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Gain staging is the proper level setting of each section of the signal path so that none of them overload. Let's look at how to do just that. Since you may have several signal processors in your signal path while recording, it's important that any one of them isn't being overdriven. This may result in anything from the tone changing slightly to some outright hard sounding distortion. In most cases the signal path is going to be rather simple, which is the mic preamp into your DAW. In this case make sure that the overload LED isn't being lit on the mic preamp, if it is, back off on the input gain.
If it's still overloading engage the attenuator pad and readjust the input gain control. The next thing to check is your DAW. Is the level too hot? If so, back off to Trim control if there is one until a level reads about -10 dB. If your DAW doesn't have a Trim control then decrease the output level of the microphone preamp until the DAW level reads about -10. In this example, we've added an outboard EQ to the signal chain. Once again, we'll look at the preamp first to make sure that it's not overloading, then we'll look at the EQ.
If an overload LED is lit then you need to back off of the EQ's input gain control if it has one or the preamps output gain control if it has one. The ideal setting for both is about half to three quarters of the way up. If both devices look like the settings are in the right position then check your DAW levels as before. If the DAW levels are too hot back off of the EQ's output control until the record level is at about -10 dB. That's how we set the gain staging during recording, make sure that there are no overload LEDs lit anywhere, and that the record level ends up at -10 dB.
Adjust the input and output level controls to get the ideal levels.
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