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I recently bought a Zoom H2 and I'm trying to record my acoustic guitar at home. I followed the manual to set it up so the level never goes over 0db (in case you're familiar with the H2, I put the gain button in the middle and set the level to 100) and yesterday I recorded a few tests with the guitar about 50cm from it (I was playing and singing at the same time). I didn't use any effects (like compressor and limiter) from the H2.

The sound quality is great, but the volume from my recording is low when I play them in my computer, specially if I compare it to MP3s from acoustic songs. Is that normal? I tried to import the WAV file into Garageband and add a compressor/equalizer, but then I started getting some clipping, and I still think the volume is low.

What can I do to bring the levels to the same as the commercial songs I play on my computer? Is there anything I'm missing here?

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If your recording levels peak at around -3dB to -6dB then there is nothing wrong at all with the recording level you are setting on the Zoom H2. The reason your recording sounds quiet compared to commercial recordings is that they have been compressed, often heavily, in order for them to sound as loud as possible, but usually sacrificing a lot in terms of dynamic range. Read up on loudness wars if you are interested in this topic. Also here is a great video explaining the implications of the loudness war.

In short, when recording, you want to get as loud a signal as you can without clipping, so the peaks would normally be around -3dB. After recording, you can normalise the sound to increase it to the maximum level it can go without reducing its dynamic range, or apply compression and limiter effects to greatly increase the perceived loudness but at the expense of reducing dynamic range. A mastering limiter plugin such as Voxengo Elephant will help you do this.

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Great answer.. In my experience with the Zoom, most of the time, just normalizing helps quite a bit.. :) –  notthetup May 22 '11 at 9:32
    
Thanks for the tips. I'll read more on the subject and make some tests here to better compare my recordings with commercial ones, but it's great to understand why this happens. –  Rodrigo Sieiro May 23 '11 at 21:30

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