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  • Writer's pictureTina Van

Home Studio Signal Flow – What Is It & Why Is It Important?

There is an important topic that often gets overlooked and that’s signal flow. Before hitting record, there are some basic principles to understand in order to get the best sound possible right from the start. It all starts with signal flow.

Now, as mundane as this topic might sound, understanding signal flow not only helps with getting a great recording, but is also helpful to know when needing to troubleshoot audio issues that might occur down the road. I’m going to break this down into three simple steps because I know that the creative brain of yours wants to focus as little as possible on the technical stuff so let’s get started…


It all starts with the source. The source is anything that produces sound. This can be a vocal, a guitar amp, drums, and etc. It is the sound that you are trying to record.

The source signal then gets captured using a microphone or line input (if you are plugging in a guitar or bass for example). This is called a “mic level” signal and it is naturally a low level signal that needs amplification. So what do you need to boost that low level signal? Well you need a pre-amp.

Pre-amps are used to boost that low level signal. The awesome part here is that most audio interfaces come with their own built-in pre-amps to eliminate the need for external pre-amps. This is controlled by the “gain” knobs that you see on the interface itself.

NOTE: This is also where phantom power (48v) will need to be turned on if you are using a condenser microphone. ONLY use phantom power on condenser microphones.

After the “line level” signal gets amplified, it gets converted to “digital signal” so that the computer can understand it.


So once we have the microphone setup properly to record our source and it goes into the audio interface, then we can begin to set levels.

The gain on the channel input of the audio interface needs to be turned up to a good level when it goes into the DAW. You can test how hot a signal is by creating an audio track and making sure “input monitoring is on.”

Screen Capture from Logic Pro X

Turn up the gain until you see the peaks of the signal reaching the yellow. This should be about halfway on the meter. If you start to see more yellow or red than green on the meter – then the gain is set too high. Dial it back a bit to sit at a comfortable level. This will avoid distorting the signal.

Now that you have good levels, the audio signal has reached the computer and DAW.

The signal can now be recorded, adjusted, and manipulated within your DAW using an assigned channel. At this point in the process, you are ready to record!


The final step of the process is getting the recorded audio to reach our ears. The recorded audio will need to travel from our computer and DAW to our monitors and/or headphones using the monitor or headphone output of the audio interface.

There are a couple of things to check if you are not hearing the playback of the audio at this point. The first item to check is within your DAW.

Make sure that the “Output Device” is set to your specific interface otherwise, the audio could be going to something else within your computer. We want to keep all the audio coming out of the same device. Once that option is selected, you should be able to hear the playback coming out of the headphone output of your audio interface.

If you are using studio monitors, then you will need to make sure those are connected to the back of the audio interface.

Look for “monitor output”, “line output”, or “main output” on the back of your audio interface. There should be a left and a right output. This is where the studio monitors will need to be connected and all the playback audio should now be going to your headphones and or your studio monitors.


Now that you see where the signal travels when recording, you can find where to troubleshoot issues that might happen along the way.

For Example: You may be trying to record a vocal and have an XLR plugged into it, the XLR is connected to the interface, the interface is connected to the computer, and you have your DAW open with the microphone input set on it’s own channel, but somehow you aren’t seeing any levels on the channel input in your DAW. This could either mean that the gain from the audio interface is not turned up enough or you are using a condenser microphone that needs the phantom power (48v) button turned on.

This is just one of many issues that can happen but knowing where to troubleshoot in the signal flow chain will help solve many technical issues (and many headaches) when recording.


That is it! Those are the three simple steps to understanding your home studio signal flow. Everything starts with capturing the source and what you are using to capture it (your microphone and audio interface), adjusting the audio signal in order to record that source, and then finally getting that recorded signal to reach our ears.

What kind of music are you looking to record or are in the process of recording yourself? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by the blog today and have fun recording – cheers!


Need help getting started with your first home studio? Download my FREE Home Studio Gear Guide below to learn everything you need to make professional music on ANY budget.

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