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Track Level is over driving API 550A EQ

Hello. I find that when I EQ with the API 550A or B, sometimes the level on the track I’m EQing is overdriving the EQ (needle goes into the red). In this case, I back off the EQ output to an acceptable meter level, however, this messes up the overall mix balance because now the track I’m EQing is not loud enough in the mix. I then increase the level on the fader but then this causes the EQ to overdrive (needle goes into the red). How do I compensate for lowering the output level so to not overdrive the unit but keep the track level loud enough in the mix? Its getting frustrating…

Hi there @jag70usa!

Great Question, and I hope that this topic starts a discussion with others.

The API550A is precisely modeled after the original API hardware, which did not include an input control.

The way one controls the input level in to this EQ (hardware and plugin) is adjusting the level of the signal going in to it, in the component that comes before it.

In the digital domain, you can do this either by lowering the level of the recorded audio file in your track, or, if there are plugins that come before the API in your processing chain - lowering the output of those, thus lowering the signal going in to the API. If there are no plugins before it you can also just add a ‘gain’ component (in most DAWS) to adjust the level before it goes in to the API.

This will ensure you have enough headroom to process the signal in the EQ without going in to the red or distorting and squashing the signal.
This method, in a short is called ‘gain staging’ and is a very important concept many are not aware of, or ignore it’s importance these days.

I strongly suggest reading this fantastic article about gain staging, i’m sure it will help you and other battling levels in plugins and mixes.

https://www.waves.com/gain-staging-in-your-daw-better-mix

@simon.a.billington @Andy_Gone @kurma.mastering maybe you guys have something to add?

@Yishai-Waves I believe you already explained it very well ))

I like to prep mixes so that all tracks are more or less around -18 dBFS, which is de facto standard of calibrating most of hardware emulation plugins to be an ‘analog zero’.

@jag70usa Gain staging does not seem obligatory in modern floating point processing DAWs where you have thousands dBs of headroom, unless you are using hardware emulation plugins, because those have to be calibrated somehow in order to be able simulating hardware’s inherent finite headroom.

If you are in a situation you described (like tracks are not prepped level-wise beforehand), you can always use any suitable plugin to lower level before the emulation plugin (and if needed, another one to bring it back after the emulation plugin). Anything can be used as ‘volume plugin’, for example, S1 without processing. Dedicated volume plugins also exist, including free ones.

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9 months Andy… Seriously!!! Haha!!

I, like Andy, go for a -18dBFS or -23 LUFS, give or take. If my peaks are between -3 and -8dB I’m happy.

The -3 at the top just gives me a little headroom in case I’ve missed something or I’ve accidentally bumped the level up a bit in processing. Generally though, I always check that the sound leaves at basically the same loudness as it came into a processor, so this minimises this type of mistake. it also makes it ideal for comparing before and after.

The thing I would suggest getting into the practice of is right at the start when setting up your mix is building a quick mix balance using no plugins and then double check your metering, making sure none of them have been hitting into the red.If that’s the case then Region or Clip Gain it down then bring up the volume fader by the same amount. You have to make sure your meters are set to “pre-fader” though.

This will give you have a solid foundation in which to start a mix.

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