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Whether one is producing music, podcasts, game sounds, or film sound effects, Digital Audio Principles provides the tips and techniques that will make the project a success. Author Dave Schroeder explains the basics of digital audio production techniques and covers the essential hardware and software. He also discusses sound theory, frequency response, the range of human hearing, and dynamic range.
So when you're recording digital audio we want to pay attention to setting the appropriate input levels. Ultimately, we want to try and send as much signal as possible without exceeding 0 dB or what's the maximum of the digital dynamic range. In chapter we talked about the digital dynamic range, and mentioned that it's something that goes from negative infinity up to 0 dB. For more information on that see the movie in chapter one. So our objective is to send as much signal, or as loud a signal, to our recorder as possible without sending too much. We want to send a lot so that we can sample as much as possible, take advantage of the sample rate, get all the nuances of the sound, and also take advantage of the dynamic range, and take advantage of all the bits in the resolution there.
If we send it a really quiet signal we're not really going to a take full advantage of the whole dynamic range available to us through the bit depth that we're using. So you want to send as much as you can, but you don't want to get above zero. In the analog world, you can clip, you can go above zero, you can make it go into the red, as they say, and it's sounds kind of okay. It's palatable. In the digital world it's really not that palatable. It goes right to kind of this nasty glitchy sound that not too many people like. You'll know when you hear it, that's the other thing.
You don't need to have your eyes right on the meters. When it's too loud, you'll hear that the crispiness of digital distortion. Most input meters in software will show-- a lot of times they represent the input with colors--and red almost always as hot in the top of red is the clip. If you see that little clip dot, you know you've gone too far. If you didn't hear it, at least the software thinks mathematically it happened. It was looking, and it noticed that it was too loud, and we broke digital zero. So let's switch over to Pro Tools real quick and take a look at setting a few levels.
So here we are in Pro Tools, and if you have--whatever software you're using the input settings, the visuals, they're going to be fairly similar to this. So this will be applicable. You'll know it when you see it. The main thing is to look at what peaking is and what the levels you want to try and attain are. So I'm going to go ahead and send some signal into these two channels that I have armed to record, and we're just going to look at the different volumes available. (audio playing) So right now we're coming in, and that's really too low. So on that preamp, I am going to go ahead and turn up that signal.
I want to get it up. See, now I've clipped. That's too much. I'm going to too far so you hear what clipping is. It's going to be--you're not going to like it, but it's good for you. Did you here that? Here how it sounds like we are at the beach now. That's the digital clip. So let's back it off. I can clear those little peaks there, so we can see over there. This is nice.
This lets me know what my matched peak was. So I can keep adding a little bit more. I want to get as close as I can. That's a good level, but one of the tricks or one of the prompts--this is a little bit easier, because this is prerecorded music. It's got its dynamic range. I kind of have a handle for it. If this was a drummer for a instance, and you're playing a song, you might find that he starts out playing softly and towards the end of the song starts playing a lot heavier. If it's a rock ballad, he is really smashing it.
Same with a lot of instruments or people speaking. If people at first are talking quietly in an interview, you set the level to that and the next thing you know they're animated and they're fired up about what they're talking about and all of a sudden you getting these peaks. So when you're setting levels one thing you have to do is think about what you're about to record and try and either get the object, or subject, to kind of produce the loudest moment that they might produce. If it's an interview, maybe try and encourage someone to laugh, or something. Try to have them interact with someone else and get a little excited, or something, I don't know, or you just have him fake it say, hey, talk really loud and they'll talk really loud.
With drummers, with musicians, they're the same thing, but I can signal them out too, because I like to play drums. Get them to hit it as hard as they can, make him put the headphones on and play the drums along with the track, because they'll always play it a little louder once they put the headphones on. So if they're just in the room you'll set it, and then you'll do the track, and it will peak somewhere in the middle, then they have to go back. It's usually, that headphone thing helps a lot if you can do that ahead of time. Because there is nothing worse than setting these levels, recording a performance, or an interviewer, a moment in time really, and then finding, kind of, at the end in the last minute or so you peak out, and you end up with a recording that you can't use, because you're input levels are too high.
So these are some of the things you want to keep in mind when you're setting input levels, you want to get as much there as you can, but you want to go too far. If you have to gamble, I always say, you know, bring it down a little bit and hope that it doesn't come out too loud. You can always turn it up a little bit in the end. You can never go back and take out that digital distortion once it's in there. So it's kind of error on the side of lower levels if you have to, but at the same time don't you just say I will record it in and than just crank it up, and it will normalize it or make it a lot louder at some other point.
Try and get as much there as you can to take advantage of all your A to D converters in the dynamic range. So that's pretty much it when it comes to setting input levels. In the next chapter we'll talk even more about a preamplifier and some of the features and functions that you'll find on it.
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