Over To You: Should I Trust My Ears Or My Level Meters?

Phil Morse | Read time: 2 mins
Metering setting levels Traktor levels
Last updated 13 November, 2017

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With both channels playing, our reader is worried by the boost in output. Should he trust his level meter or his ears?
With both channels playing, our reader is worried by the boost in output. Should he trust his level meter or his ears?

Digital DJ Tips reader James writes: “I am really in need of some advice on master output levels while mixing from one track to another. For example, when mixing two songs together, I’m monitoring the master output levels to keep the level exactly the same, but with certain styles of music I find that it can sound a bit flat. If I don’t focus with precision on the visible levels and do it by ear then it sounds how it should, but the master level jumps when both tracks are in the mix.

“I also notice when mixing on Traktor Pro, if I keep the record level just before hitting the red when doing this, then I drop my mix into Logic to check the master level on there, it actually sounds great but I notice the levels go up and down whilst mixing in and out, which doesn’t show on Traktor. I’m finding it all a bit confusing. Can you help?”

Digital DJ Tips says:

Trust your ears. As long as you don’t digitally distort by driving everything too high, your ears know best. If you were going to commercially release a mix, you’d need to worry a little more about bass drum level, compressions, normalisation etc, but you’re not, so don’t worry too much about it. Music is heard, not seen. Another tip is to listen to your mix on different equipment. Listen in your car, on your headphones, in your studio, in the kitchen etc. You’ll notice things about how the volume changes work and don’t work, and they’ll be different things to those you think you’re spotting by (over) analysing your levels in digital audio workstation software.

Of course there are things at play here; the relative accuracy of Traktor’s meters against Logic Pro’s; the setting of your crossfader curve in your software (or on your hardware); whether or not you have Traktor’s limiter switched on – but at the end of the day, it’s what comes out of your speakers that counts. Experiment for sure, but trust your ears above everything else.

Over to you: Do you struggle with keeping your levels right when mixing? Do you struggle with the VU meters on your DJ software or hardware? What advice can you add for James? Please leave your thoughts below.

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