I have been doing some research about Gain staging and how being much more aware of it early on can help you make a clearer mix. I believe I have that concept pretty well down by now, after having studied the theory and doing various mixes. However, after reading about the difference in how the signal math is handled in LE and HD I still had a question in regards to whether I should e.g. use Master Faders for my stems: dialogue, sfx, foley etc.

So far I have been using AUX's for my stem submixes which then route into the Master Fader. At this point I have only performed my mixes in LE, but once I get opportunity to do a final mix on a HD system then I'd like to do it right, spending my time "mixing for the story" not trying to figure out why my busses are clipping or some other arbitrary routing error. Alleviating that is of course part of the mix process, but I think you know what I mean :)

Personally I don't have many problems with clipping, quite the opposite really due to the equipment I'm using, but I have also received stuff from people who just think that headroom is there to be filled up completely, having an average peak level just below clipping, which I think just sucks when you are summing all the channels together. Having said that then I'm curious how the more experienced lot of you route your stuff? Do you use more than one Master fader at the end of a session or do you also use them at the top of your stems or even earlier?

4 Answers 4


Its interesting that no one has mentioned the main differences between master faders and aux in either thread. For future readers, master fader plugin inserts are post fader, whereas all other channel types have insert before the fader. So its not a good idea to ride master fader gain feeding into a compressor (limiters are different obviously).

One other key difference on HD systems is that the master faders are still inside the 48 bit fixed mixer, so they have greater dyn range and a lower noise floor than an aux track. Auxes are in the 24 bit realm for plugin processing.

Consequently the main purpose of them (which most folk in here are taking as a given) is for pulling down a relative mix of a stem or something thats just getting a bit hot in context with other stuff.

So you've got three options in that situation, pull all the slaves feeding the stem down, throw in a mater fader and pull down the stem at high res, or, most commonly, use a VCA attached to the group and pull down all the slaves that way before they feed into the submaster.

Hope the resolution info is useful.


Dont use AUX for your stems, try an Audio Channel with the "I" Autoinput pressed, When it is time to record, then use "rec" and print those stems...

  • good advice - printing stems is very important!
    – user49
    Commented Jul 30, 2011 at 3:53
  • fascinating! I'll have to try that. Commented Jul 30, 2011 at 3:55

I use a combination of Aux and Master Faders. I learned it from a rerecording mixer in town the first time I used pro tools( about 4 months ago). This is how my routing in PT9 goes. These routings apply to all the stems, dx, pfx, fx, mx, bg.

FX 1, FX 2, FX 3, FX 4, FX ST1, FX ST 2, FX ST3, FX ST 4 and so forth --> routed to smFX bus(submaster fx bus)

I then have a smFX Stereo aux track with input bus set to smFX and output bus set to mbFX(masterbus fx)

following that in the chain I throw a mf FX(master fader FX) with bus set to mbFX

Then I put a Stereo audio track with input set to mbFX. This is my print stem of FX. The output side of that track goes to the printmaster bus.

I then have a final Stereo Track Printmaster with input set to the printmaster bus and output set to my audio monitoring output.

Fx Tracks->smFx(aux)->(Master fader at this pick off point)mbFX(audiotrack)->printmaster -> Audio output

A little confusing, yes. But basically you route all your like tracks to an aux. That aux is where you do any forms of group compression, eq, fx, etc. That aux is then sent to another bus in which you use a stereo track as your stem print. Master fader is in between the aux and the stem. The stem goes to the printmaster, which is your final mix where all the other stems are being summed.

You input monitor all the stems and printmaster to listen to it and then when your ready, you record while playing and you print all the stems and the master mix at the same time.

It took me quite some time to get used to this flow, but I really like it now. Pro tools allows you to have many internal bus options even when you only have a stereo audio output. This really helps with managing all the parts and pieces.

  • +1 Basically the same routing I and people I know use - a series of submasters for each sound "group" Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 7:51

I asked a question a month or two ago regarding people's workflow with master faders. You can check that out here.

It really depends on what your workflow is like. You can only instantiate 1 Master Fader using a given set of outputs. [i.e. you can't have an effects master fader and a separate music master fader that both go out on your left right]. The Master Fader is the FINAL control at an output.

I'm on and HD system, and I use Auxes as my Master Faders, mainly because I use some complicated routing for monitoring, metering and decks (multiple destinations). The way our facility is set up is extremely flexible, but that just means that the Master Fader channel in Pro Tools is too restrictive to be useful in my workflow. Again, it all depends on what your specific needs are, those are just the result of mine in this one studio. It could easily be different elsewhere.

  • @Shaun I missed that one. I see what you mean now and checked it out, using the Master Fader for stems is in my case not really beneficial since all my stuff is ITB using a Mbox2 Pro. If you were on a larger system (with lots of I/O) then you could use them if you were synced to more PT systems where one e.g. acts as a dubber, but as you said it depends on ones workflow and the more I think about the AUX's flexibility still makes more sense and suits the way I mix stuff atm, since I always fix the individual perpetrating channels as opposed to just adjusting submixes. Thanks ;) Commented Oct 1, 2010 at 14:27

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