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Understanding signal paths and gain stages

From: Pro Tools 8 Essential Training

Video: Understanding signal paths and gain stages

Understanding the signal flow of audio in MIDI data and the gain stages along the signal path is crucial knowledge for any recording engineer and producer using Pro Tools. That knowledge will help you use your studio gear the way it was intended to work. Enabling you to achieve optimal recording levels and help you avoid clipping or unwanted distortion. You will also be able to troubleshoot just about anything in your Pro Tools studio signal flow. Let's follow the signal path to from a vocalist to a set of monitors, the entire input to output audio signal path. As the vocalist sings into the mic, the mic picks up that energy and converts the acoustic energy into an electrical current. The signal then travels to the microphone preamplifier where the signal is boosted in level. That preamp might be one that's built into your Digidesign or M-Audio interface.

Understanding signal paths and gain stages

Understanding the signal flow of audio in MIDI data and the gain stages along the signal path is crucial knowledge for any recording engineer and producer using Pro Tools. That knowledge will help you use your studio gear the way it was intended to work. Enabling you to achieve optimal recording levels and help you avoid clipping or unwanted distortion. You will also be able to troubleshoot just about anything in your Pro Tools studio signal flow. Let's follow the signal path to from a vocalist to a set of monitors, the entire input to output audio signal path. As the vocalist sings into the mic, the mic picks up that energy and converts the acoustic energy into an electrical current. The signal then travels to the microphone preamplifier where the signal is boosted in level. That preamp might be one that's built into your Digidesign or M-Audio interface.

Next, the signal is converted from analog to digital, from electrical current into 0s and 1s. It goes into Pro Tools and is routed to your hard-drive where it's recorded. Pro Tools then routes the signal back out to a digital to analog converter in your interface where it's amplified and sent out to the monitors or headphones. Let's take a minute to discuss gain stages. A gain stage is any device along the signal path that either boosts or attenuates the level of a signal. Here are the potential gain stage is involved in recording an instrument or a voice with the microphone into Pro Tools, both on the input and output sides of the signal flow.

First, we have the dynamics of the performance, how loudly the singer sings or the player plays his instrument. Then we have the Instrument Volume level and the Amp Volume. If there is any effects in the signal path, those all have gain stages too. Then we have the Mic Preamp Level or the Line or Instrument Input level. Finally, if you have a compressor in the signal path or any other post mic preamp effects, those will affect the input level. Once the track has been recorded into Pro Tools, there are a number of gain stages on the output signal path. Any plug-ins or inserts that you have on a track have their own gain stages. If you've set up any effects loops, you might have send levels or auxiliary track levels that also affect the output levels.

Each track has an individual Volume Fader that will obviously affect the output level. The Master Fader Track Level determines the final output level of the mix and then finally, you have the headphone or monitor levels that determine how loud you actually hear the output from Pro Tools. Now let's switch gears and talk about the MIDI signal path. MIDI performance data is played on a MIDI controller. The data goes into the MIDI interface, which may or may not be built into the controller itself, where it is converted into binary for Pro Tools to recognize and record.

At this point, the MIDI performance status still has no sound. Then that data is routed to a sound source. It could be a virtual instrument inside of the computer or an external sound module. If it's a virtual instrument, the MIDI performance data stays within the computer where it is transformed into an audio signal. If using an external sound module, the MIDI Performance data routed out of Pro Tools, converted back into MIDI data, then transformed into an audio signal. That audio signal must be then routed back into Pro Tools via an audio input.

Once it's in Pro Tools, you can monitor it and record it as an audio signal and all this happens in a fraction of a second. So for both audio and MIDI data, the signal flow is pretty complicated when you really look at all the components. Understanding the signal flow and the gain stages along the way can help you capture higher quality recordings as well as troubleshoot almost any signal flow and gain staging problem during the recording and mixing process.

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This video is part of

Image for Pro Tools 8 Essential Training
Pro Tools 8 Essential Training

120 video lessons · 10660 viewers

David Franz
Author

 
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  1. 12m 54s
    1. Welcome
      1m 16s
    2. Exploring the different versions of Pro Tools
      2m 30s
    3. Optimizing your computer before installing Pro Tools
      3m 51s
    4. Troubleshooting
      3m 1s
    5. Using the exercise files
      2m 16s
  2. 23m 41s
    1. Connecting your Pro Tools system
      5m 8s
    2. Powering up and powering down
      58s
    3. Optimizing Pro Tools performance
      6m 55s
    4. Setting essential preferences
      3m 42s
    5. Creating a Pro Tools session
      3m 56s
    6. Identifying elements in a session folder
      3m 2s
  3. 47m 9s
    1. Exploring the Edit window
      4m 50s
    2. Exploring the Mix window
      2m 21s
    3. Exploring the Transport and Big Counter windows
      4m 0s
    4. Using the Color palette and window arrangements
      2m 55s
    5. Investigating Pro Tools menus
      4m 37s
    6. Creating new tracks
      4m 10s
    7. Understanding samples and ticks
      3m 36s
    8. Viewing and manipulating tracks
      5m 54s
    9. Adjusting the I/O setup
      7m 7s
    10. Understanding signal paths and gain stages
      3m 50s
    11. Utilizing keyboard shortcuts and keyboard focus
      3m 49s
  4. 30m 43s
    1. Using DigiBase and the Workspace browser
      5m 6s
    2. Importing audio
      5m 13s
    3. Importing MIDI
      3m 55s
    4. Importing session data
      6m 17s
    5. Importing tracks from a CD
      4m 18s
    6. Importing video
      2m 57s
    7. Unmounting a hard drive
      2m 57s
  5. 1h 2m
    1. Recording audio
      5m 6s
    2. Playing back audio
      10m 31s
    3. Creating a Click track
      4m 53s
    4. Overdubbing and using the record modes
      9m 25s
    5. Recording with playlists and the Loop Record mode
      3m 6s
    6. Punch recording and using the monitoring modes
      5m 28s
    7. Dealing with latency
      4m 17s
    8. Creating a group
      4m 33s
    9. Adding effects while recording
      7m 41s
    10. Creating a headphone (cue) mix
      5m 34s
    11. Assigning disk allocation
      2m 13s
  6. 1h 26m
    1. Understanding nondestructive editing and region types
      3m 31s
    2. Using the Selector and Grabber tools
      3m 29s
    3. Using the Trimmer and Scrubber tools
      6m 57s
    4. Using the Zoomer tool and Zoom presets
      5m 14s
    5. Using the Pencil tool
      3m 27s
    6. Using the Smart tool
      1m 26s
    7. Understanding the edit modes
      7m 54s
    8. Arranging regions
      8m 38s
    9. Undoing an edit
      2m 3s
    10. Utilizing fades and crossfades
      10m 29s
    11. Building a comp track using playlists
      5m 28s
    12. Locking and muting regions
      3m 36s
    13. Special buttons in the Editing window
      8m 16s
    14. Creating an audio loop
      5m 11s
    15. Editing a voiceover
      10m 59s
  7. 18m 43s
    1. Working with region groups
      5m 47s
    2. Setting time, tempo, meter, key, and chord
      5m 46s
    3. Creating memory locations
      7m 10s
  8. 35m 30s
    1. Setting up MIDI on a Mac
      4m 25s
    2. Setting up MIDI on a PC
      2m 50s
    3. Setting up MIDI in Pro Tools
      2m 46s
    4. Recording MIDI data
      5m 24s
    5. Recording multiple MIDI tracks with one virtual instrument
      2m 15s
    6. Recording options for MIDI
      6m 27s
    7. Using step input
      4m 45s
    8. Making a drum loop with MIDI Merge
      2m 51s
    9. Composing with virtual instruments
      3m 47s
  9. 48m 41s
    1. Using the edit tools for editing MIDI data
      8m 23s
    2. Editing MIDI data with the MIDI Editor
      7m 20s
    3. Working with the MIDI event list
      2m 41s
    4. Editing MIDI data with event operations
      8m 25s
    5. Quantizing MIDI tracks
      11m 31s
    6. Creating and using groove templates
      5m 59s
    7. Utilizing real-time properties
      4m 22s
  10. 18m 51s
    1. Exploring the Score Editor
      5m 22s
    2. Using the Score Editor
      6m 33s
    3. Setting up a score
      4m 30s
    4. Printing and exporting a score
      2m 26s
  11. 19m 0s
    1. Utilizing the Time Shift plug-in
      7m 41s
    2. Editing with Elastic Time
      8m 30s
    3. Editing with Elastic Pitch
      2m 49s
  12. 48m 20s
    1. Working with Boom
      11m 23s
    2. Working with Xpand2
      7m 21s
    3. Working with DB-33
      6m 58s
    4. Working with Vacuum
      7m 55s
    5. Working with Structure Free
      7m 12s
    6. Working with Mini Grand
      3m 57s
    7. Using Midi Learn
      3m 34s
  13. 25m 55s
    1. Writing and editing automation
      6m 4s
    2. Drawing automation with the Pencil tool
      4m 56s
    3. Editing automation with the Trimmer and Grabber tools
      2m 9s
    4. Cutting, copying, pasting, and clearing automation
      4m 5s
    5. Turning automation on and off
      4m 25s
    6. Automating plug-ins and virtual instruments
      4m 16s
  14. 1h 40m
    1. Setting up a session for mixing
      8m 0s
    2. Setting up an effects loop
      9m 18s
    3. Working with plug-ins
      3m 53s
    4. Dealing with delay compensation
      6m 51s
    5. Applying EQ
      9m 19s
    6. Adding compression
      11m 17s
    7. Applying limiters
      2m 57s
    8. Using Gates and Expanders
      4m 40s
    9. Working with Side Chains
      3m 35s
    10. Working with De-Essers
      3m 4s
    11. Adding delay
      7m 34s
    12. Utilizing modulation effects
      4m 43s
    13. Adding reverb
      7m 5s
    14. Adding harmonic effects
      5m 7s
    15. Renting and purchasing plug-ins
      2m 2s
    16. Applying AudioSuite plug-ins
      5m 19s
    17. Bouncing down a mix
      5m 50s
  15. 25m 44s
    1. Setting up a session for mastering
      8m 56s
    2. Using plug-ins for mastering
      8m 47s
    3. Applying Dither and Noise shaping
      4m 5s
    4. Bouncing down master recordings
      3m 56s
  16. 19m 52s
    1. Importing and displaying video files
      4m 20s
    2. Adding music, foley, ADR, and FX
      12m 28s
    3. Bouncing down video and audio together
      3m 4s
  17. 4m 50s
    1. Archiving an entire session
      4m 50s
  18. 31s
    1. Goodbye
      31s

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