Gain staging for good S/N-ratio

Hey there!

I just recently got my AR MK2 and atm I’m testing different stuff mostly regarding distortion and compression.
I’m totally aware that there are lots of VCOs that tend to create noise floor, and I’m also aware that you’re pushing that noise by using compression and distortion.

Thing is: after the AR there’s a little masterchain (Fab Filter Q > Fab Filter C > Fab Filter Q > Fab Filter L) in ableton so I’m getting somewhat close – still far away – to levels of mastered tracks, at least a bit closer.

I was just trying a few settings here:

and of course there’s noise, mostly audible in the beginning. Actually I’m fine with it and I really like the possibilities to gain stage on the AR, but I seem a bit lost right now.
What’s your way to go with gain staging? Are there smarter/less smart options to do it considering noise level?
What’s the most noisy part in the signal path? Distortion circuit? Compressor circuit? Machine circuit? I’d be very interested in that…I found a few threads on gain staging, but didn’t really get an answer to that.

There’s also noise gating to consider. I always have a noise gate on each one of my external instruments.

I tend to run individual tracks at around -12dB, which means that my master channel ends up at around -6dB.

So, my gain-staging in the AR aims for that -12dB.

I’d say that the main stage to consider in the staging chain though, is the analogue to digital conversion stage in the AR. You want to make sure that you’re not not pushing too high a level in to that, otherwise you’ll be clipping.

A thought though - it might be worth loading a sin wave into a sample slot and seeing at what levels the wave distorts when pushed through each stage? Record the results and check the recorded wave for clipping and distortion?

In the DAW? For hardware, I know i’ve been hesitant to use them unless super dirty because they can… add noise :slight_smile:

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I don’t want to use gate. I live with noise, it’s just as it is. I’m just asking myself if I could do any better.
If not, that’s okay to me. I can certainly live with “analogue noise” as I’m aiming to perform live, I’m not producing with AR MK2.

It’s totally clear that there’s some noise after compressing and limiting…but maybe, maybe, we can do it a lil better!

Other than ensuring that your recorded samples are at a good volume without clipping, all you can do is ease back on the compressor until the noise floor is at an acceptable level. The harder you compress the master, the more you’re boosting the noise. And go easy on bitcrushing/distortion too.

I know. Totally makes sense. But what if…I drove hard into distortion circuit? Better to lower before compressing? Better to take make up-gain? Better to make up gain after distortion circuit? Where am I to leave things alone? I’m not using any samples regarding this question!

I m not having any noise issues with AR.

Main volume pot at 3 o’ clock.

Track levels between minimum and 80%.

Track synth/sample page volume anywhere up to max. Amp page volume up to max. Some get no, a little distortion, or a lot of it.

Master distortion off till moderate.

Important: the volume control on the master compressor page is always active whether comp is used or not. Make sure you get a healthy output level there.


Aight mate, thanks for your answer! :slight_smile: I’m just curious, I don’t have any actual trouble…

I wouldn’t worry too much about a little bit of noise. Unless it has a component that’s really displeasing to the ear. Some noise gives music a touch of a natural feel, and can act as a bit of glue. Nobody ever minded a bit of noise on tape, and in fact some even try to add it back these days. I think the human brain actually likes a bit of noise. It’s why completely silent rooms make people uneasy.

As long as the noise isn’t a dominant element, it shouldn’t matter THAT much. Especially if the rest of the signal is nice and clear.

My opinion anyway.


Yep - Ableton’s own gate is fine, as long as you don’t try to make it too fast. Otherwise, there can be zipper type noise.


Nah, like the two of you said, I even like the noise, it’s just part of the all analogue path.
I was wondering where to start stopping it, if I had to. :wink:


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Yeah, totally with you. I even like the noise the AR is putting towards me. In the end it’s just analogue, freaking noise is gonna get you and that’s fine. I just realized that I got some noticable ground noise to begin with if I push distortion and compression pretty hard, regarding that abelton is doing quite some limiting aka pushing it towards 0 dB. That’s okay with me, just asking :slight_smile:


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Ground noise/hum is another thing. That actually drives me nuts. :smiley:

I’m actually searching out some USB data rate noise right now. In some tracks it sounds like it should actually be there. In others, it sounds nasty.

Ye, ground noise might be the wrong term, derived from my german thoughts while typing. :stuck_out_tongue:

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The amp decay at 127 makes things noisy, it defaults to full. Compression/distortion etc sounds much cleaner with lower amp decay


Oh, that’s a good one, I didn’t even think about it yet. Will double check, ty! :slight_smile:

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I’ve been trying to set it up somewhat like this and it turned out it was my fault.
My source levels were really low (I guess that just happened with mixing where I tend to lower levels instead of rising others), main volume pot was at 12 o’clock and make up gain pretty high because I just didn’t think it through.

With main and source volume higher, new compressor settings (less make up, threshold set higher) and accordingly different settings in my little master chain noise level is really really good even when hitting 0 dB in Abletons master channel. :slight_smile: Thank you, guys!


Exploring and noodling with my new Rytm. And reading a lot of topics on this forum with tips, tricks and thoughts about this beautiful machine.

One thing I do not fully grasp, is the gain staging and why this is important.

In short: I just adjust the amp level of a track when I try to make a good mix in a project. So by ear.
99 out of 100 times I will then record the main out or multitrack with Overbridge/Ableton.

How important is gain staging in this scenario?

And: there is a ton of white noise when (re) sampling internally and externally. The white noise disappears as soon as the first note/pad is hit (and the recorded sample is clean). Is this supposed to work this way?

If you are recording a single stereo track, then yes gain staging is important (and you should be doing it by listening for sure, the numbers on the gain/volume settings on Elektron devices are relative).

If you are multi tracking you want a decently loud/with as little noise as possible recording of each track then you can gain stage in your DAW.

Yes, I do believe a little noise is normal on the RYTM, though I don’t own one I’ve heard people speak about it as normal.

Is it just my second hand Rytm Mk2 or is it normal that the Compressor output level is set to 64 only…? Any reason for this that someone can guess? I don’t know any other volume/gain/level parameter in any Elektron box that starts at 64 init.