To my knowledge, -20dBFS RMS is a fine level to use with Crunchessor. Maybe you are tracking much lower than that? In either case, the Drive control of Crunchessor works as gain - you may even use 50 dB Drive: there is nothing to afraid of as long as it sounds good.
By the way, I can't suggest you to track at low gains since in most cases this lowers SNR of a recording.
Ah, light bulb! Essentially Drive *is* the input gain, since the ratio is a fixed log algo. I was nervous about boosting the "Drive" too high, as I thought it was also adjusting the ratio/attack/release... But that's not the case, correct?
I track at a higher level, probably more like -12dBfs RMS, as my signal chain is probably not reliable enough to capture at a lower level (and SNR would become a big problem). I then use a trim plugin as the first in each track's chain and a VU meter emulator on the master bus that's calibrated to -20dB = 0VU. I just adjust the trim per track until it's around 0VU at unity fader level.
The theory behind the whole -20dBfs = +4dBu = 0VU is coming from this really interesting thread over at GS:
Not sure if I buy that it makes mixes sound "better" yet, but I do enjoy essentially not having to worry about digital clipping anymore. It also gives a bit more of a fluid workflow, so I'm pretty sold on it.
I do not see the reason to be afraid of clipping in modern hosts - they all have floating point signal paths. Use whatever levels you want - this does not affect the sound.
its more important to run your analog front end at its optimal range...and as long as you are not clipping anywhere in the path, analog or digital...the peak level the signal reaches in the digital domain, be it -25dbFS or -6dbFS is next to irrelevant...at 24 bit depth.
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