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GAIN STAGING, WHAT IS IT?

June 7, 2019

CJ JACOBSON

Gain staging and sometimes called gain structure is one of the most important things you do in audio recording and audio mixing.

The definition of gain staging refers to how the audio signal moves form point A to point Z and everything in between. In recording, it starts from the sound source, all the way to its final landing place. Each place that the signal can have changes in the level are gain stages and the path it takes is called the signal chain. You never ever want to clip your signal at any point in your gain stage.


Examples of a Gain Stage:

A singers mouth to microphone to mic pre-amp to audio compressor to your audio interface. With this recording gain stage, you have 5 points where you can change the audio level.

  1. The power of your voice is a gain stage.
  2. The distanced between your mouth and microphone is gain stage
  3. The microphone itself is a gain stage, as it can have dB pads and EQ Hi-Pass filters in it
  4. The compressor can have 2 gain stages in it. The input and output of it
  5. The audio interfaces line in can have a gain adjustment in it

Experience and experimentation to see what works best for that particular recording session is the best approach to see what works best for you. As you will notice, each situation will need different gain stage settings. Someone may have a strong robust deep voice and you can have someone with a meek soft voice. you will have to adapt for each scenario.

Your confidence over time will improve when configuring your gain stages. One of the most important things not to do is to clip the audio signal. Remember to record in 24bit and to let your Peak dB level be between -20dB to -8dB


Things You Need to Watch Out For: 

  • If your input level is set too high, your track fader may have to be set very low and this can make it the fader too low to have any kind of control in the upper part. When your track father is set too low, you wil find it very difficult to adjust and fine tune your levels.
  • If your preamp level is too high, the signal can overdrive the audio interface's input or the next gain stage in the signal path. Preamp settings are very important. A preamp setting that is not optimal will result in severe deficiencies and those deficiencies will carry over to the mixing and mastering stages.
  • If your preamp level is set too low, then your track fader will have to be set too high and that can yield a very bad signal to noise ratio (s/n ratio)


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