Mixing mystery

Setting recording levels


I’ve been pondering this issue for quite a while and just can’t figger it out.

When I record I follow the guidelines that many have suggested where I record as hot as possible but without clipping. The record vu meters in Ntrack go very near 0 db but do not exceed it.

I have not followed my mixers (mackie 1604) recommended process for setting levels because if I do, signal level in Ntrack is relatively weak. Meaning that the record vu meter peaks at around -10db instead of near 0 db.

The mackie mixer manual recommends setting the level on each channel of the mixer to where the signal generally stays around 0 db on the mixer. If I do that, then the signal in Ntrack only peaks around -10 db as indicated before.

My first thought on this was that I needed to ensure that all the places where I could set the +4 or -10 db setting were set appropriately. I’ve checked and rechecked this many times and they are all set to +4 db.

Here is my setup:

All instruments get plugged into the mixer. The direct outs on my Mackie are plugged into the 8 inputs on my Delta 1010. The outs on my Delta 1010 are plugged into channels 9-16 on my Mackie. The Mackie is set to +4. The buttons on the back of my Delta 1010 are set to +4.

My recordings come out fine either way, but it just mystifies me as to why there is a difference in the levels. It leads me to believe I don’t have my system set up appropriately somehow.

Any thoughts on this? Anyone experience the same issue?


O.K. First, let me say that I have a setup just like yours: Mackie 1604 -> Delta1010 -> n-Track. I’m running an OLD version of the program, so I don’t know what may have changed. I don’t recall any meter discrepancy, but I may not have been looking for it.

In general, however, you want your meters to correspond. Remeber that you’re dealing with an analog type of meter on your Mackie, and a digital full scale meter in n-Track. On that Mackie there’s a 0dB mark on the meters, just like on a VU. That’s generally accepted as an output votage of +4dBm (your +4 switch), which is 1.228vac. Somewhere (I think? I hope? I’m not really sure…) there is something in n-Track or the Delta that sets some fixed value of negative dB full scale as this 0 point. On my Protools system right now, I have it set up as -18dBFS. I calibrate the board and tape machine outputs so that they all match at +4dBm, and then calibrate the ProTools gear so it reads this voltage as -18dBFS.

So you’re getting -10dBFS when the Mackie is at 0 on it’s meters? Seems like you should have plenty of signal in n-Track. How close to 0dBFS do you try to get your tracks in the computer? Perhaps you’re just printing hotter than you really need to. People say “print digital hot”, but when you mix a buncha strong tracks you can easily overload the mix buss. This means you’ll have to turn things down. If you’re working on faders, running on the bottom of the fader means a larger change in a shorter move, which I find hard to work with. If you’re working in the box, turning your track down is a math process that affects, albeit in very slight ways, the sound of the material.

I found great improvement in my recording when I started tracking instruments for a mix at a level where all of them can be near 0dBVU, and still not overload the mix buss. The elusive “zero mix”, where you’ve tracked so well that you put all of the faders on 0 and the mix is done. This means some tracks are hotter than than others. It helps to have an idea what the song is going to sound like when you record, so you can set input level accordingly. It takes practice, like anything else. It’s a fun little challenge. I try to keep digital tracks somewhere near -6dBFS. Feel like it gives me room to work come mix time.

I dunno…just some thoughts. Maybe I’ll check my home rig next week, and see what I get there…


Excellent feedback…thank you very much. You’ve given me some things to think through and think about. Do you have your Delta 1010 set to +4? By the way I am using Ntrack version 3.3.


Are you sure Mackies direct out are +4 db? I have older Mackie cr1604 and the inserts I use (because there’s no direct outs) are -10 db level.


Excellent point. I was also beginning to wonder if this was the case. I will check my manual to see.


1.) Is there a post edit function? 'Cause I F-ed up. What I have written up there about the +4 signal level should say “+4dBu” not “dBm”. Different reference…

2.) I felt sure the 1604VLZ Pro is a +4 dBu device, but I can’t find my manual (it’s likely in the back storage room at the studio), and the on-line manual will take for ever to download on dial-up. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure what the outs are…


Yes, the Mackie clearly states several times it is a +4 device. I also checked in the manual to see if it said anything specifically about the signal coming out of the direct outs but it doesn’t, so I assume they are +4 also.