Thursday, June 12, 2014

The DJ Myth about Going Into the Red (truth about 0dB)

I keep seeing a lot of DJs on my newsfeed post about how they view "going into to the red" equivalent to distortion. While it is great practice to keep the gain levels under the red, what many DJs don't understand, is how a mixer works, and that there is a certain generous level of "red" that actually doesn't cause any distortion, despite their belief in that myth. This belief has caused many DJs to meme pics of major headliners slightly or moderately into the red and troll them for poor DJ technique. Here was my response to one of those memes. I tried to be more concise than I used to be on this subject.

Redlining = Distortion

In high quality analog and digital mixers, going above 0dB DOES NOT immediately clip the signal. In older and some cheaper equipment it may be the case, especially with cheaper analog gear. However, one of the reasons why 96khz is such a big deal despite digital files played back are only 44.1khz, is because of the "headroom" it provides. And high quality analog circuitry also provides good analog "headroom" as well.

Unless you are actually way past the mixer channel's distortion threshold which is way above 0dB; above the mixer's master output which is usually past 80% on the master knob; overdriving the amplifier; OR driving the speakers beyond their power capacity,  YOU WILL NOT CLIP WITH MOST MODERN MIXERS.

Lets say you mix two tracks and they both peak at 0dB, your overall master signal should red line since two signals will cause the overall signal to expand. Notice it doesn't clip? Also, notice how some mixers can be "louder" than others? And sometimes 0dB is labeled as red but the yellow way before the red?

It is a guide to be used to properly "balance" your signal. If it is into the solid red, it is hard to gauge how much louder one side is from the other. Keeping your levels at a point where the meters are flowing freely helps you keep your levels in shape.

Not every mixer is built the same.  Sometimes there can even be sonic differences in mixers of the same model, simply because they upgraded the internal circuitry during production. This will also lead you to discover that it is easier the clip some mixers over others. Use your ears to judge distortion, and don't force distortion just because the meters tell you that you are safely in the green.

The following article explains a bit more on the subject.

1 comment:

  1. 96khz doesn't afford any headroom over 44.1khz.

    Going over 0dBVu was never going to cause substantial distortion on any studio or live gear. That's the average peak, not the max peak area. Some mixers have red start right after 0dBVu; some up right below or at clipping way above that. The clipping happens at or near the top of the meter. The dBVu scale is used for crude average loudness metering. The overall meter (and the top LEDs) have a secondary purpose of showing how far from clipping you are, but you should never be getting that high on them, anyway.

    Don't trust your ears. They'll lie to you as the night goes on. Trust the gear and do the prep work by setting the system and the front-end up appropriately ahead of time, checking how things are metering and what actual headroom there is available (which isn't always a good thing, by the way -- like set a system for the top green on a DJM and then the headliner running it up to the first red undistorted, now you've got a much louder sound system than what you intended) and how comfortably you're running the system below its tolerances.