroom, where will a mastering engineer take it from here? As in what will the RMS, Peak and headroom figures be after mastering?

Thank you!

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bouldersound Fri, 04/07/2017 - 13:33

crystaldrone, post: 449051, member: 50274 wrote: Although would love to know if the mix has an RMS of around -18dbFS, and peaks at around -12dbFS, leaving us with 12db of headroom, where will a mastering engineer take it from here? As in what will the RMS, Peak and headroom figures be after mastering?

He'll drive the signal through a mastering limiter and make it whatever RMS he feels is appropriate, or whatever you specify. The limiter will let him keep the peaks wherever he feels they need to be to be safe. The more you control peaks in the mix (on individual tracks) the higher he can get the RMS before things start to change too much. But either way peaks are controlled there will be a sonic effect.

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DonnyThompson Thu, 04/13/2017 - 05:30

Boulder mentioned something important here that you may not have picked up on.
The mastering engineer will set levels based on the destination of the material. If it's going to CD, chances are he/she is going to be looking at setting the LUFS at around -12db, with peaks not hotter than -0.5 absolute. (This gives you 12db of dynamic range (actually 11.5)). If it's going to a streaming site, or a download service, they may have to adjust the LUFS downward to around -18/-16db to meet the criteria of the site. It's going to depend on where your music is ultimately going, and in what format.
A good ME will know these "standards" and will adjust accordingly.