Mix level?

What level should I aim for on the Master bus when mixing a song prior to mastering?
At the moment I am keeping the peak levels in the numeric display below -3.0 dB. I’m not entirely sure why.

Thanks for all the helpful comments!
Is there an application that will give me a readout of the average level as opposed to the peak level?

I quite often use Fons Adriaensen’s JKMeter

pick it up from here http://www.kokkinizita.net/linuxaudio/downloads/index.html and compile it.

You can read a bit about it here:


I would aim for between -1dB and -.1dB myself.

However as long as you are exporting as a 24 Bit file, -3dB should be fine. Heck even at 16 bit it probably would, but if you are doing the mastering separately there is little reason not to use a 24 bit IMO.


hello norv

personally, I can’t give you a response,
in my opinion, at the begining, you must determine at what
acoustical level you want to work,
remember the importance of Fletcher-Munson Curves, how they
modify our aural perception

Assuming you are sending a high-quality 24- or 32-bit file, it doesn’t really matter what the peak level is (but obviously with a 24-bit file you can’t exceed 0dBFS). The level can be transparently adjusted during mastering. You read a lot about inter-sample peaks but those only apply once the signal has been reconstructed in a dac or other processing. Your mastering engineer should be knowledgeable enough to avoid this issue.

A much bigger issue is the “average” level of the music. A loud mastered pop mix might register around -10dBFS RMS. Because the mastered mix will always have some peaks at or near 0dBFS, this means you have 10dB of “headroom” in the mix. The mastering engineer will appreciate getting a file with a little extra headroom, say 14 dB.

Since your loudest peak is at -3dB already, your target for the mix average level should be (-3 (peak level) -14 (target headroom) ) = -17. There are a couple of averaging meters available as plugins and/or JACK applications to help you hit your target. Some common targets for headroom are 20dB (for “natural” music), 14dB (for “pop” music) and 10dB (for extra perceived volume). Recent CD releases have less than 10dB, but the classic records we all know and love were recorded with 20dB or so headroom.

If you want a loud aggressive sound, but the average level of your mix is -23dBFS or lower (i.e. a headroom of 20dB), then the mastering engineer is going to have a hard job raising the average level that much without causing audible artifacts.

If, on the other hand, you are already hitting -8dBFS RMS, (leaving you with only 5dB of headroom between your -3dB peaks) then your mix is far too compressed already and a mastering engineer will just be working to recover your already-destroyed mix.

To summarize, you should be paying more attention to the “average” level of your mix than to the peak levels.


For more in depth info (in addition to Bens posting) I would recommend reading the articles “Level Practices” from this site: http://www.digido.com/articles-demos.html


hello Axel,
Bob Katz is a good choice reading :wink:

about The K-System Proposal, Bob Katz says:
“The proposed K-System is a metering and monitoring standard that integrates the best concepts of the past with current psychoacoustic knowledge in order to avoid the chaos of the last 20 years”