Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

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Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by mikemandt » Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:15 am

Can someone please help me understand this very basic aspect of mixing that I am lacking.

I am following this guys video who happens to be using cubase 7.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlFERE1FoU0


In his mixer he has a "pre" section that he enables (i do not see this anywhere in cubase 8 unless i am missing something), where he goes in and enters a gain value so that it adds together to get each track around -18dB.


In the track I currently have, I am using Superior Drummer in multi-out mode. I also have a bass track I laid down. I want to get everything at a proper level before I go any further. The problem is I don't really understand what I am doing. Prior to this i've always just lowered the volume faders of each track until the "channel volume" on the left is around -6. The peak meter volume on the right i have to admit I dont understand what that is.

Could someone walk me through setting this up in cubase 8 so that I have everything around -18dB? It's hard for me to follow the guys video because things are moved around a bit in the newer version

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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by roy_mattie » Fri Mar 20, 2015 2:24 am

Click on the 'Racks' button, and select 'Pre'. I believe this is what you're looking for, which may not be visible by default.
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Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by roy_mattie » Fri Mar 20, 2015 2:30 am

Here's a great thread on gain-staging. It's a long read, but worthwhile.

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/so-much ... tored.html
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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by mikemandt » Fri Mar 20, 2015 4:27 am

Thank you roy!! so to clarify- if i record my guitar tracks and lay down some midi drum patterns, hit play and then observe where the levels are reaching and then adjust the gain in the 'pre' section of each track accordingly, this is the same as inserting a trim plugin on each track, correct?

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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by Svenne » Fri Mar 20, 2015 11:05 am

mikemandt wrote:Could someone walk me through setting this up in cubase 8 so that I have everything around -18dB? It's hard for me to follow the guys video because things are moved around a bit in the newer version
What version of CB8 are you using? I use Pro, and the Pre pane is exactly where it is described in the video. Note, that you must have it activated in the Racks menu. Perhaps you've missed that.

Also note that there, obviously, aren't any settings for MIDI tracks.
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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by stingray » Fri Mar 20, 2015 11:45 am

mikemandt wrote:I am following this guys video who happens to be using cubase 7.
That is one approach to certain aspects of gain staging but seems slightly flawed. IMO this video series could benefit from more clarity in its descriptions of peak and RMS (average) levels and how to use a peak meter as opposed to a VU meter.

IMO the first thing to get clear and fully understand is the difference between peak and RMS levels, and the difference between digital peak meters and VU meters. There's lots of information on the internet. Also see the master meters in Cubase for an example of a combined digital peak and RMS meter.

The channel meters in Cubase are digital peak meters which don't give a precise idea of the RMS (average) levels of the signal, so when using these for RMS (average) levels you have to do some guessing. You might try setting the fallback time to 10dB/sec instead of the default 12dB/sec in Preferences to get a better 'picture' but you are not seeing RMS levels on the meter. The apparent average on these meters is higher than RMS and what you see depends on how you set this fallback time.
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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by mikemandt » Fri Mar 20, 2015 6:25 pm

Svenne wrote:
mikemandt wrote:Could someone walk me through setting this up in cubase 8 so that I have everything around -18dB? It's hard for me to follow the guys video because things are moved around a bit in the newer version
What version of CB8 are you using? I use Pro, and the Pre pane is exactly where it is described in the video. Note, that you must have it activated in the Racks menu. Perhaps you've missed that.

Also note that there, obviously, aren't any settings for MIDI tracks.
I found them, thanks. (using cubase pro newest version btw) Last night what I did to experiment with this was load up a full kit in superior, paste in a midi drum solo, let it play through and then i went in and adjusted the gain in the 'pre' section so everything was around -18...this seemed to work ok for everything except the overheads track which was already at -26 or something...I don't know something still doesn't feel right. Now the poster below is saying it's a flawed approach and i am royally confused again lol.

I was wondering about the MIDI thing you just mentioned as in my case i'm almost always starting a track with 90% MIDI instruments and two or three audio tracks from my axe fx.

How does this change things?

I also saw this guys video where he shows that you can just lower the faders initially but that it leaves you with no room to move them around in your mix, so he suggest's using a trim plugin (which i assume is the same as lowering the gain in the pre rack). Here is the video I am referring to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2-IDkCMWFo

Thanks for being patient with me while I figure this out guys. It's odd that i've been making music ITB for so long and I dont know this

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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by mikemandt » Fri Mar 20, 2015 6:35 pm

stingray wrote:
mikemandt wrote:I am following this guys video who happens to be using cubase 7.
That is one approach to certain aspects of gain staging but is flawed since it is confusing peak and RMS (average) levels and how to use a peak meter as opposed to a VU meter.

IMO the first thing to get clear and fully understand is the difference between peak and RMS levels, and the difference between digital peak meters and VU meters. There's lots of information on the internet. Also see the master meters in Cubase for an example of a combined digital peak and RMS meter.

The channel meters in Cubase are digital peak meters which don't give a precise idea of the RMS (average) levels of the signal, so when using these for RMS (average) levels you have to do some guessing. You might try setting the fallback time to 20dB/sec instead of the default 12dB/sec in Preferences to get a better 'picture' but you are not seeing RMS levels on the meter. The apparent average on these meters is higher than RMS and what you see depends on how you set the fallback time.

When recording at 24-bit, it's true to say that a good RMS (average) level to achieve is around -20 to -18dB with peaks at around -10 to -6dB... but where possible you should be doing this at the moment of the recording (not after the act). To adjust the level while recording use the level control of your audio interface or the fader on the input bus, or adjust the output level of the device/source you are recording. While recording leave all channel faders at 0dB unity gain. Watch the meters to see where the average activity takes place and activate 'hold peaks' on the meters to indicate where the maximum peaks are. The visual indications are a guide to setting good levels but remember to also use your ears, which are the most accurate tools you have.

The difference between the average RMS level and the peaks varies widely depending upon the dynamic characteristics of the signal, hence the flawed nature of the video you suggest since setting the levels according to peaks means that a compressed signal may be set far too high when compared to a highly dynamic signal or one that has a single very high peak.

So in short, the -18dB everyone is talking about is -18dBRMS, not -18dB peak.
I will do some research on what you described and see if that clears things up. I'm just wondering how all of this applies to someone like me who uses mostly ITB midi instruments and I tend to get the structure laid down and then mix as i go.

Also you mentioned using the level control of my audio interface during the moment of recording. The only time i actually record an instrument is when i use my axe fx to lay down guitar. Outputs of the axe fx go to the inputs 1 and 2 of my saffire pro 24, which goes firewire to my PC at 48kHz sample rate. On my usual distortion patch, i have the gains on my saffire inputs set up so that they get as close to red as possible without ever touching it, and the amp blocks within the Axe fx it self have their levels set to avoid clipping as well. Typically these come into my DAW on a mono audio track where it is always waaaay way louder than any of the midi instruments I am using until i go in and lower the faders in the mix window.

So basically i don't have any microphones in here and everything else i use in my tracks is VST based midi instruments. Does this change any of what you said?

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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by SuStudio » Fri Mar 20, 2015 8:51 pm

mikemandt wrote: So basically i don't have any microphones in here and everything else i use in my tracks is VST based midi instruments. Does this change any of what you said?
Not really because gain staging applies to VST instruments as well but you just control them differently since they're not coming on an input buss or through your audio interface. The video you linked is telling you one basic thing: Don't have your tracks recorded with so much signal that you run out of headroom when adding FX, EQ and when they're all summed together at the master fader. What he did was instead of pulling down faders to lower his mix, he simply lowered the signal level using the PRE GAIN knob (signal before it hits anything on the channel strip) so that his faders remained at the zero position on the channel. I don't agree with this technique but it works I suppose if you're working on projects already tracked poorly. For you though, I would make certain that you are watching the input buss in Cubase when recording your guitar and not the channel fader. You want to get the sound and signal you want from your stomp boxes routed into your audio interface. The output of your interface as it hits the input buss in Cubase should be between -18 and -12. That way, you're getting the sound you want with plenty of headroom for mixing and summing with other tracks to the master fader. For VST instruments, you simply use the output control in that instruments editor to set the level - same concept - leave headroom. Don't be concerned about having a waveform that is not filling up the box - that's a rookie myth. Use your ears instead like what you've been doing - which is why this probably hasn't been a huge issue for you since anything that was clipping you simply dragged the faders down. Since you weren't clipping during the recording, you were fine but with faders pulled down to compensate.

Something to also help you out a bit would be to change the appearance of your metering in Cubase so you're seeing red signal activity well before zero. Do this in preferences: Metering - Appearance.
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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by mikemandt » Sat Mar 21, 2015 3:31 am

By input bus you mean the 'Stereo In' Fader, correct? By lowering that to about -12.7 It made my guitar tracks look like the attached picture (two middle tracks), they used to pretty much fill up the entire track like a sausage. Is it 'ok' to have them this small? It sounds fine when everything else is balanced with it but I just want to make sure I'm not commiting some kind of pro audio felony here.

Someone somewhere a LONG time ago had told me you want them as big and fat as possible to avoid background noise but TBH this was referring to mic'd instruments in my bedroom at the time. Bad advice?
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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by mikemandt » Sat Mar 21, 2015 3:34 am

SuStudio wrote:
mikemandt wrote:

Something to also help you out a bit would be to change the appearance of your metering in Cubase so you're seeing red signal activity well before zero. Do this in preferences: Metering - Appearance.

Also I changed my metering by moving the two bars down so that the yellow region started a little after -6. good stuff?
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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by SuStudio » Sat Mar 21, 2015 3:48 am

Yes, the mono or stereo input(s) are what you want to monitor and it is here where you would want to insert effects that you wish to make permanent into your recording: compressors, gates, etc. Your tracks look great and you can visually see the amount of headroom you have. You'll notice in the video clip you linked that the author states the same regarding waveform size, etc and having sausage-like tracks has no relevance today with the amount of dynamic range and low noise floor available in 24/32 bit recording. With 16-bit however, the limited dynamic range posed more of an issue, if at all.
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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by SuStudio » Sat Mar 21, 2015 3:55 am

mikemandt wrote:
SuStudio wrote:
mikemandt wrote:

Something to also help you out a bit would be to change the appearance of your metering in Cubase so you're seeing red signal activity well before zero. Do this in preferences: Metering - Appearance.

Also I changed my metering by moving the two bars down so that the yellow region started a little after -6. good stuff?
That's the general idea but I prefer something like this:

http://dt7v1i9vyp3mf.cloudfront.net/sty ... k=xBUer-pp
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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by mikemandt » Sat Mar 21, 2015 4:32 am

Thanks brother, really appreciate your help. :)

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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by SuStudio » Sat Mar 21, 2015 5:58 am

Glad to help Mike. To clarify on that fader pic, you actually need to click on the small color bars next to the dB #s to be able to customize those colors. It's a bit convoluted but is fully editable.
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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by Svenne » Sat Mar 21, 2015 10:09 am

Proper gain staging starts at the beginning of the audio chain. i.e. you need to start at the pre-amp and work your way through the audio chain. Also, you should always use static test-tones (sinus) when gain staging. Then it doesn't matter of the meters have peak or VU ballistics.
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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by silhouette » Sat Mar 21, 2015 11:32 am

Thanks for this thread. I have been using a PSP VU meter to get the average 0db VU i,e -18 but I am interested to see that you can configure the meters in Cubase. I'm not quite understanding what SuStudio means about the "small color bars next to the dB #s". This would be very useful to me. Thank you in advance.
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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by stingray » Sat Mar 21, 2015 3:52 pm

Svenne wrote:Proper gain staging starts at the beginning of the audio chain. i.e. you need to start at the pre-amp and work your way through the audio chain. Also, you should always use static test-tones (sinus) when gain staging. Then it doesn't matter of the meters have peak or VU ballistics.
True. IMO it still helps get better recordings / mixes if you understand the difference between the two (and the difference between the channnel meters and the master meters in Cubase), especially with regard to -18dBRMS. You cannot see RMS on the channel meters. The OP may have been confused by this.

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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by Hedshaker » Sat Mar 21, 2015 4:29 pm

I don't think it's anything to obsess about too much. I tend to lower everything with the input gain by an average of -6 db. A big fat kick might get dropped by as much as -10 db but hi hats maybe -2 or -3 db. Just make sure you have plenty of head room and you're not pegging the 2 bus.

I've been getting much better results since doing, for sure.
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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by SuStudio » Sat Mar 21, 2015 4:41 pm

silhouette wrote:Thanks for this thread. I have been using a PSP VU meter to get the average 0db VU i,e -18 but I am interested to see that you can configure the meters in Cubase. I'm not quite understanding what SuStudio means about the "small color bars next to the dB #s". This would be very useful to me. Thank you in advance.
If you want to change the default colors for the dB range on the faders, just click the small areas as indicated by the arrows on the pic. You'll be able to colorize the dB range to taste - just play around with the dB settings that trigger the different colors that best suits your style. I don't throw lots of processing on my tracks post tracking so I run closer to 0 before I want clipping to appear.
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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by BriHar » Sat Mar 21, 2015 4:56 pm

Well Mike, I bet your head is spinning a bit at this point.
The information you've received in this thread is all good, but may be more than you need at this stage.
The video you linked in the first post is a very good one and describes a technique used by many at the beginning of a mix. Consider it (as with so many things in this business) as a "guide line". As you grow in comprehension and technique the rest will fall in place.
Check out the other videos on the FinishYourSong Youtube page. Upon review I must say they are well presented, clear and concise, and (as an added bonus) done in cubase which which means you don't need to translate from Daw to Daw. Also the meter colouring as mentioned previously is also described ;)https://www.youtube.com/user/FinishYourSong/playlists
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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by mikemandt » Sat Mar 21, 2015 8:48 pm

BriHar wrote:Well Mike, I bet your head is spinning a bit at this point.
The information you've received in this thread is all good, but may be more than you need at this stage.
The video you linked in the first post is a very good one and describes a technique used by many at the beginning of a mix. Consider it (as with so many things in this business) as a "guide line". As you grow in comprehension and technique the rest will fall in place.
Haha yeah, tell me about it...I had to sleep on it a couple nights but I threw together a small mix yesterday and it helped a LOT. Just paying attention to these factors made the end result come out more balanced with a lot less plugin usage.

I'm glad others are getting something out of this thread!

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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by stingray » Sat Mar 21, 2015 9:36 pm

BriHar wrote:The video you linked in the first post is a very good one and describes a technique used by many at the beginning of a mix. Consider it (as with so many things in this business) as a "guide line".
IMO that video is rather misleading since It somewhat confuses -18dB in relation to 0VU. It also neglects to mention that changing the input gains in an existing mix (as portrayed in the video) will also mess up any dynamics effects in the inserts or strip sections (input gain is pre inserts). If you don't understand these things you could get into an awful mess.
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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by profdraper » Sat Mar 21, 2015 10:21 pm

mikemandt wrote:Can someone please help me understand this very basic aspect of mixing that I am lacking.

I am following this guys video who happens to be using cubase 7.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlFERE1FoU0
There's an important reference omitted, and also points out the incorrect implementation of the 'PRE' function in Cubase 7 & 8. In Cubase & most DAWs you can select whether the track meters are monitoring PRE or POST fader (VIP in the gain staging argument). In this video (and in this thread), this information is omitted but given the way the video is presented is is clear that the mixer is set to monitor post-fader. Wrong. This does nothing for the gain staging argument.

The general idea is that the gain staging (& matching of input levels is about setting a schema such as 0dbVU = 18dbFS or similar depending on your persuasion; Bob Katz also refs sine wave as 0dbVU = -20dbFS). Whichever, the point is to provide the channels with some headroom and so as to make better use of the overall digital summing as audio passes through the various mixing stages, busses and master fader.

All of which needs to happen in reference to pre-fader metering (i.e., source levels); post-fader metering then is reserved for referencing the final mixdown itself. The point here is that if Cubase track meters are set to pre-fader metering, then it is obvious to see that using the Cubase PRE Gain function (as demonstrated in this video, either via cannel strip of mix console) has absolutely zero effect on the meter levels. Clearly, the Cubase PRE function is inserted post WAV file. This is not a PRE or Gain trim function in the true use of its implementation. Elsewhere in other DAWs this is applied correctly via various means: in ProTools via the 'Clip Gain' function on the waveform itself; or in many others via a trim tool.

In Cubase therefore the correct way to set true input gain for pre-recorded files is either to use the level handle on the waveform itself, or to process the audio via gain change; check this via the track set to monitor pre-fader. Unfortunately, the Cubase PRE function is actually set as a post-fader function. Stupid really.

The idea of pre-fader metering should to be applied to both tracking /recording and of course to gain staging, post recording or when receiving files that may be a little 'hot' from others; it also VIP applies to gain staging for VIs which are invariably defaulted as way, way too hot.
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Re: Help me understand setting up GAIN STAGING in Cubase 8

Post by roy_mattie » Sat Mar 21, 2015 10:47 pm

Lots of great points to consider in the responses above.

A couple things to keep in mind:

1) Make sure that your meters are set up for INPUT metering, not output. This will let you know what levels are coming into the channel strip. To test this, you should still see activity on the meter even if your fader is all the way down.

2) If you want a target goal for input levels, use the K-14 or K-20 options in the metering options. That's what they're there for! This will drop your 0 dB on the meter to -14 or -20dB. Just to be clear, it won't drop the levels but will just move the line lower so when you target 0 dB, you'll have sufficient headroom when it comes time to mix. I use the K-14 system. Another great read is the white paper by Bob Katz on the K-metering system. It should help to clarify things more.

The whole point of all of this is to drop your levels overall so that you don't clip any plug-ins that you drop on a channel strip, so that you don't have to use the pre on the channel strip to drop your levels on every track, and you won't have to drop your master level for monitoring without digital clipping. It's a concept originally from the analog realm that will improve your tracking & mixing in the digital realm. It's also meant to leave headroom for a mastering engineer to do his/her thing after a final mix is completed. Hard to do that when your mixes are output super hot with minimal dynamic range!

If you're using soft-synths, I would go through each instrument you're using and set the output levels so that everything in your daw is at a nominal level you're happy with.

Also, keep in mind that you'll have to adjust your monitor controller levels to hear things at a good reference level from your speakers. Don't forget that when you open up iTunes, as you might blow yourself out of your chair listening to mastered mixes at full range!
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