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  • Writer's pictureTina Van

Beware of Recording “Hot”

Updated: Feb 24

Today’s post is all about what the optimum levels for recording with are and how to get the most out of your recordings starting with something called “gain staging”.


I want to take you through what you need to keep in mind when recording in order to avoid recording too hot or recording with too low of a gain.


This will ensure that you get great recordings as a result. Let’s talk about it..


WHAT IS GAIN-STAGING?


In today’s world, a lot of users have turned towards using digital gear and staying “in-the-box” when it comes to recording. The great thing about recording digitally is that you don’t have to record at really hot levels or have the signal just before clipping to get the best sound. In fact, recording at a lower level is optimal. This wasn’t the case not too long ago with analog recording gear and recording with tape machines where you had to record at a hotter level to mask the tape hiss and louder noise floor.


What I mean by noise floor is – whether we realize it or not, noise is present in every audio signal. It is also most noticeably present when recording with a microphone. The hotter we turn up the gain on the audio interface, the more noticeable that noise is going to be. On the other hand, recording with too low of a gain, is not desirable either because you will not have enough signal to work with in your DAW.


So, this is where gain staging comes in. Gain staging at its core is just setting the optimum level for a signal without distortion and with the least amount of noise. So what levels do you need to be recording at and how do you ensure success when recording?


24-BIT RECORDING


Well, the first thing to do before recording is to check your bitrate settings. Set the bitrate to at least 24-bits within your recording sessions. What this does is allow you to record at lower levels with plenty of headroom, and the least amount of noise. It also provides the best resolution for the audio being recorded.



As you can see below, 24-bit recording gives you a greater amount of dynamic range when recording compared to 16-bit recording, while also keeping the noise floor low.



AVOID DIGITAL DISTORTION AT ALL COSTS


Next thing to do is avoid digital distortion at all costs..it’s not pleasant. Recording too hot will make it easier for the audio signal to distort and “clip” at the output.

If you see the peaks of your signal mostly in the yellow or touching the red then you have too hot of a signal.



OPTIMUM LEVELS
LEVELS ARE "TOO HOT"




















The key here is to have the peaks of your signal (which are the loudest parts of the source) just barely touching the yellow on your digital meter (the yellow in Logic Pro X is around -12dB). Notice how the signal in meter on the right side is a little more than halfway up and mostly in the green. This is where you want to be when recording so that you have plenty of room to work with later.


This will ensure that the audio signal doesn’t get distorted and the noise floor stays low.


RECAP


All in all, these three things will ensure success when recording:

  1. Gain Staging – keeping the signal at an optimum level with the least amount of noise

  2. 24-Bit Recording – always record with at least 24-bits

  3. Avoiding Digital Distortion – keep your audio signal peaks at or below -12dB

Making sure you have proper levels when recording is very important in order for that recorded audio to be ready for the next stage in the process.


The digital recording age is an amazing time. It is easier than ever to record great sounding music BUT understanding where great recordings start is the key to making music that stands the test of time.


That is it for this post. Thanks for stopping by and have fun recording – cheers!



For more information on everything you need to make professional music from wherever you are – download my FREE home studio gear guide!



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