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So, say I'm recording an electric guitar using some software on my PC. I have the guitar and some headphones plugged into a recording box (specifically, Behringer U-Phoria) and that box plugged into a PC running recording software (Ableton Live).

From the guitar to the software, I have several knobs and sliders that control output volume that shouldn't impact the overall mix but still determine the volume of what I'm actually hearing:

1.) Headphone volume knob

2.) Behringer box "Output" volume knob

3.) Windows desktop volume slider

4.) Ableton's master track output volume

5.) The volume sliders/knobs on whatever is playing the mastered tracks after it leaves Ableton (Ipod volume knob, Windows Media Player slider, etc.)

When I'm mixing and trying to listen to what I'm doing, if I want to adjust volume, what kind of guidance should I use to decide which knobs to turn up and which ones to turn down? For example, do I always have my headphones at max volume and only modify the Windows desktop slider? Or do I always have all volumes at max and only modify the volume on the finished track? Or some mixture?

  • This doesn't answer your question directly, but it might be useful to know that the topic you are asking about is called "gain staging". – Kevin Reid Sep 29 '18 at 0:23
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The general rule of thumb (if we are excluding gain as a tonal modifier, such as when it leads to distortion) is to run the chain at the highest volume that doesn't clip and then only use your output volume control to affect the volume to your ears. This gives the widest range available.

There can be exceptions to this - a headphone volume knob may be lower quality than that on a proper output stage, so in your case I'd suggest leaving it at maximum, and just use the Behringer to control the volume in your ears.

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