Mixing

Level matching plugins: how to do it and why it’s a vital part of your mix

Level matching plugins: how to do it and why it's a vital part of your mixIn this article, we’ll talk about the importance of level matching plugins. Level matching plugins refers to the process of ensuring that a plugin’s output level matches its input level. Doing this prevents audio signals from coming out of a plugin at a louder or quieter volume than they went in at. This might seem like an obvious requirement when processing audio through plugins. Never the less, this step is often overlooked in mixing.

Not level matching plugins will undo your static mix

Level matching plugins is important for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s an important process for anybody who begins their mixing sessions by creating a ‘static mix’. Creating a static mix refers to the process of setting the levels of all of your tracks to the best static position that you can before adding things like EQ, compression, automation and effects. If you don’t level match your plugins then you will undo your initial static mix. So be sure to level match your plugins so that the volume level of the signal doesn’t change after being processed through a plugin. That way, your static mix will remain intact.

We usually perceive louder as better

Another important reason for level matching plugins is because in general, we usually perceive louder as better. This can be risky when processing audio through plugins. That’s because if the processing which is being carried out by the plugin causes the volume level of the signal to increase, then you may be tricked into perceiving an improvement based on the volume change rather than the processing itself.

Take for instance an EQ plugin. If you boost some frequencies then the output of the plugin will be louder than the input. That’s because you have turned some parts of the frequency spectrum up. Now, when you compare the processed signal with the unprocessed signal by bypassing the plugin, you are likely to perceive the processed signal as sounding better. But is this really because the EQ moves that you have made have been beneficial to the sound of the track? Or is it simply because the processed signal is louder?

The opposite is also true. If you cut parts of the frequency spectrum with an EQ plugin then the output will be lower in volume than the input. As such, you may perceive the changes made as having a negative effect on the sound. But again, is this really down to the EQ moves that you have made? Or is it because the processed signal is lower in volume than the unprocessed signal?

The only way to make a true comparison between the processed and unprocessed sound is to ensure that the plugin’s input and output levels match. That way, the only difference you will be able to hear between the processed and unprocessed sound is the EQ changes that you have made. Not a change in volume!

How to level match plugins

So, now you know why it’s important to ensure that you are level matching plugins. But how do you do it? Well, it’s really straightforward. Many plugins have a means of altering their output and sometimes also their input. Many plugins also have a meter to show you their input and output levels. So you simply watch the meters and adjust as necessary. If the processing that you are carrying out is causing the output to get louder then reduce it until it matches the input as closely as possible. If the processing is causing the output to get quieter then turn it up to match the input as closely as you can.

Alternatively, if your plugin doesn’t give you a display of the levels, then you can simply use your ears. Simply bypass the plugin and see if the signal gets louder or quieter and then adjust the output level of the plugin accordingly. There should be no change in volume between the processed and unprocessed signals.

It’s as simple as that. This is a straight forward process. Never the less, it is one which will help you get better results from your plugins and better mixes overall.

Do you make sure that you are level matching your plugins in your mixes? Leave a comment down below?

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