Gain staging and signal level in plugs

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Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by SledDriver »

What do others do?

When I gain stage all my tracks to -18dB I find the signal level in plugs to be lower than I would like. For example, using FabFilter ProDS desser on a lead vocal, the signal level within the plug is very small on the meters and hard to work with.

One solution is to use the in/out gain controls of the plug to set In +10dB and Out -10dB, so the plug now shows a decent level signal to work with, but returns a 'gain-staged' level signal to the track.

Is this good practice? Is there a better way? Did I miss something obvious?

Regards,
DAW: Cubase Pro 10.5.12 since SL3 and previous, OS: Win 10 Pro x64 Build 1909, CPU: Intel i7-8700K delidded O/C'd @ 5GHz (running at around 34°C on air!! in Cubase), RAM: 64GB/DDR4 @2666MHz, Mobo: Asus Prime Z370-A, M.2x1 + SSDx4, Graphics: GeForce GTX 980Ti, 6 monitors, Audio Interface: FocusRite 18i20 Gen 2, Studio Monitors: Adam P11A+Sub8 with SonarWorks Reference 4 calibration, MidiSport 2x2, Lexicon reverb. VST’s include FabFilter suite, Waves, Syntorus, Eventide, R2, PositiveGrid, Focusrite Red, Softube, iZotope, Line 6 Helix, Native Instruments, Nugen, PSP, SIR2. VSTi’s include Arturia V7, Addictive Keys, FXpansion, Kiev Legacy, MinimogueLuxus, MusicLab, Native Instruments, Sonivox, Spectrasonics, Spitfire Audio, Superior Drummer 3, Synthogy. Others include zPlane, jBridge, Sleepy-Time, Voxengo, YouLean Pro.

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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by Sonico »

Are you leveling your tracks to -18 dBVU or -18 dBFS?
When using -18 dBVU, peaks should be somewhere around-10 to - 6 dBFS and the level should be fine for most plugins in my experience.
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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by SledDriver »

I've always been taught to do gain staging to -18dBFS. I dont see the point otherwise. If VU leaves you with peaks of -6 to -10dB peaks, surely you still wont have the headroom gain staging is supposed to give you and your master mix will still be far too hot without all your faders being at -10dB of greater attenuation?

I can see your method will give better signal level for plugs, but it also seems to negate the whole reason for gain staging in the first place.

Every web tutorial I have ever seen shows gain staging done with peak meters as far as I can see.
DAW: Cubase Pro 10.5.12 since SL3 and previous, OS: Win 10 Pro x64 Build 1909, CPU: Intel i7-8700K delidded O/C'd @ 5GHz (running at around 34°C on air!! in Cubase), RAM: 64GB/DDR4 @2666MHz, Mobo: Asus Prime Z370-A, M.2x1 + SSDx4, Graphics: GeForce GTX 980Ti, 6 monitors, Audio Interface: FocusRite 18i20 Gen 2, Studio Monitors: Adam P11A+Sub8 with SonarWorks Reference 4 calibration, MidiSport 2x2, Lexicon reverb. VST’s include FabFilter suite, Waves, Syntorus, Eventide, R2, PositiveGrid, Focusrite Red, Softube, iZotope, Line 6 Helix, Native Instruments, Nugen, PSP, SIR2. VSTi’s include Arturia V7, Addictive Keys, FXpansion, Kiev Legacy, MinimogueLuxus, MusicLab, Native Instruments, Sonivox, Spectrasonics, Spitfire Audio, Superior Drummer 3, Synthogy. Others include zPlane, jBridge, Sleepy-Time, Voxengo, YouLean Pro.

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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by SledDriver »

This guy seems to understand it and seems to be saying 0VU, -20dBFS.

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/so-much ... tored.html

Or am I misunderstanding?
DAW: Cubase Pro 10.5.12 since SL3 and previous, OS: Win 10 Pro x64 Build 1909, CPU: Intel i7-8700K delidded O/C'd @ 5GHz (running at around 34°C on air!! in Cubase), RAM: 64GB/DDR4 @2666MHz, Mobo: Asus Prime Z370-A, M.2x1 + SSDx4, Graphics: GeForce GTX 980Ti, 6 monitors, Audio Interface: FocusRite 18i20 Gen 2, Studio Monitors: Adam P11A+Sub8 with SonarWorks Reference 4 calibration, MidiSport 2x2, Lexicon reverb. VST’s include FabFilter suite, Waves, Syntorus, Eventide, R2, PositiveGrid, Focusrite Red, Softube, iZotope, Line 6 Helix, Native Instruments, Nugen, PSP, SIR2. VSTi’s include Arturia V7, Addictive Keys, FXpansion, Kiev Legacy, MinimogueLuxus, MusicLab, Native Instruments, Sonivox, Spectrasonics, Spitfire Audio, Superior Drummer 3, Synthogy. Others include zPlane, jBridge, Sleepy-Time, Voxengo, YouLean Pro.

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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by Sonico »

I think you’re misunderstanding the concept, you’re supposed to treat your levels as if you’re working in an analog console or tape where you have VU meters calibrated to 0VU = -18dBFS.
That way if you shoot for 0dBVU you have 18dBs of headroom and that should be plenty.
With percussive sounds like drums you should go somewhere around-6dBVU.
That’s what I do and have plenty of headroom in my master bus.
-18DBFS or peak is a very low level for sure and that’s the reason your plugins don’t receive enough signal to work with.
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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by SledDriver »

OK, so considering Cubase in particular, what should I use to meter each channel to 0dBVU, cos to my knowledge the built in track meters wont do it...?

Or am I wrong again? :)
DAW: Cubase Pro 10.5.12 since SL3 and previous, OS: Win 10 Pro x64 Build 1909, CPU: Intel i7-8700K delidded O/C'd @ 5GHz (running at around 34°C on air!! in Cubase), RAM: 64GB/DDR4 @2666MHz, Mobo: Asus Prime Z370-A, M.2x1 + SSDx4, Graphics: GeForce GTX 980Ti, 6 monitors, Audio Interface: FocusRite 18i20 Gen 2, Studio Monitors: Adam P11A+Sub8 with SonarWorks Reference 4 calibration, MidiSport 2x2, Lexicon reverb. VST’s include FabFilter suite, Waves, Syntorus, Eventide, R2, PositiveGrid, Focusrite Red, Softube, iZotope, Line 6 Helix, Native Instruments, Nugen, PSP, SIR2. VSTi’s include Arturia V7, Addictive Keys, FXpansion, Kiev Legacy, MinimogueLuxus, MusicLab, Native Instruments, Sonivox, Spectrasonics, Spitfire Audio, Superior Drummer 3, Synthogy. Others include zPlane, jBridge, Sleepy-Time, Voxengo, YouLean Pro.

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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by Grim »

If you' want to measure to a vu scale you obviously would use a vu meter.

Get one that has the option to calibrate to -18dbfs or whatever you decide to go with. (Don't get too hung up on this, you just want to get in to the ballpark of sensible levels, not micromanage every level minutely)

It's no longer being updated but for the time being SleepyTimeDSP Mono/Stereo Channel would work and is free.

https://www.kvraudio.com/product/free-l ... y-time-dsp
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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by SledDriver »

Thanks. Strangely, I just downloaded those very plugs! :-)

Right, off for another fumble.
DAW: Cubase Pro 10.5.12 since SL3 and previous, OS: Win 10 Pro x64 Build 1909, CPU: Intel i7-8700K delidded O/C'd @ 5GHz (running at around 34°C on air!! in Cubase), RAM: 64GB/DDR4 @2666MHz, Mobo: Asus Prime Z370-A, M.2x1 + SSDx4, Graphics: GeForce GTX 980Ti, 6 monitors, Audio Interface: FocusRite 18i20 Gen 2, Studio Monitors: Adam P11A+Sub8 with SonarWorks Reference 4 calibration, MidiSport 2x2, Lexicon reverb. VST’s include FabFilter suite, Waves, Syntorus, Eventide, R2, PositiveGrid, Focusrite Red, Softube, iZotope, Line 6 Helix, Native Instruments, Nugen, PSP, SIR2. VSTi’s include Arturia V7, Addictive Keys, FXpansion, Kiev Legacy, MinimogueLuxus, MusicLab, Native Instruments, Sonivox, Spectrasonics, Spitfire Audio, Superior Drummer 3, Synthogy. Others include zPlane, jBridge, Sleepy-Time, Voxengo, YouLean Pro.

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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by SledDriver »

Just to make sure I'm understanding finally, if I use the Sleepy-time VU meter on each track, I set the meter to -18 nominal level, then adjust the pre-gain on the track until:

a) it is peaking just below 0 on the VU meter?
b) the general playback level is around 0 on the VU meter?

Which is it?
DAW: Cubase Pro 10.5.12 since SL3 and previous, OS: Win 10 Pro x64 Build 1909, CPU: Intel i7-8700K delidded O/C'd @ 5GHz (running at around 34°C on air!! in Cubase), RAM: 64GB/DDR4 @2666MHz, Mobo: Asus Prime Z370-A, M.2x1 + SSDx4, Graphics: GeForce GTX 980Ti, 6 monitors, Audio Interface: FocusRite 18i20 Gen 2, Studio Monitors: Adam P11A+Sub8 with SonarWorks Reference 4 calibration, MidiSport 2x2, Lexicon reverb. VST’s include FabFilter suite, Waves, Syntorus, Eventide, R2, PositiveGrid, Focusrite Red, Softube, iZotope, Line 6 Helix, Native Instruments, Nugen, PSP, SIR2. VSTi’s include Arturia V7, Addictive Keys, FXpansion, Kiev Legacy, MinimogueLuxus, MusicLab, Native Instruments, Sonivox, Spectrasonics, Spitfire Audio, Superior Drummer 3, Synthogy. Others include zPlane, jBridge, Sleepy-Time, Voxengo, YouLean Pro.

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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by Grim »

For most things playing around 0 is fine.....but also keep an eye on Cubase peak meter and if anything is really transient and peaks higher than you'd like just pull it down.
Honestly....I think this is a good exercise and helps to get you within a sensible level range which is a good thing, but I also think the value of exactly gain staging to -18 all the way through the DAW has been blown out of proportion.
Don't be scared to push a level into a plug if you think it sounds better or if it needs the level before it's acting as much as you'd like. Whether you do that at clip level, at input trim of the mixer, or at the plugin input makes no difference.
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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by Sonico »

Set the reference level to 0dbVU = -18dBFS.
Adjust your recording levels or track (pre-recorded) levels to around 0dBVU, it doesn't matter if levels are sometimes below or above 0dBVU.
As I said before, drums and other percussive sounds should be around -6dBVU, otherwise peaks are going to be too loud.
That should get you a very good level for plugins (especially the ones that emulate analog hardware behavior) and a good headroom in your master bus.
Pay attention to the levels after the plugins, ideally you should try to preserve 0dbVU after EQ, compression, etc. in order to keep your master bus headroom intact.
I hope that makes sense!!

This meter plugin is also good and free:
http://www.pspaudioware.com/free_psp_plug-ins/
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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by SledDriver »

Thanks everyone for taking the time to explain this well. I think the whole gain staging thing has taken on a life of it's own on the internet/youtube, and probably overselling it a bit, although the basic concepts are indeed good general practice.

Much appreciated.

Regards,
DAW: Cubase Pro 10.5.12 since SL3 and previous, OS: Win 10 Pro x64 Build 1909, CPU: Intel i7-8700K delidded O/C'd @ 5GHz (running at around 34°C on air!! in Cubase), RAM: 64GB/DDR4 @2666MHz, Mobo: Asus Prime Z370-A, M.2x1 + SSDx4, Graphics: GeForce GTX 980Ti, 6 monitors, Audio Interface: FocusRite 18i20 Gen 2, Studio Monitors: Adam P11A+Sub8 with SonarWorks Reference 4 calibration, MidiSport 2x2, Lexicon reverb. VST’s include FabFilter suite, Waves, Syntorus, Eventide, R2, PositiveGrid, Focusrite Red, Softube, iZotope, Line 6 Helix, Native Instruments, Nugen, PSP, SIR2. VSTi’s include Arturia V7, Addictive Keys, FXpansion, Kiev Legacy, MinimogueLuxus, MusicLab, Native Instruments, Sonivox, Spectrasonics, Spitfire Audio, Superior Drummer 3, Synthogy. Others include zPlane, jBridge, Sleepy-Time, Voxengo, YouLean Pro.

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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by peakae »

Just mainly ignore it, as long as you are not clipping signals or feed analog modeled plugins too hot a signal, you will be fine.
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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by JMCecil »

Some plugins (like UAD) actually provide the input specification that the model was designed to emulate. Plugins like that tend to work nominally "better" when the input level is known. Various plugins then provide output gain to compensate. However, that can be a colored compensation. So, the answer as usual is "it depends".
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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by SledDriver »

Sure. I think the main criteria is that plugs like distortion and filters are directly affected by the input level, whereas EQs and the like are not affected by overall level, well not unless it is extreme.
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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by JMCecil »

SledDriver wrote:
Mon Jan 08, 2018 8:51 pm
Sure. I think the main criteria is that plugs like distortion and filters are directly affected by the input level, whereas EQs and the like are not affected by overall level, well not unless it is extreme.
I'm not sure that's true. Again, a lot of the UAD EQs are very sensitive to input level, and they definitely change their color dependant on output compensation. Even plugins like guitar sims (Amplitube, SGear etc..) sound very different at different input levels with the same settings.
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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by SledDriver »

Ok interesting thanks.
DAW: Cubase Pro 10.5.12 since SL3 and previous, OS: Win 10 Pro x64 Build 1909, CPU: Intel i7-8700K delidded O/C'd @ 5GHz (running at around 34°C on air!! in Cubase), RAM: 64GB/DDR4 @2666MHz, Mobo: Asus Prime Z370-A, M.2x1 + SSDx4, Graphics: GeForce GTX 980Ti, 6 monitors, Audio Interface: FocusRite 18i20 Gen 2, Studio Monitors: Adam P11A+Sub8 with SonarWorks Reference 4 calibration, MidiSport 2x2, Lexicon reverb. VST’s include FabFilter suite, Waves, Syntorus, Eventide, R2, PositiveGrid, Focusrite Red, Softube, iZotope, Line 6 Helix, Native Instruments, Nugen, PSP, SIR2. VSTi’s include Arturia V7, Addictive Keys, FXpansion, Kiev Legacy, MinimogueLuxus, MusicLab, Native Instruments, Sonivox, Spectrasonics, Spitfire Audio, Superior Drummer 3, Synthogy. Others include zPlane, jBridge, Sleepy-Time, Voxengo, YouLean Pro.

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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by titchyblackcat »

I've just found the gain at the top of the mixer channels.
Is it OK to add gain if the peak is too low ?
Haliom Symphonic Orchestra is very low so should i use the gain to increase the level or, render to audio and normalize ?
There's a couple of other track i've found are low as well.
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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by SledDriver »

If HSO has output gain use that. Otherwise yes the channel pre gain is fine. And use VU calibrated to -18dBVU to judge your level, not peak.
DAW: Cubase Pro 10.5.12 since SL3 and previous, OS: Win 10 Pro x64 Build 1909, CPU: Intel i7-8700K delidded O/C'd @ 5GHz (running at around 34°C on air!! in Cubase), RAM: 64GB/DDR4 @2666MHz, Mobo: Asus Prime Z370-A, M.2x1 + SSDx4, Graphics: GeForce GTX 980Ti, 6 monitors, Audio Interface: FocusRite 18i20 Gen 2, Studio Monitors: Adam P11A+Sub8 with SonarWorks Reference 4 calibration, MidiSport 2x2, Lexicon reverb. VST’s include FabFilter suite, Waves, Syntorus, Eventide, R2, PositiveGrid, Focusrite Red, Softube, iZotope, Line 6 Helix, Native Instruments, Nugen, PSP, SIR2. VSTi’s include Arturia V7, Addictive Keys, FXpansion, Kiev Legacy, MinimogueLuxus, MusicLab, Native Instruments, Sonivox, Spectrasonics, Spitfire Audio, Superior Drummer 3, Synthogy. Others include zPlane, jBridge, Sleepy-Time, Voxengo, YouLean Pro.

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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by JMCecil »

"Is it OK to add gain if the peak is too low ?"
There is no right or wrong answer to this. As long as you don't mind the increase to the noise floor, yes it is ok. But, this is typically not the right place for that type of adjustment. However, if it gets the job done for you ... have at it. It's just another tool.

HSO is not really all that quiet? Are you sure you just don't have the mod wheel down?
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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by Ian s »

titchyblackcat wrote:
Tue Jan 09, 2018 6:07 pm
I've just found the gain at the top of the mixer channels.
Is it OK to add gain if the peak is too low ?
Haliom Symphonic Orchestra is very low so should i use the gain to increase the level or, render to audio and normalize ?
There's a couple of other track i've found are low as well.
Just curious, what sound are you using with HSO? Many HSO sounds use modulation CC data to control dynamics. I often get caught out with a very low level output if I forget to give the part a mod value :) Jogging the mod wheel or painting a few points on the modulation cc lane fixes things.

Re the gain knob on the channel - it can be useful if you need to raise the level of a part in order to get an optimum level for a plugin on an insert. I also use it sometimes so I can get my faders resting in the most responsive area of their throw, about 2/3rds of the way up...
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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by titchyblackcat »

I'll try the modulation points again.will any value be OK or does the value change the tone ? Its "Violoncelli A Combi"
I've heard the same from other people about HSO being low in volume.
I'm going back to my project now to get everything to pre gain -18 dBVU ish.
Thanks to all for their comments i'm learning about Cubase every day.
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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by alexis »

peakae wrote:
Fri Jan 05, 2018 7:30 am
Just mainly ignore it, as long as you are not clipping signals or feed analog modeled plugins too hot a signal, you will be fine.
This is what I usually do. Sometimes in addition to the trim control up top I do wind up having a gain plug-in just before and also just after my "real" plug-in. Seems like a real pain sometimes, but I noticed how much better things sounded with close attention to gain staging going into plugins.
Last edited by alexis on Tue Jan 09, 2018 7:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by JMCecil »

It's not modulation points. HSO uses the mod wheel to crossfade the volume samples from pp to ff. So full modwheel = ff samples. Yes it changes the tone .. which is kind of the point of having a multi sampled instrument.
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Re: Gain staging and signal level in plugs

Post by Ian s »

titchyblackcat wrote:
Tue Jan 09, 2018 6:43 pm
I'll try the modulation points again.will any value be OK or does the value change the tone ? Its "Violoncelli A Combi"
I've heard the same from other people about HSO being low in volume.
I'm going back to my project now to get everything to pre gain -18 dBVU ish.
Thanks to all for their comments i'm learning about Cubase every day.
Yeah there's always lots to learn!

The modulation CC value changes the tone as well as the volume. Each note of the "Violincelli A Combi" patch is made of several different samples, soft to loud, and in a string patch such as this, then low mod values will trigger the lightly bowed, quiet samples. as you increase the mod value the samples used will progressively switch to ones where the player digs in more and makes a louder sound.

When recording string or brass parts in particular this is very useful as you can make convincing swells that not only change in volume but also in intensity, by using the mod wheel on your keyboard as you play.

Without a keyboard you can can still do this just by painting CC data into the modulation controller lane at the bottom of the Key Editor window.
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