New User -- Volume Problem

Hardware change suggestions welcome, too

Hey guys,

I manage a local band and we recently made the decision to start making our own music recordings. After playing with the trial version of n-track for a while, we decided to purchase it a few days ago. I am still learning to use the program and I have come a long way, but I have 1 issue that I need some advice on. When we record, I adjust the input levels so that we get a good level without clipping. According to the vumeter our volumes can be peaking as we record. And when we play back–either in the program, or mixed down into a single file and played in WMP or on a cd in a cd player–the volume is very low. The playback vumeter also shows that the sound is peaking so adjusting the volume sliders only seems to distort the sound.

As an example, with a standard music cd playing in my car keeping the volume on 12 is usually a good, moderately loud setting. When I play a song that we have recorded with n-track, I have to turn the volume up to around 18-20 to reach the same level as a professionally recorded cd.

Here is a quick rundown of our setup:

We have our guitar and bass amps, drum microphones, and voice mics running into a Yamaha EMX300 mixer. It’s old but it works well and it was given to us for free lol. We are running output from the mixer via 1/4in. jack to the DiamondMM Extreme Sound 7.1 24-bit soundcard in my computer using a 1/4in.–1/8in. jack adapter. We adjust the levels on the mixer to give a good strong signal to the copmuter being careful to avoid clipping, then fine tune the volume levels when mixing in n-tack. We record each instrument individually on separate tracks.

Any advice for us beginners is extremely welcome in regards to our volume issue and our hardware setup. We are learning as we go and went into this pretty blind lol.

Thanks guys, and if anyone is interested in listening to the modest recording we have made so far (and once again, suggestions to help us with recording are welcome) look us up on MySpace (

Well first off save your pennies and ditch the crappy onboard sound card. Get yourselves a decent interface that has balanced ins & outs. Then search the net and find articles about
normalization, compression, and mastering.

I listened to your song on MySpace. Not too bad for a first try. But a few things, the drums are to in your face and dry. I hear lots-o-snare and not much of anything else. Try adding some reverb and lowering their volume. What I can hear of the guitar and bass sounds good but they need to be brought up in the mix.

Did you mix this in headphones?

A good audio i/o is really a requirement for good recording. If you will record at 24 bit you will have more “room” for sound levels. Keep in mind that digital is not analog and it is better to record down -3 to -6 db ( or even more) than to risk getting clipping. The sound level can be raised later with little or no issues, but a clip is a problem that can be hard to get rid of. And mics can make a big difference - you can have “clipping” in a mic that cannot handle the sound pressure and it will not necessarily show up on the meters * one of the reasons dynamic mics like Shure 57 and 58 are used so much in life performance). Finally, remember that the sound energy is cumulative, you can have several tracks that are each not clipping, but the Main out, the sum of the tracks, can be well in the red.

Quote: (MortalMoss @ Nov. 28 2009, 12:22 AM)

As an example, with a standard music cd playing in my car keeping the volume on 12 is usually a good, moderately loud setting. When I play a song that we have recorded with n-track, I have to turn the volume up to around 18-20 to reach the same level as a professionally recorded cd.

this is where mastering comes in.
most commercial recordings are heavily compressed to make them loud as possible.
to get your own recordings that loud you will need to use a limiter. this is one is easy to use Kjaerhus Master Limiter that will get it as loud, not make sound better. A small amount of limiting will catch those drum peaks that cause the vu meters to peak early giving more volume without distorting.
but there's always a thousand others things you usually need to do before pushing the limiter.

Adjusting the k-meter system should solve the problem. The default I think will leave the meter at a lower setting than what you want. The meter system should be set to the type of music your making. In the case of Rock you should set it up as follows:

First right click on the meter at the bottom of the screen and select from the pop up, “Range” This will set the range of the meter. Setting it lower than -90 means your total output volume will be lower because the meters will peak sooner resulting in lower output. From the same “Range” pop up you will see the “K-Scale (db shift from 0db)” select this and from that pop up select “K-14”. If I remember correctly, “K-20” is for, like vocals like reading or just dialog and the “K-12” is for like movies or where there is a wide range of dynamic sound. “K-14” is suited for music. What you will notice is there will be more room for sound on the meter, where the volume was clipping with the default setup you now have more room on the meters before clipping. If you can, mix your song to a single wave file with the highest possible format, like 24bit, 96,000hz and then bring it back into n-track and then do a final mix on it bringing up the volume. Tools like Ozone 3 or 4 can boost the the output without hurting the audio, to point of course, this process is part of the mastering process and some knowledge of what your doing with a program like it is required, but in nut shell the process in Ozone is called the "Loudness Maximizer"

nramusic’s suggestion is also good.

Hope this helps,


Wow thanks for all of the quick responses guys. This is a lot of stuff to learn on your own and I really appreciate the advice.

We are planning on re-recording “Now Is” on Tuesday so I will put your suggestions to use. Like duffman pointed out, the drums are very overpowering so that was one point we needed to work on. I went ahead and grabbed that master limiter that nramusic suggested as well.

I have one more question for now. What do you recommend for a good quality recording sound card? As mentioned in my first post, I have a DiamondMM Extreme Sound 24-bit sound card right now which I just picked up for $30 to replace my onboard sound. I know its not great but it records 10x better than what I was getting with onboard lol. Also, does the input jack make a difference with the sound quality?

Thanks once again for your help guys.

Good quality sound card…well let me guess a couple of things first. Your sound card only has 2-mono or 1 stereo pair as inputs which means you are recording the whole band at one time using either the main out, control room, or sub-bus out on your mixer into the sound card, with some other mixer output going to your PA system so the band can hear through the monitors. Capturing the whole band all at once? How close am I? In theory this sounds good, actuality is not good. What sounds good through the mixer/PA may not sound good recorded.

So for a start why dont you record the whole band as you have been. Use that as a scratch track. Then go back and have the members play along to the scratch one at a time, recording each one at a time to their own track. As for the drums you may find you need to record just the snare, then the bass , then toms…get it each to a track so you can control their sound. You should get an okay recording using your Diamond this way. But you will find it takes a long time just getting everything recorded.

If you want to capture the whole band at once to individual tracks then you need to look at something like an M-Audio Delta 1010 or 1010LT and have a mixer with individual channel direct outs.

Actually we have been recording one at a time. The way we have gone about it is our drummer records first using a metronome to help stay on tempo. Then using headphones we record bass, then guitar, then vocals. I would love to be able to record each drum on the kit to a separate track but we just don’t have an efficient way to do that since our mixer doesn’t have direct outs on its channels (which I hate).

So I guess when we re-record on Tuesday we are just going to try to balance the drum kit as best we can when we record it which will probably take more time that anything. I think the biggest thing we need to work on there is pulling the snare down a bit and bringing the kick drum up. You can’t even hear the kick drum when playing in a cd player. I have a spare resonant head for the kick drum so I am going to try cutting a hole in it so we can position the mic inside the drum. Crude I know, but it might work lol.

Quote: (MortalMoss @ Nov. 29 2009, 1:34 AM)

Actually we have been recording one at a time.

Well thats not how your mix sounded. So why not record 3-4-5 drum tracks moving the mics around. 1-whole kit from over head, 2-snare & hi-hat(Split/panned hard left & right recorded to 2 mono tracks), 3-cymbals, 4-kick, 5-toms.

You would have several tracks that would give better control.