Digital Sound & Music: Concepts, Applications, & Science, Chapter 5, last updated 6/25/2013
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When you get ready to make a digital audio recording or set sound levels for a live
performance, you typically test the input level and set it so that your loudest inputs don’t clip.
Clipping occurs when the sound level is beyond the maximum input or output voltage level. It
manifests itself as unwanted distortion or breaks in the sound. When capturing vocals, you can
set the sound levels by asking a singer to sing the loudest note he thinks he’s going to sing in the
whole piece, and make sure that the level meter doesn’t hit the limit. Figure 5.21 shows this
situation in a software interface. The level meter at the bottom of the figure has hit the right
hand side and thus has turned red, indicating that the input level is too high and clipping has
occurred. In this case, you need to turn down the input level and test again before recording an
actual take. The input level can be changed by a knob on your audio interface or, in the case of
some advanced interfaces with digitally controlled analog preamplifiers, by a software interface
accessible through your operating system. Figure 5.22 shows the input gain knob on an audio
interface.
Figure 5.21 Clipped input level
Figure 5.22 Input gain knob on audio interface
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