How to set recording levels in your recording projects is certainly a frequently asked question. Later this week I will be releasing a podcast episode going a bit more in-depth at how to avoid clipping. For now, I want to share a brief post outlining this very simple but crucial process.
Years ago when analog recording was the rage (if it ever was), knowing how to set recording levels seemed a bit more challenging. Too low of a signal from your source meant lots of background hiss and noise. Too high a signal from your source resulted in nasty pops and crackles known as clipping.
Today the results of improper levels can be the same and even worse with digital clipping. Yet setting the levels in digital audio recording is much simpler and more forgiving than in the days of analog.
One main benefit of digital recording is the low-level of background noise to signal ratio. Even so, getting the levels right when you're recording a track is still very important. Understanding how to set recording levels will keep those nasty digital crackles and pops out of your projects. So let me give you a little direction on how to set recording levels.
First, keep your input signal peak between -12db and -6db. This will typically provide the best signal to noise ratio. It will also assure that your source signal has enough peak room to stay out of the clipping range.
Second, start from the beginning. Here's what I mean. Make sure to set the input level on your audio interface at this same point (-12db to -6). It is important to keep this level at the source and work your way back to the DAW input. Your signal should be set properly at the input of every device in your audio chain.
Are you using a preamp before your audio interface? Make sure to set the level properly here first. Next check the input signal of your source connected to your audio interface. Make sure the level is set properly here as well.
Some audio interfaces do not have a level meter with more than 3 led signal bars (some only have 1). Often these same units will be green/yellow when the signal is present and then turn red when it clips. If this is the case with your audio interface there is a simple way to properly set your levels.
Push your input source signal until it shows clipping, then back off the input about 6 db. From there just make sure your meter never turns red even at the loudest points in your audio source.
Knowing how to set recording levels from the beginning of your source to the recording signal on your DAW is simple yet critical. Get this part correct and you will have plenty of good clean signal to process in post production.
For a more in-depth look at how to set recording levels be sure to check out the podcast feed later this week. Also I would love to hear your thoughts and comments about this topic. Please add them to the section below.