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Thread: Too much dynamics or insufficent preamp? (Focusrite Scarlett 18i8)

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    Too much dynamics or insufficent preamp? (Focusrite Scarlett 18i8)

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    I've been making songs for some time now, but until now I haven't paid much (or more preciesly enough) attention to my recording levels. I already feel little embarrased to even ask this, maybe it's so obvious nobody even asks it, but...here it goes, cause I need an answer to this.

    I'm recording my electric guitar straight to Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 preamp, with "Inst" switched on from MixControl. I'm using Reaper, 44.1 kHz, 24 bit. I get a good and excellent-sounding signal. Unfortunately, as I play louder parts especially from lower positions or open chords, the dynamics are all over the place! Let's say I record this riff, then I listen it, and watch what happens in "JS: schwa/audio_statistics"-plugin, or straight with meters, doesen't matter. The recorded signal hovers somewhere between -33 dB and -2 dB. Total RMS is somewhere -22 dB. Scarlett's mic preamp gain knob is at zero.

    I think this dynamic range is bit too much. I think the -2 dB peaks are too hot. Why is this happening? Is my playing too rough in some places so the preamp clips? I think this is ridicolous cause there's supposed to be dynamics in playing...

    What do you think? Is my playing so crappy it blows the signal all over the place or is it my guitars pickups, or is this happening because the 18i8:s preamps are not good enough to capture the dynamics or SO good I don't just understand this?

    I'd like to know how fellow musicians are able to record with these preamps guitar straight in if you HAVE to play softly...everything else (vocals, keyboards, enviromental samples) works and sounds like a charm when recorded, no complaints. This happens only with electric guitar. And it souldn't have hot picks, just stock Alnicos.

    And, if this all is perfectly OK, I'm curious to will these brief -2 dB or so ruin the WHOLE recording, given it's "normally" at some -22 dB RMS?

    Thank you in advance!

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    Nothing is "ruined" by a -2dB(FS) peak. Ideally you'd have a bit more headroom but, until you hit actual clipping, you should be fine.

    Forget the numbers for a moment...how does you recording actually sound? Is it a fairly good representation of what you hear when you're playing? That's the main thing.

    Depending on your playing style, electric guitar can have a very wide dynamic range. You get a transient/peak when you actually strike the keys but there's little or no resonance (like inside the body of an acoustic guitar) to sustain things "between strums". A bit of compression and limiting when you mix should even things out.

    If you can whiz through the ten post restriction (there's a forum specifically for that!) maybe you should post a quick sample of your raw guitar recording so we can comment in more detail--a downloadable file sharing site would be ideal.
    That's what I do. I drink and I know things.
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    If it's not distorting, it's not a real problem. That is a pretty wide dynamic range, and you're probably going to want some form of compression on it. That would usually come from the amp, but you can get it from a sim, or a compressor or limited plugin, or whatever. Honestly, though, as long as it sounds good, it doesn't really matter what it looks like, right?

    Are you playing humbuckers or single coils? The hot humbuckers in my main guitar can push the instrument ins on either of my interfaces to clip. The not-so-loud HBs on my SG get pretty close when I really dig in. I don't think any of my single coils will get quite as loud as you've described, but it's not far enough outside expectations to suspect any problem.

    The thing is that the folks who design these things seem to expect "instrument level" signals to be pretty quiet compared to nominal line level, and therefore the DI inputs always have a pretty significant amount of gain on them. But "instrument level" is nowhere near a standard. Different guitars with different pickups and different players can have wildly different output levels, and some of them are just a lot hotter than "expected" therefore there's too much gain. Nevermind if you put your favorite boost pedal ahead of it!

    I have found that, given a decent interface, there is no good reason that any guitar (even with weaker SCs) really needs any of that gain on the way into the machine. That is, you can run into the +4dbu line input on your interface and never have to worry about clipping even with your booster pedal cranked. You'll still be way above the noise floor of the interface, which is way below the noise floor of any passive guitar. Yes, the level ITB will then be noticeably lower, but you can add nice, clean, flat, silent digital gain after you've safely captured it, and with floating point math internal to the DAW you can add all the gain you want without fear of clipping until the very end.

    ...Except that the guitar really needs to see a high impedance load, and it won't get that from plugging straight into your line input. It needs a good buffer in between. Any pedal that doesn't say True Bypass on it, powered but turned off, should do the trick just fine.

    But I'm not sure you need to bother with that in this particular case. You're not hitting 0dbfs. Getting close enough to make me a little nervous, and if you ever want to record a louder guitar...but right now you're ok.

    On the other other hand, if you're going to run the thing into a decent amp sim with even a little bit of distortion (overdrive, crunch, dirt, fuzz) you won't be able to hear the effect of occasionally clipping the converters anyway. It's not "best practice", and sort of limits your options (pun intended), and I have gone to line ins for safety's sake, but I got perfectly usable stuff just plugging into the instrument input and letting it clip on the loudest strums since it was going into an overdriven "amp" anyway.

    HTH

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    Thank you very much for your insights!

    Yes, I seem to have lots of variables in this equation. One of the best points here is that in my case the signal will be overdriven anyways through an amp sim, yes. And that is actually the point that interests me most, because this is what I've been thinking, that maybe the "close-to-clipping"-signal is not a problem after all. I just want to learn the aforementioned best practices so I won't be in trouble when I start seriously learning mixing. And that's because I'm very careful with the recordings I make, they have to be precise, and, as you can image, I don't wanna record them again voluntarily. Not to mention if I would have to ask someone else to record again, cause I ruined it right from the beginning...

    Yes, the signal is much louder with bridge humbucker. And of course, playing style depends of the style of music. Everything easier is of course fine, and playing won't be so aggressive. Single coils and neck humbucker are fine. But me being leaning towards metal ja hard rock...well, the result is quite obvious.

    This is actually quite curious thing, because ages ago I used to upgrade my guitars with hotter and hotter humbuckers and now I have this great DBZ Bolero, which indeed has stock pickups. What's fascinating, is that I've never even thought about upgrading these pickups. Maybe they are hot? And in this case, too hot. That would be a shame. Because the sound indeed is excellent when recording straight to 18i8. I don't care anymore about the looks of the waveforms, I've grown up from that, so that's not an issue. I just want to know I won't ruin my recordings, if I can avoid that with for example, a compressor. But, buying a 300 € comp which is the same price as the interface, doesn't seem very clever unless I find some other use for it as well, which CAN be the case...

    And I tried the "Line" mode. Unfortunately, it drained the tone. Not as good as with instrument mode. The signal's balls drop out when I do that.

    I find it also odd that Focusrite states in its manual that "Pad is not inteded to be used with Instrument input mode". Do you have any idea why is that? Because the level gets too low? Well, that would be a cure for me. =)

    That's disapointing is the only "real" cure for this is that I have to play softer. Honestly, no one should HAVE to do that and (without any bragging, that's not the intention) my recordings are what they are because my...playing. And I would like to record that. I mean, that's the the main reason why I bought this interface.

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    Does the pad even do anything in instrument mode? Doesn't make much sense to gain it up and then attenuate back, or vice versa, does it?

    When you say "drained tone" and "balls drop out"...can you be more descriptive? Plugging a passive guitar directly into a line input should kill a lot of the treble, which is often called "tone suck", but when you say "balls" I personally think of the lows and low mids, which shouldn't really change much except that the whole signal will be quieter. You have to compensate for the lower level either by adjusting the controls on the amp sim or by adding a gain plugin before the sim. Did you try through a pedal into the line input?

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    I have to try that line mode again. I remember it was considerably weaker, as it of course should be. I didn't use any pedal between, because I'm after pure, uncoloured sound. If I would go with pedals etc., I'd like them to colour the sound in desirable way. And now I don't have such a thing. But I will give it another shot.

    I'd like to know if anybody else has similar issue(s), or am I ranting here for nothing and should just ignore these peaks and let it burn? If it really doesn't ruin the recording.

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    The buffer in a decent pedal does the same thing as the input circuitry on your interface, only it wont add the unnecessary gain. If you are at all handy with a soldering iron (you said you've swapped pickups before) you could build a nice buffer for almost nothing, and then you'd know exactly what it was doing and choose the design that meets your expectations for purity.

    But I really don't think you're going to ruin anything as is. It's not clipping anything, and it's perfectly normal for what you're doing. I kinda get the feeling that it's going to nag at you, though...

    There are plenty folks around here doing the DI thing, but I think most just plug into the hole that says guitar and hit record without ever scrutinizing the result as closely as you have.

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    Just want to clarify myself, is this sort of issue common perhaps in this price range of interfaces/preamps, or with preamps more generally speaking?

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    Quote Originally Posted by ashcat_lt View Post
    I kinda get the feeling that it's going to nag at you, though...
    And here we have a winner.

    It's just.....I've rolled so much different equipment in my hands that I thought it would be nice to simplify my recording setup. Cause I've had so much useless garbage in my recording chain before. But I guess I just have to use some aforementioned workarounds for this issue if it continues to nag me. But meanwhile I'd like to post example recordings as you requested tomorrow, so you can get the idea what's going on.

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    You kinda ninjad my edit there, but I didn't answer that question. AFAIK, every interface that includes an Instrument DI input applies gain to that input. You can check the specs yourself. The maximum input voltage for the DI will always be significantly less than that of the line inputs. The difference is the gain being added to the DI. I haven't actually ever looked at this on a standalone preamp with DI, but I suspect it's standard practice there too.

    I think it's kinda silly, honestly. Recording at 24 bits with today's technology there is no good reason I can think of for this. The only thing I can think of is S/N concerns, but again there's just not enough noise in a decent modern preamp to touch the ocean of noise that comes with the guitar signal itself. Heck, you can get away with running mic level signals into the line ins sometimes!

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