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Balancing volume levels


Dwf2008
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With my helix, I find that when switching from preset to preset that the volume levels vary widely. Some are just right, some are way too loud, some too soft, etc.  I would like to normalize them so they all play at about the same volume. To do this would it be better to adjust the master volume or channel volume on the amp, or would it be better to add a volume control somewhere in the signal chain (where) and adjust the volumes using it? Or, is there some other technique that I should try?

 

A related question is how to best eliminate the hiss or buzz (noise) that seems to be built into some of the presets I have purchased or downloaded?

 

Thanks for any suggestions

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Hi, 

 

On the Helix, the channel volume is the one to use. Adjusting the master volume will affect your tone. 

 

For balancing volume, I use a combination of Orban Loudness Meter (which is free), listening while I work through my patches and then a final run-through in the rehearsal studio to make sure everything's dialled in. 

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On 5/6/2022 at 10:12 AM, Dwf2008 said:

A related question is how to best eliminate the hiss or buzz (noise) that seems to be built into some of the presets I have purchased or downloaded?


Hi,

 

The post above from “bohica72” would appear to be the answer to your preset levelling issue. It has been discussed here many, many times and the full answer is to set you presets at gig level. It is likely that you are experiencing what is more regularly referred to as “ Fletcher Munson Curve”.


Link: https://ehomerecordingstudio.com/fletcher-munson-curve/

 

Regarding the situation of “hiss or buzz (noise)” - well that’s rather abstract - define noise, buzz etc. One man’s “hiss” is another man’s tinnitus. Without an audio example how can we understand what you determine to be “noise”. You could try the usual troubleshooting routines, dirty power supply, in/out connection sockets, cable checking, pickups, noise gate setting for a start.

 

You mention that this phenomenon “seems to be built into some of the presets I have purchased”. If you are unhappy with the presets that you have paid for, then you really need to ask the vendor why they are “noisy”, and ask them to solve the issues. If you are able to create “noiseless” presets, check those against the one you have bought to try and find how they differ.

 

Hope this helps/makes sense.

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On 5/6/2022 at 10:12 AM, Dwf2008 said:

With my helix, I find that when switching from preset to preset that the volume levels vary widely. Some are just right, some are way too loud, some too soft, etc.  I would like to normalize them so they all play at about the same volume. To do this would it be better to adjust the master volume or channel volume on the amp, or would it be better to add a volume control somewhere in the signal chain (where) and adjust the volumes using it? Or, is there some other technique that I should try?

 

A related question is how to best eliminate the hiss or buzz (noise) that seems to be built into some of the presets I have purchased or downloaded?

 

Thanks for any suggestions

 

Just do it by ear using the channel volume on the amp block. There are other ways as mentioned already but it needs to sound right by ear so you may as well adjust it by ear.

 

Any preset you buy or download that is noisy, is most likely due to having no noise gate in the chain, or on the main input, just add it back in

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Hiss or noise is one of the risks with downloaded presets.  If the person built it using a humbucker guitar and you're on a single coil you have to recognize that's going to need to be treated differently.  Sometime hiss can be present in presets that use a lot of gain on an already high gain amp for example.  There's simply no free ride around getting knowledgeable about things in your signal chain, and that just takes some time and experience to learn how to troubleshoot it.  Your best bet is to go through the preset turning each block on and off to isolate what, if anything, in the signal chain is causing the noise and then take some corrective actions on that block or with a noise gate.

I always advocate learning to build your own presets maybe based on ideas you see in downloaded presets so you can learn to do it and what not to do for your particular setup.

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I don't have an HX device to know what options they have available. 

But the general rule is that any sort of volume changes need to be last in the chain, otherwise it will change the tone you just created. 

 

Depending on patch design, you could also be told to put it at the end of the middle - after the amp, before delays and reverbs.

In most instances, I disagree with this placement. The patch has already been designed. You are trying to do volume leveling. Putting it in the middle would be more relevant when you are still in the design phase of a patch. 

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If you purchase a bunch of presets, they will all behave differently and have different perceived loudness.  The best you can do is to simply use your ears in a band context. 

 

However...

 

My advice is to not to have radically different presets in your set.  Even when you level them in terms of volume at home or even in the rehearsal, when you play live, they may be more bassy or trebly when running through the big PA and there will be volume discrepancies--it's unavoidable.  Some PAs color your sounds in weird unexpected ways.  Some PAs have more pronounced mids, some swallow up your reverbs and delay.... So chances are there will always be volume jumps if you switch between a Fender Deluxe to a Marshall between your presets. 

 

My advice is to come up with your basic sound, e.g. Classic Distortion, Marshall amp.  In each preset, use that as the basis of your sound, and make adjustments/additions as needed.  Just like you would play your traditional analog gear, use only one amp.  I know the Edge has like 5 different amps, but he's the Edge and he has a dedicated sound guy to make sure his sound mix is consistent.  For us bar band musicians, the easier it is, the better. 

 

My 2nd advice is to build your own presets.  You can simply borrow some cool tricks that somebody else did, and incorporate those tricks, e.g. vibrato/reverb settings into your familiar tried and true consistent setup. 

 

 

As for the buzz -- you can always add a noise gate in the beginning of your chain--this can help with 60cycle hum when not playing.  I have seen some blocks introduce almost unbearable whine/hiss, e.g. acoustic simulator.  What's worse is that this noise becomes more prominent on certain guitars and is absent on the others.  In those situations, I recommend taking a 10-band EQ, placing it after the noisy block and try to notch out that bad frequency. 

 

When I have to use acoustic simulator, I have to notch out different frequencies depending on if I'm on the neck or the bridge pickup--it's very very sensitive to the signal that is coming into the Helix. 

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On 5/6/2022 at 9:41 PM, Paulzx said:

 

Just do it by ear using the channel volume on the amp block. There are other ways as mentioned already but it needs to sound right by ear so you may as well adjust it by ear.

 

Any preset you buy or download that is noisy, is most likely due to having no noise gate in the chain, or on the main input, just add it back in

Whilst this is true - final balancing can reall only be done by ear - meter's can help get more consistent in the first place (much closer than no initial metering), and ensure you haven't started with your softest or loudest patch as the comparative point. If you reference no metering at any point you run the risk of creating consistently too hot (or cold) levels for your patches.

 

Metering also helps provide an objective measure (our ears are subjective) and, when leveling a lot pf patches, helps with ear fatigue (listening too long) and our own flawed memories/perception of volume. Moving between patches and only leveling by ear will reult in needing to do it a large number of times to fine tune it - our ears and minds simply aren't as perfrect as we like to think an play lots of trick on us. I say this having learnt the hard way balancing an active set of 100+ patches over a long time (with many many more having moved in and out of the set).

 

You may also need ot use more tools than the amp channel volume - other effects cabs etc all change the gain and perceived volume so matching volume adjustments at the end of the chain with a gain block or on the output block is easier and more consistent.

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+1 on the comments about using the channel volume and being aware of the Fletcher-Munson curve.

 

However, there's still the matter of coming up with a way to balance the levels to a consistent standard. Although you can only set levels properly at a gig while playing at live performance levels with a band, how long it takes to set that level properly matters. I want all my presets to have the same perceived volume level for two reasons:

  • In the studio, when switching among presets, you don't fall into "the louder one sounds better syndrome," and you don't have to spend time tweaking levels to do comparisons.
  • For live performance, you have a baseline level. With a standardized level, hopefully each preset will require only a modest adjustment to be a little louder or softer, as needed.

As to how to balance the levels, here's an excerpt from The Big Book of Helix Tips and Tricks. It's one of the more advanced topics, but I hope it helps:

How to Level Presets

People have different attitudes about how (or even whether) to level presets. There are four complications when trying to set consistent levels:

  • A sound’s perceived level can be different from its measured level. A brighter sound may measure as softer, but be perceived as louder because it has energy where our ears are most sensitive.
  • You want some sounds to have a louder perceived level than others.
  • With live performance, different presets will have different perceived levels depending on room acoustics, the size of the audience, and the music you’re playing.
  • Presets that sound good in a home studio over monitors may not work well for live performance.

When using presets onstage, the only way to guarantee setting the right levels is to adjust them while playing live, in context. Regardless, having a consistent, baseline level speeds up the tweaking process. Here’s an analogy. When adjusting a pickup’s pole pieces, I screw them all in halfway. Then if a string needs to be louder or softer, I can adjust the pole pieces as needed. If they’d all been screwed out, I couldn’t make them louder. If they’d been screwed all the way in, I couldn’t make them softer. It’s easier to tweak preset levels if they’re already close to what you want.

 

The following is intended for those who are familiar with recording, editing, or mastering audio. 

A Partial Solution, Borrowed from Mastering Engineers

A measurement protocol called LUFS (Loudness Unit Full Scale) measures perceived loudness, not absolute loudness. The origin story (every superhero has an origin story, right?) is that the European Broadcast Union (EBU) had enough of mastering engineers making CDs as loud as possible, in their quest to win “the loudness wars.” LUFS measurements allow streaming services like YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, and others to adjust the volume of various songs to the same perceived level. So, you don’t have to change the volume for every song in a playlist—that Belgian hardcore techno cut from 1998 sounds like it’s the same level as Billie Eilish. The system isn’t perfect, but it’s better than dealing with constant level variations.

 

LUFS meters measure perceived levels. Some DAWs include LUFS meters. Third-party plug-in meters include Waves WLM, or the free Youlean Loudness Meter.

 

The goal with leveling presets is for their outputs to have the same LUFS reading. This is not a panacea! You will almost certainly need to tweak output levels for specific performance situations and musical material. Having a standard output level simply makes tweaking easier, because you’ve established a standard. Presets can be either louder or softer than the standard.

Setting the Output Level

If you don’t care about whether the preset has the same perceived level as a dry guitar (you don’t need to), adjust the output to whatever sounds right. However, comparing the processed sound to the bypassed sound is a useful baseline.

 

Creating consistent levels is easiest to do with a computer and Helix Native. Next best is playing guitar as consistently as possible through Helix, into a computer with a DAW or plug-in host that can load an LUFS meter. Here’s how to do it:

 

1. Set the Helix Native input and output levels to 0.0, and don’t touch them. You’ll make any needed input or output level adjustments in the preset itself.

2. Record a 15-30 second or so clip of bypassed guitar playing chords, without any major pauses, and another clip with 15-30 seconds of single notes, also without major pauses. For bass presets, record some bass lines.

3. Insert an LUFS meter after Helix Native. If you expect to use a preset with chords, loop the chord clip at least twice with Helix bypassed, and check the LUFS reading. After enabling Helix, play the same loop at least twice, and adjust levels within the preset to hit the same target LUFS reading.

4. Use your ears to do any final output level edits, based on the musical context.

 

Tip: Most LUFS meters measure the instantaneous LUFS level as well as an average level over time. If you play the loop through a few times, the average level will settle to a final value, whether bypassed or through an effect. This is the reading you want to use, not the instantaneous one.

 

Note that this isn’t an exact science. The object is for your presets to have a standard, baseline level. That way, when you get to the gig, massive tweaking probably won’t be needed.

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