Q: My studio is outfitted with a DAW as well as a fairly large amount of outboard equipment, and it always delivers fairly good results. However, every once in a while there’s some weird distortion, and I’ll see a clip or something on one of the 20 different meters that’s either in the DAW or on the outboard. Is there some kind of hierarchy to these meters?
A: A situation where you’re using multiple pieces of outboard gear (preamps, compressors, etc.) in addition to a DAW can definitely lead to some confusion, as there are often numerous meters displaying very different results.
So if your preamp has a meter and your DAW has a meter, which one should you look at as a reference? Well, theoretically, you should keep an eye on both meters, but pay extra attention to the outboard gear meters.
Pushing a preamp or compressor too hard will evidence itself on the meter on that piece of gear, but may still look fine on the input meter of the DAW. And it can cause the recording to be distorted or over-compressed, or both, but the input meter of the DAW will still be bouncing happily at -3 dB.
The pitfall of not accurately monitoring the outboard gear’s monitors is that distorted vocals or squashed tracks can’t be undone. With gear that has multiple monitoring modes, like a compressor that can switch between gain reduction and output, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on both functions to get the truest picture of what’s going to the input of your DAW.
The real answer is to watch them all; however, make sure you’re watching not only with your eyes, but with your ears as well.
For more tech tips go to Sweetwater.com