Once your instrument is connected, your audio software is configured and you’ve created a new recording track, just how do you set the input gain for a proper recording level in your audio software?
There’s no simple answer, but with a few guidelines and a bit of experience, you can master setting a proper level. Ideally, the input gain should be set so that when the input signal is at its loudest, the level in audio software is just below maximum without lighting the Over indicator.
In reality, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to guess just the right gain setting to accomplish this - when your gain is too low, the signal never gets close to maximum and when your gain is too high, a digital Over may occur.
Now, with a 24-bit system (such as GiO), the noise floor is so low that there’s no real penalty for undershooting the gain setting and recording at a lower level. There IS a penalty for overshooting the gain setting - a digital Over that results in significantly increased distortion. Thus, it’s better to work with a recording level that’s a bit too low than a level that’s a bit too high.Just how much to undershoot the gain setting is determined by the nature of the sound being recorded.
As a general rule, instruments such as bass and organ have a more consistent level than percussive instruments, such as a tambourine, and may be recorded at a higher level. Click here for a guide to proper gain-staging. Also, the performer’s skill and playing style can dictate more or less caution when setting levels.
As you gain experience, you’ll be able to more accurately set a good recording level while avoiding digital overs.