RECORDING WEEK: Setting the preamp gain to the correct level when recording is crucial. Too low and your signal will be quiet and noisy; too high and it will be distorted.
Follow these four steps to make sure you set your preamp gain correctly every time.
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Step 1: Mics and DIs need to go through an amplification stage before being recorded. This is called the preamp and is incorporated into your audio interface. Setting the gain correctly not only ensures the signal is strong enough, but also gives the most noise-free transmission of it.
Step 2: Setting the gain level involves some trial and error, but most interfaces include basic LED metering, which will run into the red when the circuit overloads. Start with the gain low and raise it until the meters are green, indicating a healthy signal level.
Step 3: Next, run through the track, listening out for loud sections or sudden peaks. Adjust the gain accordingly so that the meter remains predominantly green. Momentary peaks hitting red should be OK but a prolonged red light indicates that you’re overloading the preamp circuit.
Step 4: Finally, look at the input level for the DAW track you’re recording onto and check that the signal is at least a few decibels below zero. If it’s anywhere near zero, reduce the preamp gain, as you risk clipping the input converters. Having signals peak at -10dB or even lower is perfectly acceptable.