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What level are you finishing mixes to (gain)?
#3051161 06/26/20 06:29 PM
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Hey all,

Proper gain staging has been such a lesson and journey for me and I still have a ways to go.

I'm working on a softer piece of music and when I think of level, I tend to think in RMS (measured in dBFS). I'll watch the meter in Wavelab to see what professional mastered material is averaging to and then I'll try to get my music there. I'll of course keep an eye on peaks to stay below 0 dBFS, but RMS is what I'm watching for overall level. I have a decent VU meter (Klanghelm VUMT, typically calibrated to -18 dBFS), but other than a general guide, I find that an RMS meter works best for me at this time.

This current piece of music is pretty dynamic, so I want the softest parts to be between -22 and 20 dBFS RMS, the middle sections to be about -14 to -16 dBFS, and I want the big sound effects and climactic events to be between -8 and -10 dBFS. Right now the mix in Cubase is too low and if I bring it into Wavelab, I'm going to have to raise the gain so much that I'll bring up the noise floor. I'm using an SSL G-buss compressor plugin for tone and glue, but not using it to raise the gain.

I know it's probably material-dependent, but what would be a good target to finish the mix to in Cubase? How much headroom should I leave myself? All of the individual tracks are 32 bit / 44.1K.

My general rule of thumb is to leave peak headroom at -6 dBFS or at most, -3 dBFS. I'll then use a limiter in Wavelab to bring up the overall level to the desired RMS and let the peaks hit a few decimals under zero (e.g. -0.2). If the material is peaky in Cubase, I'll use compressors or limiters to try and bring up the base material.

Any tips or suggestions? I'm going to remix an old project after this as I made the same mistake (the final mix level was lower than it needed to be).

Thanks in advance.

Todd


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Re: What level are you finishing mixes to (gain)?
Sundown #3051261 06/27/20 05:17 AM
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I’ll be following the as a novice. I’ve already been doing things that others have said I don’t need to do - like normalize tracks then use the mixer. I Will say I still do what is probably a mistake and after my final dynamics processing including limiters, normalize my mix. Loudness wars, I guess


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Re: What level are you finishing mixes to (gain)?
J. Dan #3051269 06/27/20 07:50 AM
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Originally Posted by J. Dan
I’ll be following the as a novice. I’ve already been doing things that others have said I don’t need to do - like normalize tracks then use the mixer.

That's not necessarily "wrong." I often normalize tracks when I know that what they're feeding needs to have a consistent input (e.g,, saturation or dynamics). But that shaker part that's at -15...I'll just leave it there. People like to lay their "expertise " on how things "should" be done, but really, this isn't as much about rocket science as some people would like you to believe.

I don't think all this is as important as people think it is, up to a point. You don't want to make rookie errors if they make your music sound bad, but if the music sounds good, it makes zero difference how you got there. I don't worry too much about final mix levels, because I know I'm going to be mastering it as a separate process, and I can create uniform mix levels when I do. Because I do this kind of project in Studio One, I take advantage of the song page/mastering page integration.

The mastering page is where the final levels get adjusted for the song as a whole. It doesn't really matter too much where the tracks were during the mix, as long as they weren't distorting, and the balance is optimum.

Older audio engines didn't have sufficient dynamic range, so you had to be really careful about where you set things. These days, if it sounds good...it is good.

I recently finished mastering the new solo album by Martha Davis (of the Motels). The twist was that it had been in "release limbo" for 10 years, and was primarily for vinyl (which has its own constraints, to say the least) but had to accommodate streaming. I went for an average of -12 LUFS. You can read the story of how it was mastered here [clonk away].

Re: What level are you finishing mixes to (gain)?
Sundown #3051284 06/27/20 12:30 PM
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Thanks guys. I guess another way to ask the question is how much gain uplift are you applying with a limiter to get your final level?

3 dB? 6dB? More?

When I have to add 6+ dB during mastering, I find that it raises the noise floor and with audible hiss (and these are pretty clean keyboards through an RME Hammerfall/Multiface II).


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Re: What level are you finishing mixes to (gain)?
Sundown #3051288 06/27/20 01:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Sundown
When I have to add 6+ dB during mastering, I find that it raises the noise floor and with audible hiss (and these are pretty clean keyboards through an RME Hammerfall/Multiface II).

Compression and limiting, when "makeup gain" is applied, tends to make low level objects in the mix louder. When that low level object is an interesting decay of a snare that you want to highlight, it's a good thing. When it's unwanted noise that's being boosted, that's a bad thing.

This suggests two possibilities. Either you're squeezing too hard and you should be looking for other things that you can do to the mix besides "make it loud with a brick wall limiter," or you just have a, or some noisy tracks that you should fix before "mastering."

Re: What level are you finishing mixes to (gain)?
Sundown #3051330 06/27/20 05:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Sundown
Thanks guys. I guess another way to ask the question is how much gain uplift are you applying with a limiter to get your final level?

3 dB? 6dB? More?

When I have to add 6+ dB during mastering, I find that it raises the noise floor and with audible hiss (and these are pretty clean keyboards through an RME Hammerfall/Multiface II).

Follwing up on Mike River's post. Despite using quiet gear, you have noise. There are reasons for that and ways to improve the situation. Some of the below is speculation, some of it is simple truth.

A few months ago I added a Furman P-8 Pro C to my rack - an AC power conditioner / noise eliminator. I plugged all of my studio gear into it. Since 9 plugs was not quite enough, I plugged a couple of quality power conditioning strips into the Furman. It HAS made a substantial difference in reducing EMI (electro-magnetic interferance).

If you buy quality it is a "once and done" experience. I found a used one on eBay from a reputable seller for about $180, much less than new.

Be sure to plug in your computer monitor, unless you bought a super nice (expensive) one, they typically radiate EMI into your room. Using conditioned power may not eliminate that but my experience is that it does reduce it notably.

Another consideration/speculation - that costs nothing. It has been my experience time and again that the physical orientation of equipment can make a notable difference in your noise level.
If you are playing sounds from keyboards rather than triggering them from MIDI using plugins, this may be helpful. Testing is pretty easy, set up an audio channel to record, plug in your headphones, turn gain up and headphone playback up and with everything on hold your keyboard and move it around in your studio. Hold it close to your computer monitor, rotate it on both horizontal and vertical planes in the area where you have it set up now. Experiment.

The above is the logical extension of an old guitarist/studio trick. If you are playing a guitar with single coil pikups and/or poorly sheilded - and slowly rotate in a circle, you will usually find spots where noise is loudest and at least one "null point" where the guitar is silent. Sometimes that null is small and you have to stay right there to keep hum at bay. Or switch to a quieter guitar!!!!!

I will note that I have some plugins that generate noise, mostly guitar amp modelers and I suppose they might have modelled the noise (too authentic!!!!) that occurs as gain is increased. The same guitar trick works there too.

If those tricks don't hekp or you still have noise, you can do what many of us do - get a copy of Izotope RX-7.


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Re: What level are you finishing mixes to (gain)?
Sundown #3051369 06/27/20 06:56 PM
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I left one out, not speculation.

Proximity of audio and power cables? Ideally, they should be as far apart as possible.
If they must cross, a 90 degree angle will minimize noise transmission.

It took me a while but I re-did all the cabling in my 8 space studio rack. I routed all AC cords around the outside edges and cut them down (used screw mount plugs, any hardware store has them). Just long enough, with a little slack. Tie wraps were helpful in routing them.

I did the same with audio cables except I kept them all in the center area. They are clear of each other. I also patched all inputs to a small homemade patch bay in the front. There are no power cords in the front.
That brought the noise levels down another couple of notches and made it much easier to get work done.

If you are having any of the problems I mention and you solve them, you may be able to squeak more performance out of your limiter without getting noise.


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Re: What level are you finishing mixes to (gain)?
Sundown #3051385 06/27/20 08:07 PM
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I almost never have more than 6 dB of gain reduction on peaks. Anything more always sounds squeezed to my ears.

Re: What level are you finishing mixes to (gain)?
Anderton #3051449 06/28/20 02:32 AM
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Originally Posted by Anderton
I almost never have more than 6 dB of gain reduction on peaks. Anything more always sounds squeezed to my ears.

Hi Craig. How much gain are you uplifting the mix to to get to your preferred level? Are you having to raise it by 3 dB? 6 dB? 10 dB?

I understand the gain reduction. I'm just curious how much boost folks are applying to 32 bit floating mixes to get to the level they want.

Todd


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Re: What level are you finishing mixes to (gain)?
Sundown #3051453 06/28/20 02:40 AM
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It's not necessary to raise the level, although I do keep to try peaks around -6. When the audio hits the limiter in Studio One's mastering page, I adjust the amount of limiting to compensate. For example, if the peak level is -6, then I need to limit to -12 to produce -6 dB of gain reduction. If the peaks are around -1, then I only need to limit to -7 to produce -6 dB of gain reduction.

Bear in mind the ear is not that sensitive to volume variations, owing to the HUGE dynamic range of the human ear. A dB here or there makes no difference, especially if you have a hook smile

Re: What level are you finishing mixes to (gain)?
Sundown #3051455 06/28/20 02:51 AM
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Hi Mike and KP,

I won't rule out that my home studio could have some power-related noise but it's not likely. I use 100% Gepco wire throughout, Neutrik and Switchcraft connectors, all power cables are physically separated from audio (and if they have to cross it's as close to 90-degrees as possible), and I don't coil excess audio cable length (I use an S-pattern if I have to). When I record an external instrument I also patch it right to the audio interface (no intermediate mixer). I just use a Samson patch bay for routing.

My last studio had isolated ground receptacles throughout. When I do my next one I might do the same (it's not expensive). A Furman is a good idea as well for critical gear.

I think the issues I'm having on select pieces are the source material and technique. I also might be more sensitive to noise than others. I use dither, but I hate the fact that I can hear it.

Todd


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Re: What level are you finishing mixes to (gain)?
Sundown #3051467 06/28/20 04:51 AM
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It sounds to me like the issue you're having is the recording at the source, not the mixing or mastering. I bring stuff up all the time and there are no issues with noise. Can you plug ALL your studio gear into one receptacle temporarily, just to make sure you don't have ground loops (which can produce noise as well as hum)?

Now I'm going to mention something that I will deny I ever said if anyone questions me about it. I used to have noise problems due to grounding, and I tried single point grounding, star grounding, all the "best practices." Then I just said "f*ck" it and connected every ground to every other ground, and it turned into a sort of faux ground plane. End of problems smile

I plug all sensitive recording stuff into the same outlet, and Things That Draw Current through a different outlet. It seems to make quite a difference.

Re: What level are you finishing mixes to (gain)?
Anderton #3051511 06/28/20 03:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Anderton
It sounds to me like the issue you're having is the recording at the source, not the mixing or mastering. I bring stuff up all the time and there are no issues with noise. Can you plug ALL your studio gear into one receptacle temporarily, just to make sure you don't have ground loops (which can produce noise as well as hum)?

Hi Craig. I'll give it a shot.

If I do have some A/C issues like you indicate, will a Furman conditioner address it (like KP mentioned), or does it require more radical surgery (electrician work)?

I'm going to try relocating my Multiface II breakout box. That's bus-powered from my PC but given that it's "the way in", maybe it's too close to something (it is near my mixer, rack, and keyboards). It could also be my Samson S-Patch Plus (not the piece of gear but the location). I run LCD monitors, but it's sandwiched between my 8x8 Midisport MIDI interface and my Roland XV-3080. Any signal going into my PC is going through that patch bay.

A picture is below. I know it looks like a rats nest, but there are simply a lot of connections and my Mackie has the jacks on top.

Edit: The Mackie is never used for recording, absent the rare microphone (98% of my tracks are line-level synths and plugins that go direct into the patch bay and then into the Multiface). If inches matter, I could relocate my headphone amp (I use it 0.001% of the time) and I could put my patch bay or MIDI interface up top.

[Linked Image from i.postimg.cc]


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Re: What level are you finishing mixes to (gain)?
Sundown #3051518 06/28/20 04:32 PM
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I started having EMI noise problems of note last winter. I share a wall - multi unit condo, so it is possible the neighbors put a TV just on the other side there or something.
I don't have another convenient potential location for my studio desk so I tried the Furman, just plugged into the same socket as before.
It did make a big difference, well worth the investment in my opinion.

What Craig is mentioning is that you may have tracks recorded that already have noise on them. The Furman may improve noise issues moving forward but noise recorded on tracks is not going to go away.

The other solution I mentioned was Izotope RX7, I have the Standard version. Sweetwater had a sale on the Izotopes Elements bundle for stupid cheap so I got that, it includes RX7 Elements. Then Izotope offered an upgrade to Standard and that was a bargain as well. I surfed the sales into getting the program for about 1/3 the standard retail price, that's how I roll.

I haven't used it yet but all reviews indicate it is excellent for many things and removing noise is one of those things.

I posted a thread on the topic, here - http://forums.musicplayer.com/ubbth...nditioning-noise-suppression#Post3027780


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