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Topic: OT: Analog Thinking in A Digital World

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  1. #1

    OT: Analog Thinking in A Digital World

    I still find myself thinking conventional magnetic tape thoughts from time to time and I need to be straightened out on something.
    With tape, it was important to get the highest signal to noise ratio to stay well above the noise floor.
    Obviously you don\'t want to record digital tracks at -20 or something crazy, but is it equally important to record a track as close to zero as it would be with tape?
    OK, now going a step further, if you recorded all of your tracks at a decent level and you want to mix the tracks lower to accomodate a track that is a little weaker than the others, is there any adverse effects to that?
    Once in a while I will record an acoustic instrument that I don\'t want to compress a whole bunch, so to assure that I don\'t clip, I record it at a little lower level. As a result, all of the other tracks are much louder.
    Conventional logic would lead me to the conclusion that once a track is in the digital realm you should be able to mix the tracks as low as you want as long as they\'re relative to one another..But you\'re going to need to get you loudness back up to a normal level....and I have read so many arguments for and against normalizing that I have been too scared to test out this theory.
    Suggestions, experiences, tips?
    Thanks -Travis Barnes

  2. #2
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Re: OT: Analog Thinking in A Digital World

    OK, here you go...

    Originally posted by Travis Barnes:
    I still find myself thinking conventional magnetic tape thoughts from time to time and I need to be straightened out on something.
    With tape, it was important to get the highest signal to noise ratio to stay well above the noise floor.
    Obviously you don\'t want to record digital tracks at -20 or something crazy, but is it equally important to record a track as close to zero as it would be with tape?
    OK, now going a step further, if you recorded all of your tracks at a decent level and you want to mix the tracks lower to accomodate a track that is a little weaker than the others, is there any adverse effects to that?
    Once in a while I will record an acoustic instrument that I don\'t want to compress a whole bunch, so to assure that I don\'t clip, I record it at a little lower level. As a result, all of the other tracks are much louder.
    Conventional logic would lead me to the conclusion that once a track is in the digital realm you should be able to mix the tracks as low as you want as long as they\'re relative to one another..But you\'re going to need to get you loudness back up to a normal level....and I have read so many arguments for and against normalizing that I have been too scared to test out this theory.
    Suggestions, experiences, tips?
    Thanks -Travis Barnes
    <font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">No need to record close to 0dB. Record as hot as is safe, just so you can see the waveforms.

    Caveat: This is 24-bit advice. When recording 16-bit, stay relatively hot, or you\'ll start running low on bits, and getting grainy at low-volume sections.

    When mixing, don\'t worry about the relative level of tracks. All the mainstream DAW apps mix in 32-bit float. Boost, cut, do what you like, it will all be fine in the mix.

    NORMALIZING

    This subject deserves its own heading. Short answer: Don\'t worry about it.

    Once upon a time, WAAAAAAY back in digital audio production history, a 16-bit editor operated in 16-bit math. So, each time you did any destructive audio edit, you were hurting your audio quality as a tradeoff.

    These days, it\'s not like that. Calculations take place in 32-bit float, and are dithered to the target sample depth.

    So, you can normalize to a 24-bit depth, even if you just truncate, and lose nothing you\'ll hear. Don\'t do it 150 times in a row!! But don\'t lose sleep because you want to normalize a track. And because some editors can operate **and** save to 32-bit depths, you COULD in theory do destructive edits all day with absolutely no ill effect.

    THAT said, there\'s no need to normalize a track in your setting, because you can feel free to mix whatever relative volumes you like and you\'ll be fine. If you want to normalize your final mix, you\'ll be just fine.

    However, THAT said...

    Adjusting loudness in the final mix is really a mastering issue. So, the time to do this is when you\'re assembling final product. This is where people use high-grade limiters like Waves L2, which have a brickwall limiting function and advanced dithering and noise-shaping algorithms.

    If the tune is a one-shot that doesn\'t go with other things, you can master it in isolation, of course. That\'s more than normalizing, but I don\'t have the energy to launch into a full-scale mastering discussion.

    Bottom line: Normalizing won\'t kill your audio, and that hasn\'t been the condition for a VERY long time. It\'s generally a superfluous operation but not harmful. When you see people going into histrionics about normalizing, you can generally assume they\'re just popping off about something they read which is many years out of date...and you can smile to yourself and be entertained by it.

  3. #3

    Re: OT: Analog Thinking in A Digital World

    Thanks for clarifying things, Bruce. I can honestly say that I had destroyed mixes when I first started out because I was operating on the \"closest to Zero\" theory. I would have to crunch an instrument with tons of compression to get it to an equal level with the others.
    It\'s nice to know that after an instrument is in the computer, you can do alot more without fear of noise.
    I remember reading threads that went on for 100 posts, for and against normalizing and it was hard to know who had the inside scoop. But I suppose a listening test would have solved it in my own mind.
    The L2\'s auto release control is phenomenal and I have used the L2 as a final processing stage for my tracks, but the L2 limiting doesn\'t even kick in on one of the tracks I was speaking about because the level was so low. That\'s why I was hoping that normalizing wasn\'t detrimental(at least perceivably)....and you seem to have calmed some of the apprehension. Thanks for the info.
    Travis Barnes

  4. #4
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Re: OT: Analog Thinking in A Digital World

    Originally posted by Travis Barnes:
    That\'s why I was hoping that normalizing wasn\'t detrimental(at least perceivably)....and you seem to have calmed some of the apprehension. Thanks for the info.
    Travis Barnes
    <font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">Wow, that is REALLY low. You may have some issue with that, but if you make a backup before you normalize, you can always go backwards.

  5. #5

    Re: OT: Analog Thinking in A Digital World

    In addition to Bruce\'s excellent advice I would add when recording digitally I find it helpful to think of -15db as 0db on an old analog VU meter. This is when recording 24 bit. I would rather do this than rely on brick wall limiting to stop hitting digital full scale.

    It\'s amazing how much louder many singers and players get after they\'ve been going for half an hour. I\'d rather have the headroom than worry about waisting a few bits of resolution.

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