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Please can someone help this idiot understand gain staging?

Chrisulrich Member Posts: 37 Member

Dear Anyone.

I know I'm gonna feel even dumber than usual when someone quietly explains How Simple This Concept Really Is - but I'm struggling with understanding gain staging.

Yup - done YouTube videos but you can't ask 'em stoopid questions - so I thought I'd come here instead! And one of the N.I. Izotope pages tried explaining it to me and I thought I was doing fine till I hit this bit....

"In a practical way, this means a second round of gain staging: after all the instruments have been calibrated to -18 dBFS, I route everything through my analog chain, and I calibrate the outputs of each submix (the inputs of each channel on the summing mixer) to -14 dBFS. From measuring my system with test tones and music, I know this level is perfect for my chain."

Why would you want ALL your instruments/sounds coming out at the same level (whether it's -14 or any other level)? Surely if all your instrments/sounds were exactly the same level, you couldn't hear the music because all the sounds would be getting eachother's way? I mean if you had a 4-piece band and the drummer and both guitarists were playing at EXACTLY the same level as the singer, surely you'd just get one tonal mass and not be able to pick out the individual sounds/instruments, would you?

Yes I've re-read the article quite a few times but I can't get past that paragraph.

Help? And there might be another dumbass question if I don't understand the answer to this one, no matter how Inkwedibly Simple it sounds to all youse expert guys out there! At SOME point there's going to be a Moment of Epiphany and everyone's gonna go 'FINALLY!! He UNDERSTANDS it!!' I feel I'm knocking on the door - but I aint there yet!

Yours hopefully



  • Kubrak
    Kubrak Member Posts: 2,752 Expert

    I do not know that concept, and I am not by a great deal mixing expert.... Trully said, I know almost nothing about mixing.....

    Still. Even if individual tracks have the same level there does not have to be a mess. One may spread instruments in stereo field, it helps a great deal. And if tracks overlap in frequency domain one could sculp them so they fit better (do not overlap much). And if not possible to sculpt, one could use compressor with sidechain to make temporarily space for given instrument.

    So, while mixing one places instruments in time-space-frequency domain in such a way that they do not "fight" each other and each element has its unique position in time-space-frequency domain.

  • DodMod
    DodMod Member Posts: 51 Helper


    For me gain staging is ensuring at every stage of the process I do not exceed 0dB on my main output bus. Probably the best example demonstrating this is Dom Sigalas' video on You Tube (I noted your comment on YouTube and asking questions), however his example uses Cubase so I'm not certain if it will help.

    The link is: The No.1 trick for LOUD mixes - Gain-Stage like a PRO in Cubase #cubase #mixing #gainstaging - YouTube

  • Reefius
    Reefius Member Posts: 238 Pro

    Some plugins that emulate analog hardware sound best at a certain level, which usually is around -18 dBFS. So, to get the best result you need to add a gain plugin before them to make sure you hit that -18 dBFS sweetspot.

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