Whether you’re a professional or a hobbyist audiophile, the concept of gain-staging, is probably the most overlooked element of audio production to date. It’s quite simple to think of it as hooking up your microphone to your laptop, or audio interface and “Bob’s your uncle!”, right?
Well, WRONG! The first and probably most important part to getting a high-quality audio signal/recording, is making sure you’re recording at the right level. This is known as “gain-staging”.
You may have seen those old giant recording desks in radio stations or music studios, with those big meters that look like the speedometers in your car.
They are called “VU Meters”. They measure the voltage level of an incoming signal from your source (e.g. microphone). Where 0VU is the optimal level preferred when recording a signal.
There is a problem though.
Most of us audiophiles don’t have fancy analogue mixers/desks. Instead, we just have a simple laptop with a two-channel interface. We don’t have VU Meters in these situations.
Luckily for you, there are audio software companies that have paid-for and free versions of reliable and accurate VU Meters that you can use in your editing/recording software of choice.
The first is the “VU Meter” by Waves Audio, which is the paid-for alternative, but it’s well worth the bucks – especially given how accurate it is to a real-life VU meter.
The second is the “mvMeter 2”, by TBProAudio and it is a great FREE alternative, which is quite accurate given the lack of a price tag!
To use these pieces of software after downloading them, all you have to do is load up your Workstation/Recording Software of choice, and then on the track you would normally record, load the meter as an effect/insert on the track and “Voila!”.
Test your microphone and make sure you’re hitting that 0 VU point, with your microphone gain and you’re good to go!
Written by Kamogelo Lekhu
Suggested read: Start Your Own Podcast In Four Easy Steps