What Is Proper Gain Staging?

Proper Gain Staging! 

Written By: Eric “Realistic” Michael

When it comes to a great sounding mix, one of the most significant steps you can take to ensure high quality is to ensure your master channel output is not hard clipping (in the red.)⁠

When you have a master output that is hard-clipping, it can cause unwanted artifacts such as harshness, muddiness, crackles, damaged dynamics, ruined transients, & less clarity.⁠ Simply lowering the volume going into your master channel can instantly improve your mix!⁠

-6dB of headroom going into your mix sum or master channel is ideal, but you could get away with as loud as -3dB if you wanted to.⁠

It's best practice to have the headroom going into the mix sum/master channel rather than turning down the channel fader on the mix sum/master fader.⁠

That's because that fader is post inserts & post channel input. So the damage has already been done. The input has already been clipped & the clipped signal is entering all the plugins that way.⁠

The most common way is to group all your mix channels (not including AUX channels) & lowering them, so the headroom goes into the mix sum/master channel.⁠ It's an instant fix!⁠

Some people may take a more straightforward approach by adding a trim plugin as the first insert on their mix sum. That can work too, but you may find that lowering all your mix channels isn't too much extra work than a trim plugin.⁠

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