Do You Know How To Read Your Meters?

| Pro Tools, Tips

Today I have a boring piece of advice for you that many of your other home studio buddies are overlooking. It’s not flashy, fancy, or clever, but if you learn this concept you will get better results in your current DAW and be one step closer to being a home studio master. Which is why you’re here after all, isn’t it?

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More Than Just A Clip Light

It’s scary to see that most home studio owners treat their DAW’s meters as nothing more than a clip light. They don’t pay much attention at all to what the meter is reading and how hot their audio is (not visually, but numerically). In fact, they only check in with their meters if they see a clip light go off. Then we have a problem. If that’s all you need meters for, then why have the meter at all. Just give us a clip light.

But you’re smart, and you realize that their must be a purpose for fancy meters in your mix window. You read this website so you know to stop recording everything so hot in your DAW. But did you know that there is a sweet spot for digital recording? Long story short, you want to be recording your tracks at an average volume (not peak volume) of roughly -18dBfs.

The Digital Audio Sweet Spot

That’s right people, there is a digital audio sweet spot. Why -18dBfs? Well because that measurement is the signal equivalent of -0dBvu in the analog world. You know all those fancy pieces of analog gear? Compressors, preamps, etc? They generally have that nice old school VU meter with the jumping needle.

When that needle hovers on or around 0dB on a VU meter that is the sweet spot of that piece of equipment. That’s what the meter is there for. To help the engineer know when he’s running audio through the hardware at the optimal signal level for that piece of gear. Well 0dB on your DAW’s meter is not dBVU. It’s dBFS (full scale) and it’s a very different 0. That 0 is clipping, which is not good.

So the point is that the way converters work, -18dBfs will be pretty darn close to the analog equivalent of 0dBVU. And since many DAWs and plugins are built to emulate analog gear, that sweet spot is still smart to shoot for to get the best sound possible.

But Here Comes The Problem

But the problem comes from the fact that ever meter reads -18dBfs at different heights in different DAWs. Take a look at four meters from different DAWs and notice where -18dBfs reads on each. (From left to right: Logic Pro X, Studio One 2, Pro Tools 10, and Pro Tools 11)

You can see the confusion here. Logic’s meter reads -18dBfs as just above the half way point. Studio One reads it at just below the half way point. Pro Tools 10 reads it at only 30% up the meter (no wonder people recorded so hot in Pro Tools 10 and below) and Pro Tools 11 reads -18dbfs as 60% up the meter.

They are all different, so you must pay attention to where YOUR piece of software measures the sweet spot. Don’t blindly record without regard to the meter. Learn to watch it for more than just clipping, but for healthy signals that will sound their best in the digital domain.

Learn Your Meters

Next time you sit down to record, open up your DAW and take a good hard look at your meters. Locate roughly where -18 lives on that meter (not on the fader, but the actual meter itself). Burn that spot in your brain. Then shoot to have your signals living around that volume.

Remember, we’re not talking about your tracks peaking at -18dBfs. In fact they should peak higher. We’re talking about the average volume (RMS) here. You can get a meter to measure RMS, or you can just eyeball it. Either way, now you know the goal and that each DAW is different.

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205 Responses to “Do You Know How To Read Your Meters?”

  1. Marco

    Thank you Graham, very interesting article, very often we home studio owners live with some kind of doubts. I’ve now clear that my Pro Tools 10 meters are not very well made.

    Marco

    Reply
    • Jack Libal

      i feel that most meters (and by meters i mean the built in meters on the fader & master bus) are not well designed at all. every DAW’s built in meters should have -18dBfs on them. it should be specifically labeled -18 right on the meter. how are people supposed to know where it is if it’s not even on the darned meter for crying out loud? only logic pro x has it? really? i feel this is the most fundamental oversight ever made in the digital realm. it needs to be on every meter in every DAW! c’mon devs, work with us here. i’ve been making music on DAWs since the days of twelve tones’ Cakewalk and i’m just learning about -18 now. that’s how in the dark people are about using DAWS, myself included. shed some light, make it right, so our music can be out of sight!

      Reply
    • Volumatic

      Such a valuable lesson. Something so simple, yet it took me years to realize after noticing how small the wave was in another producers DAW track. I really had to dig to find a straight forward explanation as to why at the time as well.

      Reply
  2. Pim

    Graham thank you! It’s so simple – once you know it… The old analogue eyes of mine still wants to see a signal floating around 0dB. And knowing 0 dB in the digital world is the max I kept my RMS around -6. Your article clears things up!

    Reply
  3. Darek

    Couldn’t agree more, Graham!
    I have also had an interesting experience about recording hot. Two years ago I read that converters pushed hot can sound wishy-washy. (It was tweakheadz site). So I thought I would do a test. I recorded a simple (drums, bas, 2 guitars, vocal) song twice – the first version very hot, the other no hotter than -18dbfs. Mixed them identically and mastered. The -18 version had much more depth and clarity to it, it could breathe and had less distortion. The hot version did not turn out louder, but sounded more crowded. I remember I shared my test with my friend – a professional drummer running a home studio – it got him rethink his recording habits of hitting -6 to-3. In case you’re interested – my converter at that time was just an Edirol ua-1ex.
    Cheers.

    Reply
    • Gabe

      it also makes sense because you will have a lot more headroom at -18dbfs. Therefore, depending how you mix after you will have more ”leverage” if i can say. I picture the volume spectrum as a kids playground, the fence being Odbfs. If less kids are playing in the same confined space the more room they will have to run around.

      Reply
    • m

      Sounds like a fair test but maybe each take held different properties because they were different takes? just a thought, not a doubt. X

      Reply
  4. Kyle Cullen

    Yet more advice that I really wish I had known sooner. I have no idea where that point is in Cubase but I’m looking forward to finding out.

    Reply
      • Phil Sawyers

        Hello Mo,
        (Not too familiar with Cubase)
        * Set up a single signal/test tone generator plug-in across a mono channel. Be sure there are no other plug-ins on the same channel and that the fader is set to unity (+/- 0dB) and pan to centre.
        * Set the generator to function at -18dBFS, preferably with a sine tone.
        * This should give you a steady reading of the meter at the aforementioned -18dBFS.
        * With the fader set to unity and the pan of the test signal channel set to centre, check the reading at the stereo buss. Be sure no other plug-ins are active on the channel or stereo buss and the fader level is also at unity (+/- 0dB).
        * Pan the channel with the generator plug-in, either hard left or right. Measure any change at the stereo buss.
        * This should not only give you a better understanding of where -18dBFS is on your meters, but how your DAW’s gain structure.

        Reply
        • Mo Jackson

          Just read your Test. I’ll try it & share my results as soon as I can. Thanks for idea Phil! ^_^

          Reply
          • Mo Jackson

            Hi all & thanks Phil Sawyers for the tip. Here’s a little FYI that applies to Cubase 7.01 to 7.06. “18DBFS” equals: A) Input on the recording track, -15 Peak Meter (Meter #’s are difficult to read) which aligns almost to -5 on the Fader marker; B) -18 Peak Meter on the Stereo Master Out Buss which aligns to about -6 or -7 on the Fader marker; C) -21 RMS Max on the Control Room “Digital Scale” (set to -18DBFS)and -18 on the Peak Max Meter; Note that both Control Room Meters show their black Peak Hold line to be -18 on this Meter. These were obtained by using a Sine Wave Tone set to -18DB. Tested at 440Hz and later at 1KHz.

  5. Dinosaur David B.

    Great info. Certainly would have liked this as a beginner. Over time, I kind of intuitively started getting my signal between 1/3 and 1/2 way up my meters, just to give myself more room, come mix time. Still never knew that -18dBfs was specific benchmark and “sweet spot.” Now that I know that, I’m sure I’ll target it. Thanks!

    Reply
  6. Peter Feegle

    For those who can’t average by eyes it would be good to just get the vu meter as a plugin or just use the plugins build in meter. It’s easier for Slate VCC users when used on first insert. Before mixing I always set the input gain so that signal riches the 0 dB on VCC. In fact there is also very important issue of gain staging between the plugins in chain, that’s why they have very often input and output knobs.

    Reply
  7. Rob

    Great article. Not sure if it’s a result of my tracking headphones, set up, etc. but I tend to err on the side of lower input levels. Some of my best digital mixes have been those where I barely see a waveform in the regions and they peak about 1/3 – 1/2 way up on the visual meters. Combined, all those tracks make for a great mix with plenty of room for mastering engineer. Although this is probably taboo, my gain staging practices have been based largely by ear vs by sight. Would be interested to see others thoughts on this as well. Again … great article Graham!

    Reply
  8. Ed Munson

    Good Advice, G! I found this sort of by accident by playing around with my DAW and making discs from them, and WOW what a difference it makes.

    Keep on shining the light!

    Ed

    Reply
  9. Vic

    Another great post Graham, I finally clued into this concept earlier this year and what an absolute difference it has made, in the clarity and openness of my tracks. I actually aim for -20 PEAKS, not RMS, thats plenty of signal above the noise floor in 24bit and allows 20db headroom for error.

    Cheers

    Reply
    • Andru H

      Not sure you should worry about noise floor with a DAW since I think it’s all binary. Analogue is where that comes into play. Correct me if I’m wrong.

      Reply
  10. Mario Lazzari

    Hi Graham!
    First, as always, good article that keeps me learning! Thanks for that!
    Quick question about this subject but with virtual instruments! Would you export a virtual instrument track audio file following the same rule?

    Reply
  11. JazzyPidjay

    Hi Graham,

    Good article,

    Just to clarify for a VU-Meter, we talk about VU unit, not dBVU unit.
    So, to be more precise it’s 0VU, not 0dBVU. On a true VU-Meter, you will not find “dB” anywhere on the display.

    +++

    Reply
  12. LCSound

    I just went and opened up the sessions of an EP I’m currently working on (and been struggling with) and was embarrassed to find my levels all over the show. I spent 20 minutes trimming and setting my levels properly and it’s had an instant impact! There’s suddenly space and depth EVERYWHERE. Thanks for opening my eyes (and ears)!

    Reply
  13. Seb

    “So the point is that the way converters work, -18dBfs will be pretty darn close to the analog equivalent of 0dBVU.”

    Hey Graham,

    how do you know that? Is there any technical proof for this statement?

    Reply
    • JazzyPidjay

      You’ll have to find for yourself on your converters.
      Sometimes it’s fixed, sometimes you can set it (RME UFX, etc…)
      It can be as low as 0dBFS = +10dBu (giving you 6dB of headroom above +4dBu)
      or as high as 0dBFS = +24dBu (giving you 20dB of headroom…)

      If the same analog signal is send to those two converters, you’ll have two very different digital files at the end. 14dB different…

      So i think you have to take this -18dBFS as a reference value, but this is not telling you anything about YOUR actual situation.

      hope it’s help !

      Reply
  14. Jeff

    Great Post as always. Questions…

    1. Are you referring to only the input volume during capturing the recording, the volumes during mixing, or all of the above?

    2. I use Addictive Drums loops and Logic Pro X. Now these come in pretty hot. I usually bring this down about 3dB and record and mix around those loops “loudness”. Should these loops be brought down to -18dB to start?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Graham

      Both recording and mixing. Ideally if you record with proper levels, then they are already set for mixing. As far as the loops, bring those down as well.

      Reply
      • lee

        Thanks for all you do Graham, you’ve been such an encouragement to me. Quick question about the previous question. So while I understand the -18dbfs rule for capturing audio im confused why you would want absolutely everything to sit in the mix at -18. How then are you able to adjust anything to sit right in the mix if the levels are to be set at -18. Im obviously missing something? Thanks so much for the help!

        Reply
        • Graham

          Recording at -18dbfs RMS is to get a good level that is optimum to hit your plugins. What volume you set AFTER the plugins with the fader is completely up to you, and what the right mix balance is.

          Reply
    • Jack Libal

      i consider the matter of loud plugins a ‘hot’ topic. from what i’ve noticed, nearly every plugin that produces its own sound is way too hot. even a single hit on a closed high hat is too hot. join me in the effort to tell software devs to turn down their plugin presets, since we’re never gonna record or mix at those insanely high levels. when i start to record my parts for a song, i’d rather not have to turn down my VI’s (sotware instruments) before i even record one note. it’s extra work which really shouldn’t even be necessary from the get go. why should a songwriter have to do that in the first place? set em at -18dBfs from the point of their creation as presets. then sell em to us. my question is how can so many software devs have overlooked this? i just wanna grab my keyboard controller and record. not engage in tedious, time consuming level setting.

      Reply
  15. Whereismymind

    Ok but DAWs, do they display RMS level or peak level ? I think most of them display peak level right ? So, any suggestions for plugins that display RMS level ?

    Reply
    • Kevin Stokley

      I would use Voxengo Elephant. It’s an amazing limiter/maximizer, but you can also get very accurate readings from the RMS level tool. At $120 it’s a little steep, but it’s absolutely one of the best tools in my arsenal. I believe there’s a free trial if you want to check it out first.

      Reply
  16. Aaron

    This brings up a question I have had about this. I record my tracks so my peaks are about -12db. I use Waves PAZ Meters to measure my RMS and usually if I am reaching a -18 RMS level my peaks are very close to -3db or even clipping. How do you get -18 RMS and still maintain headroom?

    Reply
  17. Allen

    Graham, I saw a you tube video on this a short while ago but you put into terms that were much easier to understand. I never made the connection that -18 dBfs was 0 db on analog gear. During my last recording I set my preamp input too low! Thanks for the information. I feel more confident about this now.

    Reply
  18. Doug

    Klanghelm VMUT vst is great and cheap! Great article G – I use Reaper and it’s got a nice little change in the shade of green at -18, so easy to set.

    Reply
  19. Mark

    Question, is it alright that on tracking(recording) the meter goes higher than -18, and then lower the volume after? Will I get the same output? Or it’s important that it would not reach -18 during recording?

    Thanks to anyone who will answer, I’m really new to this.

    Reply
    • Mr Doug Smith

      Hey Mark – Graham mentions that the -18 level is the average volume for the track, not the peak. So if you aim for this level when setting your gains before going for the take (you know strumming a few chords, etc) then you’ll be there or thereabouts.

      Reply
  20. Jeff

    Thanks for this one. It wraps nicely around the headroom advice you gave me. It’s one of those; ‘I didn’t know that and it is really key to a good recording’ deal. Thanks!

    Reply
  21. Martynas

    Sorry for the noob question, but how can I make the numbers appear next to the meter in Cubase? I use Cubase AI 4, it only shows volume graphically.

    Reply
  22. Andrew Bauserman

    Late to the party again. Awesome summary Graham!

    Two comments I didn’t see mentioned, in case they are useful…

    1) To elaborate on Graham’s mention of plugins emulating the “sweet spot” of analog gear… These plug-ins (e.g. Slate) model the behavior both below and above 0VU. So if you hit a modeled tube compressor at -6 dBFS it’s like hitting the analog equivalent at +12VU, which pretty much means slamming it. Which is great – IF that is what you meant to do!

    2) For those interested in the history and the future of level-matching, Bob Katz has a great piece on his K-System, which explains the magic of 83-85 db-C SPL (loudness of your speakers at listening position) and how it relates to -18 dbFS, 0VU, and desired dynamic range & “loudness” for various media productions:
    http://www.digido.com/how-to-make-better-recordings-part-2.html


    Andrew

    Reply
  23. Ramzesu

    Hey Graham!
    Just wanted to thank You so much for this post! I was taught some time ago that ALWAYS when recording I should try to keep my recording level at about 0db without clipping. I never questioned this as it seemed to me logical that I want to get as much information recorded as I can never thinking about headroom. Just yesterday I’ve aproached recording my electric guitar once again but keeping my volumes at reasonable level and man, this was the best recording of electric guitar I have ever made! Thank You Graham, You’re the man!

    Reply
  24. RomeoX

    English is not my native language, so; what is sweet spot.

    its about moving the fader down until the signal picks close to -18. ?????

    can i normalize the tracks and then get down the fader?

    Reply
    • Andrew Bauserman

      RomeoX,

      “Sweet Spot” is not a technical term – it applies to many things. It means a setting where something is designed to function best.

      In this case, there are 2 different “sweet spots”:

      1) Inside the computer: When the meters read about -18dB full-scale digital, that translates to about 0VU in the analog world. This is where most analog equipment was designed to operate – and therefore the point where most plugins and DAWs have also been designed to operate. Higher levels are not “bad” – but may behave (by design) the same way analog gear does when pushed above 0VU (producing harmonics, distortion, etc.).

      2) The fader: Faders are not linear. One centimeter of movement near the bottom of the fader may represent 30dB of increase. Once centimeter or movement near the top of the fader may represent only 5 dB of increase. The “sweet spot” is usually about 2/3 to 3/4 the way up the fader. This is where you usually find “unity gain” marked as “0” and +/- 5 and +/- 10 dB ranges well marked, giving you the most fine-grain control of your sound. If you need a sound to be much louder or softer, you can use a trim or gain plugin before the fader (or before the plugins) to get the sound into right ball-park of volume – then the fader can be used in its “sweet spot” to make fine-control adjustments.

      Hope that helps…

      Reply
      • RomeoX

        Thanks so much Mr. Bauserman, its clear now. I have no idea about “that little jumpin” thing”

        Reply
  25. Filip

    I will never forget you if I ever make a nr 1 hit or win the lottery .
    Thank you graham for opening my eyes.
    Keep on keeping on !

    Reply
      • Carlton

        Graham thanks. Again buddy. For the people out there who dont believe this works you are dead wrong. Graham just gave us one of the biggest mixing and recording tip ever period! I’ve been searching for something to take my mixes to the next level and this is IT. My mixes sound more in your face ,more punch , more seperation and width. Thanks a million graham .God bless you my brother.

        Reply
  26. Filip

    :)
    I do have one question.
    My recording chain is synth – scarlett 2I2(audio interface)
    I have set my scarlett to unity gain (test with the test tone in a daw)
    When I reach the unity gain setting with my synth on the scarlett the db meter in my daw peaks at 0db.
    Also when I’m going over this level (clipping) my scarlet let me know with a red light,when I’m recording under 0 db it will turn green (oke to record)
    So I assume that my synth is going as hot as possible into my audio interface.
    Here’s my question.
    Now for reaching the advised rms level (-18) do I have to use the volume of my synth so that I reach the -18 rms (but then I don’t hit the scarlett as hot I can do) ,or do I have to hit the scarlett as hot’s possible and set a trim plugin on my recording channel in my DAW and then record?
    What’s best thing to do?

    Reply
    • Filip

      Forget to explain that my synth volume output knob goes from 0 to 127 and I have set this at 100.
      I look forward to reaction :)
      Thanks

      Reply
    • Graham

      With either your synth or your scarlett gain, set things so that you get the -18dbfs average volume in your DAW.

      Reply
      • Filip

        Thank you for the help.
        I don’t do any mixing ,I just record,write and edit and do a very rough pre mix while I’m producing ,even than this website is gold for me.
        If anyone is a little bit serious about his music this website is the basic foundation.

        Reply
  27. Robin

    Wow this is eye opening stuff! I never knew about this, one this leaves me concerned though, I use logic 9 where the -18 dbfs markers is about 80-90* down the mixer which means you have to lower your volume a lot, if you do this on each individual channel and on the busses and master channel as well, can you ever make up for this amount of volume “loss”?

    Reply
    • Filip

      Hi Robin.
      I’m not sure but I think you don’t have to do this on your master channel,only in your regular channel tracks.
      Left in the mixer view (logic 9) you can right click on the fader numbers ,you can set the meter to sectional db linear.This way your marker will be at almost 50% in your fader.
      Let me know if it’s helping you.
      Indeed eye opening stuff here on this website.
      I wish someone told me this years ago.

      Reply
      • Robin

        Hi Filip thanks for responding!

        At some video’s I’ve been checking out the people tend to not lower the master fader at all. They rout everything to busses and lower those to create some headroom for mastering. I’m just not sure yet f your busses should also reach a maximum of -18 dbfs or just single channels.

        The tip on the linear view is a lot better for my preferences so thanks!

        Reply
        • Filip

          mmmm,good question.
          I really don’t know,I think that it’s depend on how much headroom you want on the master.
          I hope Graham shows up and tell us :)
          Graham knows,I’m sure he does!
          Still needs his advice about my recording chain,I’m sure he knows all this.

          Reply
        • Graham

          I suggest leaving your master fader alone and simply turning the individual tracks down, either with their faders or with a gain/trim plugin or with clip based gain.

          Reply
    • Graham

      Same place. I try to use gain plugins or trim plugins to get them to a place where their average volume is -18dbfs. Again the peaks will be higher than this. Then from there you adjust the faders to get the balance you want.

      Reply
  28. Douglas

    Hey Graham,
    Great piece. One thing though 0VU is 0 VU, not 0dbVU. A small distinction, but relevant none the less.
    I track through a SSL4000E/G+ I simply calibrated my VU’s on the desk to -18dbfs on my PT Rig. Then I just mix with my desk meters and let PT do what it will. It works fantastic and is a toto no brainer.

    Reply
  29. Filip

    Hey Graham,
    Do you know the pink noise trick for balancing tracks?
    What do you think about that?
    Could you give some advice how to properly do this trick?
    Or do an article/post about this in the future :)

    Reply
    • Graham

      I’m not familiar with a pink noise trick for balancing tracks. I’ve seen it done for calibrating monitors.

      Reply
  30. Filip

    Hi Graham,
    This is something I do before the mixing phase .
    I loop a part in my song where ALL the instruments are playing.
    I put a pink noise plugin in the mixer (logic) and let the signal go to to 0db on the master.
    Then I solo each channel ( together with the pink noise) and set the level from that channel to a point so it’s barely audible while the pink noise is on.( it’s the setting between the point the signal is gone and that you can hear it)
    I do this with ALL the channels (each instrument).
    When I put the pink noise off and play the song I have It balanced and ready for mixing.(at least in my case)
    The thing is that the pink noise is covering all the frequencies so you have to do this with pink noise.
    Now I wanted to ask if I can set the pink noise to -6 db or something and then do this trick for preventing clipping on the master when I’m doing this with 0db?
    Is it a good thing to do?
    Like example now I’m going to try to apply your advice with the -18 db on each channel with a trim plugin and then I’m doing the pink noise trick and adjust with the meter fader.
    After that I start mixing.
    If you never tried this can you please try this and let me know if it’s sounds good or not?
    I’m very positive about this so if someone is doing this ore have more knowledge about this than me let me know please.
    It can be very annoying to do this (pink noise all the time) but I’m happy with the result.
    Thank you for reading and Happy 2014.

    Reply
  31. KU Productions

    Great advice Graham. Quick question, does this rule apply when your using digital samples? For examples, drums from Maschine Plugin, virtual instruments, drum kits etc?

    Reply
    • Graham

      When mixing, yes. If you plan to run them through plugins then ideally they would be at a this “sweet spot” as well, at least in the ball park.

      Reply
  32. smookey

    Hi Graham,
    I use fl studio and am a bit confused abt dis -18dB cos that level in fl would be more than low after all is said and done. One of my boss said in fl, after d mix down, all should not be above -6dB. Pls, does dat go in line with what u said here? Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    • Graham

      We’re talking about the individual levels of the the tracks before you mix them. Not the level of the final mix.

      Reply
  33. Ryan

    Hi Graham,

    I’ve been thinking about this post in regards to the -18db sweet spot and it’s relation to plug-ins modelled on vintage gear. My question is this: Do you see any benefit to using something like Clip Gain to reduce the output of clips closer to the -18db sweet spot even if they were tracked hotter? Do you think this would provide any benefits in regards to the interaction with plugins? Would it be worth it?

    Thanks,
    Ryan

    Reply
    • Andrew Bauserman

      Ryan – it may depend on how much of that “modeled vintage gear” sound you want. At -18dB or less you’ll have a mostly “clean” effect (EQ, compression, etc.). But if you are looking for the sound of a LA2A or 1176 or whatever being *slammed* then you need to be above -18dB. Just depends on which you think sounds better in context :)

      Reply
  34. Mika

    Great article! The same principal apply to DAC? I mean -18 db RMS on the way out of the sound card to hit the sweetspot? What do you think? I try to listen different ways and it’s definetly too hot at maximum output level, otherwise, on the lower levels it’s more detailed sound

    Reply
    • Graham

      Just don’t clip :-) Honestly though, I try to leave at least 6db of head room on the master fader

      Reply
  35. pops

    ok thanks in a million… i know this is a dif post but do u put dithering on your mix bus? being that you are mixing in 24 bist

    Reply
  36. Jim

    Great article. However, please could you help me…in order to get a nice strong sounding signal averaging at around -18, at what level should you record it at? There surely must be a kind of optimum relationship between the fader settings of the recording track and the input signal? If the kick drum is reaching -6 even with the fader pulled all the way down, you might be better off adjusting the mic preamp. If the acoustic guitar needs you to push the fader all the way up to +6 in order to get a signal around -18 there must be an issue somewhere? So, is there a balance between initial fader settings as well as input signals which allow you later on to have enough playroom when you come to mixing?

    Reply
    • Graham

      Hi Jim. The idea here is that you leave your faders at 0 and try to get the right signals on the way in by turning your preamp up or down. Once in the box, if you need to adjust the signal, keep the fader at 0 and turn the audio down with a trim plugin.

      Reply
  37. Jim

    Thanks Graham. My difficulty with this is that a signal recorded to say, -18 with the recrding fader set to 0 would result in having to have the playback fader set to around 0 in order to hear the track being played at a reasonable level. If you needed to place the recorded track a bit higher in the mix, there isn’t a lot of playroom for your faders as they are already set at 0. Playing a -18 signal with a fader set to -6 or -9 usually needs the signal itself to be boosted in other ways in order to be heard. It is probably my lack of understanding here…

    I usually record a track with my fader set at something like -9 or -6, get the level of the signal to reach around -18 or -15. On playback I can get quite a decent level to sit in the mix without having to push faders much beyond -6 to -4. I will do some more work around this as I am a total advocate of your position on recording too hot and mixing too loud…….

    Reply
    • Mike

      Thanks for the post. 2 questions though.

      By reducing “gain” in logic, is that the same thing as “trimming”?

      The total volume is pretty low. Maybe I am unused to it, but I feel as if I dont fully hear the music. Is the plugins suppose to solve that or should I get a external soundcard? (Just guessing here)

      Reply
    • Mark Parsons

      Totally was waiting for someone to say something along these line …. especially with Pro Tools 10 (or lower) … which I have

      Tracking at -18 virtually eliminates any ability to then actually Mix with your faders .. cause you have the cranck that thing up through the roof i.e.) for solo’s , leads, snare etc etc

      It might be a sweet spot for audio … but it’s a horrible spot for mixing purposes … and the fader is one of the most underrated mixing tools one will have

      increasing gain via plug in’s??? … try to cut out other instruments down below -18 to make leads more pronounced? … i dunno going below -18 in Pro tools 10 is nearing mute stage

      Graham …. would you be able to offer any advice for those of us using PT 10 and below???

      Reply
  38. John

    I’ve got a question, if you set you faders so all tracks are averaging at -18, how do you then adjust the balance of your tracks without deviating from this level?

    Obviously you will want some tracks quieter and louder, how can this be achieved?

    Reply
    • Graham

      You don’t do this with the faders ideally. You do this with a trim plugin as your first insert. Or with clip gain. That way the faders can stay at 0db and your meters are reading average RMS of -18. Then you can balance the faders all you need.

      Reply
      • ARNK

        Alright, being completely new here this is as confusing as it is intriguing.

        So you use a new trim plug-in instance on every channel?

        Reply
  39. meriaha

    hey have a question if you using vu metering how do you make the change when it comes to rms and peak and calibrating your input levels.If you have to set you levels at -18dbfs and using a vu meter how do you work that between RMS & PEAK signals.

    Reply
  40. Bjorn

    Hey Graham, does this mean that for each plugin you put on a channel, it should output -18db so that it’s the same level of the signal through all plugins in the chain?

    Reply
  41. ARNK

    Still a bit in the dark here. If you set a tracks fader to 0 and use a trim plug-in to get the signal around -18dBfs, what’s the advantage of the trim plug-in as opposed to just using the fader itself?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Graham

      The trim plugin turns the audio down BEFORE it hits any plugins. Turning the fader down only affects the signal AFTER any plugins.

      Reply
  42. Cyrus Paul

    Hi there,

    So confused right now lol. Ok so All my faders are at 0, whether they are from recorded tracks, samples or software instruments. Then what I did is set a gain first in the plugins to bring down the signal to the range desire (-18db and above depending on what I want hotter right?) Because so many software instruments and samples are super hot! so my question is, am I doing it right? because my output is at 0db and still reads all the way up to -1db…

    Reply
    • Graham

      Software instruments are pretty hot. You can usually turn down the gain on the VI itself. That’s what I would do. Then put the trim plugin AFTER that if need be.

      Reply
  43. Richard

    This was very helpful i’ve been recording too hot for a long time and wasnt aware of where my levels should be. I have a question though, if im mixing vocals over a 2 track instrumental should the instrumental also be -18DB?? or should it be lower?

    Reply
  44. Richard

    and also does every vocal have to stay at -18db RMS or can i go a lil bit above that? because after i use a trim plug-in to make it -18db i feel the main vocal is too low. would it be fine if i go a lil bit over?? thank you again for the helpful tips

    Reply
    • Graham

      Setting your levels at around -18db is only to get a solid signal. Later you’ll want to use your faders to mix those tracks louder or softer as the mix requires.

      Reply
  45. Cory Fischer

    I don’t know if I believe -18dbfs is a true “Sweet Spot”. Any analog emulation plugins normally give an option to saturate at a desired level or have an input dial to control your input, post audio capture. I agree headroom is always a plus so it’s not bad to record with some headroom. Also, the biggest confusion with this article is the relation to analog gear. Digital Audio captures a clean representation of the sound at any level where analog gear does have top end breakup after 0dbvu. recording a bit modest or hot doesn’t seem to make much difference either way for audio capture as long as you pay attention to the meters while mixing and not just the faders. In fact, recording music with a large dynamic range should be as hot as possible to capture the full range. Eg. classical orchestra.

    I think it’s an interesting perspective and you didn’t state anything “false” just possibly misleading to new engineers who don’t understand the motivation for this article. Faders are important, headroom is important but, as long as you don’t clip adjustments can always be made to use any plugin as intended.

    If you disagree with any of this or have different ideas I’d love to hear your thoughts! I watch many of your videos as well as other sources. I really admire what you’re doing as an educator and this is in no way intended as a negative criticism. I just want to contest your ideas a bit.

    Reply
    • Graham Cochrane

      No, you’re absolutely right that you can use clip gain to adjust the tracks later. The beauty of digital.

      But on the recording end, converters don’t sound great when you clip them, so I recommend keeping the gain low when recording.

      Also digital clipping in the DAW sounds horrible, so I recommend people keep their tracks conservative when mixing.

      Reply
  46. Allan

    Hi Graham,

    I’ve been following you for a good while on YouTube – thanks for putting some great advice out there. I’ve been digging around for an answer to this for an age, so I’m hoping you can help… I use Reason 7 and I’m pretty familiar with how it all works now, but the master fader meter stumps me – why are there always peak levels way over the main level? I’ll play a track and the master fader will have the two stereo indicators bouncing along in a solid green pair of bars, but above them will be separate single LEDs far higher up – often in the yellow and then in the red. Why are they hovering above the green bars?? I struggle with getting mixes to a decent volume and I think this may be a crucial part of the problem.

    Reply
  47. Danny

    Have enjoyed your posts since I got my DAW. You seem like a good dude, thanks. So I have a question. I understand keeping the meter between say 6-12 on the input. Once that is set and I am mixing, could or should I bring the meters as high as I can as long as they are not clipping or is it also better to keep them lower? And finally, is the goal for the final mix to bring the master fader as hot as I can without it clipping to make sure that I get enough volume in the final mix?

    Reply
    • Mike

      Buy his course and you will not only get the answers to your question, but also answeres to many other questions.

      Reply
  48. Clean

    Hi Graham,

    Quick question? So if I’m understanding correctly – 18 dB if the safe zone for my tracks rather instruments or vocals? And also If my understanding is correct around where should my tracks (vocals/instruments) peak?

    Example: I usually heard people say – 6db to – 3db was sufficient headroom left for mastering so they could peak it to around 0db while polishing it. So where would that area be now after keeping everything around – 18db where would be the safe zone or max level for peaking?

    (sorry if this is a stupid question bro)

    Reply
    • Graham

      The -18db is not peak metering. It is average volume or RMS metering. So the tracks will peak much higher than this.

      This applies to all tracks, not just vocals or instruments. The idea is get a good level going into your plugins.

      Reply
      • danny Kahn

        Once the tracks are staged and the mixing begins, do you raise the meters up just before clipping and also raise the main mix as high as it will go without clipping so that the volume is good on the CD?

        Reply
        • Allan

          I’d have thought that would just make one mass of loud noise – I.e. Maxing out all the tracks then maxing out the main mix fader. Think you should level the tracks so they sound nice together, leaving a bit of headroom, then max out the master fader so you get the volume. Can use compression on the main mix to even out any particularly louder bits, so you can push the overall volume higher (if that’s what you want)

          Reply
  49. Camilla

    This might be a silly question, but I can’t even see the db level on my meter. I’m using Pro Tools 10 and all I have is a bar that is green/yellow/red depending on how hot I am recording, but no actual numbers next to it. I am fairly certain I’m recording too hot but without being able to see a number it’s very hard to tell. Is there an option to display this?

    Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    • Graham

      You can download other meters to use. But honestly just make sure that you are around half way up the meter – and peaking at around 75% up the meter tops. Gets you in the ball park.

      Reply
  50. Eric

    Hey Graham,

    I know this is an old post, but I came across it the other day and find it fascinating. While I never run levels overly hot coming in, I had never heard of the -18dBfs “sweet spot” before. I tried it last night while tracking. I notice that the sound was audibly more “mellow” and smooth.

    I would have absolutely no problem recording at this level, except that I was having a hell of a time getting a good amount of volume from my monitors/headphones when I went to mix the tracks. I am using the internal headphone amp in my Focusrite Scarlett and I’m not really in a spot to get a headphone amp right now.

    Is there anything I can do to boost the volume but not the level of the actual track so that I can get a little more volume when I mix?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Graham Cochrane

      Hmm – so you can’t get a loud enough signal out of your headphone jack on the interface?

      Having tracks with a -18dbfs average shouldn’t give you THAT quiet of a mix. It will be conservative, yes, but that sounds strange that you cant’ simply turn up your headphones to hear the mix more.

      Reply
      • Eric

        Thanks for the reply Graham. Correct, I have the volume control on my interface maxed and the level isn’t conservative, it’s rather quiet. I thought there might be a way to boost the signal output going to my headphones/monitors but not the actual level of the tracks/master. Obviously I’d prefer not to find a workaround.

        Maybe I need to start a track from scratch? The example I used was a song that already had tracks in it that were recorded at higher levels than -18 dbfs and I didn’t gain stage them with a trim plug-in or anything.

        Reply
  51. LuisHouses

    Great Article. I will try to do my next project using this tip and see who my mix turns out.
    I have a question. I don’t know if all Daws react the same but, in studio one v2 when I open a tone generator on a mono track, my main buss show -3 db VU (using a plugin called PSP TripleMeter). Then, when I open a stereo track my main buss shows 0 VU.
    It that normal? Should it be 0 db VU on a mono track too?

    Reply
    • LuisHouses

      Another question.
      When i have all my tracks at 0 db VU should I lower the faders of all my tracks to also keep my main buss at -18? 0 VU

      Reply
      • LuisHouses

        Ohhhh I think i can see it now.
        I was playing guitar and checking the VU meter wiht PSP TripleMeter and its look like the VU is the average of the track and my peak levels is between -15db and -12 db to achive 0 VU. When I was using the Tone generator I thought I should keep my VU meter at 0 VU as a peak level.

        Now my question is should i keep my main buss at 0 VU?

        Reply
        • Graham

          Your main buss FADER should be at unity. But the level doesn’t matter as long as you aren’t too hot, not even close to clipping. The overall mix volume is something you can adjust later with a limiter or in mastering.

          Reply
  52. Gregor Beyerle

    What a giant spread of misinformation. A Limiter very often delivers worse results than clipping a mix and reducing it -0,3db post master bus. Stop acting like clipping the Master Out is the impersonification of the devil, it is complete bullshit.

    Reply
      • Gregor Beyerle

        That totally depends on the goal and genre of the material. There are advantages and disadvantages to clipping, that’s why your generalizations don’t make any sense to me.

        While limiting reduces the level of the transient peaks by turning down the volume (applying negative gain), clipping reduces the level of transient peaks by chopping them off. However, if only the transient peaks are clipped, the clipping only occurs for a very short period of time, and is not very noticeable.

        When this happens, the excess level in the transient peaks is transformed into upper harmonics. That is, the transients become noisier and dirtier. For some kinds of music, this can be a very much desirable alternative to reducing gain. The power and impact of the sound is often retained by choosing the clipping because limiters use envelopes which means that there is always more gain reduction applied than what would be necessary.

        Reply
        • Graham Cochrane

          Fair enough. Thanks for your thoughts.

          Two things though:

          1) Most people are hurting their music with clipping, not helping, and it’s all over the place. This simple advice to record and mix at conservative volumes in the digital domain is by and large helpful advice.

          2) generalizations are inevitable in life, in teaching, and especially in a blog/video post. It takes too much time to address any and all potential unique circumstances, and the content is written for a very wide audience.

          Reply
          • Gregor Beyerle

            Judging just from the setup, I would be exactly one of these people of a “very wide audience” you’re adressing – specifically home recorders with a DAW, a microphone, maybe a guitar and a couple of plugins. When I look at the plugins I use, I see almost exclusively plugins operating at 64bit float, for example the Kjaerhus Golden Audio package. I could send a signal into that thing that I boosted with more than +40dBfs, turn down it’s input gain by -40dBfs, and end up with bit-for-bit the same signal as if I had gain staged everything to -18dBfs.

            These plugins are becoming more and more common, the majority to be precise, exceptions are only plugins that are built after an analogue example with virtual dbVU meters and everything. That means – the average home recorder only has to watch his/her levels when recording a guitar, a vocal take or when he goes in virtual analog plugins that can’t process more than 0dBfs correctly.

            This is very easily tested – grab a tone generator and send a sine wave with, let’s say +5dbfs through a plugin. If there is not +5dbfs coming out at the other end of it, its either a limiter, an analog simulation or something is quite wrong with that thing. Once you did that, you know which things to gain stage and which not – and then you can mix at basically ANY level you want.

            My advice would be to not go into any plugin at any stage with more than -6dbfs if you’re too lazy to check every plugin with the method I described. That way none of your plugins will clip your signal, and if you have like a hundred channels which add up to +20dbfs in your master – you could not care less, just turn down the master fader by -20dbfs and you’re fine.

            People should stop complicating things, it’s all about finding a level that sounds good to you and that you feel confident and comfortable with, establish that as a reference and build your mix from there.

          • Dave

            Well said Graham,
            Digital clipping is no ones friend. Analog clipping is a different story as you say.
            My question is what meters are you using when gain staging here. I know it’s RMS, but are you using an RMS meter in Protools. If your calibration reference level is -18db does that mean your tracks should be hitting 0? which would really be -18?

            What do you use for this out of the ProTools meters?

            Protools Classic
            VU
            Digital VU
            Linear
            Linear Extended
            Sample Peak?

            Thank you!

  53. Jay

    I tried this but my recordings come out so quiet that it’s not even funny and was wondering if any tips except compression or maybe I’m using compression wrong? I always thought you want to record as loud as possible without clipping?

    Reply
    • Graham Cochrane

      No, that is a hold over thought from the analog world. With the high resolution of 24 bit recording and the super quiet noise floor of digital, there is no need to record loud at all.

      You can increase your mix’s volume later with a limiter

      Reply
  54. Erik

    Wouldn’t it be the same to trim on the input gain in a plugin, say a compressor, rather than a standalone trim plugin in PT?

    Reply
      • Erik

        Sorry if I’m asking the same question twice, but if we’re trimming in the plugin (EQ, comp or whatever) to hit the sweet spot in the very same plugin, it’s not necessary to to use the “trim” plugin in front?

        I am only asking cause I’m using an old G5 Mac, so I have to reduce the number og plugins, or else my machine will blow;)

        Reply
  55. John

    “You can never match dBFS and dBu. ”

    I have been doing a lot of research lately on this topic, and while the notion of -18dBfs a good starting point, there is a lot of discrepancy once coming back into the analog world, and especially regarding which mixer type you are using i.e Host DAW’s with 16-32bit point resolutions and how they internally process the dynamic range. This article is a fun read:

    http://www.sengpielaudio.com/calculator-db-volt.htm

    Reply
  56. Max

    Hello, from what I understood, I have to record audio without passing -18 dBfs DAW, is it? And in the mix I have to follow the same procedure?

    Reply
  57. John

    Hi, I’m really confused or I’m not getting it. Ok, here I go…I arm a track to record in my DAW. The input signal should read on my DAW meters -18 from my interface? I usually record at an input signal of -6 to -3, but never hitting the clip LED or 0db. I’m using Sonar 8.3 Producers. So Graham, your saying to record at -18 on my meters with all my instrumentation? I’m I thinking this right?? If so, wow that’s a low input signal to me. I’m just not use to recording at that level, but my next recording I will set the input signal to -18.

    John

    Reply
    • Graham Cochrane

      The -18db is NOT peak volume, what your fader will show you. It’s AVERAGE volume or RMS volume. You will need an RMS meter to measure that. The quick way to do this is to make sure your tracks are peaking no higher than 75% the way up the meter.

      Reply
      • Tristany

        Great response to negativity! I’ve actually only been recording for a week! Yup! I’m an infant and right now all this sounds like a foreign language to me. I just got the Scarlett Solo Studio package which includes Cubase 8. You all make it sound like this is a very simple way to make good sounding recordings but honestly, it feels like rocket science. The only thing that I know is that gain is my favorite laundry detergent, so yes, I am in desperate need of advice (and yes, I have been listening to all the Cubase tutorials as well as other videos on recording, but I am so confused! I am simply a vocalist, not a songwriter and I wish I could play an instrument, but never learned, so all I want to do is use recordings downloaded from utube (not even professional background tracks) import them into my Cubase session and add 1 vocal track (for now) In relation to this particular article, I would go to devises and bring up my mix console and then what? I am so sorry for my ignorance, but those meters, should I set them at -18 and does that control the volume of the background track, as well? I am sometimes not able to hear my vocals very clearly when I listen to the recording. And I also guess that I need to get an understanding of what the faders are, what they’re used for and should they be set at a certain way?
        Again, I’m so sorry for sounding so uneducated but I’m attempting to become educated!
        Nursing school was easier!
        Learning to Crawl.

        Reply
  58. John

    I read through the entire tread here and it seems most are confused as I am. Graham, can you put a small video together explaining this post? I think if we all watched you do the -18 record level, I think we would all understand it better. Either way, I’m going to try it on my next recording session. All the signals going into my DAW being set to around -18 and see how it goes. Thanks for posting this Graham!! I give it a shot.

    Reply
  59. Snehankur Ghose

    Hey..

    When GIR is coming up?

    I mean “Graham’s Institute of Recording”
    ^^

    Reply
  60. Kevin

    Great article. Can you help me to understand something?

    I am trying to record the sound of footsteps. I am using an H5 Zoom recorder and a Rode NTG-3 shotgun microphone. When I set the audio level to where there is no noise or hiss (which is about 2 on the dial), and then I try to record the footsteps, I am only getting the footsteps in the -30 to -25 range, with the microphone just inches away from the feet. If I adjust the gain up to 3, then I fall into a more acceptable range -20 to -15, but now I hear a noticable hiss. Is the H5 only good for recording “loud” sounds? And why, I’m curious, does the audio meter start at -48 dBs. Is there something special about that number? Doesn’t -dB go all the way down to -100?

    Any info appreciated.

    Reply
    • John

      What I would do is record the footsteps at a higher record setting. Let me ask you this,…when you record at the higher level, do you hear the hiss when the footstep is happening or after it’s complete? What I mean is in between the footsteps? If so, you can import the recorded footstep into your DAW and then edit the none footstep parts out and use fades on the splits. If you need help with this, you could send me the recorded footsteps and I could edit it and send it back to you. Like I said, record them hotter even if the hiss is there. There are many ways to do this. You could use a gate to rid the track of the hiss. -30 to -25 range is to low of a recording level IMO. You could try to record at the level without hiss and then try to normalize the track, but then it will pick up noise also, but give it a shot. Did you try a different mic?

      Reply
  61. Chris

    So if you aim for -18db average, if I have a drum mix going, sometimes those drum struggle to het a sends reverb hard enough, what is good practice here ?

    Would you raise levels at mastering and if you raise levels your going to be hitting your sends harder ?

    Reply
  62. Chris

    Also I’ve notice most presets aren’t set for this ? If you want to push a drum mix with a limiter, say in Live, if your mixing at -18db none of the presets will touch your signal ?

    Reply
  63. Mick Lamm

    Graham
    Just want to check that I have it right. I’m using Studio One 2. If I’m understanding you, I should record all my tracks dry to average -18db?? What happens when I add a plug in like Ampire? Won’t most plug ins boost the volume of a track significantly? Or are you suggesting that the average volume even with a plug in should be -18db?
    Thanks
    Michael

    Reply
    • John

      To answer the first part of your question,..yes that’s correct. You want to track at -18db,..Hovering around that. It will go higher in some parts, but hovering it around -18db is where you want to be. When you add a plugin,,you’ll need to adjust the make up gain so it stays pretty much at the tracking db.

      I always tracked at near 0db until I tried this tip from Graham and the difference was night and day when it comes to headroom, clearer recording and the end result is you have much more control over everything. Honestly, I even take it a step further. After I track and before I add any plugins or adjust anything,.. I group all the tracks to adjust the db down from the tracking db (-18) to -10 to -15db less then I tracked. Sounds weird, I know, but it works really well for me. Clean recordings, much more control and a ton of headroom. Try it and you’ll see a big difference.

      Reply
        • Mick Lamm

          Hi again
          I have used a gain trim in Studio One 2 called Mixtool to bring all my recorded audio down to about -18db. However when I add a compressor and EQ the volume goes up to +5db. Even when I set the gain to auto on the inserts the volume is still way to high. If I manually reduce the gain I have to cut it right back to 0 to get volume down to -18db. Am I missing something?
          Mick

          Reply
          • Jeff

            The auto gain in presonus is a joke in my opinion. It works more like a trim plugin that sets your channel level way to hot. Just shut that sillyness off and manually adjust your makeup gain. Makes doing an A/B comparison or a hard bypass much less of an headache. You can also avoid using the mixtool plug by adjusting the clip gain instead ( unless you need to use the phase flip.)

  64. John

    Mick, I think you’re missing the point or I’m not understanding your post. If you are just bringing the audio down on all the tracks using a trim plug, that’s not what this above tip is about. Hmmmm, let me try to explain this the best way I know. If you recorded or tracked at a higher input level and you are hitting 0db, then that would be clipping. So if you use a trim plug or you just turn down the fader/faders to end up at -18db, you are still clipping if your original recorded input level was at 0db or once in a while bouncing into the 0db section or more. What you want to do is set all your faders a zero. Play the track, look at each track and see if any of them are hitting 0db or more, if so,..that’s no good and you’ll need to re-track. If your tracks aren’t hitting 0db, then just group all the track together and bring your faders down to close to -18db,..then start to mix. By adding a plugin, in most cases you will get a boost, so you need to use the make up gain within the plug to balance the volume of the original source. Example, say the original source is saying -10db on the track,…you bring in a Reverb or whatever plug you’re using and the meters inside the plug on the output side is showing its boosting an extra 3db, then you need to adjust it down 3db to match the original source input level.

    This is what Graham is saying. You need to track at -18db from the beginning on everything. The peaks will go over -18db, but at least you’re not going into clipping. I hope this helps!

    Reply
    • Mick

      John
      That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for taking the time to explain. Much appreciated.
      Mick

      Reply
        • Mick Lamm

          Hi again

          Just one further question…. When you talk about adjusting the make up gain for a plug in are you referring to Output Gain?

          Mick

          Reply
          • John

            Mick can you post your regular email address. I’d rather not high Jack the thread. I will explain this in more detail and send you a video of what I mean.

  65. Charles Brown

    I have a question. I understand it should be at “-.18dB” during the recording stage but where should the level be during the mixing stage. I’m a little confused.

    Sorry I am still new to this concept and mixing in general.

    Reply
      • Charles Brown

        Thanks for posting a link to the video, but I am still a little confused if I should have all the tracks at “-.18dB” or just the master bus. If you could help clear that up for me it would be greatly appreciated.

        Reply
        • John

          To my understanding,..You want to track at -18. It will go above that at times, but try hovering around that when “tracking” only. After you’ve tracked, then it’s time to mix. Leave the master bus at 0 on the fader. All your tracks will be at zero on the faders also, but your meters will read the -18 or around that. Use a gain plugin or the gain setting on the track (if you have one) if needed to keep the master bus from clipping after adding your plugins and mixing. You can use the faders too, but don’t turn them down to low as was mentioned in the video. http://therecordingrevolution.com/2015/05/28/the-key-to-mixing-in-the-box-video/#comment-231967 Graham mentioned to keep the master bus meter reading around -5 or -15 to -18 RMS so you have headroom for mastering later. You don’t want to turn down the master mix bus fader to -18. You always want to keep it at 0 on the fader. Are you from Jersey?

          Reply
          • John

            Also, keep an eye out within your plugins, so you are not adding more db by adding the plugin. If the output of the plugin is higher then the input, use the gain setting in the plugin to match the input with the output as close as possible. This could be adjusting the gain up or down within the plugin.

          • Charles Brown

            Ok thanks. I think that cleared it up a little bit. No I’m not from Jersey, I live in California.

  66. John

    Graham, can you post a video on this subject one day to clear things up? That would be very helpful. Seeing is always better than reading. Thank you…

    Reply
  67. Mark Parsons

    So I have a potential? catch 22 type issue here

    I love the warmth that analog hardware can give to a track, regardless if it’s still going to pass through your DAW/interface at the end of the day

    That being said, a lot of preamps and compressors really shine when you PUSH the gain. You can get some real GOOD distortion/saturation and liven some tracks up by pushing analog gear

    ie) Superior Drummer is a great program, and the samples are super clean — but I (personally) don’t like super clean rock drums – I want some color and grit so I run Superior Tracks through my 1176, through my API pre’s , through an Aphex even etc …. which gives me much better tone

    I find using the -18db approach takes away from the degree in which I can “color” my tone with outboard gear.

    would a gain reducing plug in still work in this case?? — Do you use one of these things on every track?? and if you have 50 tracks pumping with a kit, guitars and a full orchestra going – how does your computer not freak out??

    lots of questions in 1 email! hope you have time to address some of them

    awesome post btw – as always!

    Reply
    • Jeff

      If it sounds good it sounds good. Find a way to bring down the channel gain with a plugin so you maintain fader resolution. And make sure you don’t clip the converters. 0vu isn’t a law that must be followed. Though it is a good practice to follow.

      Reply
  68. Greg

    Wow this is extremely helpful. It has been a major point of confusion for me and our band rehearsals.

    The add to our confusion we have started recording our practice session using the tape out or line out from our ANALOG mixer a portable DIGITAL recorder that doesn’t use numbers. Just but a bar and a peak meter. So we have no idea where -18dB is.

    The mixer’s manual says:

    *When the channel and master fader are set to unity gain the meters should read between -4 and +7 dB.
    *For microphone/line inputs: Adjust the GAIN control until transient peaks are regularly hitting +6 dB. Continuous signals should not exceed 0 dB.
    *For stereo line inputs: Adjust the source’s output gain until transients are regularly hitting +6 dB. Continuous signals should not exceed 0 dB.

    This is in line with what you explain about the analog world.
    I assume the digital peak meter hits at 0dBfs. Should we guesstimate where -18 will be?
    We’re using a Tascam DP-008 for recording if that helps. I checked the manual after reading your article. Here’s an image.
    http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/812a7XzjtOL._SL1500_.jpg

    Reply
  69. Billy Rockaz

    Thanx for the post Graham : ))
    I already knew about this fact but can you let me know of a plugin that measures rms accurately?
    Is there a free one out there worth checking out or are waves own rms meter good enough for the job?

    I agree with that peaking around 75% would put you in the ball park but as we both know there is a bit of a difference between an instrument and a drum hit when it comes to Rms levels.
    So I would still prefer to use an accurate Rms meter but am not sure witch one to trust.
    I have heard that pro tools own stuff doesn’t do the job.
    Witch plugin would you recommend Graham?

    God Bless

    Reply
  70. Mick Lamm

    Hi Graham
    Just wanted to clear something up. I understand that you are suggesting an average level of -18db for tracking and that this should still be the level for each track after adding plugins. However, in your Rethink Mixing video if I am right, you suggest adjusting all track volumes to -8db going in to the master fader. Why the difference? Is it because you are referring to the sum of all the tracks going to the master fader should be -8db while individual tracks should be -18db?
    Thanks
    Michael

    Reply
  71. Joel

    Question on the -18 dB full scale; as isn’t that the European mark (BS.1770) and America – according to ATSC A/85 has set it to -20 dBFS instead? with -20dB = +4 dB = 0 VU = 83 SPL (If you are using a standard monitor reference)

    Thanks,
    Joel

    Reply
  72. Jonny Fjerstad

    i think i misunderstood this a little
    i thought at first from this article that any audio interface converter had a sweet spot at -18 this is uncorrected right ?
    i could easily get exactly the same sound in my daw if i record at -10 or -12 and use a trim plugin to get it down to -18 after the recording is done to get in the sweet spot of the plugins i hope :)

    thanks for answer in advance Graham :)

    Reply
  73. joseph hewitt

    question
    I have a studio live 32Ai which i just got
    My play back is through fire wire through channel 33&34,
    playing a CD or music video from youtube it sounds too much of bass not enough highs,how can i correct this?

    Joseph

    Reply
  74. pat autrey

    I would suggest maintaining -18 from input, through each effect on the track, then on to the group bus – still maintaining -18, through any of the group bus effects, and finally to the master. So this means the bus faders will need to be brought down to ensure the master level doesn’t get too hot. By the way, -18 RMS is roughly equivalent to -10 peak. Also, I think you’ll get a better result when you do eventually bring up the volume to a commercial level by using the master bus compressor(s) make-up gain rather than using the limiter. This preserves the dynamics of the song better.

    Reply
  75. Simon

    LOL, this is just confusing everyone.

    The average -18dBFS reference is for when transferring analogue signals into a digital system, so that it peaks just below 0dBFS and doesn’t go over it.

    As someone posted above, if they set the average level to -18dBFS, they are getting peaks of -3dBS, or just below 0dBFS. That is what the reference level is supposed to achieve.

    It is the same as telling people to set the level so that the peaks hit -3dBFS, which isn’t really much headroom. Going on about -18dBFS is confusing those who don’t understand it into thinking they need to leave some massive amount of headroom.

    If -18dBFS is going to give you peaks of around -3dBFS, no one is really going to be recording much hotter than that, because it would be clipping. If they are recording at a level that you seem to suggest is hot, peaking to near the top of the meter but still avoiding clipping, they are probably already recording with your recommended average levels, if they were recording much hotter they would be clipping.

    Reply
  76. Dustin

    I really don’t get it.

    Now I’ve set all my tracks on -18 dbFS (RMS). When I switch over to the peak level meter, I can see that some of them are clipping. When I play all of these tracks together, to Master fader is permanently clipping. What am I doing wrong?

    And if -18 dbfs is the sweet spot for plugins – when should I start with setting the audio levels of each track ?! AFTER adjusting the EQ, Compression, etc. ?

    Reply
  77. Ben Fitterman

    Thanks Graham. This was so helpful for me as my full time job is a live sound guy. I’ve struggled in the DAW world with understanding meters as most the time I try to get the meters hitting around 0 db in a live setting.

    Reply
  78. Michael

    Hi Graham, really been enjoying using your website over the past few months, your tips are really helpful and I’ve been trying this tip out recently.Just got a quick question about it. After setting everything to -18dbfs RMS so everything is at a good level, (I’ve used pre fader metering and the gain plug in in Logic Pro x to set this). Should the level on the dbfs meter stay around the -18 mark in pre fader metering even after I’ve added the plug ins? Also is it best to keep the post fader metering so each individual track doesn’t peak above -6ish once you’ve added compression EQ etc or does the -18db rule still apply here? Thanks for your help

    Reply
    • Graham

      I only use pre fader metering when recording. That way I can see the real INPUT level from my premps/interface. Then in mixing I’ll switch to post fader so that the level is accurate based on what the plugins and fader are doing. The -18dbRMS is only for initial levels without any plugins or processing.

      Reply
  79. Christian

    Hi Graham,

    most of the level meters (in DAWs) offers multiple K-system scales for measuring our levels. How the -18db level will be affected? What K scale we must choose?

    Thank you in advance

    Reply
  80. Cynical Dude

    Very interesting, G. But it leads to so many questions, a lot of them already answered fortunately.
    Could a signal peaking at -6db be -18db rms on average? I often feel recordings sounding louder when played back than during the actual recording. I’ll need to do some tests and check my current material.
    It’s it crucial to be recordinh this way or could a trim save a too hot recording? Questions keep popping up :)

    Reply
  81. Gabe

    Very helpful Graham as always, it takes me back to audio school hehe. But yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for what you’ve started, a recording revolution. Cheers – Gabe

    Reply
  82. m

    Why is this when huge world renowned producers & home studio producers & everyone in-between uses this software (different daws) surely daw designers are genius enough to know what has been discussed here?

    Reply
  83. Miftahus Surrur

    Interesting Article and very helpfull . One question or maybe anyone can help to answer . If i got some Dry stem project and it got “hot” , can Trim plugin do the work to make it “quite” ? does triming the channel will ruin the quality of each instrumment cause one thing for sure we didn’t know how the way band record their track either knowing about this or not . thank you very much :)

    Reply
  84. Jesse Robbins

    Grahm is this the recording input gain level? or is this the level that shows the output volume relevent to the position of the fader? i use studio one 2 and when you record, the green input level shows your input gain, and when you mix, the blue level shows your ouput volume. are you talking about input gain? thanks so much, i appreciate all your tips and am taking this whole year to improve and hopfully have my first project done this year.

    Reply
  85. Mr. Smith

    I’m not 100% certain, but I believe all these yes men are agreeing with an absolute falsehood. Quantization has been completely let behind in this discussion in pursuit of proving some 0VU truism. I’m not certain that I’ve heard any converter, DAW or plug-in sound better at -18dB than I have at 0dB. While this might be the case for physical I/O, and most certainly for analog equipment which requires calibration – this has not been my experience with any aspect of software. I am interested in your audio math and your technical references.

    Reply
    • Graham

      Just read the manual for just about any plugin that is emulating a piece of hardware. They will tell you at what level they work best.

      Reply
  86. Kenneth

    Would this also apply to using Virtual Instruments? Should I also “record” virtual instruments around -18? I’m not talking about bouncing to disk, but rather using the outputs that a plug in may have, such as Toontracks Superior Drummer, where you can route each drum component to auxes for recording (I hope that made sense). I too, would try to get those Virtual Instruments to record at about -6db…

    Reply
  87. Zach bolinger

    Very nice piece. This is what I was looking for back when I was all over the Internet trying to combine info to make more sense.
    Two questions now though:
    1.) To shoot for -18 dB RMS, how should I treat the input gain on my audio interface’s preamp?
    2.) Im still not 100 on what a VST plugin is, but I know I get different results depending on the level of signal I send them. Maybe it’s just the way it is, or I need to purchase different plugins, but I’d like to keep it more consistent. What can I look for in plugins to ID their optimal dB performance level?

    Reply

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