How To Set Your Levels In Traktor Like A Pro

traktor

To DJ successfully in bars, lounges or clubs using Traktor, you need to understand how it handles volume. Pic: Club Native

When I’ve taught friends to DJ, one of the things I try to get across early is the importance of matching the levels of the two tracks being mixed. A sudden big drop in the volume is a surefire way to lose energy on the dance floor – or even clear it if you’re really unlucky! The way Traktor handles metering and the labels on its volume controls can lure you into making a real mess of your levels.

When I first realised this on switching from CDJs and an analogue mixer to using Traktor and a sound card, it prompted me to take a deeper look into the best way to get the level right. Today I’m going to explain why turning the master volume down in Traktor is essential if you mix “in the box”, ie in internal mode – which if you use a DJ controller, is exactly what you do.

The problem:

You may have already run into this problem. You’ve just dropped a dancefloor-filling track, but when you try to smoothly bring in the next tune, it’s too quiet. Faders and the main volume control are already all the way up, and there’s nowhere left to go. If you’ve got the master limiter disabled, turning the channel’s gain further just results in nasty distortion. If you do have Traktor’s master limiter switched on, you can crank the volume further, but at the expense of sound quality again.

The limiter is basically a compressor, which quietens down the loudest parts of the track, “filling out” the sound to give the impression of more volume. (You know you are hitting the limiter when the red lights on Traktor’s output meters come on.)

As most dance tracks released these days are already heavily compressed, adding further compression is not a good idea if you want your set to sound good (see the Loudness Wars video for more info on the effects of over-compression).

The solution:

I’ll explain the whys and wherefores in a moment, but here’s the simple solution to the problem:

  1. Turn Traktor’s master output control down – somewhere around -10dB works well (assuming you have a decent sound card)
  2. Turn the gain on the amp or analogue mixer you’re plugged in to up to compensate if necessary – this will give you plenty of headroom, so when you drop that track that hasn’t been mastered quite so loud, you can crank up the channel gains in Traktor without worrying about distortion

Tip: If you can, sound check before your set with a track that you know is quiet – make sure it sounds loud enough and that you aren’t clipping (driving into the red) the in-house equipment that you are hooked up to.

Why it works…

The key to understanding what’s going on here is to understand what the “0dB” setting means in Traktor. dB (short for “decibel”) is a relative measure of volume – it tells you the difference between two levels.

Many analogue mixers have “0dB” marked on the VU meter – this usually corresponds to 0dBV, which means it is measuring the difference between the current level and an output voltage of 1 volt. You can push the level above this and still get a nice clean output from most mixers – on the best ones, up to +20dB on the mixer’s output meter.

Clipping in Traktor

Driving into the red is a surefire way of degrading your sound quality.

But in Traktor, 0dB means “maximum output”. If you are using a good DJ sound card (or controller with a decent one built-in), this could mean you are putting out up to a walloping +20dBV. Leaving the master gain set to 0dB in Traktor is like turning every control on your mixer right up to maximum at the start of your set. Not a good idea. So why would Native Instruments choose to mark the gain control like this? Well, it’s actually fairly common for digital equipment to designate 0dB as the maximum output. If you had auto gain turned off and were using Traktor in external mixer mode, sending each tune out to your sound card at maximum volume wouldn’t be such a bad thing, as most DJ mixers can handle a pretty hot signal coming in.

Why use -10dB?
Earlier I suggested -10dB as a good setting for your master. There are a couple of reasons why.

The first is simply experience; I’ve found this gives enough headroom to level match tracks without slamming into the limiter. If you play lots of older tracks you might find you need to use an even lower setting.

The second reason is related to the actual output voltage you are sending to the next thing in the audio chain. If you’ve every played on a big system with a sound engineer, you’ve probably been asked to “keep it out of the red” – ie to stick to a maximum of 0dB on the mixer. A clean 0dBV signal allows the guy running the system to crank it up to full volume without worrying about it being destroyed.

I use a Motu UltraLite sound card which has a maximum output around 17dBV, so in theory I should set my master output in Traktor to -17dB or lower in order to give a real output of 0dBV. If I was hooking my sound card up directly to a pro amplifier or a big sound system, that’s what I would do. In most cases though, digital DJs hook up their kit to one of the mixer inputs. DJ mixers are usually optimised these days for the relatively hot output level from a Pioneer CDJ (around 6dBV). Bringing the master level up in Traktor to -10dB with my set up gives a similar level on my mixer as I get with a CDJ.

Remember…

Master volume

The master volume, set to -10dB in Traktor.

The key thing to take away here is that 0dB in Traktor really means maximum output. Using a master setting of -10dB (or even much lower) will give you a fighting chance of keeping the levels kicking on the dancefloor without distorting.

• This was a guest post by Colin Brown, who is a DJ with over 10 years’ experience, and who is also system tech for the Babble Collective Soundsystem.

Do you have level problems when using Traktor to DJ out and about with? Have you battled with a sound engineer about how the settings should be? Let us know in the comments.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this article.

    What are the recommended settings when you are simply recording a mix and not outputting to an external system (internal mixing only)?

    • I would simply set your recording level (if Traktor has one) and then do a test. Record a blend…not one track. Some spot when you think it’s at a max.

      Then listen to the test and see if it distorts.

      In all honesty, I usually record my mixes a tiny bit lower than the max. It’s not about loudness, but clarity. You can always jack up the volume later in whatever audio editing program you have.

    • Colin Brown says:

      The first thing to note is that the master gain doesn’t matter when recording in Traktor – you set the level using the audio recorder gain instead.

      The dB scale on the audio recorder gain control in Traktor is, confusingly, not calibrated properly, so -10dB on the record level control is lower than the same as -10dB on the master!

      Around -6.0dB on the record gain control in Traktor works well for me, again allowing a plenty of room to boost channel gains but still resulting in a reasonably hot recording.

      As D-Jam suggests, a good solution can be to record at an even lower level (say -9.0dB on the record gain control), then boost the level of the recording in an audio editor like Audacity before burning to CD or uploading to Soundcloud. If you like to use effects or lots of eq boost this is probably a safer bet.

      • Thank you so much for the info about the difference between the master out & record gain controls — this has been driving me nuts, and it’s caused me to not trust Traktor’s metering worth a damn, especially when recording mixes (which I do a lot).

        I’ve learned to compensate and get a more even volume across a mix (and invoke Traktor’s limiter as little as possible, because autogain in Traktor has always been just awful), but this will give me some real-world metering I can depend on a lot more. Much appreciated!

      • Sorry Colin but that is 100% incorrect. For example, for at home recording i have the Master volume set to 0db and the Audio recorder set to +3db. As i have the auto-limiter set to -6db this gives a nearly perfect ‘just staying out of the red’ recording solution. When I then open the wav file in Goldwave to to do any touching up or simply resave as a 320 .mp3 the levels are great, no clipping but the ocassional peaks nearing the top of the waveform. However, if I reduce the Master out volume, this drastically reduces the record level and the audio recorder gain has to be substantially increased accordingly (or I can cheat and increase the volume in Goldwave after recording. So to state ‘master gain doesn’t matter when recording’ is wholly misleading, sorry. :( Other than that great article though!! :D

  2. Thanks for the mix recommendations. Finally, what are your thoughts on programs such as mp3gain and Platinum Notes.

    • If you have a lot of older tracks that were mastered in the days of yore before everything was ultramaxized and squashed like crazy, then running those through a multiband compressor, stereo-field maximizer and brickwall limiter (which if I’ve read PlatinumNotes’ page correctly, is basically what they do), you will get apparent volumes that are louder, and closer to modern dance tracks. If you only spin recent music, I’d say judge on a track by track basis. If you have favorites that just never quite sound big enough, go for it, but I wouldn’t want to run my entire music library through something that basically cuts away at dynamic range.

      • While Platinum notes offers the option of multiband compression, the default settings actually do the opposite ie multiband expansion. PN was made specifically to smooth out and add dynamic range to the modern over-compressed tracks.

  3. Hi

    I have just bought a kontrol s4, I plug straight into the PA eliminating the external mixer for a cleaner, fuller signal.

    My Question is:

    What position on the main volume knob (separate from internal software level) is 0db , would it not be better to keep all levels at 0db and manually adjust the gain to avoid digital clipping?

    I think this is an important issue in my aim to ultimately achieve the best quality uninterrupted sound, preferably at 24bit 96khz quality with no deterioration and would appreciate more help on the matter

    Thanks

    • Colin Brown says:

      Hi Jon, I don’t have an S4; if you turn the main volume knob on the S4, I would have guessed the main volume control in the software would also change position – is that not the case?

      • That’s correct. The S4 has a separate output volume knob which can be quite confusing.

        • By far the worst gain controls on any controller.Cant refer to them or the LED’S on the channel for matching gain between tracks.How did the NI guys miss this on a product like the S4 is beyond my comprehension.I hope the rectify it in their future upgrades

    • Colin Brown says:

      Thanks Scott for confirming how the S4 works.

      It sounds as though the S4′s master volume control adjusts the analogue output of the S4, and comes after the DAC in the controller’s sound card.

      If this is the case, you still need to set the level in the software to below 0dB as outlined in my article. If you clip the internal mixer, turning down the S4′s gain control will still give you a clipped output – just a smaller one!

      Native instruments list the max output of the S4 as just under 11dBV.

      If you set the S4 volume up full, and set the internal software volume to -11dBV, playing a track with the channel gain at the 0dB position should give 0dBV at the S4 main outputs.

      This should be enough to drive most pro audio kit to full output, although pro amplifiers often have different “input sensitivities” so the exact setup would depend on the kit you are using.

      I should point out that the above is only true if I’m right about the way the S4 works internally, if anyone else knows better please chip in!

  4. Im using traktor with kontrol x1 to external mixer and an ag gigaport soundcard.
    I really struggle to get traktor to play at a relative volume to cdjs, at this point im having to use a booster after the soundcard which is a pain.
    Even in external mode if the master output of traktor gets around 0 db it sounds like crap, have tried with and without autogain.
    Other than getting a new soundcard any suggestions?

    • Hi Tony,

      I couldn’t find much info about your soundcard; one website I saw stated a max output of 0.5dBV, which is on the low side.

      You’ve got to boost the output somehow – no way around that I’m afraid, and a better sound card is probably the best solution. Some mixers (like my old Vestax PMC250) have a sensitivity switch on the input you can change for low output devices – might be worth checking yours.

      Traktor shouldn’t sound TOO bad when its limiting gently – make sure you have the limter switched on in Traktor’s mixer preferences. Its better to avoid hitting the limiter at all but sometimes you have compromise to work within the limits of the gear available.

  5. Exokinetic says:

    Hey guys!

    Love the article, coincidently some just finished explaining this bit of gain structure to me, and so I have been running at -14Db on Traktor’s master output, and then run my external mixers channels hotter to make up.

    I DEFINITELY notice an improvement in headroom, especially when layering multiple tracks.

    I have a question though…

    You say your audio interface has a max output of 17DBv…

    And you use that to set the how much you dial down the master.

    I have been digging around for a few hours, and I cannot seem to find a specific reference to NI’s sound cards max output…

    I would assume it is the same across their entire range, but I, for example have an Audio 8, and would LOVE to know the exact number, so I could have a measurement to base my adjustment on.

    Thanks again, and thumbs up on the article, something I think EVERYONE that uses Traktor should know, and use.

    • Hi Exokinetic,

      I’m sure those specs used to be on Native Instruments sites – looks like they’ve moved things around with the launch of their new interfaces.

      I know the Audio 2 has a lower output than the Audio 4 and 8, so they aren’t the same across the range – something to be aware of.

      The Audio 8 has a stated max output (found it on djmag.com) of 9.6dBU, which converts to 7.4dBV.

      To be honest, I wouldn’t worry about the exact numbers too much. The key thing is whether the mixer you are hooked up to can be driven to 0dB on the meters with your settings – if so, you can be confident your setup will be able to drive any big sound system to the max.

      BTW: I know in the article I said my sound card has a max output of +17dBV, which is true, but that figure is for the balanced outputs. The unbalanced outputs (i.e. the like those used on the Audio 8 ) will be lower, similar to the Audio 8.

  6. An essential post ;) gj on researching the info

  7. Exokinetic says:

    Thank you for the follow up man!

    Great info all around!

  8. Great article and cool to see you follow up in the comments
    Thanks

  9. Man what a useful post. Kudos to Colin and Phil for this!!!

    I’ve been dealing with this a lot lately because I recently moved to Traktor Pro from Traktor DJ Studio 3 (Which I’ve been using for the last 2 years), and for the life of me I haven’t been able yet to achieve the same perceived sound quality with TP (maybe I’m picky or something).

    After much testing and head picking I came up to the conclusion that the master volume and limiter are calibrated differently between TP and TDJ, thus I’ve been playing around with different configs (master levels, limiter on or off, autogain on or off, etc) in order to achieve what I use to have with TDJ, otherwise I would have to stick with TDJ until TP2 comes out and recheck.

    BTW I’m running Traktor through an Audio 4DJ on internal mixer mode (Mixtrack controller), and my master signal is going through a Peavey PV6 sound board before reaching my PA. I’ll give Colin’s advice a try on my setup (I’ve been running TP at -1 db so I’ll move down to -5 db and adjust at the PV6).

    Did any of you guys experienced something similar when moving to Traktor Pro from Traktor DJ Studio?

    Cheers

    • Glad you liked the article!

      I used to use Traktor DJ Studio but not for long, most of my use as been with TPro, so I’m not sure I can help much on the differences.

      Definitely try turning the master down in Traktor.

      From the manual, your PV6 expects a nominal level of 4dBU, which you would hit with the Traktor Master set at -5.6dB (assuming the Audio 4 has the same 9.6 dBU max output as the Audio 8). Having said that, the minimum level the PV6 needs to be able to generate full output is -17dBU, so don’t be afraid to turn the master down further in Traktor!

      To give yourself some room to boost the channel gains when mixing, a -10dB setting as recommended in the article should work well.

  10. oijackson says:

    What has always baffled me is why NI have never bothered to design a good visual metering level for internal mode. I had a look at their new daddy controller the other week and noticed that their metering on that was still a little shoddy. This has led me to sack it off completely when playing on large systems as volume changes are allot more noticeable. Until software developers such as NI sort this out i will not be using internal mode in the future.

    What has been said in this post is good advice but what i will say is that planning and getting to know your tracks is essential for achieving good results.

    • Agree 100%. Poor metering in the Traktor UI and corresponding poor metering in Traktor controllers is keeping me tied to an external mixer setup for big gigs.

      I believe Traktor actually had better metering way back in the early versions. Why they’ve gone backwards is a bit of a mystery really, everyone knows DJs love pretty lights!

      Metering is one area where digital systems are still lagging well behind the best analogue systems. I’d love to see combined RMS and peak meters in djing software and digital mixers, with facility to calibrate them to your sound card. Even RMS metering can be improved on but it would be a start.

      At the moment we seem to be stuck with pretty crude peak meters in digital dj kit.

      • As someone who only switched from Traktor 2.5.4 to Traktor Pro about 10 months ago, I can verify that the older metering GUIZ metering was much more reliable (though autogain was definitely bad, as it remains).

  11. This article worked wonders! Only problem now is LED metering as Colin mentioned when in internal mode. For the time being I am using a program called SPL graph on my iphone to help train my ears for volume level consistency. However I really wish Traktor would adopt a more fine grained colored LED system using yellow lights as most other hardware mixers do.

    Does anyone have any tips on keeping a constant volume level in your mix when using Traktor S4 in Internal mixing mode? The LED meters are a bit too basic.

    Also, what programs do you use to finalize the mix and give a few db volume gain before sharing your mix to counter-act the headroom that we are giving by lowering the volume to -6?

    These are very elementary questions but would be helpful. Thanks in advance!

    • The best advice on keeping levels constant is to use your ears. That’s what your audience will be using after all! Meters are a nice guide to make sure you’re in the right ball park but don’t tell the whole story. Traktor’s auto gain feature will probably get you as close as visual meters will.

      Assuming you are beatmatching… when you start to bring a track, listen to the main mix, either by taking your headphones off or by turning the cue balance control fully to mix. Can you hear the new track it starting to appear over the other track? If not you probably need to tweak up the channel gain a bit.

      Re: finalizing your mix; if you’ve got your record level control setting about right, you shouldn’t need to worry about this. If you are finding the highest peak levels in your recording are lower than say -3dB, increase your recording gain a dB or two, and make sure the master limiter is switched on.

      Bear in mind that with a well balanced mix, peak levels will vary from track to track, as some producers use more compression than others; a heavily compressed track will have lower peaks but will sound as loud as a less compressed track with higher peaks.

    • Tip: An easy way to check the peak levels in your recording is with the free program Audacity. Open up your recording, choose the “Waveform (dB)” display from the drop down menu that appears to the left of the track by the filename, and in Preferences-Interface change the Meter / Waveform dB range to -36dB.

    • One final thought on record levels when using Traktors recording feature.

      When the master limiter in Traktor switched on, the recorder actually uses it when you exceed 0dB (max level) on the recording – which is a nice feature.

      If having a maximised / hot final recording is important to you, I wouldn’t be too worried if you _occasionally_ hit the red lights on the record meter on _some_ tracks when you’re recording a mix, because Traktor’s limiter actually works pretty well.

      Avoiding limiting completely will always result in the cleanest recording; I guess what I’m saying is don’t feel your recording will be ruined if you hit the red lights.

      If the red lights on the recorder meter are lit for EVERY track you play, you need to back off the record level.

  12. Very interesting post, sure it gives you more quality when mixing.

    I just have one little question: So if i change the master limiter and the Dbs of traktor, does anything of this has to be with the master output of the controller that you are using? (bcd in my case)
    Or should i just leave it at the middle like before?

    • It depends on the controller. As yours has an audio interface built into it, I’m guessing it probably works like the S4 discussed in the comments earlier – i.e. when you move the master output on the controller the master output in Traktor does not change (the two are independent).

      If this is the case, its likely that the master control on your BCD is analogue; you will probably want to turn it up to compensate for turning down the master gain in Traktor. The best setting will depend on the next unit that you connect your BCD to.

      • Hey thanks! Your advice was really helpful and i did what the tutorial said. I turned up the master output obviously and it definately you can hear the difference a LOT ! :D

  13. Colin

    Thanks heaps! great read and something that I’m always very keen to learn more about. Before I bombard you with questions I just wanted to share a very interesting video that I found over at Loop TV I’m not plugging it I honestly think it’s kind of related and important.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knUnWf2Lh9k

    Ok now down to business
    My Setup

    TSP
    Motu Traveler MK3 ( Maximum output of 0db? Is this like Traktors 0db?)
    Pioneer DJM 800 (In most clubs here in Australia atm).
    I use Auto Gain and no master limiter.

    Now I understand what your saying about placing Traktor’s output at -10db but the way I’ve been running TSP’s output is at about -7db then placing the Motu’s at -12db? I was told that digital clipping within TSP is bad!? So what I did was drag TSP master output back until it (just only just) no longer hit’s the red, this includes FX and blending. Would it be fair to say that the TSP level meter hitting the red is digital clipping? Also I try and keep the DJM so it’s just pushing top end yellow and very rarely hit’s red on both channel and master.

    Am I reading my Motu Traveler MK3 wrong? is the master output something other than 0db and should I push TSP out back further and the Motu up more?

    I find Auto Gain useful at times for acacpella’s but it can also be a pain by turning some tracks down leaving me to turn the DJM’s gain up, is the new version of Traktor better?

    Also in some clubs I Play a Deep House set early and have access to the back of the powered speakers, these I usually run quite low to compensate for everything else being high should I turn the speakers mains up and pull the rest back or keep as is?

    Ok that is all, thanks for a great read!

    groovenuts

    • Hi groovenuts,

      The gain control on the Motu Traveller probably works the same way as my Motu Ultralite. Its an analogue gain control, and comes after the DAC. This means that if you are clipping in Traktor, that clipped signal will still come out of the Traveller, no matter how far you turn the down the gain on the Traveller. All that happens is that the clipped signal gets quieter – the distortion is still there.

      Its probably a good idea to give yourself a bit more headroom in Traktor if you’re running with the limiter switched off. Turn the gain in Traktor down further, and turn the Traveller gain control up (I run mine up full).

      Digital clipping can sound pretty bad. Red lights on Traktors level meter means digital clipping is occurring (unless you have the limiter switched on).

      As for the best level to set the DJM at – it depends on the configuration of the kit its connected to, so its hard for me to advise you there. Ideally you should talk to whoever installed the system you are hooked up to.

      • I’m not sure what you mean by gain control? I assume your talking about the master output dial on the front of the unit and not the individual channel controls?

        here’s what i managed to find about the traveler

        “There are four additional line-level inputs on quarter-inch sockets, switchable in pairs (again via the front panel) between -10dBV and +4dBu operating levels. These have no gain stages other than an optional 6dB ‘boost’ which is achieved in software, not as genuine ‘electrical’ gain. Analogue outputs are on eight quarter-inch sockets fixed at +4dBu.”

        I use 4 pair of quarter inch outs (Motu) to RCA in (DJM).

        Sorry for dragging this out but im still slightly confused.

        GN

        • In your original post you said:

          “the way I’ve been running TSP’s output is at about -7db then placing the Motu’s at -12db”

          I may have misunderstood how you have things set up… which control on your Motu are you setting to -12dB?

      • It’s the main volume knob on the front that says ‘Master Vol’

        http://www.majormusic.com.au/images/motu_traveler-mk3_front_lg.jpg

        When I turn it all the way right the highest reading I get is 0db. It always simultaneously adjusts the levels of all four outputs.

        I have never individually adjusted each channel, nor have I used any software that came with motu to adjust the levels.

        • Ok… When I said “gain control on the Motu Traveller” in my original reply to your questions, I should have said “Master Vol knob”.

          I would turn it up to 0dB (all the way to the right) and reduce the gain in Traktor further to give yourself more digital headroom.

          Watch out if you do this: to make sure no other apps on your laptop are routed to the Traveller outputs, otherwise you’ll be in for a nasty surprise when the “you’ve got new mail” sound blasts out at full volume.

  14. Never knew this from Traktor. Thanks guys!

  15. Hey guys, just an update on my side about following Colin’s advice:

    So far having my master level in Traktor Pro at -10 dB has worked great for me. Sound quality has improved a lot and I’m not hitting the red in Traktor anymore (not even on blends). I’ve turned the channel level on my PV6 mixer up to around +7 dB, and the master out level on the PV6 is at +0 dB.

    I’ve placed the monitor level in Traktor also at -10 dB (I guess both the master and monitor are calibrated at the same level), consequentially I’ve had to get the headphone level on my PV6 up to 5 (used to have it on 2-3). Sound coming out of my headphones is comfortable and does not hurt my ears at all (Technics 1200 headphones)

    Definitely the “Record Level” is calibrated differently as some have mentioned, and even though I’m still tweaking this level I think that -3 dB seems to work fine, with the red lights coming on very rarely only when blending tracks which are heavy on the bass.

    One advice I would add on my side is to map the channel gain levels in Traktor to physical knobs on your controller, because once you calibrate your gear with the master level at -10 dB you’ll notice more easily that the auto-gain in Traktor is not very good, and adjusting the individual gain level will be necessary with some tracks. One important tip when mapping the “Gain Levels” on your controller is to activate the “Soft Takeover” option, that way you can still have the “Auto-Gain” in Traktor as the starting point, and then when you do adjustments by turning the knob the level will only change once you reach the position assigned by the auto-gain, so you’ll avoid having a sudden change on the sound coming out of your speakers while you’re tweaking the gain.

    I have a Numark Mixtrack and I’ve remapped the “Cue Gain” and “Cue Mix” to be “Gain A” and “Gain B”, and then I’ve changed the “Master Fader” to act as “Cue Mix”. That mapping config will probably be the best bet on most controller since you usually don’t need to adjust the Master Gain and Cue Gain very often, and therefore having them as physical knobs on your controller is a waste of those knobs.

    Phil… I think that it would be a good idea to have a “Part Deux” for this article in the future, rounding up all the great advice from Colin and the comments from the rest of the gang, regarding Recording levels, adjustment on the mixer side, etc.

    Colin… thanks again for all your advice.

  16. Great article. I use ableton, but I’m assumming the same applies.

  17. Good article. We also have content on this in our Knowledge Base:

    https://co.native-instruments.com/knowledge/questions/913

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment Jan, nice to have someone from NI stopping by! The Knowledge Base article you linked to is a good one.

      With more and more people mixing in the box, would you consider covering this subject in the Traktor manual?

      • Good idea, I wrote the article with the current shift to controller-based solutions in mind and I can forward the request to include this in the manual. Definitely an important subject to overcome the widespread misunderstanding of digital=bad sound. Only very few DJs do understand that this most commonly is based on wrong settings and missing knowledge about digital levels. No one can be blamed for that, DJs are artists, not engineers. Bringing this topic up is crucial.

  18. Excellent article,wish the NI guys would b as pro active

  19. Hey guys, thanks for the helpful article. I hope you still check on this once in a while because I often find that my digital output suffers significantly compared to people using CDJs when I play at clubs…

    My question is, is there any quality loss when you turn Traktor’s main volume down and compensate on an external mixer? Basically, I am asking if I should be trying to get Traktor as loud as possible without clipping, or if I can leave a ton of headroom without worrying about Traktor’s output signal being high… as long as I can boost it up to the desired loudness on the external mixer. I am almost always using the DJM 800.

    Also, I am using external mixing mode. Would using external mixing mode with a DJM 800 change your recommended levels? Is the strategy different?

  20. Thanks for this. I have had an S4 for a couple of weeks and driving me crazy why the sound quiality has been so harsh. Pretty sure this is the reason. Can’t wait to try it out and report back. Any talk of sound quality on the NI forums gets quashed and people seem to get abuse back, rather than solid advice like this.

    Thanks,
    g

  21. Interesting stuff, though I’m not quite following. I run TSP2 with an audio-8 and an external mixer. I have auto gain turned off as well as the auto limiter. I have the main in Traktor set to -1.0db. I never, ever touch any of the internal gains, and just adjust each track using the mixer’s gain knobs. I usually have the mixer’s gain at around 75%, but can push it to 100% and it of course doesn’t clip, since the signal coming out of traktor never goes over -1db. Perhaps I’m missing something but I don’t see any point in setting traktor’s main to anything less? Is this more of an issue with internal mode?

    • That’s right – this is not an issue for your set up (external mode and auto gain turned off). Watch out if you use Traktor’s EQ or effects though, as it is still possible to add gain if you use them heavily.

  22. Hey! There’s a “Headroom” setting in the Mixer Settings section, when using internal mixer. How does that impact the level settings?

    • When this article was written Traktor didn’t have the headroom feature – I should probably write an update!

      The headroom feature works just like turning the Master volume down in Traktor, so you can now use the headroom setting instead of turning down the Master volume. If I get time I’ll write a followup article to explain this in more detail.

      Put simply,

      * setting the Headroom to -9dB and leaving the “Main” volume control at 0dB

      … is exactly the same as

      * setting the Headroom to 0dB and reducing the “Main” volume control to -9dB

      • another confusing detail: traktors main volume meter _shows_ different behavior with headroom -9, master voume 0 (orange peaks) and headroom 0, master voume -0 (always in the blue range)?

  23. Hi,

    I got a Audio10 card hooked up with a DJM800 and 2 CDJ 400′s with timecode CD’s, and a Macbook 2.4ghz running Traktor 2 Pro.
    And for some reason I after months of playing on it I’m just no feeling the setup. I used the -10/12 db on the master trick, no auto gain or limiter (really had problems with that one at gigs where i played with my time code setup for the first time..)

    Last week I wired it back to my CDj’s and plugged in 2 usb sticks, and start playing, without noticing I was mixing for 2+ hours, all running smooth and having the inner joy again. The reason? the sound quality, I was “sucked” into it again. Before that I was mixing and listening, and thinking what to do next, now I’m back at “feeling” again.
    I recorded the output of it, straight from the mixer with a cable to the input of my Macbook (I tried to record it from mixer to my Audio10 but I wasn’t getting into Audacity for some reason, if someone can help me with that would be awesome!), to compare it w recordings I did with my Audio10 setup.
    And the recording recorded with my onboard soundcard was sounding better :S!

    Here are 2 examples of sets recorded with the timecoded setup Audio10 card: http://soundcloud.com/maikel-smid, Im missing the “umpf” layer in these 2 sets.

    I know Im a quite picky person on sound quality (I guess years of being an EDM freak does that to you :P), and I read lots of times that Traktor indeed colors and changes the dynamics of music, but it shouldn’t be like this right?

    • I take it you’re using really top notch digital files in the first place?

      • Thanks for your reply,
        Yes, all constant 320 digital files. Like I said it sounds better when played from USB/CD then through Traktor Timecoded.

        Did you checked my Soundcloud? that’s not how it supposed to sound when using an Audio 10 right?
        I recorded a USB set through Audacity, with a direct rca cable from the mixer to the Macbook. The sound spectrum sounds better there, but in a way it also sounds degraded in quality (which is off course “thanks” to the input of the internal soundcard). Like asked above, is it possible to record a normal setup (without using Traktor) but still record it through the Audio10 to the Macbook? I tried the direct thru feature, which allows the sound go through, but I need, just like when recording through traktor, the mixer output back to the AUdio10 and then forward to the Macbook. If that is possible I can really compare a set with and without Traktor in terms of quality, and prove where the actual problem comes from.

    • If you are mixing in external mode, with auto gain switched off, the tips in this article don’t apply.

      To make your Audio 8 + Traktor combination give you the same levels as your CDJ’s, try setting the Master volume to -1.5dB instead.

      This is because Pioneer CDJs put out 6dBV; the Audio 8 has a max output of 7.4dBV.

  24. Realside74 says:

    Hi Colin, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but reading your posts above I thought you may be able to offer some advise? I’m running TS Pro v2.1.2 with Audio 6 IO, timecode MKII’s, Technics SL1210′s and a Vestax PMC-06 Pro A analogue mixer (2 channel with two master line outs)… My problem is I cannot get Traktor to recognise the output from either of the Vestax outputs (via Audio 6 Main IN 1/2). I’ve checked the inputs on Audio 6 by contacting a CDJ direct – this signal is recognised by Traktor (I should say when routed into Record Mode)… Either output from the Vestax powers my monitors fine… In the past standalone CDR’s and MD’s have recognise signal without issue. So I’m at a loss as to why I’m having this issue with Traktor.
    Any help / advise would be very much appreciated…

  25. What about when you dont have access to the amp in a live environment with a scared soubd engineer? Any recommended settings to set in traktor and in which order for when you are desperate?

  26. DJ Neerav says:

    Hi Colin,

    Excellent article and clarifications; thanks for putting this together man!

    My question is: is anyone aware of audio benchmark tests that compare the various dj mixing softwares?

    Best Regards,

    Neerav

  27. I am a little confused – wouldn’t pulling Traktor’s MAIN OUT down to -10dB cause a loss of output resolution? Traktor outputs 16bit audio – at least, I see no option in the settings, so I’m assuming it’s 16bit.
    So why not try to achieve an output that’s as close to digital 0dB with 2 tracks playing at full channel faders (without excessive limiting) coming out of Traktor, run your interface at 0dB as well, and use the house mixer’s input trim (as long as it can handle your interface’s hot signal on its input)?
    Then pull channel faders in Traktor down to about 70% – and that’s your headroom reserve, ready to be utilized when you need it.

    In fact… the most popular house mixers, DJM 800 and 900, are digital… why not connect via S/PDIF and remove the unnecessary D/A-A/D transformation and trim altogether: 0dB from Traktor = 0dB at the mixer, with no fuss?..

    • Also, according to MOTU manual, the main outs are calibrated to the standard +4dBu level, which is 1.22V or 1.7dBV. Where did +17dB come from?
      Actually.. the data on this from multiple sources is contradictory.. I’ll have to use a voltmeter and measure the outs myself.

    • Chupsie says:

      More food for thought – it is not specified anywhere what bitrate Traktor uses to communicate with audio device drivers, and there is no field in the settings to choose that. In case of ASIO, the protocol allows for the software to send 32bit float to the driver, and the driver takes care of the conversion/truncation.

      Is Traktor using the full potential of pro-audio interfaces? Needs more research.

      • Hi Chupsie,

        Some interesting in depth questions there – you are thinking some of the very same things that crossed my mind when I first started trying to figure this out.

        ## “Output Resolution” Concerns

        to answer this part of your question we have to understand a bit more about how digital audio is represented throughout the system.

        “Output resolution” is a slightly confusing term to use. Things get clearer if we talk about bit depth and dynamic range. CD quality tracks have a fixed bit depth of 16 bits. 1 bit translates to approximately 6dB of dynamic range. The highest bits represent the loudest sounds, the lowest bits the quietest. Think of it like a ladder with 16 rungs.

        Internally, Traktor represent audio using a floating 32 bit representation. The “floating” part means that 24 bits describe the data, and 6 bits describe what to multiply it by. This is like having a 24 rung ladder that can be on the floor, 10m in the air, or 100m in the air, or 1000m in the air (or in a hole 1000m deep), representing a huge range of volumes. This effectively removes any concerns about loosing audio data when turning it up or down – 32 bit float can accurately represent 750dB (!) of dynamic range without loosing any audio data.

        When the audio is sent out of Traktor, it gets converted to whatever bit depth your audio interface supports. For most people, this will be 24bit.

        1 bit (fixed point audio) translates to approximately 6dB, so turning the master out down by -10dB looses you at most 2 bits.

        Lets say you are playing a 16 bit track (CD quality). What happens when you turn it down by 12dB is that these 16 bits get shifted down 2 bits on the 24 bit scale – they are still all there, none get chopped off, no “resolution” is lost. It won’t be until you turn it down by a whopping 48dB (8 bits) that you actually start loosing bits of audio data.

        Another point to consider is what is the dynamic range of the music you are playing? Most modern dance music is heavily compressed, which means it is highly likely that the quietest few bits of your 16 bit audio file are actually just background noise (hiss) anyway, so there is scope for turning it down even lower before you loose any audio data you really care about.

        ## Using Channel Faders For Headroom

        The problem with using channel faders as your headroom reserve is that it messes up cue levels; the cue (headphones) mix is pre-fader, so panning between the master mix and the next track will give a false impression of the volume of the master mix if the fader is not at 100%. Better to run faders at 100%, master at -10dB giving scope to boost gain with the trim controls (this is your headroom).

        ## Digital Audio Connections

        Connecting via SPDIF is potentially a good idea ( to avoid uneccessary D-A A-D conversions), but you still need to preserve that headroom if you are mixing internally in Traktor. Digital clipping sounds just as bad if not worse than analogue clipping. If you try hooking up digitally you will find that 0dB from Trakor does NOT equal 0dB on the mixer – more likely it will equal “full scale” or the top of the red lights on the mixer! That’s because digital DJ mixer meters are usually callibrated as VU meters, so 0dB on the meter will probably equate to -20dBFS (digital) or something around there.

        ## Motu Output Level

        The +17dBV value came from Motu support when I asked them what full scale output was (+17dBV = +20dBu). You will find if you send a +4dBu signal into an Ultralight, it will read -16dBu on the meters.

  28. Hi Colin: First of all a big Thank you for such an in depth article and very detailed explanation.

    I have been using S4 for about 2 years now and always struggled with this problem. Use to blame it on the Club’s Sound System (apologies to them now :P)

    Just finished a gig last nite with approx -10db setting as recommended, was amazed to see how I sounded.. Thanks a ton chief!

    Lot of respect from India,
    Dj Swap
    Twitter: @djswap
    FB: facebook.com/dj5wap

  29. Great article Mate… I played at a club for the first time over the weekend with my Tracktor Pro wished i knew about this before as the sound was shit no bass from the subs… i had my main vol on the s4 to full and the club vol to full along with the main vol on the software on full too… Maybe if i have the software vol on -10db i would have got the sub to pump a bit more and no distortion.

    ill give this a next time i’m there ill let you know if this helps.

    Thanks again keep up the great work

  30. Hi, thanks for all the great info! I recently took the plunge and bought the Pioneer DJM 900 to use with Traktor Scratch 2 (latest version). I am able to use the timecode discs in my CDJ 350′s, buy I am getting background noise (not a hiss, sounds more like the crackling of a record!) I thought maybe a latency issue, so I dialed that back a bit, but any thoughts here would be greatly appreciated.

  31. hi guyz..
    i use traktor in external mixing mode..is it good for me to set the master volume in traktor to -10 db..where should i keep it?..
    i’m useing traktor audio 2 soundcard and a external mixer..
    thanks in advance..

  32. Guys i really need help, im mexican and my english is not very good. But here it is:
    I own a Traktor S4 and i had a party last night and i blew up the speaker in the middle of the party (only the twitters) and i had to play the rest of the party with the broken speakers…
    Was an afwul experience and i don’t want to repeat it. The sound system was only a normal system speakers, without an external amplifyer and nothing fancy. And my internal level in traktor was -6 db almost all the time.
    If it were was -10. Could i have avoided my mistake?
    I hope somebody aswer me and help me, this is the 6th party and i didn’t have blewed speakers before :(

  33. Hello Friends,

    thanks a lot for sharing your experience. I have some questions thought,

    i am using now traktor 2.6.0 with NI Audio8 and NI TraktorS4 so when the main out is at -10, i have to add +10 to the Record Gain in order to have a good volume in recorded mixes:

    -1- is it a good approach (+10 to the Record Gain) or there is other solutions ?
    -2- what about autogain and gains? i am using them only on promo tracks (unmastered) mostly because i believe that artist did the best they could to balance the sound.
    -3- when you adjust the volume of the mix in Audacity isn’t it influence the sound quality?

    Live Love Create and Share!

  34. DaWreked oNe says:

    Lots of great advice in here, and another great article from DDJ Tips. I have an S4 and I have my Traktor software main level set between -6.5 to -7. In the preferences menu I also have the limiter on and the “headroom” set to “none”. The headroom adjustment I just recently made. I kept wondering why my overall volume wasnt as high as I liked…..I kept trying to turn the Traktor software’s “main” volume setting up to compensate which only caused my metering in the software to go into the red, but my main level metering on my S4 (on the top) only would show the bottom 2, sometimes 3 but rarely, lighting up. So in essence my S4 controllers main vu meter was telling me I had PLENTY of audio gain level left while my software was telling me it was clipping. I disregarded this for the longest time until I realized it was the “headroom” setting in the preferences that was causing the issue. Traktor has it set factory to -6db headroom. Which ment my meters would show clipping 6db before it ACTUALLY would occur. I just turned it off and set the headroom to none to make everything more accurate …..I don’t drive stuff into the red without it on. I’m finding I have plenty of volume now to work with…..clear volume. I imagine the “headroom” setting is ment to be used when you connect to a amp you can’t adjust easily….and just want to lower the overall volume without changing your ACTUAL volume/main/gain settings.

    (I also run all my music through Platinum Notes. If you don’t do this chances are you’ll have to use a lower “main” volume setting than I am. Like Phil said -10db seems standard. Platinum notes lowers the overall track volume slightly when it takes care of the clipping in the transients.)

    • DaWreked oNe says:

      …..also if your connecting your laptop to cdj’s, like the cdj2000′s, I can understand the use of the “headroom” function. It all depends, I guess, on what your running your audio into. If I’m wrong or if someone else uses the headroom setting in a different way, like to actually prevent clipping (which is what i initially thought it was for) or can clarify or specify its use, as it pertains to you, please reply. I’m still learning a lot about digital DJ software as well. Trust me I’m no expert, nor am I claiming to be.

  35. Ive just started digitally DJing from a break of about 15 years, back then it was vinyl. I understand the principle of gains obviously, but im using Traktor Pro with an S2 controller (for about a week) and frankly ive got no idea what to adjust in the traktor software for gains.

    I see autogain on when loading track etc, then ive got the db level showing on each track when i load them, and headroom limiter set to -3db.

    I try using the gain knobs on the controller but the displayed db is going anywhere from -2db all the way down to 8db on particular tracks :/

    Im completely out of my depth with this digital software lol.

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