recording levels

Hello…I am using Audacity 2.1.3 through an Asus laptop A54C with a 4 channel Alesis multimixer…Windows 7.
My guess is this question has been asked a lot before but I cant really find a definitive answer..I have been doing this a while and this issue has always confused me...everything seems to work ok other than too much background noise...there are three recording settings I need to deal with..the slider on Audacity...the recording level on the mixer...the gain on the mixer...there are multiple levels I can set to get an acceptable volume unless I turn any of the settings to high when I get too much noise..other then that it doesn't seem to matter which combination of settings I use. Currently I have the Audacity level at 3.3...the recording level around a third and the gain around 1/ doesn't seem to make much difference if i turn one down and compensate with another..I have turned the slider down to near 0...less then 0.1 anyway and I dont really hear much difference as long as I turn the mixer controls up…I need to know what combination of settings to use or if it matters.
Any suggestions? Thanks

unless I turn any of the settings to high when I get too much noise…

On the “digital side”, the recording level makes (almost*) no difference to the signal-to-noise ratio.

…If you record at a low level the signal and noise go down together and at higher levesl the the signal and noise go up together. Higher levels make the noise more noticeable, but it’s no different than adjusting the analog volume up and down during playback… If you play it louder the noise becomes more noticeable and if you play it quieter the noise is harder to hear.

The most important thing is to keep the levels below 0dB to prevent clipping (distortion). Other than that, your recording levels are not very critical.

Your analog settings may not make much difference either as long as the meters are showing a “good signal” without clipping. So, set those knobs somewhere in the middle where they allow you a “useful” adjustment range.

What is critical is a good-strong acoustic signal (assuming you’re using microphones) to “drown out” the acoustic background noise. That means singing/speaking/playing with good-strong volume fairly-close to the mic. And, it’s helpful to use a directional mic so you don’t pick-up room noise from all directions.

Currently I have the Audacity level at 3.3…the recording level around a third and the gain around 1/2…

You can’t tell anything from the slider/knob positions because it depends on the loudness of the sound (or strength of the signal). An acoustic guitar might need to be cranked-up and a live rock band will have to be turned-down.


  • There is something called quantization noise but you can’t hear it under normal conditions and it’s generally way lower than the analog noise and way-way lower than the acoustic noise (if you’re recording with a microphone). If you record at below -20dB (and at 16-bits) quantization noise might be a concern.

Pros often record at -12 to -18dB (at 24-bits). The higher the bit-depth, the lower the quantization noise… You can hear it at 8-bits. The “weird thing” about quantization noise is that it goes away completely when the digital audio is silent.