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Thread: Difference between GAIN and LEVEL

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    Difference between GAIN and LEVEL

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    I know enough about recording to be dangerous. I bought an SM57. I am going through a Behringer UB1002 mixer (I know, I know) and it has a Gain knob on Channels 1 and 2. As well as Level knob.

    I feel that I need to crank up the Gain to get a hotter signal when micing an acoustic guitar? Then again, I don't understand the difference between Gain and Level. I am wanting to get it as hot as I can get it, I suppose, without feedback. Thanks for explaining this basic question.
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    Quote Originally Posted by LiveMusic
    I know enough about recording to be dangerous. I bought an SM57. I am going through a Behringer UB1002 mixer (I know, I know) and it has a Gain knob on Channels 1 and 2. As well as Level knob.

    I feel that I need to crank up the Gain to get a hotter signal when micing an acoustic guitar? Then again, I don't understand the difference between Gain and Level. I am wanting to get it as hot as I can get it, I suppose, without feedback. Thanks for explaining this basic question.
    Gain and level are used a bit differently in a live PA situation and recording.
    Gain is used for matching the sources (mic) output level to the input of the board. This way the board is operating at optimum level (everything beyond the input stage). Keep in mind the board is desingned to accept a huge range of sources. It has to be able to "adapt" to those situations, and you are in control of that.

    Level is for "mixing" the audio, you don't use "gain" to do that. Gain is kind of set it and forget it as long as the source hasn't changed (got way louder, etc). In a live situation, it's just unrealistic to expect everything to stay controlled as it was during sound check. If you ever see the input clipping, you know you need to back off the gain. And if you are pushing the Fader past unity(0), you probably need more gain. Hopefully you'll have all that set properly before a show. Otherwise you'll have to correct it real-time and you might cause feedback or cause a mic to get quiet while you tweak it.

    Live, your goal is to get as lout as possible before feedback, then mix everything for the best live sound.
    Recording the goal is to have optimum recording level. So, mixing is out of the question. The Level slider should be set at Unity, and gain will determine the recording level.
    Mixdown is similar to Live, set the gain once (you have the advantage of knowing all the source levels since they're pre-recorded). Then mix the audio how it sounds best using the Level sliders. But generally you don't want to go over unity unless you're sure your mixer will still sound good up there. then you use the Master fader to determine the overall output level to the mixdown destination.

    OkOK.....
    That was probably kind of confusing. So I'll break it down as how I usually set gain.

    Live:
    --Turn Fader "level" all the way down.
    --Play source as loud as possible (sound check). (also a good FOH eng will mute the channel or subgroup during this time, nobody wants to hear 20 rack tom hits as you set the gain.)
    --Turn up "gain" until you see "ol" or "clip" light come on, and then back off a --little bit from there.
    --Now use the "fader" to turn it up to taste.

    Tracking:
    --Turn "Fader" to "Unity" (or 0). (make sure "gain" is down all the way first)
    --Play the source as loud as will be recorded.
    --While that's playing, turn up "gain" until your recorder (DAW, tape) has optimum level.

    Mixdown/Summing:
    --same as Live above

  3. #3
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    That was good, Tarnation.

    Another example of the difference between "gain" and "level" is how my TASCAM 2488 works. If I'm recording onto a track, the "Gain" (input) is how much signal is coming into the track, thus deciding the recording level. The "level" (volume) is for monitoring. I can play with the level all I want and, while it will change the volume of playback, it won't affect the volume of the recording. Only the gain will change the volume of the recorded signal.

    It can get confusing because the words are almost interchangeable. e.g: "Trun down the level of the gain".

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    good rep for tarnation that puts everything in perspective

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    +1 to what Tarnation described.

    Just to try and put a basic concept on the top of that description...

    On a mixer, the "Gain" - which can also be called "Input" or "Trim", depending upon the mixer brand - sets the signal level at the input, or start, of the mixer channel strip, and the "Level" (or "channel fader") sets the signal level coming out of the "end" of the channel strip.*

    Looking it it from a signal flow perspective like that not only helps understand the difference, but reflects a very important concept called "gain staging", of which now is as good a time as any for you to look into, LM. Gain staging in short means making sure you have the proper or ideal signal level at each link or point in your signal chain all the way from microphone to recorder. The input trim "Gain" and channel fader "Level" at the beginning and end of each of your mixer channel strips are important waypoints in that overall signal chain.

    *That's a simplified description that bypasses some more sophisticated signal routing options (pre fader/post fader routes, inserts, etc.) Don't worry about all that for this discussion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tarnationsauce2
    Live:
    --Turn Fader "level" all the way down.
    --Play source as loud as possible (sound check). (also a good FOH eng will mute the channel or subgroup during this time, nobody wants to hear 20 rack tom hits as you set the gain.)
    --Turn up "gain" until you see "ol" or "clip" light come on, and then back off a --little bit from there.
    --Now use the "fader" to turn it up to taste.

    Tracking:
    --Turn "Fader" to "Unity" (or 0). (make sure "gain" is down all the way first)
    --Play the source as loud as will be recorded.
    --While that's playing, turn up "gain" until your recorder (DAW, tape) has optimum level.

    Mixdown/Summing:
    --same as Live above
    When I set the gain structure I do it a little different. I put the channel and main faders at unity with no gain and then turn up the trim (gain) on each channel until it clips and then back off a hair. Then I use the faders to mix to taste.

    What's the advantage to doing it the way you described and could you explain why you would do it differently Live than for tracking. Also, what do you do when you track a live performance?
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    I look at it as the gain being the absolute volume of the signal, while the level controls the relative volume, in relation to the other channels.

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    I try to think in the simplest terms possible. I may be way off on this but I think of gain as the preamp volume and level as the output volume, faders are to balance the total output. I know this isn't a very accurate description, just my way of looking at it.
    The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know. [url]http://www.soundclick.com/sixfeetover[/url]

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    So if I'm tracking at home, one track at a time, can I fuck the "quality" up by not gain staging?

    So far I've just turned the gain and level up as much as I (thought) I need to get the signal I want. Can I get better quality by caring about what (gain or level) I turn up/down on the mixer?

    Also, is there a way to determine in Cubase what the average level of the signal is, instead of just getting the peaks?

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    Quote Originally Posted by LiveMusic
    Then again, I don't understand the difference between Gain and Level. I am wanting to get it as hot as I can get it, I suppose, without feedback. Thanks for explaining this basic question.
    LEVEL: The strength of a signal measured by some standard method (peak or averaging) and reported relative to some standard reference level (say, 0 dBu = 0.775 V RMS for a voltage signal or 0 dBFS for a digital file)

    GAIN: For a signal processing stage, the ratio of the output level to the input level. Usually measured in decibels or dB. Unity gain means that input and output levels are the same (gain = 0 dB). In dB, a positive gain value means amplification, negative gain means attenuation.

    Preamps (separate units or the preamp gain stage in console inputs) bring low level mike signals up to standard line levels. Typical gain settings are +40 dB to +70 dB, depending on the output level of the mike and the loudness of what is being recorded. More gain is needed on dynamic and ribbon mikes, less gain on phantom powered condenser mikes with built in preamp circuits. More gain is needed on acoustic guitar (maybe all you've got if you're using a dynamic) than on a close miked guitar amp turned up to 10 (might require almost no gain at all).

    Faders are usually used to attenuate line level signals when mixing. If a track is in the mix, the fader will be up somewhere around unity gain, depending upon the exact loudness of the track itself and how it fits into the mix.

    Cheers,

    Otto

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