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Robert Bone

Looking for some guidance on gain staging with amp sims

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OK - so I am looking for guidance from folks who have delved into dealing with gain staging between the different effects and the amps used in amp sims presets, such as from TH3 and Guitar Rig 5 Pro.

Almost every preset I check, in either of those two amp sims, and indeed any amp sims I have, jack up the signal by anywhere from 8 to 10 dB at their output.  While the easy fix is to reduce the output volume, either in the amp sim, or by inserting a gain plugin after the amp sim, in the FX bin, that ignores what should be gain stage points between each of the effects in the amp sims preset - chorus, delay, distortion, amp, reverb, whatever.

Before I adjusted any of the input gains and output volumes, between the effects for a given preset chain, I looked at how these levels were, compared with the input gain of -18 dBFS going into the preset, and they were all over the place, with the output volumes from any of the effects adding several decibals to the signal, before feeding the next effect, so that by the end of the chain, there were usually about 10 decibals added.

Each of those components in an amp sims preset have an input gain, and an output volume, and my understanding is that many of these effects are designed with a 'sweet spot', which as I understand it, tends to be at the -18 dBFS mark.  Further, it is my understanding that any and all effects should really be 'gain/volume neutral', where their processing output should not be higher or lower than their input, so that with the effect(s) on or off, the output levels should be the same as what their input gain levels were at - that -18 dBFS sweet spot.

SO - why aren't the hundreds, or thousands, of presets that come with these commercial amp sims, set up to honor the above?

Also, what are considered 'best practices' for dealing with the out of whack levels most, if not all, of those presets have?

What do YOU folks do with the above?

I would also like to point out that many of the knobs for output levels, do not pop up any actual dB level when hovering over them, and some don't even bother to tell you how much change is occurring when you drag them up or down, they are just knobs that respond to dragging the mouse, but they leave me in the dark for how much change is actually occurring.  Further, often - for a given preset - the output level knob of the amp sim often doesn't have enough range to properly compensate for how much volume was added above the target of -18 dBFS, so I have to reduce gain beyond the amp sim plugin - which seems pretty silly to have to do.

I know that if I just turn down the output volume of the amp sim, no matter what is going on between the individual effects for a given preset, but that seems to me to not be operating with the 'best' quality of sound that can be produced, as compared to going through the hassle of adjusting gain/volume between all of the components, etc.....

By the way, at the moment, when I settle on whatever combo of effects, or on a given preset, in ony of the amp sims, I currently start off with just the leftmost effect in the chain turned on, and then adjust the output level to meet my target of around -18 dBFS, and then turn on the next effect in the chain and repeat, etc., until I work through the whole chain.  That way, at the end of it all, I am 'gain/volume' neutral.  I have no idea if there is a better way to approach it - but it does seem to work between each effect, to do it that way. This would be similar to having a series of effects outside the amp sims, in the FX bin, and if doing that, I would approach it in the same manner, between each effect, to maintain neutrality....

SO - thanks for any guidance with the above.  I am a keyboard player, but would indeed like to create the best quality sound in any of my projects, for any guitar tracks that use amp sims.

This should be an interesting discussion - hopefully I am not just off in left field with the above. :)

Bob Bone

 

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As a guitarist I treat amp sims differently in terms of gain staging if I'm recording with the amp sim as opposed to recording clean without an amp sim. I gain stage after the amp sim. I know that TH-2 & TH-3 have an input meter and you want to adjust the level of the input signal to that. I haven't checked to see what that level is in dBs. Amp sims tend to behave like the HW and HW responds to the level of the signal. Personally I think the level of the input signal should be what sounds good with a particular amp sim. Given that the amp settings will also be based on what sound you want. The amps sims I have have an output level and that is where I adjust the level for gain staging. In regards to fx within an amp sim guitarists gain stage in their fx chains for tone. Some guitarists use a compressor as a boost to drive the front end of the amp. As a guitarist the more an fx behaves like the real HW the better the sim. I wouldn't expect a signal to be neutral going thru an fx chain.

These days I tend to use amp sims to practice and the projects I have saved to practice are set at output levels for practicing not recording. I suspect a lot of presets may be designed to sound good as you audition them. My two cents.

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1 hour ago, rsinger said:

As a guitarist I treat amp sims differently in terms of gain staging if I'm recording with the amp sim as opposed to recording clean without an amp sim. I gain stage after the amp sim. I know that TH-2 & TH-3 have an input meter and you want to adjust the level of the input signal to that. I haven't checked to see what that level is in dBs. Amp sims tend to behave like the HW and HW responds to the level of the signal. Personally I think the level of the input signal should be what sounds good with a particular amp sim. Given that the amp settings will also be based on what sound you want. The amps sims I have have an output level and that is where I adjust the level for gain staging. In regards to fx within an amp sim guitarists gain stage in their fx chains for tone. Some guitarists use a compressor as a boost to drive the front end of the amp. As a guitarist the more an fx behaves like the real HW the better the sim. I wouldn't expect a signal to be neutral going thru an fx chain.

These days I tend to use amp sims to practice and the projects I have saved to practice are set at output levels for practicing not recording. I suspect a lot of presets may be designed to sound good as you audition them. My two cents.

Thanks - that is about how I figured it.  So, I guess I will audition presets, or build them, as they are, and then if I decide to track with one, I will for now do the individual component-level gain staging, and save off that preset, hopefully into a bank or category, that contains all the other presets I did the gain staging for.   Then again, at some point, I might just cave, and do a gain plugin reduction after the amp sim.  I will see how it goes, over time. Fortunately, as primarily a keyboard player,  though I do also play guitar,  this issue won't likely crop up too often.

Bob Bone 

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I think I will fire off a couple of emails, to Overloud and Native Instruments, support, to get their thoughts and recommendations.  When I get responses, I will post them here, in case anyone is interested. 

Bob Bone 

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Amps and PRE-amp distortion signals are additive by nature. I think rsinger has it correct to hit the input to the sim pre-amp at an appropriate level defined by its input indicator. That's how I approach it using S-Gear, but -  it's about the only amp sim I get along with. S-gear also has different gain structure dependent on the input signal - I would bet this is the same with all well designed sims. I typically treat S-gears output level as what to use when setting a channel input to unity. Any level increase caused by  a sub-processor with-in the amp would hopefully be there by design to drive the signal correctly. Most have mix controls if not separate input and output levels.

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