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Patch normalization methods and guidelines


roscoe5
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I've seen the topic of patch normalization of presets and volumes come up from time to time. I struggle with this myself just going by ear. I tend to get off a bit as I level out patch by patch. This could also help us standardize levels for each other on Custom Tone.

 

Are there some standard guidelines and methods for normalizing the levels of patches? What are some good tools to use (level/dB meters, apps, utilities, etc.)?

 

Maybe there are just some common audio engineering practices that can translate over to Helix and processors in general.

 

I would say I am mainly interested in a full, end-to-end signal path scenario with cabs/IR blocks to PA or recording interface.

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I've seen the topic of patch normalization of presets and volumes come up from time to time. I struggle with this myself just going by ear. I tend to get off a bit as I level out patch by patch. This could also help us standardize levels for each other on Custom Tone.

 

Are there some standard guidelines and methods for normalizing the levels of patches? What are some good tools to use (level/dB meters, apps, utilities, etc.)?

 

Maybe there are just some common audio engineering practices that can translate over to Helix and processors in general.

 

I would say I am mainly interested in a full, end-to-end signal path scenario with cabs/IR blocks to PA or recording interface.

i learnt recently that the channel volume is supposed to be used for leveling. i had been using the level of the ir or cab

i still use both but it helps to know the channel vol on amps dont change the tone

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I downloaded a couple of the free db meter apps available for my phone and tried using them for leveling but soon found I just don't have the discipline to use them consistently. I generally use my ears and go block by block, if any block substantially alters the volume, up or down, I modify it to try and keep a consistent volume. I use the Channel Volume on the amp and the Output block volume to finalize my levels and the large physical volume knob on the Helix when I need it.  One thing has always bothered me. The Channel Volume parameter on the amp blocks has always seemed redundant and a bit confusing to me. Shouldn't the Volume on the Output block be adequate? Intuitively it makes more sense to me to have the "Master" volume raise the volume just for the amp block. I assume the "Channel Volume" is just intended to raise the volume of the Amp block without interacting with the amp's tonestack or drive but it seems to act more as a volume boost for the entire preset. Within a preset why have two locations, the Amp and the Output block, where overall preset volume can be modified? Shouldn't it be sufficient to just have the Volume control on the Output block acting as the overall preset volume control (perhaps with a bit more boost than it currently allows)?  

 

Not only am I not sure why a channel volume was included on the amps but because the "Drive" control is on the first page of Amp block parameters I have always found it extremely unusual and bad ergonomics to have the "Channel Volume" also be on the first page of the amp parameters where the "Master" volume should be located. I am not fond of the design that forces me to switch back and forth between the first and second pages of the amp parameters to get the blend of "Drive" and "Master" volume correct. Ideally "Drive", "Master", and "Channel Volume" would all be on the same parameter page but there are not enough buttons for that. I have an Idea on Ideascale to swap these two parameters' locations ("Master", "Channel Volume") for others who would prefer those parameters swapped. http://line6.ideascale.com/a/dtd/Put-Master-volume-on-the-same-page-as-the-Drive-in-amp-model/788502-23508

 

I remember seeing a fairly cogent explanation from DI at one point (can't remember what it was) as to why meters had not been included on the Helix and after using the Helix for a while it does seem fairly resistant to digital clipping but it still seems it would benefit from level meters, even if it was for no other reason then providing a visual confirmation of what my ears are telling me.

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The Channel Volume doesn't work too well for a master patch volume control, because if you have any effects post-amp model (reverb, etc.) there's a chance that they could "virtually analog-clip" and cause unwanted distortion.

 

This caused me clipping / harshness problems when I was running amp Channel Volumes up around 7.0-8.0 or so (on certain sounds) into delays and other effects post-amp. Reducing the amp's Channel Volume and increasting the Gain on the Output block helped this.

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its been said many times....start by ensuring the patch has the same volume with blocks turned on as with blocks turned off.  This sets the Chan Volume about right.

 

also...

 

Why is this question of patch leveling always asked when its no different to having a big analog pedal board,,,you still have to level out each pedal so whats different??

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The Channel Volume doesn't work too well for a master patch volume control, because if you have any effects post-amp model (reverb, etc.) there's a chance that they could "virtually analog-clip" and cause unwanted distortion.

 

This caused me clipping / harshness problems when I was running amp Channel Volumes up around 7.0-8.0 or so (on certain sounds) into delays and other effects post-amp. Reducing the amp's Channel Volume and increasting the Gain on the Output block helped this.

 

An interesting point regarding clipping. And yet, I'll bet many users employ the "Channel Volume" much more frequently or even exclusively to get their preset to the desired volume and leave the Volume on the Output block at 0db. This would be a prime example of where metering might be very handy. You would be able to easily see if the "Channel Volume" level on the Amp block was driving anything downstream too hard.

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its been said many times....start by ensuring the patch has the same volume with blocks turned on as with blocks turned off.  This sets the Chan Volume about right.

 

also...

 

Why is this question of patch leveling always asked when its no different to having a big analog pedal board,,,you still have to level out each pedal so whats different??

ive never owned a real pedal board.. but this is how i do it on helix as well. channel vol first then make sure nothing clips when u add a pedal to the chain. then turn it on and off and see if theres any volume jump with a db meter

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its been said many times....start by ensuring the patch has the same volume with blocks turned on as with blocks turned off. This sets the Chan Volume about right.

 

also...

 

Why is this question of patch leveling always asked when its no different to having a big analog pedal board,,,you still have to level out each pedal so whats different??

You are correct in that you can use your ears on the Helix just like an analog board to kick blocks in one at a time and adjust them so they don't cause significant changes in volume. One point regarding this however is that digital clipping is way nastier and less musical than analog so clipping is not as big an issue or as noticeable on an analog pedal board. A bit of clipping on an analog pedal board can go unnoticed or even sound good, however on a digital MFX clipping can lead to a more substantial troubleshooting task to find out where the offending block is. Just a small amount of digital clipping can make your sound terrible and it can be a block that is just a bit too hot and not that obvious. Finding those marginally "too hot" blocks is where metering seems to be more useful in the digital realm.
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I set output levels using the input meter of my DAW. I adjust the patches so that they hit the input at about -12db on an "authoritative strum", which allows plenty of room for transient spikes and a 3-5db overall boost for leads where desirable. 

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I set output levels using the input meter of my DAW. I adjust the patches so that they hit the input at about -12db on an "authoritative strum", which allows plenty of room for transient spikes and a 3-5db overall boost for leads where desirable. 

 

That's a good idea using the DAW meters.  The dB levels you list seem to be a pretty good guide.  This is pretty much the type of info I was looking for.

 

I know Helix meters are up on the Ideascale wishlist, which could be handy too.

 

Someone mentioned similarity to a big analog pedalboard.  I think Helix patch leveling is a bit different in that a pedalboard would go straight into a traditional amp and the stomps are just relative to each other.  This approach may work for snapshots in a single patch.  But by the time I try to level 50 or so patches, I've lost my reference.

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An interesting point regarding clipping. And yet, I'll bet many users employ the "Channel Volume" much more frequently or even exclusively to get their preset to the desired volume and leave the Volume on the Output block at 0db. This would be a prime example of where metering might be very handy. You would be able to easily see if the "Channel Volume" level on the Amp block was driving anything downstream too hard.

Just some things to kick around...If i have one amp but more than one output block in a patch, using the channel volume will make things a bit nicer.

 

If i am NOT using an amp block at all, then the output block is my only choice....without adding a gain block or whatever.

 

If i have a compressor after the amp block, and dont want to hit it and harder, i HAVE to use the output block. Try it. I didnt think this was the case as i was reading your post but...try it.

 

So i dont think the channel volume and output blocks are 100% redundant...even tho i didnt think the channel vol "pushed" the other blocks following the amp block at the time of writing this post. Now i do.

 

Now, the gain and level knobs on the LA2A comp are 100% redundant as far as i can see   :) That one always bugged me.

 

(can't remember what it was) as to why meters had not been included on the Helix

 

 

 

Well you cant change input levels anyway, so if you are plugging youre guitar straight into helix, input meters would do you no good.  Output levels would be read on a mixer (or any device the helix is plugged into) so no need there.

 

The only place i can see a meter useful FOR ME, is a gain reduction meter, for very subtle compression levels.

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The Channel Volume doesn't work too well for a master patch volume control, because if you have any effects post-amp model (reverb, etc.) there's a chance that they could "virtually analog-clip" and cause unwanted distortion.

 

This caused me clipping / harshness problems when I was running amp Channel Volumes up around 7.0-8.0 or so (on certain sounds) into delays and other effects post-amp. Reducing the amp's Channel Volume and increasting the Gain on the Output block helped this.

When i read your post, i thought you were mistaken, because i had read in (i think) the manual, that a "good" place to control helix patches were, using the channel volume.

 

....but now after inserting a compressor after the amp block, i see you are 100% correct.

 

Amplifier channel volume DOES influence succeeding fx!

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I've used the same methodology for normalizing my patches on every modeler I've had.  The techniques have sometimes changed because of the features offered by the modeler, but the approach never varies.

 

I use a standard DB Meter.  I tried using ones that are offered for smartphones, but they aren't as responsive as actual physical devices that can respond up to 130+ decibels.  I leave my Helix Master Volume knob at 50%, and my DXR12 FRFR speaker at 50%.  This leaves me plenty of headroom for adjustment before I come anywhere close to digital clipping.

 

The drive and channel volumes (and master volume although I never tend to adjust that from defaults) are used for tone more than volume.  I personally like to use the volume adjustment on the output block to ensure I'm not affecting the underlying tone.  I originally started using the volume adjustment on the cabinets, but found that was problematic if I was using dual cabinets.  I get the tone basically where I want it first, then I target an average of 100db on the sound meter with my settings where I stated before.  When I build patches I NEVER touch the Helix Master Volume or the Volume on my FRFR speaker.  By and large I do all of this by ear and then check things at the end with the sound meter for finer adjustments.

 

Once I get to the gig I may make minor adjustments during rehearsal or sound checks with the Helix Master Volume, but I still never touch the volume on my FRFR speaker.  My powered speaker has a built-in limiter as many powered speakers do nowdays, so I do everything I can to leave headroom so that doesn't get engaged.

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Ive had a recent Bad experience using a DAW meter to set my patches for LIVE use with a band.

 

i set all my patches to around -12db and the solo boosts to about -9db.

but when i used these patches live there was a big differnce in "perceived" volume, 

 

the clean patches that read -12 were swamped by the other instruments and some of the od patches where very variable in how they sounded level wise

 

i found that i had to a lot of tweaking on the fly to boost the clean sounds up and lower some of the gain ones, also the solo lift needed to be nearer 6db and maybe higher still on some.

 

the patches sounded great in the studio over backing tracks, but just werent loud enough with a band.

 

they didnt sound tonally different, they just werent there enough.

 

 

just  something to watch out for

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So far I do it by ear. I haven't been 100% at doing it consistently, but I mean to, and "I'll get to it soon" .

 

Metering is going to be very frequency dependent, and there is no such thing as an absolutely correct weighting. Frequency response is especially relevant if you're measuring Helix's actual output, not your speakers, since it might already be fully tailored for FRFR playback, or might be going to a power amp and guitar speaker. Helix's output in those two scenarios will have radically different amounts of high end, and there's no such thing as a weighting that compensates for guitar cabs. Which one, anyway?

 

Even if you're using a sound level meter in the room, you also have to compromise between the levels you get with different pickup selections, guitar tone control settings, enabled stomps, etc..

 

My guess is all of that is why Helix doesn't have built-in metering. Though I don't think actual metering would work that well for normalizing volumes, for all those reasons, it would be great if Helix had clipping indicators on the input and/or output of any block that was clipping digitally. I don't remember for sure if we know what sort of math it uses internally; if it's floating point then actual clipping is less likely, but ideally we'd know for certain when that happens. We could still decide to keep the sound, but at least we'd know.

 

Overall, it's best to ear-ball it IMO. It's important to always match to the same reference patch, ideally one you've marked as that, so you never change it.

 

 

I don't buy the idea that you should adjust every block to unity gain, at least not before the amp. It's totally legit to push the amp input, or another stomp, as hard as you want, if it sounds good to you. Stuff like the Rangemaster exists for that purpose. At least one well-respected modern clone uses something North of 30db of high-end gain!

 

Post amp, unity gain makes sense, unless you intend to overdrive something there, but clipping your reverb input clipping isn't a thing in most situations, I think :)

 

It's possible I'm deaf and ignorant or lucky, but I seem to have settled for now on a reference volume that's louder than most factory patches, and I'm not hearing the sorts of clipping that scream digital garbage to me. I definitely wail on amp inputs sometimes too.

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Just some things to kick around...If i have one amp but more than one output block in a patch, using the channel volume will make things a bit nicer.

 

If i am NOT using an amp block at all, then the output block is my only choice....without adding a gain block or whatever.

 

If i have a compressor after the amp block, and dont want to hit it and harder, i HAVE to use the output block. Try it. I didnt think this was the case as i was reading your post but...try it.

 

So i dont think the channel volume and output blocks are 100% redundant...even tho i didnt think the channel vol "pushed" the other blocks following the amp block at the time of writing this post. Now i do.

 

Now, the gain and level knobs on the LA2A comp are 100% redundant as far as i can see   :) That one always bugged me.

 

Well you cant change input levels anyway, so if you are plugging youre guitar straight into helix, input meters would do you no good.  Output levels would be read on a mixer (or any device the helix is plugged into) so no need there.

 

The only place i can see a meter useful FOR ME, is a gain reduction meter, for very subtle compression levels.

 

I do often use the Output block volume, and in fact I always at least have a clean boost on the Output block assigned to a footswitch. I can see where the Channel Volume and volume on the Output block may not be exactly "redundant" that was a poor choice of words. And now that I think about it, using Channel Volume may be easier than trying to synch up Master volumes when you are using two amps in a preset. Not making any proclamations here, just trying to understand why both Master and Channel Volume are required. Open to explanation here if anyone has put any thought into other reasons why it is good to have both.

 

You may not be able to change the input level on the Helix but you could still monitor the level of the signal coming in from your guitar/instrument/mic as well as the impact of a  change made by engaging the pad or changing the impedance setting. As far as output readings you are not always on a computer with meter readings available (often only have the Helix Editor up, meters in the Editor might be a nice feature) and you are unlikely to be reading the output levels on a mixer unless you are tweaking presets on your Helix right next to the mixer.

 

Anyway, not trying to make a federal case for meters here, I have been getting along quite well without them, just think it would be nice to have. Even just having a warning light that indicated digital clipping somewhere in the signal path would be cool.

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..

 it would be great if Helix had clipping indicators on the input and/or output of any block that was clipping digitally. ...

 

Sorry, I just saw this! Exactly what I was referring to in the last paragraph of my post above and indicating the block responsible was precisely what I had in mind.

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I do often use the Output block volume, and in fact I always at least have a clean boost on the Output block assigned to a footswitch. I can see where the Channel Volume and volume on the Output block may not be exactly "redundant" that was a poor choice of words. And now that I think about it, using Channel Volume may be easier than trying to synch up Master volumes when you are using two amps in a preset. Not making any proclamations here, just trying to understand why both Master and Channel Volume are required. Open to explanation here if anyone has put any thought into other reasons why it is good to have both.

 

I've always suspected this might relate to the design of certain amps that have different channels and each channel has it's own volume and the amp has a volume setting, so it's necessary to have them in order to model the circuit correctly.  Most of the amps have the master volume set to 10 by default which would tell me it doesn't have a separate master volume.  But certain amps, like a J45, has a master volume that isn't maxed out at 10, which tells me it's part of the original circuitry and has some impact on the tone.  By and large, if the default master volume on the amp defaults to 10 I just leave it alone.  I only adjust ones that don't default to 10.

 

As far as I can tell, channel volume does seem to have some impact on certain amps, and probably on all.  For example a Fender Deluxe gets considerably more crunchy the higher the channel volume goes, whereas there seems to be no impact other than pure volume when I adjust the output block volume.  I also like the idea the output block volume is set in db, which helps with the precision I'm looking for when matching volume levels.

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......

 

As far as I can tell, channel volume does seem to have some impact on certain amps, and probably on all.  For example a Fender Deluxe gets considerably more crunchy the higher the channel volume goes, whereas there seems to be no impact other than pure volume when I adjust the output block volume.  I also like the idea the output block volume is set in db, which helps with the precision I'm looking for when matching volume levels.

 

I need to test this but it does not agree with any of my memory or experience.  The channel volume does nothing but change the level of the amp.  Its possible that you are hearing the impact of driving some subsequent block harder...

 

btw...for ages I thought you were a fellow Kiwi.  Dunedin is our 4th largest city and quite strong musically.  I assume FL is short for Florida?

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I do often use the Output block volume, and in fact I always at least have a clean boost on the Output block assigned to a footswitch. I can see where the Channel Volume and volume on the Output block may not be exactly "redundant" that was a poor choice of words.  

 

I think that word resonated with me because i felt similar to you. Ill have to go back to the manual i guess, but for whatever reason, i felt like the wording was "one place to increase and decrease patch volume is- channel volume". 

Sure its possible, but its not always a practical option.

 

Your other points are noted as well. In support of your comment, if  the helix were plugged directly into a set of speakers, an out meter may be useful. Which never occured to me.

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