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Recording audio - Lower or Higher Volume?
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Author Recording audio - Lower or Higher Volume?
Numanoid92
I'm no expert. I started recording synths in a DAW just 10 months ago and i have no experience in mixing and mastering.
My dilemma is: is it better to record audio (synths, voice or whatever) at lower volume and then increase in the DAW or doing the opposite so, record at higher volume and then decrease in the DAW?

I connect my instruments into my audio interface direct and sometimes process them with pedals and i noticed that some pedals tends to distort when i have high volumes in my synths (for example my Memory Man doesn't "work" well with my Pro-2 at higher volume and tend to distort a LOT).
So the question is: do i have to keep my instruments volume lower and then increase in my DAW (at taste) or doing the opposite?
xfs
Guitar pedals in general expect a lower signal level to work with than most synths will put out. That said, if it sounds good, it's good. If not, adjust.

For recording, there are two things to watch out for. If your level is way too low, you might run into noise problems, if it is too high and you clip the ADC inputs, it will distort. When setting up in your software, you should see the level you get putting into your soundcard, max is 0dBfs. Keep your average level around -15 to -10dBfs and you should be good. It depends of course on how dynamic your overall signal is...
felixer
recording at a too high level gives distortion. usually not a very nice sound in digital. if you are recodrding in 24 bits (as most do these days) you have plenty headroom, so keep it fairly low. say -12. some will say that you should never use the full headroom in digital systems. i think that is wrong (might have been the case years ago when the summing processes were not so good, nowadays, no problem).
i go for -6 dB, sometimes more. but i'm old school, still indoctrinated by analog where you go for high levels to fight noise. nowadays most noise comes from the sources, not the recording system.
anyway it's easy to experiment! and you'll have to because the meters are never quite accurate: what is -6 on one system will read as -12 or 0 on another ... so record the same thing with different levels and listen. your ears are still your best guide ... but overloading is seldom good.
also remember that some peaks don't really show. one of the most tricky thing to record is a triangle. huge but very short peak that will elude your meters. all that sort of metal on metal stuff (like eg tambourines) tends to produce huge but short peaks. experience is the key here ...
mt3
Thumb Rule
Aim between -6 and-12 dB.
dogoftears
in 24 bit you can record incredibly low. there is no reason whatsoever to record hot and risk ADC or PCM clipping.

consider this math:
16 bit audio (like on a CD) = -96 dB noise floor
24 bit audio (like you record in your DAW) = -144 dB noise floor

-144 + 96 dB = -48 dB

so if you record something as low as -48 dB peak in 24 bit, you are still retaining 16 bits of dynamic range.

so the rule of thumb is actually: never come any where near 0.0 dB in tracking, because you can go as low as -48 dB without losing any quality/dynamic whatsoever.
felixer
yes, if you go for 16bit resolution. obviously you can aim higher here. so it still pays to go for a decent modulation. somewhere between -6 and -12 seems sensible. if in doubt go lower rather then higher esp with unexperienced players as their control over dynamics often leaves something to be desired.
dogoftears
felixer wrote:
yes, if you go for 16bit resolution. obviously you can aim higher here. so it still pays to go for a decent modulation. somewhere between -6 and -12 seems sensible. if in doubt go lower rather then higher esp with unexperienced players as their control over dynamics often leaves something to be desired.


from mic to preamp to whatever else you track with, you're lucky to pull 16 bits of dynamic range just in tracking.
how many synths do you own with a noise floor lower then -96 dB?
a lot of mixes i've heard only use about 10 to 12 bits of dynamic range. they aren't bad mixes.
just some perspective on levels here, not trying to be contentious...

we use 24 bit so you can essentially mix at levels as low as you want and avoid coming any where near digital 0. most ADC's become stressed above -10 dB, at least in my A/B tests. better ones -6ish. and some of the good stuff you can track pretty hot, maybe all the way up, good for capturing mixes and running outboard hot... still even my mytek sounds fine at hot levels but total crap as soon as you hit 0. i've heard legend of discreet or older-chip ADC's that sound "good" when clipped, or at least better than the average limiter. but they all cost $$$$$
felixer
dogoftears wrote:

a lot of mixes i've heard only use about 10 to 12 bits of dynamic range.

a lot of mixes i hear have a dynamic range of maybe 6 dB. it's the overuse of compression, not some mistake in the recording.
and if you use decent gear you can easily achieve better then 100 dB s/n. as said: most noise comes from the source (distorted guitar being a main culprit here .... ) but that is also because the whole 'vintage rage'. vintage guitar technologie stems from the 50ies. in the mean time a lot of progress has been made but many player don't want to hear of it. same with synths. as some people insist on noisy transistors and chips, not much can be expected .... some even seem to like the noise/dirt that goes along with it, thinking that a noisy recording get's 'm back to old times seriously, i just don't get it
dogoftears
felixer wrote:
dogoftears wrote:

a lot of mixes i've heard only use about 10 to 12 bits of dynamic range.

a lot of mixes i hear have a dynamic range of maybe 6 dB. it's the overuse of compression, not some mistake in the recording.
and if you use decent gear you can easily achieve better then 100 dB s/n. as said: most noise comes from the source (distorted guitar being a main culprit here .... ) but that is also because the whole 'vintage rage'. vintage guitar technologie stems from the 50ies. in the mean time a lot of progress has been made but many player don't want to hear of it. same with synths. as some people insist on noisy transistors and chips, not much can be expected .... some even seem to like the noise/dirt that goes along with it, thinking that a noisy recording get's 'm back to old times seriously, i just don't get it


well yes, i'm not referring to the dynamic range of the music, but more, "the whole recording"... meaning when there's some silent bit, how low is the noise floor (as opposed to an average, which i think is what you're referring to when you say 6 dB of dynamic range).

i don't really look at it the same way. i find that a lot of the nicest sounding gear can have a noise floor well above -100. i've never used a piece of tube gear with a noise floor lower then -95 dB. i would imagine the average mastering chain hovers around -90 to -80 dB (mine is around -85 to -80). put any two or three pieces of outboard in series, and you are going to break -100. and i don't think it matters-- cus when the "music" only has 10 or 12 or maybe 15 dB of dynamic range (that's only if it's a steely dan or pink floyd record pretty much), there is no need for a noise floor lower than 16 bits.
felixer
well, i'd rather have good/interesting music with a bit of noise then 'boring perfection'. i love live albums. the audience could be considered a major source of coloured noise. it irritates me only if i can't hear the music anymore.
verstaerker
dogoftears wrote:


so if you record something as low as -48 dB peak in 24 bit, you are still retaining 16 bits of dynamic range.

so the rule of thumb is actually: never come any where near 0.0 dB in tracking, because you can go as low as -48 dB without losing any quality/dynamic whatsoever.


theoretically this is correct .. but you have to take the humming, noise from he mixer in consideration ... wich is here just from the mixer at -80, enabling all synths and effects at -60 to -55
dogoftears
verstaerker wrote:
dogoftears wrote:


so if you record something as low as -48 dB peak in 24 bit, you are still retaining 16 bits of dynamic range.

so the rule of thumb is actually: never come any where near 0.0 dB in tracking, because you can go as low as -48 dB without losing any quality/dynamic whatsoever.


theoretically this is correct .. but you have to take the humming, noise from he mixer in consideration ... wich is here just from the mixer at -80, enabling all synths and effects at -60 to -55


a mixer with a noise floor of -80ish and a fader up at some respectable level is most assuredly going to register significantly higher than -48 dB peak. but you are correct, you don't want -48 dB peak if your noise floor is registering -60 or -80. but for example if you turn the entire mixer output down, you are also going to turn the noise floor down... and then you will essentially get the same dynamic range at significantly lower peak levels.

are you really hitting -55 with everything engaged? i'd say that's pretty high for a non-rock mix. have you considered employing the use of some noise gates on the hummiest channels? there are a lot of factors that go into noise floor, but you can get it down significantly with some simple techniques (balanced connections on everything, decent power conditioner, etc).
verstaerker
dogoftears wrote:


are you really hitting -55 with everything engaged? i'd say that's pretty high for a non-rock mix. have you considered employing the use of some noise gates on the hummiest channels? there are a lot of factors that go into noise floor, but you can get it down significantly with some simple techniques (balanced connections on everything, decent power conditioner, etc).


i have everything on balanced connections what's possible

there are some device wich are mainly responsible creating hum and noise
Macbeth M3x
Dynacord VRS23

I don't like the effect of noisegates

and also I have about 40 Channels loaded with stuff , that just adds up

but for my music that's alright.. some noise fit's in nicely Mr. Green
dogoftears
verstaerker wrote:


i have everything on balanced connections what's possible

there are some device wich are mainly responsible creating hum and noise
Macbeth M3x
Dynacord VRS23

I don't like the effect of noisegates

and also I have about 40 Channels loaded with stuff , that just adds up

but for my music that's alright.. some noise fit's in nicely Mr. Green


dats cool, i kinda wanna hear some of it!
what kinda desk?
BugBrand
You may want to get the Dynacord VRS23 checked and fitted with a proper earth connection -- I have another Dynacord (DRS78) that gave problems which confused me until I finally noticed that the (so called) 3 pin IEC inlet didn't actually have the earth pin. Pretty sure it behaved much better once properly earthed (then use Rane App Note to make suitable cabling).
A VRS23 pic online suggested it has just a 2 wire power cord.
verstaerker
dogoftears wrote:
verstaerker wrote:


i have everything on balanced connections what's possible

there are some device wich are mainly responsible creating hum and noise
Macbeth M3x
Dynacord VRS23

I don't like the effect of noisegates

and also I have about 40 Channels loaded with stuff , that just adds up

but for my music that's alright.. some noise fit's in nicely Mr. Green


dats cool, i kinda wanna hear some of it!
what kinda desk?


Allen Heath GL2 + AH WZ3 - I bought an external psu for the GL2 wich lowered the noise from the pult itself quite bit

some music
https://verstaerker.bandcamp.com/album/dust
https://soundcloud.com/verstaerkermusic
https://www.youtube.com/verstaerker
Fuzulu
Its best to record at a level that is on a higher side but not clipping in anyway, u can get a good level signal with a lot of headroom to spare with modern daws and soundcards
dogoftears
Fuzulu wrote:
Its best to record at a level that is on a higher side but not clipping in anyway, u can get a good level signal with a lot of headroom to spare with modern daws and soundcards


nope. no high/hot levels needed in digital recording. see earlier posts re: bit depth and headroom. "a lot of headroom" is the opposite of "level on the higher side."

i recommend peak levels of -10 or less when tracking individual parts. capturing whole mixes is different, and depends on a few more factors, as have been touched upon above.
BendingBus
Tradition is that you record at 0VU analog, which is around -20 average (RMS) in digital, so digital peaks hit around -10. Most gear is designed to sound best around this operating level, and especially when interfacing digital/analog gear it's just a good habit to establish. Everything just works, sounds good, quirky semi-pro gear will like it, mastering engineers will like you. Otherwise you end up gaining up/down multiple times thru the chain.

Also, one thing that hasn't been mentioned yet, BJ from Metric Halo was saying their converters (and all converters he says) have a sweet spot, and theirs is -10 to -12 peak. I'd never heard that before (thought all level was the same in digital, and the bits thing is a non-issue as previously mentioned). But the reason he says is because there is a "distortion curve", where at very low and high levels there is more distortion, the curve is lowest around -12. He was saying this is true for the output D/A too, so playing back music sounds cleanest if you lower loud mastered tracks around 12db (I've always done that and thought it sounded better, but didn't know there was a technical reason why). Anyhow, this is just another reason to stick to 0VU/-20RMS throughout, pretty nerdy stuff (starts at 1:05min)...

dogoftears
the reason there's a sweet spot is because there is an analog front end to every ADC. it has been my experience that the sweet spot on most converters is around -10 as you mention.

i have a mytek 8x192. this is the first converter i've used with virtually "no" sweet spot. it is great for capturing mixes where i want to run my outboard hot (and therefore higher than -10 peak).

IME DACs usually have a higher sweet spot, they are designed to play full scale digital audio. I've never really detected a major difference in running my DACs hot or not-- except in the case of clipping the DAC. even .1 clipping can sound pretty bad, and furthermore, it sounds different on everyone's setup (cus they all have different DACs that handle overs differently). i have major issues with modern releases that have intentional PCM clipping, the audio is simply above 0.0, some mystery amount you can only figure out by running plug ins on the material and seeing how much gain reduction you need to do to avoid clipping. this is terrible practice, yet many ME's, even big name ones, put out releases like this.

ADC clipping is different-- it will sound "the same" on all playback systems, provided the audio is padded below 0.0


BendingBus wrote:
Tradition is that you record at 0VU analog, which is around -20 average (RMS) in digital, so digital peaks hit around -10. Most gear is designed to sound best around this operating level, and especially when interfacing digital/analog gear it's just a good habit to establish. Everything just works, sounds good, quirky semi-pro gear will like it, mastering engineers will like you. Otherwise you end up gaining up/down multiple times thru the chain.

Also, one thing that hasn't been mentioned yet, BJ from Metric Halo was saying their converters (and all converters he says) have a sweet spot, and theirs is -10 to -12 peak. I'd never heard that before (thought all level was the same in digital, and the bits thing is a non-issue as previously mentioned). But the reason he says is because there is a "distortion curve", where at very low and high levels there is more distortion, the curve is lowest around -12. He was saying this is true for the output D/A too, so playing back music sounds cleanest if you lower loud mastered tracks around 12db (I've always done that and thought it sounded better, but didn't know there was a technical reason why). Anyhow, this is just another reason to stick to 0VU/-20RMS throughout, pretty nerdy stuff (starts at 1:05min)...

verstaerker
dogoftears wrote:


are you really hitting -55 with everything engaged?


i took the chance to search for the reasons for this high noise and hum

i found one non-symmetrical connection wich i replaced and added two behringer micro hd400 (one behind the M3x and one behind the Eventide delay

now the nosiefloor is down to -70!! thats fantastic
dogoftears
verstaerker wrote:
dogoftears wrote:


are you really hitting -55 with everything engaged?


i took the chance to search for the reasons for this high noise and hum

i found one non-symmetrical connection wich i replaced and added two behringer micro hd400 (one behind the M3x and one behind the Eventide delay

now the nosiefloor is down to -70!! thats fantastic


that's great! i'm really glad when my neurotic ramblings can lead to some actual positive outcome...
calaveras
Back in the olden days we used to set up a test tone.
400hz 1k or something similar. Then you would run this through your whole system to be sure that the levels were consistent throughout.
I spent a whole weekend putting my studio back together after a move. It took me forever to get the levels right. The culprit was a bad patch cable which flipped the polarity and caused this vanishing level on anything panned center.
We seem to have lost the ability to properly align our recording gear with the advent of digital. Sure you don't have to physically adjust the heads or run an alignment tape anymore. But levels are still critical.
I try to preserve as much headroom as possible from input to mixdown. This usually equates to -18 to -12dbfs. Though program material with a lower peak to average ratio might be allowed to creep up to -8dbfs if there is a lot of low bass content.
Now once you get into the digital domain, a lot of plugins, especially vintage modeled stuff, has been set up to sound best at a certain level.
I went through the trouble to shoot tones like the old days and learn how the EQ's and compressors treat -18, -12 and -6dbfs. As well as stuff hammering right up to 0dbfs.
I noticed that a lot of the better plugins really get crusty sounding. This is not because they are bad. They are emulating the behavior of the old 600 ohm terminated gear being driven at +12dBu.
Of course recording synths and such this may seem kind of silly.
But I like my low end to sound fucking sick. I also like to drop in field recordings and even acoustic instruments as well. So it pays to have a dialed in mix with proper gain structure and headroom.
That is the really great thing about modern digital recording. If you treat it like a professional project, you can get insane high fidelity out of cheap Guitar Center gear.
registeredwiggler
As a gestalt, you could try to do what I do sometimes which is I monitor and turn up the speakers to as loud as I would possibly want that sound to be and listen for the noise floor and then turn down the input gain until I can't, as long as I stay above -40 to -50 dB
Francosmo
Keep your tracking levels low in digital (-18 to -12ish DBFS). My work changed for the better when I started doing this.

Gain staging throughout the studio/DAW is far easier if you track at lower levels.
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