This article offers information on how to configure TRAKTOR and set output levels to achieve the best possible sound quality during audio playback. The article is divided in 3 chapters:
- Background Information
- Setting up TRAKTOR for Internal Mixing
- Setting up TRAKTOR for External Mixing
As opposed to analog mixing, DJ software mixes audio signals digitally. This has important implications regarding the handling of output levels (channel volume fader, channel gain and main output).
In both digital and analog signal processing, headroom is defined as the amount by which the reference level of an audio mixer can be exceeded before the signal degrades or distorts (known as 'clipping', see below). The amount of headroom thus allows a DJ to exceed the reference level when performing live while remaining within a safety range where clipping does not occur. TRAKTOR's software mixer allows you to define its own headroom settings which will be explained in chapters 2 and 3.
Audio clipping is an unwanted distortion which occurs when the audio signal is overdriven beyond the capabilities of the audio system (i.e. when the headroom is exceeded). Whereas analog clipping allows for greater increase in output levels without damaging the original signal significantly, digital (software-based) clipping will overdrive the signal more noticeably. In digital audio processing in TRAKTOR, every component of the software mixer contributes to a reduction of the headroom level before clipping occurs. Therefore, please be aware that using and / or adding EQ, additional Decks and effects in TRAKTOR can faster lead to an overdrive of the main output signal above the headroom level. In the next sections we will explain how to set these parameters to avoid digital clipping.
A limiter attenuates the signal peaks exceeding a pre-defined level. The use of a limiter avoids digital clipping at the cost of a loss in dynamic range. In chapters 2 and 3 we will explain how to set the Limiter in TRAKTOR to attain the best possible quality in sound.
Setting Gain Levels
Each channel of TRAKTOR's software mixer has a GAIN control which increases the level of the audio signal coming from the corresponding Deck.
The gain control is used to match the levels of your tracks. It is important to keep an eye on the gain value in order to avoid clipping. The signal levels of the individual mixer channels are indicated by the blue level meter on their volume faders. The main output level of TRAKTOR (sum of all playing Decks / Loop Recorder) is indicated visually by the MAIN level meter on the top of TRAKTOR's main screen. It is very important to set your individual gain controls so that the level peaks still reach the orange area of the MAIN level meter (headroom range).
but never reach the red area (clipping occurs).
In the next chapters we will explain how to handle your output levels depending on the type of mixing mode being used.
TRAKTOR allows you to configure the software for internal mixing mode by selecting it under Mixing Mode in TRAKTOR Preferences > Output Routing.
In internal mixing mode, the TRAKTOR software offers two separate audio outputs:
- Output Master: This output signal is the sum of any of the four Decks and/or Loop Recorder playing at any time. The Master output signal is usually connected physically to your speakers or to an input channel (line level) of a club mixer for example via the built-in jack output of your PC or the MAIN RCA (left and right) output of a TRAKTOR KONTROL device.
- Output Monitor: This is your pre-listening (cue) signal. It is usually connected physically to a pair of headphones and activated by pressing on the Cue (headphones) button of the corresponding Deck in the software mixer.
In the example below, the TRAKTOR KONTROL Z1 audio interface is routed for these two output channels in internal mixing mode.
In internal mixing mode, the digital audio signal from each Deck is processed and controlled entirely by TRAKTOR's software mixer. Below we explain important aspects to consider when optimizing TRAKTOR for best results in internal mixing mode:
An internal mixing setup requires an audio interface equipped with two (stereo) output channels, whereby typically (but not exclusively) one of the physical output channels is of the type RCA stereo (left and right outputs) and another one is of the type minijack or jack 1/4''. In almost every scenario, TRAKTOR's Master output will be routed to the RCA output while the Monitor output will be routed to the jack output. Examples of such an audio interface are TRAKTOR KONTROL S4 and TRAKTOR KONTROL Z1. This hardware output design is also shared by many 3rd party audio interface / controllers as you will find them among TRAKTOR READY devices.
First make sure to show all the components of TRAKTOR's internal mixer by selecting the Mixer layout from the Layout Selector.
and enabling all the additional components of the Mixer Layout in TRAKTOR Preferences > Mixer.
Main Output Level
Before doing any adjustments to the channel Gain controls, The MAIN output knob should be set to 0.0 dB by double-clicking on it.
This position should remain fix throughout your DJ session. If clipping occurs at the main output (as perceived in the audio quality or as indicated in the MAIN level meter), use the Gain control of the corresponding channel to reduce the level.
Mixer Level Settings
These settings are found under Level in TRAKTOR Preferences > Mixer.
TRAKTOR determines an Autogain value during analysis of a track. When Autogain is enabled, the channel gain corresponding to the Deck where this track has been loaded will be automatically boosted or reduced by the amount of gain determined by Autogain in order to attain an even output level when mixing different songs. Under unfavorable conditions, however, this can lead to unwanted clipping or limiting of the master output, resulting in distortion or lack of dynamic range. We recommend therefore to disable the option Enable Autogain and use the Gain knobs to adjust your levels manually.
In order to avoid clipping we recommend to enable the option Enable Limiter. If the main output level is overdriven with the Limiter enabled, the sound quality will slightly lose dynamic range (perceived as 'lack of punch') but if the Limiter is disabled, the sound will distort noticeably.
The digital headroom of TRAKTOR’s internal mixer must be carefully adapted to your personal mixing setup. As a rule of thumb, the more components you add to the digital audio bus (Decks, effects, etc.) the greater the headroom range should be. We recommend to chose the following values for each typical setup:
- -3dB: Simple two Deck (A-B) setup.
- -6dB: Two Deck (A-B) setup with frequent use of effects and / or EQ and filter.
- -9dB: More than two Decks with frequent use of effects and / or EQ and filter.
- -13dB: Four Deck setup including Remix Decks with frequent use of effects and / or EQ and filter.
Note: If you are connecting your Master output into the input channel of a club hardware mixer, make sure to compensate the headroom reduction by boosting the same amount of gain (or trim) in the corresponding channel of the mixer. For example if you set a headroom value of -6dB, boost the gain level on the mixer channel by +6dB.
TRAKTOR allows you to configure the software for external mixing mode by selecting it under Mixing Mode in TRAKTOR Preferences > Output Routing.
In external mixing mode, the TRAKTOR software offers separate audio outputs for each Deck. In this manner it is possible to route the audio signal of each Deck individually into each input channel of a hardware club mixer via the physical (mostly RCA) outputs of an audio interface. This reduces the need for increasing the headroom since each audio signal will be equalized and gained separatedly on each individual channel of the hardware mixer.
Note: While we never recommend to set your levels so that clipping occurs (MAIN level meter reaches the red area, see section 1), in external mixing mode it is possible to overdrive the signal without getting immediate distorsion.
In the example below, we have routed each TRAKTOR Deck to a separate output channel of the TRAKTOR AUDIO 10 audio interface, as can be configured in the Output Routing menu under Output Deck *Deck letter*.
Note: In external mixing mode, there is no need for a Monitor output since the pre-listening takes place directly in the hardware club mixer.
In external mixing mode you can rely entirely on the hardware analog mixer to adjust level, gain and EQ. When you set TRAKTOR to external mixing mode, the crossfader and channel faders will become greyed out as now they will only be controlled analogically on the external mixer.
However, the software mixer components (EQ, gain, filter, etc.) will still affect the output level as well as the sound quality before the audio data is processed by your audio interface. Below we explain important aspects to consider when optimizing TRAKTOR for best results in external mixing mode:
An external mixing setup requires an audio interface equipped with at least two (stereo) output channels, usually of the type RCA stereo (left and right outputs). Typically each of these output channels is routed to each TRAKTOR Deck. Examples of an audio interface designed for external mixing are TRAKTOR AUDIO 10 (Four RCA stereo channels + one main RCA stereo / jack channel ) and TRAKTOR AUDIO 6 (two RCA stereo channels + one main RCA stereo / jack channel).
First make sure that all the components on the software mixer are disabled and set to the middle position so the audio signal can pass through it unaffected.
Note: We also recommend to enable the option Reset all mixer controls when loading tracks in TRAKTOR Preferences > Loading. In this manner whenever you load a track to the Deck, every component of the software mixer will be reset to its middle (or 'zero') position.
Afterwards we recommend to switch to the Essential or Extended layout which hide the software mixer components from the main screen, allowing you to focus more on the Deck information and on your mixing on the hardware club mixer.
Finally make sure to have set Classic as EQ Type under EQ/Filter Selection in TRAKTOR Preferences > Mixer, as this EQ model will leave the original audio signal unaffected. Do not choose the type Z ISO since this EQ model alters the original sound quality even when the knobs are in middle position.
Main Output Level
In external mixing mode, the audio signal levels of the mix will be handled at the hardware club mixer once the digital audio data has passed through the software mixer and been processed by the audio interface into an analog audio signal. However we recommend to adjust the software channel gains so that clipping on the software Main output does not occur. The MAIN output knob should be set to 0.0 dB by double-clicking on it.
This position should remain fix throughout your DJ session. If clipping occurs at the main output as indicated in the MAIN level meter even if you may not notice it on the external analog mix, use the gain control of the corresponding software channel to reduce the level.
Mixer Level Settings
These settings are found under Level in TRAKTOR Preferences > Mixer.
TRAKTOR determines an Autogain value during analysis of a track. When Autogain is enabled, the channel gain corresponding to the Deck where this track has been loaded will be automatically boosted or reduced by the amount of gain determined by Autogain in order to attain an even output level when mixing different songs. Under unfavorable conditions, however, this can lead to unwanted clipping or limiting of the master output, resulting in distortion or lack of dynamic range. We recommend therefore to disable the option Enable Autogain and use the gain/trim controls on the hardware mixer to adjust your levels manually. If required, you may also adjust the gain controls on the software mixer.
In order to avoid clipping we recommend to enable the option Enable Limiter. If the main output level is overdriven with the Limiter enabled, the sound quality will slightly lose dynamic range (perceived as 'lack of punch') but if the Limiter is disabled, the sound will distort noticeably. If you are confident about handling levels on your hardware mixer, you may also choose to disable the Limiter and monitor the signal levels so that they do not overdrive to the point of distorsion.
In external mixing mode, TRAKTOR applies a fix headroom value of -3dB for each channel. This allows for a greater freedom to add additional Decks or effects without overdriving the signal. In order to compensate the headroom attenuation, you can boost the gain/trim level on your hardware mixer's channels by 3dB. Bear in mind, however, that some audio interfaces will already pre-amplify the signal on each output channel. The TRAKTOR AUDIO 10 MK2 audio interface for instance, boosts the signal by 2.5 dB so that this attenuation will compensate the reduction in headroom. Thus the gain level at the hardware mixer channel can remain at 0 dB in principle. Please consult the documentation of your hardware mixer and audio interface to obtain more information.