Limiters: how -not- to use them

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sAy-music
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Limiters: how -not- to use them

Post by sAy-music » Tue Apr 08, 2014 9:29 am

Hey guys,


I once made a mix without any limiter. As I didn't want it to sound too loud or crackle, I reduced the overall volume of my tracks so my master won't peak at all. It was my very first track.
I realized afterwards that my mix sounded too low compared to other songs. I had to increase the volume of my speakers to hear this song as I would hear any other song..


This was crap.


Then I thought "ok let's put a limiter on every tracks so I'm safe: I can adjust the volume without having a too low mix, or hear a crackling sound". It worked, everything was not above 0db.


But I read a few articles about limiters, including this one: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=203225&hilit=limiter

Here, H20nly explains that it's a bad habit to put limiters on every tracks. I also understood that what will make the tracks peak (and the sound crackle) is when multiple tracks share the same frequencies.

My question is: how do you guys use and do NOT use limiters? Plus, how do you figure out and set up the limiter's db limit?


To thank you in advance, here is a picture of a goose wearing sandals: http://goo.gl/y4UqmM


Cheers

8O
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Re: Limiters: how -not- to use them

Post by 8O » Tue Apr 08, 2014 11:12 am

I only use it on the master channel when playing live.

This is primarily to ensure that after a few ales, if I accidentally set up a potentially deafening feedback fx loop, then the limiter will er... limit the damage.

I never use a limiter when producing, only a compressor.

Thanks for the picture of a goose wearing sandals - much appreciated and should be introduced as the Ableton Forum bitcoin currency of advice payment.
Image

Richie Witch
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Re: Limiters: how -not- to use them

Post by Richie Witch » Wed Apr 09, 2014 4:54 pm

Well, here's how I do it--but I'm a newb, so you can take this for what it's worth. :wink:

When I start a new project, I put a limiter on the Master track set to -6.0 db. This just sort of keeps everything at a fairly safe, even level while I bring the various elements together.

Once I have the all my elements and I'm working in Arrangement view, I raise the limiter to -0.5 db just so I can move all the pieces around, tweak the effects and processors, and experiment with different sounds/combinations without worrying about over-driving the Master track.

Once the mix-down is almost done, I turn off the limiter and play the song through a few times looking for obvious peaking issues. I adjust individual track levels as necessary.

Next, I bounce the song with Normalize ON and look at the waveform as a WAV file. At this point, I'm looking for sound spikes that might be keeping the rest of the song down. If I spot a problem, I'll adjust the level, compression, or EQ (depending on the sound I'm looking for). Then I re-bounce the track and examine it again--I usually repeat this several times. What I'm looking for is a nice dense waveform with fine comb-like spikes. This type of waveform gives my overall song plenty of loudness without crushing all the dynamic range.

If I can achieve that and keep my Master track below 0 db, I'll delete the limiter from the final mix.
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sowhoso
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Re: Limiters: how -not- to use them

Post by sowhoso » Thu Apr 10, 2014 1:56 am

Limiters: how to use them

put a limiter on an individual track only to tame crazy transients, never to make it louder. make sure you add back the amount of dB that you took out (if you brought the transients down -6dB, add 6dB on the output of the limiter)

mix your song so that it never clips on the master. when you're done mixing, add the limiter on the master track to get the song up to the level you want

sAy-music
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Re: Limiters: how -not- to use them

Post by sAy-music » Sun Apr 13, 2014 12:10 pm

Thank you all for your advices, I'll try it. Don't hesitate to post other tips & tricks about limiters in this post

footsy
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Re: Limiters: how -not- to use them

Post by footsy » Sun Apr 13, 2014 10:01 pm

I usually put a limiter on the master before all the mixing process just to save time. Than when it comes time to start mixing and what not I will take the limiter off. Than I will put limiters usually on the groups (aka the buss) ever so often I feel the need to put on an L1 but that's mostly for compression not to limit so much.

It all depends but it's just a general outline. don't limit to much, respect the audio.
"A Positive mind is the Key to success" - Tydi

BobSubgenius
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Re: Limiters: how -not- to use them

Post by BobSubgenius » Wed Apr 16, 2014 7:56 pm

I sometimes use a limiter on the master of my live set. It's quite a complex setup with multiple loopers and if I do something wrong the limiter saves me from distorting the master.
I rarely use it in my mixes, only if I have a sound that I really want to have as little difference in dynamics as possible.

As a rule of thumb try to keep the level of your final mix quite low, at about -6 to -3 db. There is no need to put limiters on every track to boost the volume to max. You want to take care of the final level in the mastering, not in the mix.
So mix down your track to 32 bit with somewhere between -6 to -3 db. Then open up a new project in Live and insert your mix, which should only be one single stereofile by now. Now add mastering effects like multiband-compression, eq, some extra reverb. Only add stuff if the track really needs it. We left -6 to -3 db headroom in the mix so we can add those effects now. Some of them will boost the level and that way you don't have to readjust levels.
At the very end of the chain put the LIMITER and adjust to taste (this is also depending on the genre you are making). I tend to take off about 3 db most of the time. Don't forget to dither if you render your master to 24 or 16 bit.
With limiting less is more. It is tempting to use a lot of limiting to make your track sound fat but you also lose a lot of dynamics / transients, resulting in a fat sounding but boring and lifeless track.

Jorge3
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Re: Limiters: how -not- to use them

Post by Jorge3 » Sun Apr 20, 2014 12:56 pm

Loudness is not an indicator of the quality of a mix/master. The more you limit the song's peaks, the less become the song's transients & dynamic range. A proper comparison of the mixing/mastering qualities of different songs requires first matching their average volumes, measured conventionally as RMS or recently as LUFS. If your song sounds quieter than others of the same genre, and since a higher volume can give a false impression of better-ness, use an RMS/LUFS meter to level their average loudness, and see if reducing your song's peaks with a limiter really improves its quality. Also, keep in mind that auto-normalization of playback loudness is becoming a common feature of music players & streaming services based on readings of each song's average loudness, and there's an international trend to regulate tv & radio loudness so that the playback volumes are normalized on the broadcasters' side to a certain standard. So, even market-oriented mixing/mastering engineers can now be less concerned to limit the peaks to get the song's body closer to 0db for the purpose of grabbing the consumers' attention at the expense of dynamic richness. For more details:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ng_gOHRl-r0
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ug5UQNg8F4k

If you're worried about crackles, you should be wary of true peaks (TP) that are created during D/A conversion. A digital limiter handles only the digital samples of a song's wave and does not control how a D/A converter uses that samples to reproduce the analog wave, which often adds inter-sample lines that go higher than the digital samples. As such, a peak below 0 db can still result in a true peak above 0 db. More meters are beginning to feature true peak reading, so use that as a guide for a limiter's threshold at the last stage of mastering.

If multiple tracks have conflicting frequencies that create a bursting peak, that may be fixed by a multiband limiter or volume automation, depending on how those tracks are routed/grouped and how many bursts there are.

Apart from surgical uses, limiters can be used creatively as well, for example as an alternative to saturators.

As a tool for balancing out the peaks of a track or a mix, set the threshold to a peak which you think should be the highest (thus cutting out all unintended peaks that shouldn't be as high), and then from that reference peak lower the threshold to the lowest of the peaks which you think could be as high as the reference peak (thus narrowing the range of all peaks that are intended to be as high). If that setting doesn't sound good, move the threshold again to find the sweet spot between the two peak levels.
* If your limiter has variable attack/release and different modes, you can decide on that beforehand through an extreme setting for an easier comparison of their effects.
* If your limiter raises the volume as you lower the threshold, lower the wet output to match the dry output, so that you can properly evaluate the effect of the limiting.

Prominent mastering engineers recommend that throughout the processes of mixing & mastering you keep the song's average loudness at the same level. Conventionally in the digital era, different artists/engineers would mix their songs at varying output & monitor levels and then push-master it as high as they can toward 0 db while lowering the monitor level. Such a practice would make it harder to treat the song's dynamics from a consistent perspective and therefore harder to properly use or not-to-use limiters. For more details:
http://www.digido.com/how-to-make-bette ... art-2.html

Thank you for the goose.

jlgrimes
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Re: Limiters: how -not- to use them

Post by jlgrimes » Tue May 13, 2014 12:21 am

sAy-music wrote:Hey guys,


I once made a mix without any limiter. As I didn't want it to sound too loud or crackle, I reduced the overall volume of my tracks so my master won't peak at all. It was my very first track.
I realized afterwards that my mix sounded too low compared to other songs. I had to increase the volume of my speakers to hear this song as I would hear any other song..


This was crap.


Then I thought "ok let's put a limiter on every tracks so I'm safe: I can adjust the volume without having a too low mix, or hear a crackling sound". It worked, everything was not above 0db.


But I read a few articles about limiters, including this one: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=203225&hilit=limiter

Here, H20nly explains that it's a bad habit to put limiters on every tracks. I also understood that what will make the tracks peak (and the sound crackle) is when multiple tracks share the same frequencies.

My question is: how do you guys use and do NOT use limiters? Plus, how do you figure out and set up the limiter's db limit?


To thank you in advance, here is a picture of a goose wearing sandals: http://goo.gl/y4UqmM


Cheers
I typically only use limiters at the final mastering stage. (Or if I am in a hurry and print a track to listen to away from the studio).

One exception is if I REALLY want one track to stand out above the rest like a vocal or kick but that takes tinkering and I usually wait until late in the mixing stage to do something like this and I'm usually just using it very lightly.


Another exception is limiters often work great for parallel compression. Take your uncompressed track and mix in duplicate track which is heavily limited. This is a brutal form of compression which brings out the low level noises in a sound. You only usually need a tiny amount of the heavily limited signal.

Using an instrument rack makes this effect more tidy.


That said I have become a Glue junkie. It's soft clip has a limiting like effect.

Saturator is also another alternative for single tracks and adds good analog like flavor.

thequizrad
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Re: Limiters: how -not- to use them

Post by thequizrad » Mon Jul 28, 2014 10:30 pm

Limiters can be used on individual tracks for quite extreme effects, I guess experiment with taste and restraint.

On the master buss, I would NOT mix into a limiter from the start. Get your mix sounding good, peaking around -6dbfs, and then introduce a limiter, to get the overall level up. I might mix into a compressor on the master buss, but I would save the limiter until the end.

clydesdale
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Re: Limiters: how -not- to use them

Post by clydesdale » Tue Jul 29, 2014 5:13 pm

I think a limiter is handy on the Master channel when doing mixes or mashups as it allows you to add and remove elements without changing the net volume too much. It would be hideously inefficient to try mixing the track volumes otherwise. For original work, take the time to get your track levels right and a limiter won't be necessary except to protect your ears when you copy mixer automation to a utility and forget that one is +6db and the other is +35db (which I just did last night).

After all of the tutorials and some personal experience, I'm a true believer that the master track should never touch 0db. Good balance with large dynamic range can always be compressed later and still stay balanced. Can you still produce good material with limiters on every track? Sure you can-- you can also use a screwdriver to hammer nails it's just not the smartest or most effective way to do it.
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braduro
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Re: Limiters: how -not- to use them

Post by braduro » Wed Jul 30, 2014 9:04 pm

I'd love to sift more through the other responses, but I'll tell you my state of affairs first:

I contend with some other comments here that the limiter comes in handy on my master when I am performing live. There is no reason why the audience should have to pay for an errant feedback loop, a plug-in with an output gain set-up incorrectly, or a rumble or pitch that fell outside the eq's that I carved out. It will happen, particularly if you enjoy looking for trouble (which is half the fun is it not?)

But here's the standing debate: because ableton's summing is floating-point, there's no issue as to how much headroom you possibly have (that's a very loosy goosy way of introducing ableton's bussing architecture). So clipping during playback shouldn't be the reason you use a limiter. Other contenders that are interfacing with and finally bouncing to analog gear may try to keep things AVERAGING at the -18db marker, in which case, ya, you are going to sound pretty dim compared to all your other sources. And I've confirmed that if I mix at this level as a target, my master fader will happily bounce without sticking a red peak. Depends on the genre of music whether that's a good objective to begin with. And no, don't feed the volume wars. There are other ways of delivering your tracks highly compressed or otherwise, that still is in touch with the consumer.

The other issue I have with this approach is that ableton is simply not conducive to adhering to this rule. This is particularly true in my case if I am using ableton as a laptop dj, where perfectly mastered tracks are entering the master fader, but have nonetheless been summed in a mix. Yes, you can save your channels to default at these levels, but you can not reset them (delete parameter data) to these levels. You can use a utility to correct level discrepancy while dedicating the faders to adjusting the mix. Hell, you could have a chain volume before it arrives at the utility. And the primary gain stage, the 4th I'm listing, is the clip gain itself. The position of the x-fader (slow fade, constant power. I think I'll move to a different curve. Still, it's a matter of managing levels.) that's 5th. That's a lot of things that want to be reset to unity gain (or centered). And furthermore, even with the best dedicated controllers, I find it particularly disparaging to remember which stage may be causing an unexpected drop out just when you were hoping a track would "drop in."

So for me, a brick wall limiter is a necessary evil. In other words, I use them where I wish I didn't have to. My mixes sound great if I don't near their threshold, and in performance conditions it really beats putting a lid on the gain at so many crucial junctures. Does it sound better to mix while staying out of the red? Again with the floating-point (what is that: 32-bit word length to describe the full dynamic range?) I humbly confess that I cannot hear the difference in tonality and clarity (controlling for the fact that I can hear relative changes in volume, of course. Rather acutely for that matter). You would probably apply less dither when you do finally record if you were not exploring the more quiet passages of your music. Does it sound more naturalistic to not hit the limiter? If you say so, you have a better argument there. I'd love to hear why my colleague uses a compressor rather: much more forgiving way to look ahead and absorb a peak, I guess. Brick wall limiters when hit repeatedly are essentially forming a more palatable square wave. I opt for it out of pride-I use a great deal of signal processing and I like the most lean plug-ins when they can at least stand in for their counterparts.

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