Many of you have had the experience of happily completing
your mix on a digital audio workstation (DAW) and being
disappointed by how low the volume was on your CDR copy next
to a commercial CD. Yes, mastering takes your mix to that
"next" level, but in the meantime wouldn't it be nice to
eliminate the doubt that comes along with those level
differences? Correct meter settings can help a lot
especially when you have digital peak meters and analog VU
meters to look at.
Q) Some engineer prefers to have their
signals as close to digital zero as possible - what do you
recommend? -Jarno (from Finland)
I prefer -2 dB in digital recordings, maybe -1 at the most.
Headroom in digital is a good thing, and you often need it
at mix time.
..and keep it around 0VU (which is -16
in digital scale?)
0VU in most cases is supposed to be -8dBFS (dB Full Scale -
the peak metering normally seen on DAWs), but it can be
-16dbFS if the output of your digital audio converter (DAC)
is calibrated to give you 0VU (line level or +4). But people
have different settings on different systems. I've seen
"0VU" be anything from -10 to -18. The important thing is to
stay away from the digital clipping in any digital recording
system (DAW, Masterlink, DAT, etc.).
Tip: For better sound,
take out the master fader buss (but some systems require
it). Your tracks - when sending out to a mix - should be
mixed so that the digital output signal has no clipping.
Then, set the gain for your speakers/amplifiers to operate
at the SPL (sound pressure level) you need.
One of the things the NEMO DMC-8 does is give you a meter
range switch, which is a mastering feature brought into the
recording studio. This bridges the gap between digital and
analog metering. These different meters are like an apple
and an orange. They're both good, but different. Why the
confusion, you may ask?
Secret: VU meters were designed
around analog tape recordings, where there is really 14 dB
of invisible headroom above 0VU that is not displayed on the
meters. But digital meters show all the way to the top - no
invisible headroom! Why can analog have invisible headroom
and digital can't? Because analog tapes smoothly compresses
(or rounds off) those tiny peaks that you don't see on the
meters. Analog tape sounds pleasant when it's performing
this smooth, invisible compression.
Digital, on the other hand, turns those tiny peaks into
harsh square waves when you exceed "0" and those clipping
lights start flashing. Ok, so you don't hear it at first.
Those chopped off peaks cause subtle irritation - so in most
cases, we trust the meters and keep levels from clipping
Problem: Assuming we're still
talking about a DAW situation, the RMS (overall) level is
low when you see it on an analog VU meter. This low level
corresponds to the low level on your CDR copies (so long as
you haven't put it through a Finalizer or "mastering"
pluggin to address this issue). When engineers (in all good
intention) try to compensate for that low level, they can
unknowingly get into trouble and lessen the quality of the
One common method I see is when the engineer puts a
compressor on the stereo buss, enabling him (or her) to
bring up the level. The compressor can even out some RMS
surges that don't show up on digital meters, so when used
carefully, it can be a good thing. But from my perspective,
it's better to compress the individual tracks that are
causing those surges instead of pushing down the whole
stereo mix when that surge occurs. This is why RMS VU
meters are a good tool to have (at least) for your stereo
mixes. But how do we make the two kinds of meters match
so that you get the benefit of each without that Finalizer
to approach a more "mastered" sound?
The DMC-8 meter range switch is designed to help this exact
problem. You set your workstation to operate normally, and
visually calibrate the VU meters to match your DAW. Now you
can watch the digital peak meters and see RMS levels on the
VU meters. This helps the engineer make better mixing
choices in case some vocals or other non-peak sounds surge
out (even though the peaks aren't going "over"). The
engineer can now adjust the compression on voices, bass and
other instruments more accurately by being able to see both
kinds of meters in a matched context (situation). This
is an added advantage to this monitor controller.
What average level do you recommend
If I had VU meters on every track, and the tape was aligned
to +5, I would set the kic level to -2 VU, snare to -1V, hi
hat to -6VU, toms to -1VU, overheads to -3VU, bass to -1 or
0VU, vocals to 0VU or +1 occasionally, guitars to 0VU,
keyboards to -1 or 0VU, high percussion like tambourine to
-10 or -8VU, conga or low percussion to -2VU, strings to
-2VU, brass to -2VU. Hi frequency peak material needs more
On digital, just stay -1 to -2dB below clipping on every
channel. In some cases where you know something is going to
be very low in the mix, don't record it hot - keep the level
down a bit - that way when you mix the workstation software
won't be (internally) recalculating the heck out of the
track by bringing it's level down.
I thought that I would have to get
some audiophile cables that I can take all the advantage out
from the DMC-8
Better cables are a good way to improve the sound, but
regular cables won't damage the good qualities of the DMC-8.
Sometimes we have to take upgrades in steps - sometimes big
steps, sometimes small. The DMC-8 will still be a big
advantage even with regular cables. With every improvement
you make in the chain, it will be more evident (you'll know
it more) because the DMC-8 is giving a better signal to be
You wrote on one of your webpages that
you don´t like active speakers, because the electronics
are in movement, but Genelecs have these rubber "holders"
for the electronics, and while the subwoofer is connected
all the lower frequensies are coming out from the sub, so
the speakers are not "shaking" too much.
I have my power amp 6 feet away from my speakers, and when I
use heavy brass weights on
top of the amp to stop vibration, it helps the sound! The
power amp inside the Genelec speaker, regardless of
isolators, is vibrating a lot.
I have two kind of sticks (wooden)
under my speakers and I think it clarifies the sound, what
do you think, could it help or am I just imagining? (I
didn't´t find those glass
You're using the same idea, which is to disconnect
(decouple) the speaker from the stand. Trust your ears! Pet
stores should have some flat-style glass marbles... like
Petco I guess. If you want easy enhancements for your sound
now, check out the high end power
cords that open up the top end, extend the bottom, and
focus the sound of any gear... Plus vibration
isolators and more!
American engineers are great people,
always so helpful. I have e-mailed to engineer called Bruce
Miller too and he mailed back in 2 hours! I was really
pleased! I´ve wrote several and several e-mails for
Finnish engineers and studio staff and nobody have replied,
and I´ll bet they are not that busy that you are!
Many of us know the good feeling of helping our fellow
engineers. Thank you for writing
to purchase the NEMO DMC-8 or COMMANDER
(be sure to put the word "Nautilus Gear" in the
subject line, so we know it's not spam).