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Adding Audio Hardware Meters to Sony Vegas ProUse audio monitor options to keep an eye on levels outside the box
There's no doubt that watching volume levels with your audio- and video-centric projects is important. The digital audio world has a top limit --- 0 dBFS --- that you can't exceed. But screen real estate is often at a premium when working in the Vegas NLE. Sure you can pop the Audio Mixer and/or Mixing Console over to a secondary monitor, but that's often filled up with audio/video effects, waveform/vectorscope monitor, and even full-screen previews.
How about moving the audio level meters 'out-of-the-box' so to speak? I recently decided to add the American Audio dB-Display (http://www.adjaudio.com) LED level meters to my Vegas Pro workflow. Here's how to make it work.
Running the audio signal from the computer audio interface through the dB-Display and then on to the amp or powered speakers seems the easiest way. Unfortunately, American Audio recommends against using their product this way. Therefore, you need to tap the signal coming from Vegas Pro via your audio interface and send that separately to the dB-Display. Also, you must make sure that levels coming from the Master volume are the same on the db-Display or it's worthless.
If your audio interface offers only stereo out, then the following procedures will not work. Your audio interface must have multiple hardware outputs, such as the Focusrite Saffire with its eight separate outputs that I use at Fisher Creative Group. The Saffire outputs 1 / 2 go to my stereo audio monitor rig while outputs 3 / 4 go to the dB-Display. Also, Vegas Pro must talk to the audio interface using the hardware's ASIO drivers (Options > Preferences > Audio) and not a generic one like MS Sound Mapper.
Inside Vegas Pro you have to set routing correctly. There are two different methods depending on your workflow. If you do not use additional audio busses in your projects, use method one. If you do use other audio busses, then you MUST use method two.
Both methods require this initial setup, though. Do this first. Insert a new bus in the Audio Mixer. For the best results, add the new bus to be dedicated to the dB-Display meters first so that it is Bus A.
Click the output routing button on the new bus and choose the alternate hardware outputs for this bus. In this example, select 3 / 4 to route the bus to the hardware outputs 3 / 4 which are physically connected directly to the dB-Display. You may want to rename this bus to differentiate it from others in your project.
Method One: No Other Audio Busses
In order to duplicate the Vegas Pro Master output exactly, you have to set-up each audio track carefully. On an audio track header, click the down arrow adjacent to the Pan control to access the Bus you created above.
Double-click the slider to set it to 0.0 dB. This sends the track's volume to the dedicated meter Bus. Here's the critical part. Right-click the track's Bus A slider itself and choose 'Post Volume' and enable the 'Link to Main Track Pan,' too. Now no matter what volume changes you make on that track, they will be the same on the bus connected to the hardware meters (and reflected on the meters themselves, too).
You must repeat this process for every audio track in your project. This insures that the master output and the output to the dB-Display is exactly the same. You can test it with a 1 kHz test tone to be sure (and you can calibrate the dB-Display this way, too).
Method Two: Using Other Busses
Add other busses as needed after you add the first Bus A for the meter output. See the 'Hardware Hookup' section earlier for this workflow. Next, assign and route your audio tracks to appropriate busses. Every track must be assigned to a bus and not directly to the Master. This way the busses will reflect volume and pan changes for all the tracks accurately. Also, make sure the Bus sends for each track are off (-Inf) when using this method.
Launch the Mixing Console (View > Mixing Console). Set every bus (except A) to have a Post volume 0.0 send set to the dB Meters bus A. Now if you make changes at the track level or at the bus level, these changes will reflect accurately in both the Master output and in the dedicated dB-Display output. Essentially, you have duplicated the Master output in the dB-Display.
There are three 'gotchas' to this approach. One, if you use an Insert FX, route its output to another bus and not directly to the Master. Otherwise, its level will not be reflected in the db-Display accurately.
Two, if you solo a bus, it will turn off the dB-Display bus, and your hardware meters will not show anything. So, you either need to mute other busses instead of soloing one or make sure that if you solo one bus, that you also solo the dedicated dB-Display bus, too.
And three, the external hardware meters will not reflect any changes made directly to the Master bus. This is a problem if you automate the Master volume or use audio effects with the master bus, such as a limiter. The best workaround is to make those changes last and not rely on the hardware meters once you start fiddling with the master bus. Even with this major setback, having the accurate hardware meters for most of this time far outweighs this inconvenience.
This tutorial reveals both the flexible audio routing available in Vegas Pro and how you can use it in conjunction with your audio interface hardware to extend functionality to your desktop. It's wonderfully convenient to glance down and see the audio meters running below my computer monitors instead of hunting for them onscreen.
Jeffrey P. Fisher is a Sony Vegas Certified Trainer and he co-hosts the Sony Acid, Sony Sound Forge, and Sony Vegas forums on Digital Media Net (www.dmnforums.com). For more information visit his Web site at www.jeffreypfisher.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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