Is digital headroom necessary for a clear mix?

Is digital headroom necessary for a clear mix?
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Hmmm. Video claims sufficient headroom is necessary for a clear mix. In the box?? I’m no expert on metering. But my intuition said ‘wait a sec…that doesn’t sound right’. Any thoughts?


I’m could use a little bit more understanding about headroom before truly trying to answer that :smiley: As far as I read about it, I can imagine this just being a sales stunt, but then again, please explain the following to me from your experience.

When working with the following chain setup: mic-preamp-interface-computer/DAW-interface-monitors
Is there a difference in:
A) adjusting your preamp input volume so that in your DAW, you read on your selected channel an average input lvl of -12db, to leave space for using compressors and stuff.
B) Setting preamp lvl’s so you have and input lvl around 0db, and just lowering the channel volume when applying processing.

is there a difference in sound or spaciousness in a mix between using these methods ?

I have no experience with anologue gear, but I can some what imagine the effect it has. Any good examples of this o youtube ?



I always thought as long as nothing was clipping it was fine, just might have to turn things down as more tracks gets added to avoid clipping the master bus. It’s possible I’m completely wrong about that, but it looks to me like Waves is trying to sell a pointless plugin. Especially since DAWs already have meters built in…


There are 3 places you can clip with digital mixing.

  1. The input (preamp) - Obviously you shouldn’t be clipping there unless you really want to.
  2. Some plugins - Some plugins will clip if you go above a certain level (not always 0dB) and some won’t. It’s a design choice by the plugin designer. If you want your plugin to clip, you have to specifically design the code to make it clip, otherwise there is virtually infinite headroom.
  3. The output. If you are going over 0dB here, it will clip. It will clip the converter if you are coming from your DAW, or if you print to a wave or mp3, the wav/mp3 will write the clipping to the file.

Any plugin that is doing analog modeling probably expects a signal within a certain range. And obviously, if you are using any sort of plugin that has any sort of threshold settings or anything like that, you are going to want to give it a level that will make it work best. If your peaks are at -60dB and you try to feed that to a compressor, you are going to have a hard time finding a compressor that will let you have a threshold low enough. Contrariwise, if you are peaking at +6dB, you are probably going to have a hard time finding a compressor that lets you set the thresh to +6dB. But it is possible.

So even though theoretically 32 and 64 bit floats don’t clip, plugins and hardware are still generally designed to work best within a certain range. If you have even half a clue about how levels work, then you are probably doing ok in the digital realm.


Sorry. Now I’m confused too. Is clipping the only thing we’re concerned about here?

I thought we were talking about cumulative gain staging in and out of various plugins in a series chain. My understanding was when you’re dealing with headroom, you’re automatically considering clipping, but clipping is not the only thing to be considered. I thought the whole benefit to this plugin was that it accurately shows average loudness, not that it simply turns red when something peaks. Any ordinary plug does that.

At 20 seconds… “which is how our brains perceive loudness…which is what a good VU meter will show you…this is crucial to proper gain staging, which is crucial to getting more headroom, which is crucial to getting a clear mix.”

Same question, incase it didn’t makes sense the first time. If that’s what we’re monitoring, what does this offer that the stock meter on your DAW doesn’t??


What else would there be that could be a concern?

If a plugin is adding noise (which is stupid for a plugin to do) then I guess you have to consider cumulative effects. But there’s no inherent noise or distortion added in the process of passing the bits from one plugin to the next. If I put 10,000,000 reaEQ’s in series, the output would be identical to the input.

I personally think loudness metering gives itself way more accolades than it deserves. Even the best loudness meters can sound wildly different in loudness with the same measurement.

What it does offer is familiarity to people who spent 40 years looking at VU meters and having an intuition for what they are measuring. VU meters are not a gold standard. They are just what happened to be an ok solution 50 years ago, so some people got used to them.

Think about what you actually use meters for. In a broadcast situation, you get a feel after a while for how your meters should be showing in certain situations. If you are dealing with spoken voice being broadcast, and you are constantly using whatever meter you have, you get accustomed to what that meter should look like when levels are good. That doesn’t mean that I wold want to take that same meter home and use it to measure the loudness of my guitar track. I’d have to relearn the meter for that situation anyway.

I’ve tried a million different meters. In the end, I always end up going back to the default meters in Reaper. Not because they are better, but because I’ve seen them enough to at least know what they are telling me. That’s worth far more to me than somebody’s loudness algorithm, which in my experience, is largely bunk anyway.


Also, keep in mind that in this ad, waves is just taking talking points from gearslutz and putting it to video. Yes, peak meters do not show you how loud something sounds. They are terrible for that. VU meters are better for approximating how loud something sounds, but it’s still pretty far from any sort of gold standard.

Levels are the kind of thing where if you are so far off that you are screwing up your mix, you have much greater things to worry about than meter accuracy.


The average loudness level vs specifics about the peak point??? I thought that’s what the VU meter measured.

I’ve been using them to help match kick, bass, and low synth levels because right now I’m really struggling with my room and I don’t trust it. Are you saying the same thing can be done with meters in peak mode?


nope, definitely not. My last post was basically saying that peak meters and RMS meters show different things. The point I’m trying to make is that you should be able to tell from pretty much any meter if you are beyond the range of standard levels to the point where it’s having a negative effect on your mix.

Now, if you have a certain trick that you like that requires a certain meter to do, then whatever meter you need to do the trick is the correct meter. But that’s a different subject than “your mixes will sound clearer if you use this VU meter.” If your tracks are at a sane level, which can be determined basically by eyeballing the waveform, then you are fine.


That’s what I thought was the case…

Waves. Enough said? lol


I initially read “is digital head necessary”. To which I reply, absolutely, it’s quite pleasing. From what I’ve heard in my few trips around the block it’s standard to leave -6dBFS as the highest peak. However judging by the lengths of other people’s posts I’m assuming that will either be contested or deemed insignificant in the grand scheme of information.


That’s a good enough level. Definitely within sane levels.


That’s what Barry Diament told me he requests of his clients whenever I emailed him. He said either that or quieter, but never louder.


I thought meters were just like speakers/monitors, whatever you choose you have to learn them anyways.


-6dBFS is what I work to


WHaaaaaat?? I just noticed this today while re-reading through this thread. When else have you seen them do this? Don’t waste your time retrieving the link to the video, but you do happen to remember the other videos and the plugin pitches you’ve noticed them do this for?


@bozmillar, you hit the like button on that response. What is there to learn?? If two different plugin meters are calibrated to a K-20 scale, and you’re familiar with that scale, shouldn’t you be able to walk into any broadcast or mastering studio and know EXACTLY what that meter is showing you? Regardless of the plugin manufacture?

Doesn’t it only take you guys a few minutes to adjust to a new meter?

Dude…the meter is the first thing I fall back on if I’m inside a piss poor sounding boxtruck following around a political candidate on a few campaign stops. Or if I’m live-to-air at an outdoor concert.


That’s like sales 101. Take whatever topics are trending and use and show that your product is a solution to the problem. The “clearer mixes” line is for the portion of the audience that doesn’t know what gain staging is. At all. This is waves trying to sell to the people who are picking up their first interface and don’t know at all what they need.

Nobody would care about a plugin that said “There are about 1000 other VU meter plugins out there. Here’s another one,” even though that’s literally what it is. Embellishing the pros/cons a product is what makes people excited about it. That’s true of on product sales.

Pretty much any video of any plugin ever made by anyone? It’s hard to pick out a specific one when it’s every single one (not just waves).

Well, using the same meter to show the level of drums and the level of vocals just doesn’t really make sense. The two sources are so different, the same meter is giving you completely different information for the two.

Meters are by nature a rough approximation. Which is fine. That’s what they are supposed to be. To me personally, RMS or VU or k-20 has absolutely no value to me on percussion. I get far more information from a peak meter on percussion than I do RMS. But for more steady state sources, RMS can be more suitable. But again, I don’t really use meters for anything more than confirming that a signal exists and that it’s in a sane range.

But this is not the same thing as making a mix clearer. Like I said above, if a new meter is helping you to get your signals within a sane range, then you were so far off that a meter isn’t going to help.


I’ve read that up to -3 dbs is fine. I wonder if the -6 dbs standard is just another unsubstantiated, unquestioned claim. Seems like a few audio engineers make the rules and the rest of us just follow them without knowing why we should be following them. They may be correct but I want to know why they’re correct, if they in fact, are.


My guess is that it’s his personal rule after getting tons of mixdowns that were clipped. If you tell people -6dB max, you get fewer clipped mixes. Really, as long as it’s not clipping, it doesn’t matter. It’s like when you tell your kids not to climb too high in the tree. It’s not that being high is bad, it’s the fact that when they get up there, they tend to fall and break bones. If you tell them not to go so high, you have fewer trips to the hospital.