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 Post subject: recording levels
PostPosted: Fri May 10, 2013 3:13 pm 
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hi. i think im the only one in the world maybe not getting this.

so its come to my attention that its ideal to not record hot, and generally record pretty low. ive seen several figures, and it seems like the consensus is to aim for somewhere between -12db and -18db.

what im not sure im getting is exactly how to get the ideal, "best" volume, and lowest noise to signal ratio. my interface is a tascam us-1800. im inquiring about everything im recording, but probably mostly with regard to the korg sv-1.

questions: 1. my interface is NOT a preamp, correct?

2. i read at least one person suggest to another that it was likely they ought to switch to the -10 (as opposed to +4) on the back of their interface for this keyboard. i havent tried this, and for the life of me i cant find any information on the sv-1 that confirms this. is this pretty important, or does pulling the recording input on acoustica down make up for using +4? i also ask because im recording a single isolated cymbal, for both crashes, and tapping like a ride. it came to my attention that i pretty much definitely need to use the -10 setting for recording a cymbal. so the same questions apply. i spent ages yesterday trying to get that damn cymbal recorded and to read that i should have used a different setting is frustrating, but ill definitely do it if there is a real difference.

3. generally what i just started doing was automatically putting the recording level on the acoustica meter at -15db. good idea? bad idea? indifferent? im mostly asking if this is the same way to achieve the same goal.

3 1/2. but im assuming theres still a lot more dealing with the sv-1 volume, and the tascam interface volume. ive been going pretty low on both generally, turning the master on the sv-1 down to 3. it feels to me like i MUST be cheating some of its tone, but i have tried recording it louder and im really not finding any difference. am i NOT cheating its tone? basically im just turning everything down to a really dark green level, distortion free. i still wind up finding hints of distortion if i raise the track back up to 0. i am also not finding all of this "headroom" people are talking about. everything DOES seem to sound pretty good, and it doesnt sound lacking or too quiet/low energy, and im told the real volume boost will be in the limiting process at the end. i just dont see much headroom at all when playing with the track levels. bringing it as high as possible doesnt seem to yield much difference, just a bit higher volume and introduces distortion.

4. i have read the following website very closely, and im a little confused. http://www.independentrecording.net/irn ... /index.htm

for starters none of these meters perfectly match the acoustica meters. im also a little confused about the measurements. on the acoustica master meter, 0 appears equal to "-12-". for lack of a better way to ask, what is this "-12-" number and what does it mean?

also, i dont remember what exactly it was i read on there, but i came away with the idea that the master meter is the slower acting meter, and the meters above the mixer board, in the "project" section, next to each track, is the fast acting meter that more closely reveals transients. am i correct in this?

one thing i do 'get', largely, is the concept of recording digital, and that raising volumes simply raises "loudness", so i understand that much where it applies.

any help/advice is much appreciated. thanks in advance.


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 Post subject: Re: recording levels
PostPosted: Fri May 10, 2013 5:54 pm 
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Hi!

Wow, so many questions, so little time :D - let's try and address the basics

First off, recording "hot" is a great idea - if you're using an analogue recorder.

Since you're using the best digital recording software out there (Mixcraft), this does not apply. As far as recording levels are concerned, there will always be varying opinions, but since we're dealing with basics, let's just say clipping is bad :( . That said, it's generally agreed that an occasional "clip" on an individual track won't be a problem; but avoid, at all costs, clipping on the master track. My understanding is that the "main mix" or master meter should not exceed -6db.

Your question one: Yes, your audio interface is probably a pre-amp. There's this magical/mystical thing in recording called "line level" - better known as +4db - which is the acceptable level for your audio/digital converters to work with. Keyboards generally output line level signals, but things like guitars, basses and especially microphones have a much weaker signal and need a preamp to get them up to line level. Most audio interfaces will include a pre-amp to help you here.

Question two: Think of -10 db as "soft" and +4db as "loud" - or, more correctly, line level. So your cymbal is quite a soft sound; try the -10db setting. Don't record anything obviously loud (a kick drum or mic'ed amp) on +4db.

Question three: As indicated above, it's the master level that matters; -6db as a peak is good.

Question 3.5: get the level right on the instrument first, then adjust on your input level on the audio interface so it does not clip.

Trevors Golden Rule of Recording: Get your sound (tone, volume etc) absolutely right before even considering going into an audio interface or computer. Know how you want your instrument to sound, get that sound, and then commit to a DAW. Sure, things can be fixed in the mix - but remember - junk in, junk out. Besides, it's just so much more extra work trying to "polish a turd". [I once saw it written: you can't polish a turd, but you sure as hell can throw some glitter over it] Well, if that's your thing....

Question four: Read the left hand column in the Mixcraft "main mix" or master meter; -6db is your friend.

All of the above is my personal opinion and welcome to logical challenge.

'Nuff said, I'm off to bed :mrgreen:

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 Post subject: Re: recording levels
PostPosted: Sat May 11, 2013 6:27 am 
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Some things to consider while Trevor takes his nap.

If you are going into the interface at line level you should in effect be bypassing the pre-amp in the interface and going straight to the A/D converters.

Every gain stage (or amplifier) in a signal chain has the potential to add noise. The generally accepted practice is to get to line level as early in the chain as possible, and to use as few gain stages as possible.

If I understand your description/question correctly, you are going line-out of a keyboard, into an interface and into MC. If I have this right, I would suggest trying to set your interface and MC controls at unity, (0, no gain/no cut) and set your initial level with the keyboard level control, later making minor changes when mixing within MC. See how that works. If there are meters on your interface use them to judge the incoming signal level.

As for the metering and level questions in general, I try to find a balance between the average level and the peaks. There is no useful reason to push the levels hard as you have read and noted.
And the keyboard isnt like a mic, picking up background noise and such, so theres little reason to address the noise floor issue.
Using a mic on the cymbals, keep in mind the cymbal level in your mix isnt that high, so there is again no reason to push the level. Set the pre-amp gain on your interface at a moderate level and the level in MC should sound about right at unity, not to loud or to quiet in the context of other tracks. Again you can make minor adjustments later in the mixing stage.
Record at a good sounding level, no distortion or clipping and you should be fine.
I hope that the next upgrade to MC has some more professional metering features, but in the meantime, frequent yellow is good. Avoid the red zone. Let us know how you are getting on!

Oh, and have a nice day!

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 Post subject: Re: recording levels
PostPosted: Sat May 11, 2013 6:08 pm 
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thank you both very kindly, hugely helpful and informed me to the contrary on several things. this has become a bit of an obsession :).

okay, so, yellow is actually the ideal? id been aiming for no higher than -6db (i follow the master track to check the gain) and more recently no higher than -9. i had assumed that yellow was the introduction of distortion and the higher you go etc. but if i understand both of you correctly it would seem i want to be no lower -6db and at least frequently peaking around -3db?

also, for either of you or anyone else, i guess its just now dawning on me that i can in fact utilize acousticas virtual instruments through my own keyboard? is that correct? that would make experimenting around a thousand times better than with my limited and kind of lame m-audio thing. also will this effect the quality? i assume it would just sort of bypass my keyboards functioning with acousticas.

thanks again guys. i would definitely rate mixcraft as one of the best purchases ive ever made. never let anyone say that user friendly cant be top notch.

edit: ive been recording congas tonight, a loud part, with these things in mind. its very difficult for me to tell, because certainly the meters will easily show the same levels, but bearing in mind id recorded keyboard on its own level three setting, am i probably gonna want/need to go back and rerecord keyboard parts?


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 Post subject: Re: recording levels
PostPosted: Sun May 12, 2013 12:44 am 
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Hi!

Once again, my humble opinion.

Like Mark I'll allow my individual tracks to peak in the yellow but, personal preference based on my recording hereo Graham Cochran (have a look around his site http://therecordingrevolution.com/), I'll limit my master to -6db. You'll see this does not come into the yellow which starts around -3db.

You can use as many keyboards as you like to control Mixcraft's virtual instruments. I have three permanently hooked up - a Yamaha psr, a Korg pcr and a Korg NanoKey. What's nice too is that I can play on my Yamaha (which does not have pitch and modulation wheels) and use the Roland's pitch wheel to control the Yamaha. This will work on all of Mixcraft's virtual instruments as well as 3rd party software - example, EZDrummer.

Every instrument you record will have it's own track and should be treated individually as far as levels are concerned. In the case of your bongos, when setting a level, I'd give them a hearty whack simulating the loudest sound I'd be likely to play, then check the track meter does not go beyond yellow. [If using an audio interface, make sure its peak light is not coming on.] Same with vocals, guitars, keyboards etc. Each track level would probably be different albeit even slightly. Once you have all your tracks recorded and move to the mixing process, you can adjust individual sliders to balance the instruments/vocals in relation to each other.

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When I listen, I forget. When I see, I remember. When I do, I understand. Confucius
I started out with nothing - and still have most of it left! - Seasick Steve


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 Post subject: Re: recording levels
PostPosted: Sun May 12, 2013 5:14 am 
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Yeah, maybe I should have worded that different. Occasional yellow good, never red when recording. Is that better?

My opinion/interpretation:
Technically, anything over 0 DbFS is clipped. distorted. Lost when recording. The yellow could be considered a warning you are getting into the close range.
Most meters and most eyeballs cant be trusted when you get too close.
And most importantly, there is just no reason to push the edge of high recording levels. Minimize ambient/room noise and record at moderate levels and you will get better results overall.
The advise you saw for -16/-18 or whatever it was may have been referring to "average" level, not peaks.
You might also have seen where some people are obsessed with hitting -1 DbFS. If you must play that game, leave it to the mastering stage, not recording. I'll leave the rest of my opinion about that alone for now.

As to the Congas, again, I think its a good tip to keep in mind the level in the final mix when recording. If the MC level is at unity, and the incoming signal fits roughly into the mix, you are probably in a good zone. Dont feel you need to record right at the edge of loudness, it serves no purpose.

The keyboard question: If your keyboard has MIDI output it can be used to play the VSTi's. Will they sound better? Subjective. Who knows.
But certainly, if you are rigged for zero or near zero latency, it sure expands your "palette."

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 Post subject: Re: recording levels
PostPosted: Sun May 12, 2013 6:57 am 
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"As to the Congas, again, I think its a good tip to keep in mind the level in the final mix when recording. If the MC level is at unity, and the incoming signal fits roughly into the mix, you are probably in a good zone. Dont feel you need to record right at the edge of loudness, it serves no purpose."

also take this into account.
from a conversation w/ one of the majors in the industry-
what's a general -db level you personally set for individual insturments for recording to come out w/ a good overall level?
just curious.


It's a good question! And the answer has ramifications that are not immediately apparent. My pres can easily pump out signal to 0dbfs. They are all high voltage, lots of gas in the tank designs. Fine. But the problem starts after that. Many plugins (like modeling plugs of well known gear) actually model the distortion that occurs if it's input is hit with a higher than nominal level they were designed to operate at. Waves plugins come to mind...models of 1176, SSL channels strips, pultech etc will distort if you insert them on a channel where the signal was recorded hot.
Other plugins that are native to my DAW however, (like just a generic compressor built into cubase) handle a level that is close to full scale totally clean and fine. But since I don't want to handcuff myself for future plugin decisions when I'm tracking I generally try to keep my input to about -14 or -12 db. I have found that mixes are cleaner and punchier when I'm using any of these modelling plugs as inserts.
This is a really insightful question and maybe we should discuss it in a thread for the benefit of others!
Cheers,"


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 Post subject: Re: recording levels
PostPosted: Sun May 12, 2013 8:04 am 
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Also good points Gypsy, thank you.

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 Post subject: Re: recording levels
PostPosted: Sun May 12, 2013 3:42 pm 
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once again guys, extremely helpful. thank you very much.

there are still some things about the meters that are eluding me, i think its their correspondence. given youre playing back/recording one track it would seem they roughly measure the same thing, but with varying sensitivity. am i wrong in this setting to watch the master track, and/or should my focus be on the track level on the mixer? or both?

the reason i ask is that if i set my master track to 0, and watch that, while playing one track back, it will push slightly into the red a couple of times (conga track). it appears less extreme on the individual track meter, and of course when i lower the master to -6 as trevlyns mentioned, its not happening on that meter.

im still confused about this "headroom" theory for a number of reasons. if i lower the recording input on mixcraft, record, and then unarm it, the fader is in the same place. this makes me think its not really doing anything apart from turning the "loudness" volume down, that the track potential exists at 0, and that such an exercise is pointless. the difference in loudness is very slight, though i suppose that could be due to me having recorded keyboards at a low level. edit: (i also ask because its sounding to me like unity level is more important than headroom, so i dont know if lowering mixcrafts recording input level is detrimental. i want to avoid loudness for the sake of loudness but dont want tracks to 'sound' too quiet)

lets say i want to avoid yellow and keep average levels to -16 or -18. do i want to achieve my sound through the instrument and/or interface, and then lower the mixcraft track input recording level to achieve this? does this indeed increase/improve "headroom"?

im probably also confusing myself because i really cant keep from testing out my mixes after im done recording for the day, and i know they are two different stages.

i think thats about it. though about clipping, lets say one of my conga tracks (at 0 on the input) averages around -9db, peaking around -6, but clips (or appears to at least) about 3 times in 30ish seconds. too much? need to be rerecorded, or easily remedied?

thats also thrilling that i can use the virtual instruments with my keyboard. as much as i love the sv-1 it mostly keeps it to piano and electric piano, with only a couple of synths, two strings and a choir. its also very helpful for writing guitar or bass parts since i can write them pretty well, but im not great at playing them. would be a much better way to layout a whole song then retrack. the maudio thing was small so 95% of the time you couldnt play 6 note chords. i cant say i recommend trying to multitrack both hands in most cases :)

thank you all again. im really quite thrilled with the conga sound i achieved using what youve told me. im getting it. i just want to get it right :)


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 Post subject: Re: recording levels
PostPosted: Mon May 13, 2013 12:10 am 
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Hi!

Sorry, this will be a quick one. I'm in the UK and am awaiting a text from my son in New Zealand whose wife is in labor - 4 minute contractions!!

Basically, what you should monitor carefully is your input level when about to record anything. You should aim at a clean signal without any distortion - which is why we recommended staying within the yellow. If you're mixing several tracks together (with effects etc) then you need to make sure that the summed total of all tracks, is not distorted - check the master levels. Once it's done, you can adjust to whatever you like. Example if you play a CD (which is un-distorted, and crank up the volume on your hi-fi, you'll get distortion, but that is not from the original source. Keep the input signals and levels clean. :D

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Trevor

My music is here

Official OFC™ Member

When I listen, I forget. When I see, I remember. When I do, I understand. Confucius
I started out with nothing - and still have most of it left! - Seasick Steve


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 Post subject: Re: recording levels
PostPosted: Mon May 13, 2013 2:53 am 
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i think i may have had a lightbulb moment. i suspect a lot of confusion has been with my interface. part of it being switching it between computer/input and the other part being that not only does the interface not have meters, it has absolutely no indication of any kind of levels other than lighting up when it overloads, or you know, all the way up, all the way down. i have been inexplicably assuming that for the interface, halfway up was "0". for the life of me i dont know why i decided that. so i THINK i actually understand what unity level is now.

so i guess this is my new methodology, and my only remaining question is whether or not its a safe bet.

im gonna essentially leave the interface mix output all the way to computer. ill then check my levels on mixcraft (with its monitor on of course). as needed, ill add gain on the interface inputs.

someone please tell me ive got it or i quit :).


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