This week, I read an absolutely amazing thread on prosoundweb about digital levels.
Some of the ideas fly a little bit in the face of some of the things I’ve suggested in the past (particularly with regard to tracking as hot as possible).
Having now finished reading it (I was still half way through it at the time I recorded this episode), the main gist of what was being discussed (and there were some pretty big industry heavyweights in there) was that if you are tracking in 24 bit, there is no need to aim for the hottest possible level to disc. These guys were advocating tracking with average levels around -20dBFS (and peaks around -12dBFS)! Now, if anyone had tried to sell me on that idea a week ago, I probably would have held on to my existing position and disagreed.
But no, the theory makes a whole lot of sense.
In a nutshell, the idea is this:
At 24 bit resolution, we’ve got 144dB of S/N ratio to play with (or you could refer to it as dynamic range if you wanted to).
NOTHING (Shall I repeat that? NOTHING) that you are going to record into your DAW has that kind of dynamic range.
Nothin’, zip, nada, nil.
For podcasters, the widest dynamic you’re likely to deal with will be your own voice, and even if you’re REALLY inconsistent with levels (and don’t own an outboard compressor), the most you’ll have to contend with might be in the vicinity of 50dB (from the quietest passage to the loudest passage)…. but even that is unlikely.
So, if you track with peaks at -12dB, AND you happen to have a soft passage 50dB below that (-62dBFS), you’ve still got 82dB of S/N below ya!
But why would you need to track that low?
Well, the theory (and according to these heavyweights who are tracking and mixing this way, the practise) suggests that if you track too close to full scale, you might introduce clipping when you start running plugins (EQ, compressors, peak limiters, whatever) that don’t operate at higher bitrates.
Look, it’s not a thread for the faint hearted, but if you have an interest in getting the best possible quality out of your digital audio setup, it’s worth the time and effort.
It took me 4 days to get through it because I kept on re-reading lines and paragraphs to make sure I understood it.
Also, the real meat starts about 7 pages in when Paul Frindle weighs in on the discussion.
OK, enough of that.
This week in the podcast, part 4 in the series on constructing your own promo: some tips on track laying.