Mixing Tips: Know Your Signal Flow in SONAR

Signal Flow is an important concept to understand, and it may be easier to think about when presented with a diagram of how audio is passes through SONAR.

Inputs and Outputs – Easier than you think!

The first concept to understand is the relationship between Inputs and Outputs. There isn’t anything complex about the subject unless you over-think it.  It is the underlying theme to just about anything within your Digital Audio Workstation. Always remember the following:

  • Outputs: Always feed Inputs
  • Inputs: Always fed by Outputs

Sometimes Outputs can be named “Outs or Sends” and sometimes Inputs are labelled “Ins or Returns.” If you’re a guitar player then you can associate this concept with the FX Loop that exists on the back of your amp. You use this to Send audio to your effects pedals and then back to your Amp’s Return.

First, let’s start where audio starts. Typically it begins with an instrument or audio file:

Upon opening SONAR many users will head straight to their Media Browser and drag in some audio files. Others will take out their Guitar, plug-in, and start recording. Either way you must start with some sort of audio signal.

Your instrument must be plugged into a audio interface or something equivalent in order to make sound occur. If you’re unsure what an audio interface is check out this article on picking the right audio interface.

Where does my audio travel in SONAR?

Once inside SONAR there are various things that you can do to your audio, but you are not going to be able to do much with your tracks unless you understand the path that the audio signal follows.

If you go to Views > Console  a mixer will appear. Tracks runs up and down in this view and it is where most of your mixing will be spent.

Terms you should know:

Audio Source – Where the audio originally comes from

Track Input – The connection between your audio interface and your audio tracks

Trim Knob – A volume adjustment mostly used to reduce the incoming audio signal

FX Bin – Point of insertion for audio effects

Pan Pot – A balance adjustment for the stereo image. Turning it right puts the audio on the right side of the stereo mix and turning the knob left places the audio signal on the left side of the stereo mix

Fader – Volume adjustment for the audio signal after effects and panning are applied

Track Output – The connection between your  track and other possible locations in the DAW like a Bus or Main Output

This basic outline of an audio track is the first step in understanding how where your audio travels within SONAR.

What is a Bus?

Now that you have an understanding of a track’s basic signal flow in SONAR let’s move on to Buses and their functionality in SONAR.

Buses are typically used for sub-mixing multiple audio tracks. For example, Drums can be easily mixed down to 1 stereo bus from as many as 25 audio tracks. Many people also use Buses for duplicating audio signals for effects processing. Buses are separated in SONAR from the Tracks section to keep tracks from getting disorganized in heavy mixing environments.

To access the Buses – go to the “Strips” menu in the Console View and make sure to check “Buses”.

By looking at the diagram above you can see how the audio signals pass directly to the inputs of a bus. In SONAR the first  bus is typically named “Master” unless you have customized your own Project Templates and marked something differently. Buses have all the same attributes that a track does except with an added Pan after the Trim knob. 

Here’s Where it Gets Tricky

ProChannel

The ProChannel is an analog mixer chock full pro effects embedded right into the Console View. It’s a powerful tool so it’s important to know how to use it within your signal flow. When activated, audio passes through your ProChannel first and then hits the FX Bin – where other effects can be inserted. Between the ProChannel and the FX Bin you can make some pretty serious signal chains for all kinds of different scenarios. A great way of changing the tone and sound of your chain is to switch the order of effects. SONAR allows you to quickly rearrange the ProChannel and FX Bin with the added “POST” button.

Your signal flow follows this arrangement when the “Post” button is in it’s default state.

Input > Trim > ProCh > FX

When activating the “Post” button your signal flow changes to  the following:

Input > Trim > FX > ProCh

Sends

Sends are outputs that are located on tracks and buses. You can use these to route audio from a Track to a Bus. You can also used them in the Bus section to route to other Buses.

Post vs Pre Fader Sends?

Sends are always sourced from after the Fader of their assigned track. This means that the Track’s Mute, Solo, and Fader Level will affect the Send. In the event that you do not wish for this to happen all you have to do is deactivate the “Post” button on the track.

For a rundown of how this can be utilized, check out this article on The Distance Effect.

Where does the audio signal go after the Buses?

Here is where the grey area may occur for some users. After the bus section the signal flow hits the Mains section – which route directly to the outputs of your audio interface.

Mains

You can route Sends, Track Outputs, and Bus Outputs to the Mains section. This is especially helpful when you need to make cue mixes for a session player, or control another set of speakers from SONAR.

To access the Mains – go to the “Strips” menu in the Console View and make sure to check “Mains”.

Inputs and Outputs in SONAR

Within this signal flow diagram it’s important to note that routing within SONAR can be customized. The way I have the signal flow laid out in this chart shows how SONAR comes routed with a default “Normal” project. As the user you can change your Output routing any way you like. Simply make sure to click on either the Send drop-down menu or the Output drop-down menu to choose which destination you want to set for the Output.

SONAR’s Audio Signal Flow from Beginning to End

 

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