Adjusting tracks gain level vs adjusting faders

I know that might sound like another dumb question, but I’m really new to this world and these answers are like bricks helping me build my knowledge… So please be patient with me =)

In a lot of mixing videos I watched I saw that in DAWs there is a way to adjust the gain of a single track (or region, I didn’t undertand perfectly). As an example, I saw a video where a producer used ProTools to mix a session and showed that there’s a little button on the bottom left of a region of a track that can be used to lower/raise the gain of that track/region… Obviously, withouth touching the fader at all.
Does ardour have such a feature? How is this done in Ardour?

Above all, I was wondering WHY this is done, I mean: can’t we just use the fader? Why, for example, lowering the gain directly a that level? I guess this has a specific purpose, I mean: I think there are sort of rules for when to use gain adjusting or faders, but I think I need your help to figure it out precisely.
Is it maybe because, usually, faders affect the PROCESSED track? Therefore, raising faders we are raising the volume of the tracks + the effects processing while, raising only gain, we are raising the volume of the track alone, is it correct?
Could you possibly make me an example where this differentiation is really useful?

Thank you very much in advance

This will be a useful watch:

It’s for Mixbus (based on Ardour) but the ideas apply equally to vanilla Ardour. It shows how to change the gain of regions versus the whole track (trim controls per track are at the top right of each mixer strip).

We use trim controls to get a basic mix to ensure that subsequent fader movements occur in the sweet zone of most precision (they are logarithmic after all). For example, notice the difference between a movement near unity and a similar-sized movement at the extremes.

As for region gains versus track etc, perhaps there’s a region that you recorded a little hotter than needs to be brought down to the same level as the rest. Simply moving the track fader would affect all regions and wouldn’t address the difference.

Anyhow, I recommend you watch the video and do some reading up on gain staging. It definitely changed how I operate including ensuring that at each stage my mix had a healthy amount of headroom (10 to 12dB is often a good ballpark). I grew up in the digital age and so didn’t have that “analog” way of working built in. The whole 32-bit float stuff made it worse for me as I thought I could do anything I wanted not realizing that plugins etc often only work at their best with the appropriate headroom/operating levels.


Again another very useful answer!
I’ll watch the video you suggested, as for your recommendation to read something more about gain staging, could you recommend me some read in particular?

Thank you very much again!

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First, another listen:

Good reads:

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Also, one of the best books I’ve found for comprehensive audio engineering information is:

Nice video :+1:
Do anybody know if the feature mentioned at 2:15 is available on Ardour? It would be really useful if not already implemented. When I try it on Ardour, the range disappears as I select Draw or Edit modes, but I may be missing something :thinking:

It works here for me. If it’s in the Mixbus editor, it’s in Ardour. Draw a range with the smart button enabled (or press r for range mode), then press d for draw and drag up or down anywhere in the selected range.

Perhaps you are selecting the region instead of creating a range? That’s the only way I can recreate what you are experiencing…

there is a video of the great unfa where he uses just the same feature in his ardour quickstart guide. I think it would be a useful watch for you, check it out:
(that function is at about 11:30)

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Hi again!
I watched the video and started reading a little bit more about gain staging as well as “related” topics (e.g. different type of meters and their purposes, which we discussed in my previous topic: Master level meter higher than the sole added track) and the first questions begin to raise for me… Could you help me to understand?

So, I understood that usually the meters on the tracks are peak meters (very fast response to signal and all transient catching) and that the unity of measure in these meters is usally the dbFS, so that when the signal reaches/exceeds the 0 db level, we know clipping is occuring. Therefore, at a recording level we can easily avoid clipping looking at the peak meter and adjusting signal level so that it is below that 0 db level.

On the master bus, instead, we usually find average meters, like the K-20/RMS meter which is the default in Ardour. These meters (as far as I understood) measure the average loudness of the signal, so that we can have a general picture of how loud our track is.

Please let me know if I got it well…

That said, I’ve watched a plenty of videos about recording and mixing and all of them say to leave enough headroom - which should be the space between the max level of the signal and threshold where teh signal begins to clip (0 db in a peak meter?..) - which can assure you the possibiltiy to add plugins and processors (which will inevitably add gain to your track) in order to manipulate how your track sounds.
However, there seems to be no agreement on how much headroom to leave in the individual tracks (and consequently at which level record the input) to have the best amount of headroom… So that’s my first question: at which level should I record my instruments/how much headroom do I have to leave in my tracks? Do I have to calculate it roughly somehow?

The second questions is about the master bus: since on the master bus I usually don’t have a peak meter, but an average meter like the K-20/RMS of ardour, how can I correctly read this meter? Is still bad if the meter goes on the yellow/red area (perhaps at about +3/+6 db)? Is still clipping happening? (it shouldn’t be, because 0 db in a K-20/RMS meter is NOT equal 0 dbFS i guess…) or it is just saying that the track is “pretty loud” but it’s perfectly fine?
The videos I saw also state that a certain amount of headroom has to be left in the master bus too, in order to allow to raise the overall volume of the track without struggling at the mastering stage. Also in this case, I didn’t find no agreement on how much headroom to leave… So I was wondering: how much headroom do I have to leave in the master bus? Do I have to calculate it roughly somehow either?

Please let me know if I got something wrong and correct me at any level of my reasoning, it’ll help me to understand, of course =).

Thank you again!

There’s no set value. A healthy amount given we record in 24-bit these days would be a peak of -10 to -12 dBFS. You can afford to go even lower and still have better sound than 16-bit. For mission-critical concert recordings or times I haven’t had chance to hear the group rehearsing, I’ve peaked at -18dBFS with zero side effects. Technically you could peak around -48dBFS and still attain 16-bit quality (but please don’t feel the need!).

Average around zero on a K-meter. For a K-20 meter that means you are averaging at around -20dBFS. For a K-14, -14 dbFS and so on. Bob Katz designed them so that +3/4 was fortissimo (88-90+ dB). For all the K-meter variants the idea is to calibrate each monitor to 83dB when playing back pink noise at -20dB/-14dB/-12dB RMS (for a large mastering studio or cinema space) but lower for a small studio and even lower for a bedroom studio. When calibrated, K-meters help you master with your ears and not your eyes. Too loud? Reduce gain trim or fader but don’t touch the monitor volume knob. Choosing which K-meter “flavor” to use depends on the genre.

In a way all of this is a moot point in 2020. We should be using LUFS meters because that is what streaming services use to decide whether a song meets their loudness criteria. -16 LUFS is a good starting point for modern music and lower for classical and even more for broadcast (-23 LUFS in Europe). @x42 created a meter plugin collection which includes an EBU R128 meter and now Ardour contains a “Loudness Assistant” for this very purpose of conforming to a particular LUFS level and/or true peak value (in addition to the existing normalization on export feature).

It all depends. If you are mastering at home, peaks should be -1 dBTP (true peak) max. If you are sending to a professional mastering house, then leave some healthy room. People say at least -3 dB but I tend to recommend the 10-12 dB peak values. I think if you master using the built-in K-20 meter reaching +3/4 dB on the scale for the loudest part of your song you should be absolutely fine for sending on to a mastering house.


@bachstudies I always appreciate your detailed and helpful replies to questions like this; I often copy your answers and keep them in a notes file that I have for future reference.


Thanks so much. It’s been a while since I studied acoustics (I took it as a finals paper for my Oxford undergraduate music degree back in 2002) so I’m more than a little rusty on certain technical aspects to do with voltage etc. Hopefully what I do say is good generic advice for any and all DAW work.

Thanks for your reply! It seems that the session I am currently working on is indeed buggy somehow. I can’t tell how yet… I checked Alt+O for something that could affect this particular session, changed Edit Modes and Points, but couldn’t find anything significant. It affects all tracks on that session.

I tried with old sessions and a new one as a test and the method works perfectly: select a range and then use Draw mode (not Internal Edit mode). It also works for automation lanes :smiley:

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