Adjusting The Gain


Adjusting The Gain On Your Sound Card

This is probably the number one offender when it comes to newer users running into confusion in their early sessions.  Once you figure out how your computer deals with audio, this will become very easy, but let's start with the basics.

1.  Plug It In To the Right Jacks
2.  Working With Your Sound Card's Mixer
3.  What Are the Right Levels?

1.  Plug It Into The Right Jacks

You're looking for Line Level inputs.  Most PCI Desktop computers make this fairly easy, once you decipher the little pictures on the inputs and outputs.  Usually, the Line Input is the toughest picture to figure out, but if you recognize the little microphone and the little set of speakers, then, by process of elimination, you've found the remaining hole and an educated guess will tell you that it's the Line Input.  Do not use the Mic input!  Even though your logic tells you that you want good levels and a Mic input probably increases your levels, don't give into temptation and plug in there.  Especially on most lower level sound cards like Sound Blasters, onboard sound chips, etc., these inputs are just very noisy and will distort your sound.  These inputs are not a substitution for a phono preamp...the levels will be wrong and your recordings will sound terrible.  Once you've found the Line Input and plugged the Line Level output (either a phono preamp or your stereo system Tape Out) of your turntable in, let's plug in the speakers.  For your speakers or headphones, you're looking for the Line Output or Speaker Output on your sound card.  This is usually a little easier and most folks get this right the first time.

2.  Working With Your Sound Card's Mixer

This is the number one technical issue for consumers who record on their computer's hard drive for the first time and it's probably because it is a little confusing.  Most sound cards offer 2 mixers.  You have a Playback mixer which controls the outputs (what you hear) on your sound card...this is usually the one that pops up by default when you click on the Speaker Icon in your tray; and you have a Recording Mixer that controls the inputs on your sound card.  The Recording mixer is usually a little harder to find and it's the most important mixer when you're setting up your system for early recordings.  Don't fret though...we'll guide you through this.

Your Tray is in the lower right hand corner of most Windows systems and houses your clock.  It looks like this:


You should have some sort of launching icon for your mixer.  In many cases it's a little speaker like the one above.  If you don't see a speaker icon...don't get frustrated just yet.  See the little arrows pointing to the left of my speaker icon?  Windows automatically hides many of the items in your tray when they're not being readily used.  Sometimes, your speaker icon is just hiding in there.  Let's click on the speaker icon and launch the playback mixer.  Normally, this mixer is dialed in right from the you can listen to your CDs, MP3s and Games right out of the box.  But just because you can hear things through your speakers doesn't mean all is rosy in Sound Card Land.  Your mixer should look something like this if you're using a standard bundled solution that comes with most machines.

We'll assume that the factory set everything correctly here. Now let's move to the Recording Mixer.  Just click on the Options button and further, click on Properties.  You should see a menu that looks like this:

Here is where you tell it you want to adjust the volume for Recording.  This is the mixer that will control the level of signal coming from your turntable and into the computer's hard disk.  Just click on Recording.  You'll now see the volume controls change...make sure that Line Input is selected here.  Then click on okay and your mixer will change to reflect your Recording Mixer.  It should look something like this:

Make sure that Line In is selected and turned up.  Now launch DC SIX or DC Millennium and press the record button. 


Record is the Red Button. It will launch the recording screen in DC SIX or Millennium

Now we'll simply put the system in Pause mode by clicking on the Pause Button (shown above)...this will turn on the VU meters and monitor your incoming levels.  Now you'll use the Recording mixer and adjust the Line Level input to increase or decrease the amount of audio gain being recorded. 

3.  What Are the Right Levels?

This is a new age and you have to adjust your thinking.  In the days when you recorded your favorite vinyl to cassette tape, you allowed your VU meters to bounce into the red to insure that you got the best gain for your tape recordings.  Because this was a totally analog system, you never really heard the distortion unless you got a little carried away.  Now you're dealing with a digital system and that red means bad.  When you record and the system says it's in the is distorting and you're not going to like what you hear.  Also remember that we want to leave some head room hear so that any enhancements we may do don't send the levels through the ceiling and cause additional distortion.  Again, you'll find what works best for you ears, but don't be afraid to record at a -4 or -6 dB level.  Keep it in the green.  Because this is digital, we can also raise the gain before we make our CDs if you want the maximum gain once you start spinning copies.  Don't get carried away with lowering the gain, of course, we do want ample signal and don't want to lose this in the mud.  Let your ears...and our meters be the judge.