Gain vs Volume: What is the meaning and difference between them

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On our Instagram page, we posted a carousel explaining what is the difference between Gain vs Volume. But the carousel is a group of not more than 5 posts and it couldn’t justify giving the answer properly and in detail.

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So, here we are… In this blog, you are going to learn about the Gain vs Volume in complete detail.

Many people think that both – Gain and Volume are one and the same thing. But that’s not. There is a huge difference between Gain vs Volume in terms of many factors. You will get to know about some practical as well as the technical differences between gain and volume here.

So without boring you further, let’s dive into the topic. But first, let’s see the 5 key differences between Gain vs Volume.

5 Key Difference between Gain vs Volume

GAINVOLUME
Gain is Input of the Audio SystemVolume is the Output of the Audio system
The Gain controls loudness before processing.The Volume controls loudness after processing.
The Gain turns up the Input Signal.The volume turns up the Output Signal
Gain is a function of currentVolume is the function of Voltage
If the Gain is changed, the tone and quality of the sound change too. If the Volume is changed, the tone and quality of the sound remain the same.

What is Gain in Audio and on AMP

If you’ve bought your new Guitar, or an audio interface, or the channel strips(real or digital), then definitely you must have come across the word – “GAIN” many a time. And this may have brought too many questions into your head.

So let’s get the answer to the question – what is Gain on a guitar amplifier and on other audio instruments.

We have the basic perception about the Gain that generally by turning up, the volume gets increased automatically. But how is gain different from volume?

Gain vs Volume

Well let me tell you, Gain is a little complicated to understand in comparison to the volume. Gain is related to the change that takes place in the input stage before the processing. A ‘TRIM’ control or a Microphone preamp’s gain control works in turning up the microphone’s input signal to a recordable level.

Whereas on the Guitar amplifier, ‘Drive’ or Gain control usually controls the level of signals hitting the preamp stage. Although Gain does increase the volume, that is just fundamentally a different topic.

In the olden days, when the time was of analog system, the gain was considered to be a very simple concept. But, as we moved to this digital era, the meaning of the word ‘Gain’ has emerged to have several meanings.

Sometimes, the gain is considered to be just another name for the volume. You get to see that very commonly on digital plugins. If we take an example, the ‘Makeup Gain’ function on a compressor is just the output volume with another name.

Basically, if we define gain through our own words, it’ll be – The gain control defines the loudness of something before that goes to any processing. It’s a volume level that is sent into your plugins, preamps, as well as to amplifiers.

So if we take an overall discussion, we can summarise gain in three things:

  1. An alternate word for the Volume, or understanding the level of loudness.
  2. The level of loudness of Input.
  3. Distortion

Remember when you’re mixing, you’d probably see all the three factors given above.

Additional Details: ‘Gain’ is also referred to as ‘distortion’.

How is Gain Measured?

The Gain or say input volume of any system is measured in decibels. The decibel is addressed in the short form as dB.

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What is Gain on the Guitar Amp?

Again, the Gain on the guitar amp is the same as the normal gain. As I already explained above, Gain is related to the change that takes place in the input stage before the processing. A ‘TRIM’ control or a Microphone preamp’s gain control works in turning up the microphone’s input signal to a recordable level.

If you increase or decrease gain, the quality of sound changes accordingly. So basically I want to tell you here that understanding the gain is very important, as it controls the tone of the song/track and not the loudness.

What is Gain Staging?

The word “Gain Staging” is yet another word that is thrown a lot in the music producers world. So What does Gain Staging mean?

The Gain staging is a process of making the decibel (dB) level of a sound constant throughout the whole processing system. So basically, it means a fundamental process done in order to get a better mix and help in making your guitar sound professional.

If we ask from Wikipedia it says, The Ideal gain staging occurs when each component in an audio signal flow is receiving and transmitting a signal in the optimum region of its dynamic range.

What is Volume in Gain vs Volume

Now we came to the Volume part. As I explained how the gain is reserved for the input level on a source, the Volume after processing works on the output level of a signal. The Volume is usually measured in dB SPL and can be generally measured down by the loudness that we hear.

When you mix in your DAW, each track on that DAW is routed to a master stereo channel or to the mix bus, if you have created one. Using the example of the real world, you can call, how loud the output of the master, “Volume”. If we take a simple real example, When you turn up the volume knob in your car, the volume of the stereo increases.

A Volume knob is something that controls the sound range coming from the system. The system could be anything like your headphones, monitors, or car speakers. So basically, a ‘System’ in this case could be anything that produces sound.

How is Volume Measured?

As I said above, the volume is measured in decibels. The decibel is basically written in the short form – dB. So the higher the decibel, the louder the sound, and the lower the dB, the lesser the sound you will hear.

Let’s take some simple references on the decibels of some of the systems:

  • The conversation that we human peings generally do, has the volume in between 50 and 60 decibels.
  • The noise of the wind trough the trees has the volume around 20dB.
  • A conversation in a low whisper has the range of around 30dB.
  • A Rock band and the sound systems in the clubs have a very high range of volume in between 104 to 112 dB.

What is Volume in Guitar Amp?

As you’ve learned above, the volume in the guitar amp is something that you can control using the nobs that are given with the system.

Controlling the volume knobs or volume of the track doesn’t mean you are controlling anything related to the tone or texture of that same track. No matter how loud or low your volume is, the quality of the song will remain the same.

Difference Between Gain vs Volume

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For the musicians who really wish to enter some interesting territory, you may discover how loudness is admittedly subjective in acoustics and also about our sense of volume that varies at differing frequencies.

In order to get everything, you are needed to understand the distinction completely as far as the gain and volume go.

We now know that earlier thinking about the gain and volume as same was a mistake. Although gain and volume may be used sometimes reciprocally, they have differences that are technical and are extremely important to understand if you want to get the right mix.

How are Gain and Volume Different?

Let’s understand this in short:

  • Gain generally controls something that comes into a piece of gear.
  • The Volume usually controls something that comes out of a piece of gear.

Final Words on Gain vs Volume

We’ve reached the final showdown of the gain vs volume. Till now, I hope you must have cleared the doubt for which you came here. So in the final, I’ll tell you the main point to remember to understand the key difference between the gain and volume.

Final Recap…

  • The Gain is something that tells you how loud the INPUT of the channel or amp is. The gain controls the texture and the quality of the sound and not the loudness.
  • The Volume is the one that controls how loud the OUTPUT of the channel or amp will be. It has the control over loudness of the track and not the tone.

FAQ

Does Gain increases Volume?

To let you know again, Volume is control over the output signals and of the loudness of a sound system. It doesn’t affect the quality of the sound. Whereas the Gain lets you increase the loudness from the inside of an audio system. Now the gain can control the quality of the sound.
So, the answer to the question is No, Gain does not increase Volume.

What happens if gain is too low?

If you set your gain too low, your amplifier won’t be able to reach full power. This will cause clipping from the source unit which will result in causing a distorted signal delivered to your speakers.
The above condition is relevant with the low voltage sources that are lower than 2.5 Volts.

Is gain a distortion?

Gain is the amplification factor. It’s generally the ratio of output over input. You’ll get more overdrive/distortion as you’ll turn the gain knob up, Basically, Distortion can be called the more extreme version of the overdrive.

What volume should I set my subwoofer?

When choosing the right volume, the most common mistake that people do is to crank the subwoofer’s volume dial to its maximum setting. And that cause problem. In order to get rid of that mistake, you are required to choose the correct volume level.
So the ideal volume dial to set subwoofer is around 75%.

What does a gain control do?

The gain control helps to tune up the amp’s input stage in order to accept the head unit’s voltage level.

Mixology - A Complete Guide for Professional Mixing

CREATE MIX YOU CAN FEEL PROUD OF

If You Want To Mix Your Music Like Professionals,
You Have To Learn From Professionals And We Have Made It EASY For You.​

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