Levels Demystified – The Real Truth About Sweet Spots (Part 4)

A Little Confession

Before we continue I feel the overwhelming need to let you in on a secret.  You see now you know that approximately -18dBFS (RMS) is the Magic Number when working ITB and have had it tattooed on your neck, back and forearm, I have a little confession to make: the reality is a little more complicated!  Here’s why.

In a simple world all analog gear (think recording consoles, compressors, EQs, etc) would be calibrated to operate at the same level; they would all have the same sweet spot – 0dBVU or approximately -18dBFS.  Once you know the sweet spot for one you would automatically know the sweet spot for the rest.  Easy peasy!

But oh no…that would be way too easy!

The Exceptions That Prove The Rule

The truth is while around -18dBFS (RMS) generally works as the sweet spot when recording and mixing ITB there a some exceptions.  Well…a few exceptions.  OK. OK. OK!!!!  Quite a few exceptions!

The sweet spot for most plugins is around -18dBFS (RMS).  However some plugins have been calibrated with slightly different sweet spots depending on the actual gear they were modeled on.

For example, Waves’ SSL Channel is aligned to -18dBFS (RMS) as is their CLA-2A, CLA-76, and Kramer Pie Compressor plugins.  Slate Digital’s Virtual Console Collection and Virtual Tape Machine plugins are also aligned to -18dBFS (RMS).  You see…-18dBFS (RMS) can get you a lot of mileage.  But there are exceptions.

The Odd Ones Out

In their manual for the V-Series Compressor (which is based on the venerable Neve 2254 Compressor) Waves advise that the sweet spot range is actually somewhere between -22 to -17dBFS.  They also suggest that working in this sweet spot range may take some getting used too but will most likely yield the better results.  Universal Audio (UAD) plugins are also generally calibrated at -18dBFS but a quick flip through their manual reveals some are not.  For example:

  • UAD Teletronix LA2A (-12dBFS sweet spot)
  • UAD Studer A800 Tape Machine (-12dBFS sweet spot)
  • UAD Ampex ATR-102 Tape Machine (-12dBFS sweet spot)
  • UAD Neve 33609 (-14, -18, or -22dBFS sweet spot depending on which ‘headroom’ setting you use)

The Moral of the Story

I guess the moral of the story here is if you want to know the exact sweet spot for a particular plugin the manual is your friend although with 32-bit Floating Point DAWs this is becoming less of an issue!  Though when in doubt…around -18dBFS (RMS) is a safe bet.

OK…enough with the confession.  My soul feels cleansed!

Join me next time for DAW Meter’s Demystified.

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  1. Stone, this has been a awesome series. Very clear, very informative. Now that I’m aware, I’m going to dig a little deeper into this stuff. Thanks again! Cheers, Steve.

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