Let’s say this is your first time working with an amp or a mixer. You need to make the audio louder, so you check for the settings. Chances are, you will encounter a set of knob or an occasional fader with labels like: trim, master, gain, and volume.
Your brain makes a sharp flip upside-down and you have no clue what to do, so you casually turn up the knob that reads “volume.” Here’s the kicker. You may not be doing what would have helped the audio the most.
That brings up an important question: Which one do you reach for and why? Today, we will be covering everything about related to this – audio 101. If you want to get better sound from your equipment, it’s essential to know these. So, what exactly is audio gain? How is it different from volume, or level, or loudness? Keep reading to find out.
Defining gain is a bit harder than the others, primarily because it’s frequently used in places outside the audio world. In the simplest terms, it means an increase in a certain value. For instance, you can have voltage gain, current gain, or power gain – all of which is increasing in their respective values.
Generally, when musicians refer to gain, it means transmission gain – the increase in a signal’s power. This increase is mostly expressed in terms of decibels or dB. This can be a surge in the raw signal from your microphone or guitar prior to it travelling to another electronic component. For the inquisitive, this is how you calculate gain.
Gain = 10 x log (Power Out ÷ Power In) in dB.
Use of Gain
For any purpose that isn’t rocket science, you will normally see one gain control in 2 positions. One would be your PA or mixer board, and the other would be on the guitar amp. As far as electronics are concerned, both of them mean the same but serve different purposes.
The gain is situated at the top of the board on a mixer. This is the control that will boost the signal, bringing it to a sufficient level so the other controls can function properly.
You have to keep this level high enough so it brings up the signal’s level, but no too high since that might give you distortions or clippings in the signals. For this reason, many boards are equipped with a Pre-Fader Listen (PFL) button. This buttons allows you to view the true strength of the signal by checking the LEDs.
The gain’s primary goal on a guitar amp is to create distortion. We would suggest you turn the gain down. Your drive or gain is going to control the power with which the signal hits your preamp.
Mark this stage as this is where the “overdrive” generates from since you’re literally overdriving the preamp stage. Adjust this for tonal purposes and then work with the volume or level control to bring the signal to the desired volume.
Yes, we also love an electrifying solo, but there’s really no need to keep the gain at 100 the entire time. Rookies will step into the recording studio thinking they will strum up a storm only to have the specialists on the other side of the glass frown at them as they take the distortion down to a five or six.
You can’t understand sound amplification by only knowing what is sound gain. Volume is another crucial aspect and it means a signal’s power signal. So with each crank of the “master volume” knob you’re simply increasing the power an amp uses to increase the signal.
This is quite an ambiguous term as it’s used in a variety of places, generally to refer the actual sound your ears perceive, which isn’t totally correct.
Rather vaguely, level is used to define the sound’s magnitude. More specifically, SPL (Sound Pressure Level) is used to explain sound waves. The term SPL is calculated using the log of the rms sound pressure – with the measured sound being related to a reference value.
In easier word, we make a measurement scale where zero is the human hearing’s lowest threshold. The scale is defined in dB and extends till 130 dB, which is also the threshold of pain for the average human ear.
Although similar to level and volume, loudness is a whole another term we have to discuss. Since human ears can’t hear every frequency existing in the same level, perceived loudness changes as we go up and down in the string. The lower frequencies, such as the bass guitar (40 to 220 Hz) requires more sound pressure to convince us that it’s as loud as something at 1 kHz.
Let’s now be introduced to “phon,” the term used to express loudness. Phone contour varies from one dB level to another. The 120 phon contour doesn’t need as much boost in lower frequencies as much as the 10 phon contour. This is mostly due to the shape of the ear. Human ears have been conditioned to pick up 3 to 4 kHz range the best – conveniently existing on the higher end on human speech. If you somehow lost it, it would get pretty difficult for you to communicate with people.
Our aim with this article was to get you introduced to the unique and diverse of music terminology and how to use it in the proper context. We’ve answered questions like “What is audio gain?” and “How is loudness different from volume?”
Of course, there are many more things you will have to and you will pick up along the way, but these were the basics. Every word has an idea associated to it. So, instead of getting hung up on a particular world, try to amalgamate the concepts into one big picture.
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