Headroom and Gain Staging

The first thing we’re going to talk about in this lesson is Headroom and Gain Staging

Remember, when you’re working on any audio project you may not be the first or last person working on the audio or video. This especially applies to voice over.

Headroom is the amount of range we have available to process between the maximum level of the audio and the maximum output of our DAW.

If there is too little headroom then we may run into distortion issues while processing our audio.  Most of the time this will result in clipping.

Gain staging is a process by which we make sure we’re feeding an appropriate level of audio from the first path of our chain to the next and beyond until we reach the final stereo mix bus continually ensuring a healthy signal-to-noise ratio. This also includes the idea that we need to leave enough headroom for processing throughout.

So how do we do proper gain staging?

First listen to your track and make sure that no track is clipping.

While simultaneously watching your Master and making sure that it’s never clipping.

Remember, the audio we’re seeing here is the combination of everything feeding into it.  Ours is clipping so we’re going to adjust the tracks so we have balance.

Please, if you’re coming from working in analogue to working in digital the way audio is processed is different so we can be very conservative when we work with audio. We don’t need it to go all the way to 0 without clipping. You’re not going to hurt anything by keeping it lower. As a matter of fact:

As a general rule:

  1. Never go over -3 or even -6.
  2. I usually go with the difference and aim for -10

Keep in mind – there are a lot of things that you’re going to do to this audio before it is completely finished more importantly other people may work with this audio beyond you and you should leave plenty of headroom and the benefit of working digitally is that you can do that.

So let’s begin adjusting our audio.

Remember when going through your tracks that the way some things should sound is subjective. Everyone hears things differently but clipping is always bad.

And also when in the mixer in Adobe Audition you can right click and change the scale you’re looking at in order to better see where -10 is.

Now all of our audio going into the Master is balanced and not only is no track clipping but we’re hovering around that magical -10 number with the stereo output.

Also one more quick note, if you want to group tracks together in Adobe Audition you’ll have to use a Bus. Normally grouping is a feature common in a lot of other DAWs but not this one at least in this way. However, for gain staging the levels that we’re setting now are starting points.  We don’t want to bus them all off and then work with the Bus. So you’re going to have to adjust each individually to your taste.

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