Gain vs trim. You’ve likely seen them both on a number of plugins you’ve used before, particularly compressors. Let’s cover the difference between gain vs trim.
Gain Vs Trim
These two terms oftentimes get confused with one another because they both affect the overall volume. While the two terms can often admittedly be used in to denote different things depending on the context, typically the difference is in transparency of the volume change they create.
Gain often refers to volume with a certain level of color, i.e. harmonics, involved.
I go into more detail on this in my overview of audio effects explained, but with gain you’re often imparting some energy to the peaks of the sound waves themselves.
Applied to different degrees and you can warm up a ton at low levels via saturation, or you can really drive the sound with distortion and overdrive.
Oftentimes you’re changing the overall tone of the sound with gain, even if it’s incredibly subtle.
Trim on the other hand involves dropping or boosting volume with transparency. Here you’re simply adjusting the volume without adding any color. Aside from the change in level itself, there’s no other change to the volume.
Sometimes this is exactly what you want. Gain staging is an example of when you just want to adjust the volume to a certain point without altering the makeup of that audio.
Trim can also refer to fine tuning existing output volume, just tiny fractions of a dB up or down.
Let me also acknowledge that trim can sometimes apply to exclusively turning down/taking away (trimming) the volume. Again, it’s all based on context.
Gain and Trim Together
You can experiment with most plugins to experience the difference firsthand.
If you turn up the gain all the way then turn the trim all the way down, you’ll hear a certain level of distortion.
This is opposed to turning the gain most the way down than blasting the trim to achieve roughly the same output level as the first test, in which case you’d here a much cleaner signal.
Oftentimes when you have both options for adjusting the output level, you can use the gain to get the sound itself where you want it, then use trim to add or subtract level for the purposes of gain staging or getting the level where you want it.