how badly are you peaking in your DAWs?

Discussion in 'Digital Audio' started by zimv20, Jun 17, 2007.

  1. zimv20 macrumors 601

    zimv20

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2002
    Location:
    toronto
    #1
    the analog v digital debate is still raging, with anti-digits claiming it sounds crap, while pro-digits saying people just don't know how to use it. "analog had to be hit a certain way, and digital has to be hit a certain, and different way. if you hit digital like you hit analog, you'll make trouble."

    for some time i've been using much more conservative digital levels (i run an apogee rosetta800 via ADAT into a digi002r, and run PTLE 7.x). on this forum, i've advised people to keep their signals in the middle third of their DAW LED meters. i've done this, and found an improvement in sound.

    i've also more closely watched the levels going into and coming out of my plugs, using trim plugs where necessary.

    the issue is slamming the digital bus. when analog is hit too hard, sometimes it sounds better. in digital, it doesn't. and here's the catch -- MOST OF THE TIME YOU GET NO VISUAL FEEDBACK YOU'RE DOING SO.

    sure, you've got those red over lights, but that's the equivalent of your check engine light coming on *after* you've burned through all your oil. iow, too ****ing late.

    ....

    so for some time i've been reading about how your DAW levels lie to you. first, they show RMS levels, not peak, so you're looking at the wrong thing. second, some say, those LED graphs which do show peak, don't actually catch all the peaks, and those are wrong too.

    the answer is two-fold: get a real meter, and drop your levels. drop them lower than that. no, even lower than that. keep going. okay, a little lower. that's it.

    -18? not low enough. more like -32 or -36. crazy, right?

    last night, plug-in maker steve massey released a no-frills, osx-only and PTv7-only set of tools called Massey Tools v0.1 beta. one tool is a meter: "a configurable meter showing RMS, peak, and peak hold."

    i loaded it up last night and looked at the latest stuff i've been mixing. i mix from PTLE, to hardware (a folcrom), into a mic pre, through a buss compressor, and back into PT. i try to keep my levels low-ish. my RMS levels are around -7 to -11. PTLE shows my peaks around -5 to -9.

    however: the massey meter showed my peaks, in 3 songs, to actually be +7 to +11.

    i was stunned. this is the first time i've really known how hard i was hitting the digital bus, and i'm way not pleased that the PTLE peak indicators were so low. i tried it on the master bus, i tried it on individual tracks. track after track, song after song, my peaks were > 0. i wanted to cry.

    ....

    so i'm going to revise my "hit it in the middle third" prior advice. shoot for -36 RMS (24 bit, of course). find a meter plug-in that actually shows you your real peaks. and forget all that non-sense about "using all the bits".

    ....

    disclaimer: i haven't bothered sourcing any of this info, since it's compiled from many places, over a couple years, with my own experiences. that last bit's the important part, that these turning-down techniques have worked for me. ymmv, but i urge everyone to experiment with an open mind and see if any of these techniques improve their own sounds.

    if you must know, much of the reading i've done on it was at gearslutz and PSW. some of the people recommending these techniques are gear designers and pro engineers, of which i'm neither. but their shared wisdom has helped me, and with the release of massey's meter plug, i'm passing on some of it here. i hope it's helpful.
     
  2. cschreppel macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2006
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    #2
    I have to agree with you on this one. PT's meters are pretty crappy. I always try to stay somewhere in the middle third for my levels - makes mixing easier because all of the levels are conservative - nothing is slammed.

    However, I think sometimes people just overthink the whole thing too much. After working with George Massenburg for a few days, you kind of develop this "I don't give a sh*t" attitude toward it because it ultimately comes down to how it sounds to you, the client, and anyone else close to the project.

    Good gear + good players + good room + good song + a competant engineer = a hard to screw up recording.

    But how often are all of these criteria satisfied :)

    For what it's worth though, when I import recent album tracks from major releases into PT, I notice that it peaks all over the place by +0.1dB...this is pretty consistent...yet these tunes don't peak on an HHB BurnIt Plus player that's calibrated properly...doesn't peak in Nuendo or Wavelab, etc...just PT...
     
  3. zimv20 thread starter macrumors 601

    zimv20

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2002
    Location:
    toronto
    #3
    eh? no way *that* one is going to sneak by. do tell! have you worked in his dowel-rod room?
     
  4. cschreppel macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2006
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    #4
    Haha, no. I wish I worked with him at Blackbird :)

    When I was at the Berklee College of Music, he was there on several occasions as a visiting artist in residence for the Production and Engineering dept. Being an upper-level engineering student at the time, we had first dibs on working with him on the sessions he was producing/engineering while he was there.

    I was his Pro Tools op when we were recording the Esterhazy String Quartet w/ an operatic vocalist...great times. I also attended the quartet's concert with him the night before the session to check out the pieces we were to be recording the next day.

    I also sat in on several classes with him where we shot out multiple mics, compressors, etc. and just being able to pick his brain with only 7 or 8 other people in the room was fantastic.

    Then there were the Bob Ludwig masterclasses...
     
  5. zimv20 thread starter macrumors 601

    zimv20

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2002
    Location:
    toronto
    #5
    damn. best i can claim (in this vein) is albini came by to loan our little 8-track studio some gear, back in the early 90's. of course, i happened to be at work at the time (grrrrr).
     
  6. cschreppel macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2006
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    #6
    Better than nothin, I suppose :)

    Hey, btw, what do you think of RME converters? Also, what's your take on the RME OctaMic-D...looks like a much higher end option than 8-channel pre's like the PreSonus Digimax 96k. I've got an M-Audio Octane from a little while back and I'm just looking to upgrade the quality of the converters there while still getting some nice pre's.

    I know how I feel about RME, just looking to see what others think.
     
  7. zimv20 thread starter macrumors 601

    zimv20

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2002
    Location:
    toronto
    #7
    haven't used 'em, sorry.
     
  8. Bitjockey macrumors newbie

    Bitjockey

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2007
    #8
    I love this article Zimy,

    I've only been working with digital for about a year and a half after spending 20+ years in analog land. We were always advised to keep the levels hot due to signal to noise issues. Overs seldom resulted in audible distortion. No way with digital....like you said one red light and the cut is trashed. I started backing down from my traditional 0 in 6db increments and then ran an increase gain tool (back to 0) and compared the results (samples in 24/96). There was noticeable distortion and/or artifacts up to the -18 sample! I now track no higher than -18. One problem with this is that in post work many plugs don't like the low levels and they all want to increase the gain for you. Putting together a proper signal chain through the various plugs needed for a particular piece is a pretty daunting task and should keep me occupied for some time to come! :)
     
  9. Tarkovsky macrumors 6502

    Tarkovsky

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2007
    Location:
    London/Norwich
    #9
    I'm very glad I read this... I've been trying the analogue way on the digital, and things didn't sound quite right dispite no reds.
     
  10. WinterMute Moderator emeritus

    WinterMute

    Joined:
    Jan 19, 2003
    Location:
    London, England
    #10
    This is a transient issue, Pip Williams and I have been discussing this in relation to albums we recently completed (His is the new Status Quo album, sounds great).

    Rupert Neve explained it to me years ago, transient sound is the very HF fast audio that leads the waveform, it is most obviously present in instruments with a good deal of percussive attack and HF, cymbals, pianos, all drums, guitars etc, but is also present in all sounds to a degree.

    The problem is exacerbated by Hi-def recording as a lot of these transients go way beyond the 20Khz level (the biggest problem with digital being that at 44.1 it simply filters sound above 20K). These transients are responsible for the overshoot you are seeing on your meters Zim.

    I have been habitually tracking at -15bd peak for some time, and have now taken to mixing at -15db too. The difference is quite astonishing in the "air" and clarity around the mixes. You have to re-instate the level at the mastering stage however, I master at Abbey Road, and Sean bounces the mixes from the 96Khz master to 1/2" analog and then masters from the tape back to his systems, allowing the analog circuits to retain the transient (and add the harmonic distortions we love sooo much).

    His comment was "I wish everyone would mix at -15 it makes all the difference", but recording at -15 (especial at 24 bit where the s/n ratio is so high) is really the key.

    Oh, and lay off digital compression too, it royally sucks.
     

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