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Understanding signal paths and gain stages

From: Pro Tools 9 Essential Training

Video: Understanding signal paths and gain stages

Understanding the signal flow of audio and MIDI data and the gain stages along the signal path is crucial knowledge for any musician, 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'll also be able to troubleshoot just about anything in your Pro Tools studio signal flow. Let's follow the signal path from a vocalist to a set of monitors, that is, the entire input to output signal path.

Understanding signal paths and gain stages

Understanding the signal flow of audio and MIDI data and the gain stages along the signal path is crucial knowledge for any musician, 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'll also be able to troubleshoot just about anything in your Pro Tools studio signal flow. Let's follow the signal path from a vocalist to a set of monitors, that is, the entire input to output 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 in your audio interface where the signal is boosted in level. Next, the signal is converted from analog to digital, from electrical current into zeros and ones. 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 the potential gain stages 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 its instrument. Then we have the instrument volume level and amp volume. If there are any effects in the signal path, those also 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 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, and if you've set up any effects loops, you may 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 volume.

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 data still has no sound.

Then that data is routed to a sound source. It could be a virtual instrument inside 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 is routed out of Pro Tools, converted back into MIDI data, and then transformed into an audio signal. That audio signal must then be 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 it through 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

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Pro Tools 9 Essential Training

106 video lessons · 11533 viewers

David Franz
Author

 
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  1. 13m 13s
    1. Welcome
      1m 16s
    2. Exploring the different versions of Pro Tools
      2m 30s
    3. Optimizing your computer before installing Pro Tools
      4m 6s
    4. Troubleshooting
      2m 18s
    5. Using the exercise files
      3m 3s
  2. 31m 3s
    1. Installing and authorizing Pro Tools
      1m 50s
    2. Connecting your Pro Tools system
      4m 1s
    3. Powering up and powering down
      58s
    4. Choosing the Playback Engine and Hardware settings
      4m 13s
    5. Optimizing Pro Tools performance
      5m 52s
    6. Utilizing Automatic Delay Compensation (ADC)
      1m 38s
    7. Setting essential preferences
      2m 35s
    8. Creating a Pro Tools session
      3m 43s
    9. Identifying elements in a session folder
      2m 33s
    10. Creating new tracks
      3m 40s
  3. 42m 9s
    1. Exploring the Edit window
      6m 52s
    2. Exploring the Mix window
      3m 11s
    3. Exploring the Transport and Big Counter windows
      2m 57s
    4. Using the Color palette and window arrangements
      2m 36s
    5. Investigating the menus
      3m 13s
    6. Understanding samples and ticks
      3m 34s
    7. Viewing and manipulating tracks
      4m 31s
    8. Selecting inputs, outputs, and buses
      3m 58s
    9. Selecting an I/O Settings file
      4m 12s
    10. Understanding signal paths and gain stages
      3m 46s
    11. Utilizing keyboard shortcuts and keyboard focus
      3m 19s
  4. 19m 31s
    1. Using DigiBase and the Workspace browser
      4m 22s
    2. Importing audio
      3m 1s
    3. Importing MIDI
      2m 46s
    4. Importing session data
      3m 44s
    5. Importing tracks from a CD
      2m 44s
    6. Importing video
      2m 54s
  5. 1h 0m
    1. Recording audio
      6m 14s
    2. Playing back audio
      10m 0s
    3. Creating a click track
      5m 25s
    4. Overdubbing and using the record modes
      8m 29s
    5. Recording with playlists and Loop Record
      4m 3s
    6. Punch recording and using the monitoring modes
      4m 17s
    7. Dealing with latency and ADC
      4m 58s
    8. Creating a group
      4m 52s
    9. Adding effects while recording
      5m 17s
    10. Creating a headphone (cue) mix
      4m 29s
    11. Assigning disk allocation
      2m 17s
  6. 1h 19m
    1. Understanding nondestructive editing and region types
      3m 3s
    2. Using the Selector and Grabber tools
      3m 29s
    3. Using the Trimmer and Scrubber tools
      8m 16s
    4. Using the Zoomer tool and Zoom presets
      5m 41s
    5. Using the Pencil tool
      2m 46s
    6. Using the Smart tool
      1m 28s
    7. Understanding the Edit modes
      5m 9s
    8. Arranging regions
      5m 33s
    9. Undoing an edit
      2m 8s
    10. Utilizing fades and crossfades
      7m 22s
    11. Building a comp track using playlists
      4m 50s
    12. Locking and muting regions
      2m 52s
    13. Special Edit window buttons
      6m 47s
    14. Creating an audio loop
      4m 13s
    15. Editing a voiceover
      8m 37s
    16. Using Elastic Time and Elastic Pitch
      7m 38s
  7. 19m 27s
    1. Working with region groups
      6m 39s
    2. Using time, tempo, meter, key, and chord
      5m 37s
    3. Creating memory locations
      7m 11s
  8. 30m 47s
    1. Setting up MIDI on a Mac
      4m 7s
    2. Setting up MIDI on a PC
      2m 13s
    3. Setting up MIDI in Pro Tools
      2m 37s
    4. Recording MIDI data
      3m 7s
    5. Recording multiple MIDI tracks with one virtual instrument
      2m 17s
    6. Recording options for MIDI
      5m 44s
    7. Using step input
      4m 14s
    8. Making a drum loop with MIDI Merge
      3m 36s
    9. Composing with virtual instruments
      2m 52s
  9. 54m 25s
    1. Using the edit tools for editing MIDI data
      9m 47s
    2. Editing MIDI data in the MIDI Editor
      8m 17s
    3. Working with the MIDI event list
      2m 13s
    4. Editing MIDI data with event operations
      8m 35s
    5. Quantizing MIDI tracks
      12m 16s
    6. Creating and using groove templates
      5m 35s
    7. Utilizing real-time properties
      3m 49s
    8. Using MIDI Learn
      3m 53s
  10. 17m 44s
    1. Exploring the Score Editor
      5m 56s
    2. Using the Score Editor
      5m 11s
    3. Setting up a score
      4m 48s
    4. Printing and exporting a score
      1m 49s
  11. 25m 45s
    1. Writing and editing automation
      7m 21s
    2. Drawing automation with the Pencil tool
      3m 58s
    3. Editing automation with the Trimmer and Grabber tools
      2m 26s
    4. Cutting, copying, pasting, and clearing automation
      4m 2s
    5. Turning automation on and off
      4m 0s
    6. Automating plug-ins and virtual instruments
      3m 58s
  12. 1h 33m
    1. Setting up a session for mixing
      7m 53s
    2. Setting up an effects loop
      9m 30s
    3. Working with plug-ins
      4m 33s
    4. Utilizing ADC while mixing
      9m 11s
    5. Applying EQ
      9m 25s
    6. Adding compression and limiting
      13m 27s
    7. Adding depth effects: Delay and reverb
      12m 45s
    8. Applying AudioSuite plug-ins
      4m 14s
    9. Bouncing down a mix and making an MP3
      5m 44s
    10. Setting up a session for mastering
      4m 36s
    11. Mastering a session
      7m 35s
    12. Bouncing down master recordings with Dither and Noise Shaping
      4m 52s
  13. 10m 6s
    1. Importing and displaying video files
      2m 42s
    2. Adding music, foley, ADR, and FX
      4m 32s
    3. Bouncing down video and audio together
      2m 52s
  14. 4m 22s
    1. Archiving an entire session
      4m 22s
  15. 52s
    1. Further Recommendations
      52s

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