The Importance of a Proper Level
In most recording today, the actual recording is digital. The quality of a digital recording is directly proportional to how detailed the system is in its sampling process — how many 1s and 0s (bits). For years, 16-bit recording was the standard and now it is 24-bit.
In a 24-bit system, getting as close to overload as you can get without overloading isn’t as important as it was back in the day — but it’s still important.
Recording at a high level keeps your signal far from the noise floor. And anyone who says that digital doesn’t have a noise floor is an idiot. Besides, even the inputs of a digital console or interface are analog. Analog circuits have noise. Ergo, a high level is still important on a digital system.
Sometimes the new recordist gets the idea that if the meters are right, all is well. Unfortunately the meters on your console can show “normal” and you can have real bad overload. Unfortunately it also seems that this kind of thing can go unnoticed in the original session, just to bite your a… during mixdown.
During a session, your attention is divided and you are sort of happy you’re getting sound and you are concentrating on musical performance; later when you mix, you are mentally focused to the sound alone and notice the “grunge” that was caused by the overload.
95% of the time the meters on the console are reading the output to your recorder, but the overload occurs at the input of the console. If you have your input controls too high and your output controls too low, you’ll get overload but “normal” meters. Preventing this situation involves knowing the controls to use and what the normal range of the controls are. Following the charts below should keep you out of trouble.
CONTROL NORMAL POSITION
MIC GAIN (OR MIC TRIM) 45% TO 75% UP
CHANNEL FADER 70% TO 80% UP
MIC PAD (ON CONDENSER MIC) OFF
MIC PAD (ON BOARD) OFF
How To Set Controls
1 Put the channel fader at 75%.
2 Turn microphone gain (trim) until the level on the meter is correct (usually 0 dB for Analog — -6 dB for digital.)
3. If you have a condenser microphone and microphone gain has to be adjusted to below 50%, turn the pad switch to “on.” This is usually only necessary if you are close-micing drums or cymbals.
4. If your mic does not have a pad, or if the mic gain still has to be brought down to below 50%, turn on the board’s mic pad.
5. If a control has to be put outside its normal range to get the right level, move the microphone gain control. Do not take the fader down below 70% up.
Note: When you add the pad (steps 3 & 4) always add the pad on the microphone first (if there is one).
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