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Input levels

From: Digital Audio Principles

Video: Input levels

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.

Input levels

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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This video is part of

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Digital Audio Principles

110 video lessons · 26891 viewers

Dave Schroeder
Author

 
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  1. 50s
    1. Welcome
      50s
  2. 39m 10s
    1. What is sound?
      4m 15s
    2. Hertz and frequency response
      5m 34s
    3. Phase
      2m 39s
    4. Capturing audio
      3m 39s
    5. Sample rate
      6m 16s
    6. Bit depth
      9m 47s
    7. The waveform
      5m 3s
    8. Audio file formats
      1m 57s
  3. 7m 25s
    1. What is a digital audio workstation?
      2m 59s
    2. Typical DAW signal flow
      4m 26s
  4. 50m 33s
    1. What microphones do
      1m 57s
    2. Element types
      5m 0s
    3. Pickup patterns
      6m 51s
    4. Axis
      2m 52s
    5. Frequency response and the proximity effect
      5m 10s
    6. Phase issues
      1m 41s
    7. Microphone types
      8m 44s
    8. Miking vocals
      5m 39s
    9. Miking amplifiers
      2m 17s
    10. Miking drums
      10m 22s
  5. 16m 39s
    1. Cables and connectors overview
      2m 42s
    2. Balanced and unbalanced cables
      3m 19s
    3. Common cable types
      7m 13s
    4. Cable tips
      3m 25s
  6. 12m 16s
    1. What is an I/O device?
      1m 41s
    2. Analog to digital conversion
      3m 10s
    3. Tour of an audio interface
      4m 49s
    4. Interface considerations
      2m 36s
  7. 21m 5s
    1. What is a preamp?
      3m 21s
    2. Input levels
      5m 29s
    3. Padding
      2m 18s
    4. Phantom power
      2m 37s
    5. Phase reverse
      3m 4s
    6. Preamp demo
      4m 16s
  8. 12m 56s
    1. What is a mixer?
      5m 55s
    2. Input section
      1m 17s
    3. Channel strips
      3m 16s
    4. Master section
      2m 28s
  9. 18m 21s
    1. What is monitoring?
      2m 11s
    2. Speakers
      4m 47s
    3. Room considerations
      5m 43s
    4. Headphone types
      3m 50s
    5. Monitoring levels
      1m 50s
  10. 15m 23s
    1. What role do computers play?
      1m 36s
    2. Performance issues
      4m 11s
    3. Hard drives
      4m 38s
    4. Mechanical noise
      2m 10s
    5. Authorization
      2m 48s
  11. 6m 54s
    1. Planning for recording
      54s
    2. Doing a system check
      1m 26s
    3. Planning your inputs
      1m 42s
    4. The recording environment
      2m 52s
  12. 25m 52s
    1. Types of digital audio software
      38s
    2. Multi-track recorders/sequencers
      4m 56s
    3. Two-track recorders/waveform editors
      4m 55s
    4. Loop-based music production software
      5m 44s
    5. Plug-ins
      6m 56s
    6. Other varieties
      2m 43s
  13. 18m 59s
    1. Common components
      46s
    2. The transport
      2m 4s
    3. The toolbar
      3m 19s
    4. The Edit/Arrange window
      4m 42s
    5. The mixer
      5m 8s
    6. The file list
      3m 0s
  14. 19m 17s
    1. Setting up a session
      3m 30s
    2. Assigning inputs and getting signals
      3m 19s
    3. Input modes
      3m 28s
    4. Overdubbing and punching
      5m 14s
    5. Bouncing down
      3m 46s
  15. 19m 42s
    1. What is editing?
      1m 21s
    2. Waveforms
      2m 53s
    3. Making silent cuts and trims
      7m 1s
    4. Fades and automation
      8m 27s
  16. 1h 23m
    1. What are plug-ins?
      3m 0s
    2. Using plug-ins
      6m 11s
    3. EQs
      7m 4s
    4. Dynamics pt. 1: Compressors, limiters, expanders, and gates
      5m 40s
    5. Dynamics pt 2: Applying dynamic effects
      7m 2s
    6. Pitch shifting
      6m 14s
    7. Reverb
      9m 28s
    8. Echo and delay
      6m 23s
    9. Modulation effects: Phaser, flanger, and chorus
      9m 39s
    10. Sound tools pt. 1: About, gain, normalize
      7m 39s
    11. Sound tools pt. 2: Reverse and time compression/expansion
      6m 29s
    12. Sound tools pt. 3: Noise reducers, dither
      8m 11s
  17. 23m 43s
    1. What is MIDI?
      3m 6s
    2. Keyboard controllers
      1m 23s
    3. Computer-based virtual instruments
      1m 6s
    4. Control surfaces
      1m 6s
    5. Recording and editing MIDI
      12m 4s
    6. Virtual instruments
      4m 58s
  18. 27m 29s
    1. What is mixing?
      1m 54s
    2. Some common objectives
      3m 4s
    3. Some useful techniques
      5m 59s
    4. A quick mixing demo
      16m 32s
  19. 18m 48s
    1. What is mastering?
      2m 24s
    2. Sonic maximization
      9m 43s
    3. Final preparations and exporting
      6m 41s
  20. 13m 34s
    1. What is audio compression?
      2m 16s
    2. Popular formats
      2m 9s
    3. Bit rate, sample rate, and channels
      5m 42s
    4. Other adjustments and considerations
      3m 27s
  21. 15m 6s
    1. Essential gear
      7m 36s
    2. Voice recording setups
      1m 43s
    3. The voice production process
      5m 47s
  22. 10m 4s
    1. Analog vs. digital
      2m 48s
    2. Tube vs. solid state
      5m 6s
    3. The continual upgrade
      2m 10s
  23. 18s
    1. Goodbye
      18s

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