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In short, I have a problem. I don’t know what to do with exceeding 0 decibels.

If I use a limiter on the master it will make the track much quieter. If I use a clipper, the track will become louder, but the wave will be approximately as I need. Advise how to be. I know there should be a limiter at the end of the chain. But I don't know how to apply it exactly

I was just looking at other people's waves. And it's like they're all applying a clipper at the end.

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    "If I use a limiter on the master it will make the track much quieter" No it won't. What limiter, what settings?
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 20, 2021 at 9:16
  • 0dB treshold. 200ms release ; Because my master is already jumping at + 6dB before I set the limiter. Jul 20, 2021 at 9:32
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    The master bus cannot reach +6 unless you're running floating point, so your perceived greater volume simply could not happen once exported to fixed point math, you would instead just get hard clipping.
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 20, 2021 at 9:36
  • Thank you. I think I get it. And yes, I used a floating point mixer. Jul 20, 2021 at 9:43
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    No one goes above ODB. There ain't no father to his style---that's why he's the Old Dirty Bastard.
    – dmedine
    Jul 21, 2021 at 1:15

2 Answers 2

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If I use a limiter on the master it will make the track much quieter. If I use a clipper, the track will become louder, but the wave will be approximately as I need. Advise how to be. I know there should be a limiter at the end of the chain. But I don't know how to apply it exactly

0dB treshold. 200ms release

What is certain is that you don't want to exceed 0dB at the end, but there are various ways to achieve it.

Limiter lowers amplification whenever signal exceeds the threshold. Then the amplification comes back gradually to the original level during the release time, unless meanwhile the signal exceeds the threshold again.

I would say 200 ms release is quite long time for a mastering limiter. It may result in audible fluctuations of the volume. I would suggest experimenting with shorter release times.

The goal of limiter is to minimize distortion of the sound waveforms (typical rising time order of ms), by applying relatively slower amplification changes. In turn clipper does intentionally distort the signal, by cutting the tops of the waveforms. Clippers often employ some techniques, e.g. rounding of the edges of the clipped waveform, to make the distortion less audible as in case of digital clipping. Clippers are quite extreme tools to process the dynamics. Clipping is typically less audible on short, percussive sounds.

What effects to apply depends on you and what sounds good the best to your ears, and in the context of the music style. I suggest to :

  • learn about various other dynamic processing techniques, including compression, multiband compression, sidechain compression,
  • examine your individual tracks. Maybe there is a single track responsible for excessive peaks in the master, and maybe you can improve the situation by working on this specific track, using compression, multiband compression, or just equalisation in particular at the low frequencies?
  • rather than letting a single effect to do all the job, experiment with using several dynamic processing effects with less extreme settings each,
  • learn about volume levels used by streaming services. Maybe you're just trying to mix too loud? If your track is too loud, they will just lower the volume, but the loss of dynamics, and the distortion resulting from the dynamic processing you apply is irrecoverable.
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You can run levels over 0db within a DAW (well, sort of. What's really happening is a re-definition of 0db within an extended bit-depth. You can't actually get higher than 'all available bits on' in a digital system.) But you need to fit the output into a tighter range. And yes, this might sound like you've turned the volume down. But don't worry about that. Mix for the SOUND you want, not just for maximum volume. The listener can always turn his playback level up!

If you've mixed 'over 0db' in a DAW, one option is to simply pull down the output channel fader until the signal no longer 'hits the red'. That may be the right answer for acoustic music where clarity and accuracy is the aim, rather than just loudness.

The next option is moderate compression. Fairly standard practice even on acoustic material. Peaks are rounded off, allowing the overall level to be increased. Result - a 'bulkier' but still fairly accurate sound.

'Limiting' is extreme compression. It's right for some styles of high energy music. Destructive to others. I'd use the term 'clipping' for extreme limiting (possibly combined with other distortion methods) that attempt to emulate an over-driven guitar amp/speaker. Not something to be applied to a whole mix. But I'm not an expert on the supplied plugins in Reaper (which I see you're using) and how they promote and label their various functions.

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  • Yes, these days clippers are put on the whole mix.... Jul 20, 2021 at 16:10
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    @user1079505 clippers have been put on the whole mix forever. Only, in the analogue realm you wouldn't call it “clipper” but e.g. tape saturation, which sounds of course much better than digital hard-clipping. But you can also use digital soft-clippers, which can make a lot of sense depending on what kind of sound you're aiming for. Jul 21, 2021 at 8:45
  • So has 'clipping', which I understand as a thoroughly undesirable thing, become a name for a 'super-limiter'? I thought we'd grown past the Loudness Wars!
    – Laurence
    Jul 21, 2021 at 22:45

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