Gain Structure 101
Looking for a master class on gain structure? You’ve landed in the right spot! Here, we’re covering everything you’ll ever need to know about how gain works, including what it means in sound mixing, what a gain structure is and most importantly, how you should set it up. If you’ve ever wanted to control audio, this ultimate guide will teach you the essentials of gain.
What is Gain in Audio vs. What is Gain on an AMP?
In the most basic terms, gain is just the amplitude of a signal. If you’ve ever used a soundboard or mixer, you’ll know there are lights that go up and down in a pattern. The gain is determining how high the pattern peaks. Another way to think about this is that the gain is just telling you how much power is in your signal.
For beginners, it’s easy to think that this means the gain is telling you the volume, but the power in the signal is not the volume of the sound. Instead, gain is going to impact the maximum possible volume without significant sound distortion. Still, that’s just a small part of what gain does. Its primary function is really more in determining sound quality.
This makes sense when you compare gain in audio vs gain in amps. In audio, controlling the gain determines how much sound power is mixed at each stage. If you want to add a fader, mixer, multiple instruments or anything else, adjusting the gain changes the power of the signal for each thing being mixed.
An amp is a simpler case. Typically, amps work in only two stages, and then gain is adjusted between those stages. This means that gain is controlling the distortion of sound through the amp. If you want to control distortion, you need an amp with dedicated gain control. Simpler amps roll gain and volume control into a single knob, which can make it more difficult to get different sound styles.
What is Gain Structure?
Gain structure is the overall relationship of gain adjustments across a sound system. To build proper gain structure, you have to adjust the gain at every single point you can on the soundboard or in the system.
One of the easiest ways to learn gain structure is to first master unity gain. This is where the gain is staged at the same level on every point in sound mixing.
- Gain structure is the total accumulation of gain across the system.
- Gain staging, however, is a different concept that describes what you do at each individual point. So, you have to stage the gain point by point to build the overarching gain structure.
Mastering unity gain will help you understand the points where gain can be adjusted and what those adjustments do to the sound. It’s not the only viable gain structure, but it’s the best place to start. Once you have unity gain, it generally becomes much easier to make small adjustments to change your audio quality.
Why is Understanding Gain Structure Important?
Gain structure is what gives you absolute control over the signal-to-noise ratio in your sound system. This affects distortion and overall sound quality. If you want specific tones or types of sounds, you have to build a gain structure.
Here’s a simple example. A song recording might want a distorted guitar but clear vocals. Adjusting a single gain knob will not accomplish this. Instead, the gain structure has to be built and adjusted in order to achieve the desired results.
H2: How to Set Up Proper Gain Structure
It’s great to know all about gain sound effects and gain structure, but how do you actually do it? Following the simple four-step process below will allow you to set up unity gain on any soundboard. From there, more complicated gain structures are just a matter of practice and experience.
These steps will walk you through how to achieve unity gain. You’ll need a sound signal to adjust, so playing a recording through the system or performing a live soundcheck is usually the best way to go.
Pick a channel to start with. Mute the channel and bring the fader up to 0. Check the lights to ensure a signal is being registered. If there is no signal, there is a setup error, and it needs to be resolved before you can build your gain structure.
Hit solo on the channel and then unmute it. You should now see the active signal on your board’s indicator.
Bring up the gain on this channel until it peaks around 0.
Repeat for every channel.
Understanding how to optimize proper gain structure in audio really isn’t all that difficult. But it’s essential to start with the fundamentals if your goal is to end up with the best-sounding signal to noise ratio. Setting the gain for every stage of amplification is key, and with the steps in this guide, you now know exactly how to do that - find gain structure without any distortion or noise!
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