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I ask because I get too hot on master and I like the mix. I don't want to change anything. I want to keep it there as it is, but maintain the same volume. Some people tell me that a limiter is a compressor and when I put a limiter on the master that is why my signal gets quieter. But I need the same volume. The only solution I think is to use a clipper. Is this right or wrong; what do you advise?

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    Way too confused to answer. You cannot get 'louder' than 0dBFS. If you use any kind of compression, then you need make-up gain to get it back to [just under] 0dBFS. – Tetsujin Nov 3 at 19:56
  • This question needs more detail. It's really not clear what the issue is or what your expectations are. You seem to be using terminology in a way that suggests you don't really understand what the words mean. What is the actual problem? What equipment are you using? It sounds like you're driving a mixing desk, but I find it hard to believe you're in that chair without knowing how any of it works. Is this a student project? – J... Nov 4 at 13:51
  • What genre of music are you making/mixing? – Cassiterite Nov 4 at 19:18
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If by a "clipper" you mean something like a distortion pedal - in a word - "No". Definitely not. It's going to sound horrible. (Unless of course that's what you want.)

You need to reduce the level at least at your master fader, and/or possibly pull back the faders of the various channels in the mix. (As a general rule, the more channels you are mixing together, the lower the average level of the input faders should be.)

If you want to keep the mix more or less the same, you just pull each one back by the same amount.

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    This depends on the genre. A hard clipper on the master instead of or in conjunction with a limiter works very well on some heavy EDM genres like dubstep to achieve that crazy loudness. – Cassiterite Nov 4 at 19:20
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You like your mix because your DAW and soundcard have headroom. You can go past the nominal 0dBFS and still have it work, because of headroom in the software and electronics. A CD or MP3 has no headroom, so it will clip if you go past 0dB. Clipping sounds "broken" and is absolutely unacceptable on your master mix.

The result is that however much you like your current mix, you cannot record it. This is pretty normal for novice mixers, so don't be too disappointed.

Generally a mix engineer will aim for a peak of around -3dB to -6dB, to give the mastering engineer. From there, the mastering engineer uses their skill with limiters and EQ to push this level louder to peak at 0dBFS without clipping. This is a skilled job.

You can do something like it yourself, of course, using plugins on your DAW (or even real hardware!). The 1176 was the classic mastering compressor-limiter, but there are many others. Your DAW almost certainly has some software limiters which do not try to emulate hardware but simply set levels. As you'll quickly find, setting this up so you don't mess up your mix takes some work.

A mix which has its elements well-controlled is a good start though. It's usually easier to reduce large transients from signals on that signal, with a compressor or filter, instead of allowing everything to go through unchanged. Carving out frequency ranges for instruments, whether in the arrangement/playing or in the mix with EQ, can also help. And an arrangement which inherently doesn't try to be "everything louder than everything else" will also tend to record better.

Of course, if you like how your mix sounds then there's a simple solution. Turn down the master gain so that the mix never goes above 0dBFS, and print that. The level will be lower than commercial recordings, but that's not a big deal. When you're playing it, simply turn up the volume on whatever you're playing it on!

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    “Clipping sounds "broken" and is absolutely unacceptable on your master mix.” – that hasn't stopped several renowned artists from publishing just such records... arguably they shouldn't have, but then again: in the 50s, the first guitarists who deliberately pushed their amps into overdrive arguably also shouldn't have done it... IMO we need to make two distinctions here: a) soft clipping vs hard clipping. Hard clipping just is too brutal unless you want a full-on fuzz sound, but tube- or tape-like soft clipping is another story. b) how much of the record goes into clipping. – leftaroundabout Nov 4 at 9:44
  • ...I personally think that soft clipping is better than a brickwall limiter as the last element of a mastering chain, because it preserves the dynamic information better. Yes, it creates stronger artifacts too, and you definitely don't want those all over your signal, but if they just affect the loudest peaks this can work fine. I think the presence of multiple stages of soft clipping is actually the main reason why records mastered on analogue (or analogue-modelling) gear are perceived as sounding better than purely digital ones. – leftaroundabout Nov 4 at 9:50
  • @leftaroundabout - Interesting idea. I'm not sure you're wrong. – PeterJ Nov 4 at 12:06
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    @leftaroundabout If you get to the point of using it as a deliberate effect, I think you're past the point of asking questions on SE. :) The OP's situation is more comparable to Metallica's issues with Death Magnetic mixing. As for which kind of limiter to choose, I don't think the OP is at the point of making those kind of decisions yet either, and I'm not making any recommendations. The 1176 was just an example, but of course there are many other options. – Graham Nov 4 at 17:04
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Assuming your question is dealing with pre-recorded tracks that aren't already into your clipping range and you are having problems with the main output being too loud when you mix:

No, when dealing with high signal levels a clipper is going to create distortion. A clipper can be used pre limiter/compressor.

Here's a good explanation: clipping vs limiting

Usually on the master output you may add a compressor to maintain the perceived volume level while reducing the over all level to the range you want. The Compressor will have a gain setting, and you can adjust the amount of compression vs gain to adjust the sound of your master output.

That being said, the better approach is to use compression and EQ on the individual tracks to get the master output to sound the way you want at the volume you want. Compressing the master is usually done at the Mastering stage, and you shouldn't be relying on compressing the master output to make your mix sound the way you want.

  • yes. It is also common to have a limiter as the last stage on the main mix out, just to limit any odd peaks to about -1dbFS. – danmcb Nov 4 at 4:33
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using clipping is actually a very common way of retaining the transient info and dynamics of your track, if the track can handle it. you'd basically be trading lack of dynamics for distortion, so it's a matter of context. many edm and hip hop tracks are mastered solely with a hardclipper because the distortion isn't audible, and the dynamic loss from a limiter is more noticeable.

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If you are recording analogue it is definitely acceptable and common to take advantage of a desk's (drive) or tape's (saturation) natural clipping. That's not using a "clipper" (whatever that is?) but does produce clipping that many find desirable. Still not the same as compression.

  • Well, clipping is actually a (very extreme) kind of compression. Hard clipping is an ideal ∞:1 compressor with threshold 0dB, hard knee and both attack and release at 0 ms. – leftaroundabout Nov 4 at 17:11
  • @leftaroundabout point well taken :) – mistercoffee66 Nov 4 at 18:08

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