Levelling Issues Part II

Robert Katz Leave a Comment

From: Dave Kirkey

Ok, so, I have time to read a little more information on your site and emails and it brings me to a pretty important question, (could be a dumb question but, the outcome could be important). I know you talk a lot in respect to levels, matter of fact, I believe you talk about not over compressing and over driving mixes or recordings, and in your book on written for the TC Electronics and the Finalizer you mention not going over -12db average, so, that brings me to the question that you said to mix as close to 0 as possible.

Hello, Dave.

Well, first, take a VERY DEEP BREATH. This is not a subject that is easy to explain at first, for a novice. It sometimes takes engineers who have been working for years a few days to puzzle it out. If you are just getting started, then it could take you a few weeks to puzzle it out. Knowledge is power, and knowledge comes with study.

So…. here is a start. Take a deep breath again, work patiently through this and you will become a better engineer because of it…. Here goes…

I never said “mix as close to 0 as possible”, exactly. If I did, then I would like to know where I said it because I should correct that.

In my article “Levels Part II: How to Make Better Recordings in the 21st Century”, I cover this in great detail. It describes an advanced method of metering and monitoring and in reality, it will not be necessary to mix with peak levels as close to the top as possible if you are using an RMS metering scheme. The RMS metering scheme I propose places the ZERO at 12, 14, or 20 dB below the top… In summary of my article, the principle is to just work to that ZERO and ignore the peaks for the most part. You have to see such a meter in action to realize that the RMS levels are far below the peaks, and the meters that you have been accustomed to seeing only show you the peak levels, which tells nothing about the story, or about how much compression you are applying!

I know there is a difference in the metering of Analog vs Digital and I think there is a difference in references in actual meter calibration, somewhere I read that a -12 digital is actually 0db on an analog meter, is that correct?

This varies all over the place. There is no standard. I discuss this in my article “Levels Part I”, but as a novice I don’t suggest you even worry about this question if you are mixing totally digitally. Only get involved with this if you have to set the gains of an A/D converter or use any conversion between the multitrack and the mixdown recorder. I think you are mixing totally digitally. Someday you can revisit this question.

I have done mixes in the past, used the Waves Ultra Mix 16 bit master resolution setting and the final results are either over compressed, or, the songs sound dull and low…. I know in mastering you can do wonders, but, that all takes time, I want to send you a set of songs that is right from the start!

That’s great! Yes…you want to do the best. I have had the best work from mixing engineers who work in my proposed K-20 format. Or who mix on an analog console with VU meters and adjust it so 0 VU with sine wave yields -20 dBFS digital—which is essentially the same as K-20. This approach largely frees you from questions of too much compression; allows you to concentrate on getting a great mix, and then in the mastering we can work wonders. K-20 means the following:

—Your monitor gain is very high, sufficiently high so that you will not be tempted to use compression to “make it loud”, but only for esthetic purposes or for part of the mix. The method of calibrating the monitor gain is described in Levels Part II. If you don’t want to bother with that…then work to the K-20 meter and your monitor will probably fall in the right spot.

—You are using a meter which has an RMS zero at 20 dB below full scale. Are you using a Mac or PC? Do you have a sound card? There are a couple of such meters available and if you let me know what you have, I can point you to where to get one at reasonable cost. I think it is an essential tool for you at this point in the game. There are only a few experienced engineers who do not need such a meter, but it really helps, anyway.

Anyway, if you send me one of your first mixes, I’ll be happy to give you pointers on how it’s sounding. Yes, we should wait until you’ve got this concept under your hat.

We are starting our premixes on a project and can you direct me as to the signal level with the yamaha board that I should drive the output to? It seems when I start to push to 0 on the digital console meters things get a bit odd sounding.

It’s hard to diagnose this at a distance. This could be because you are using a bus compressor and pushing it too hard. I would take the bus compressor away and mix without it. It could be because your D/A converter for monitoring doesn’t have enough headroom.
It could be because you are using some of the compressors in the Yamaha and they are not particularly good sounding. It could be a number of possibilities.

Do you want me to push the mixes to “Digital 0” in reference to the Yamaha board?

In a single word: NO. Instead, I would like you to get a metering system that is separate from the Yamaha board, since as a relative mixing novice I think a K-20 or K-14 meter will help to guide you tremendously.

Yes, I have found the bypass of the Finalizer, set the sample rate converter off and set the dither to 24 bits, that mode was also verified by TC Electronics. The computer is recording the 48k, 24 bit information using Soundforge 5.0 just fine.
 
I hate to be a bother, but, I want to be sure I am using the right level reference to mix to, I’d hate to think I am mixing at a level that will in the end not be maximized or worse, distorted.
 
Finally, I have asked others the same question, even the manufacturers and you can’t believe how many answers I get, I don’t think any of them have been the same…why the heck is this question so difficult?

Because it is complex, and requires good education. I’ve written a book on mastering and it’s over 300 pages. I’m trying to simplify this concept into one web page!

Yes, I want to send you a song or two to have a listen, but first, I want to get a sound and a mix that I feel is finished enough for you to hear.

I’ll check it out when you have it done. Be patient with yourself, it takes time to learn these concepts. Some people go to school four years to learn this stuff well,

Bob

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