Does clipping above 0db actually cause worse audio quality?

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vince1440
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Does clipping above 0db actually cause worse audio quality?

Post by vince1440 » Tue May 12, 2015 3:08 am

Hi, I'm a producer that mixes and masters my own tracks. I've been learning about more of the fine points of mastering but I'm confused about the one rule I keep seeing repeated over and over and over. Don't go over 0db on the master track. I get the theory behind it but most of my mixes do and they sound just fine. I don't hear any kind of distortion or anything bad happening to the sound quality like people say will happen if you go over 0db. Here is a picture of one my mixes which is clipping but it sounds fine.

Image

It's the beat for a song I produced. Everyone who hears it says it sounds good. It's gotten many thousands of listens and no one has said anything bad about the sound quality. I'm wondering if I really need to change how I'm mastering so that I stay under 0db if there is no discernible reduction in sound quality. Is there a tangible reduction in sound quality when an audio wave goes above 0db in the digital realm? If we put 100 audio engineers blindfolded in a room and they listened to a song played twice at the same average volume, one clipped and one not clipped would they be able to tell which one is which? Right now I'm thinking it doesn't matter if my mixes clip because there is no actual negative effect on sound quality. I would like to hear differing opinions.

And one other thing. I find it hard to match the volume level of commercial recordings without peaking over 0db. Do people here find it easy to make their mixes loud enough without at all clipping? is it just a side effect of the loudness wars or is it some shortcoming with how I am mixing/mastering? I don't use a limiter because to me it makes things sound worse.

penguinpajamas
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Re: Does clipping above 0db actually cause worse audio quality?

Post by penguinpajamas » Tue May 12, 2015 3:19 am

I wouldn't necessarily say that clipping always sounds bad but in almost all cases it will and you'll want to avoid it. I say that because the effect that clipping provides may not always be seen as negative to a track but regardless, clipping will always alter the waveform of your audio, essentially chopping off your waveforms at a certain level which will add distortion to your whole track, which is normally something you'd want to add individually to certain elements in a more controlled way.

Also, clipping is extremely uncommon and frowned upon in production so it's likely that those songs you are talking about are using limiters and compressors to make their tracks sound louder without just raising the volume until they're clipping.

If you're having trouble with making your mixes sound loud enough, I would look into limiting and compression if you haven't already but, otherwise, I would always try to avoid clipping. In really hi-fidelity systems clipping will definitely be audible.

TomViolenz
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Re: Does clipping above 0db actually cause worse audio quality?

Post by TomViolenz » Tue May 12, 2015 11:45 am

Well you are cutting of the peaks of your audio, and going by how your track looks by quite a bit. I have a VERY hard time imagining that this is not audible.
Mabybe your, and your friends listening environment is very bad?!
vince1440 wrote: I don't use a limiter because to me it makes things sound worse.
If you really need to do what you are doing here, at least use a limiter to do it for you. Because a limiter brickwall limits the sound, meaning anything above 0dB will be reduced to 0dB, limiting the livelyness of your sound, while what you are doing just cuts the peaks off and usually also introduces at lot of digital clipping artifacts. Which in effect is much worse.

That using a limiter sounds bad to you probably means that you are driving a not so great limiter too hard. Are you using Lives Limiter by any chance?

And yes, you have fallen a victim of the loudness wars.

vince1440
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Re: Does clipping above 0db actually cause worse audio quality?

Post by vince1440 » Tue May 12, 2015 12:16 pm

TomViolenz wrote:.
That using a limiter sounds bad to you probably means that you are driving a not so great limiter too hard. Are you using Lives Limiter by any chance?
I've tried using Lives limiter as well as many others and it seems that using a limiter ruins the transients/high end and or makes the overall track sound duller/lacking in dynamics. I find that my mixes sound better just letting it clip over 0db instead of limiting it. Is it common for limiters to make a mix sound duller and then you have to do more EQ work or whatever to make it sound better again? I'm just not getting a good sound from using limiters.

Perhaps I need to find a better tutorial for explaining how to use limiters or watch a professional mastering engineer use one in person so that I get a better understanding for what to do with it.

TomViolenz
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Re: Does clipping above 0db actually cause worse audio quality?

Post by TomViolenz » Tue May 12, 2015 12:41 pm

Honestly, using a limiter as the main tool to make it loud is bad practice anyways. So of course you usually EQ your single tracks and then use compression to glue them together.
If you don't have an EQ on EVERY track and a compressor on at least every major group/buss, you are simply not even mixing properly.

Only when you have that done and have set your master to not go above -3dB, you should use a (good) limiter with proper attack and release controls to boost your audio towards the 0dB target. And if that doesn't end up loud enough for your taste, you don't simply boost the make-up gain and drive the limiter harder, you go back to the EQs and compressors in your set and find out what is using more headroom than it must.
If you really want to master yourself, you at least need to follow these steps, because what you are doing is just making it loud, and on any decent system, bad sounding.

There is a reason mixing/mastering engineers get paid good money. :!:

Tarekith
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Re: Does clipping above 0db actually cause worse audio quality?

Post by Tarekith » Tue May 12, 2015 2:00 pm

The effects of clipping aren't always audible, there's times that it can be more transparent than limiting like you said too. However, the reasons you see it generally frowned on, is two-fold:

- Just because you can't hear it on your speakers, doesn't always mean that other people won't. Faster amps, quieter listening environments, louder music playback, better trained ears, etc. There's a lot of things that might contribute to why other people can hear it but you can't.

- Clipping is inaudible until it's not, and then it's REALLY audible. There's very rarely any sort of leeway here, once you clip too much, it sounds bad and there's nothing you can do to fix it later if you need to.

Obviously both of these will depend on a LOT of factors, and like-wise they won't always apply. In these days of louder is better, clipping has become just another tool mastering engineers use to get things loud enough for clients. Some people clip the inputs of their A/D convertors, other people do it digitally like you're doing. The key is knowning when to use it versus (or in addition to) limiting, and being ABSOLUTELY sure it truly is transparent.

If you're comfortable that you know what you're doing, nothing wrong with it I guess.

TomViolenz
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Re: Does clipping above 0db actually cause worse audio quality?

Post by TomViolenz » Tue May 12, 2015 2:13 pm

Tarekith wrote:and being ABSOLUTELY sure it truly is transparent.
What do you mean?
Clipping (and limiting for that matter) can never be transparent.

And that mastering engineers are starting to use this tells me that the loudness wars have truly gone overboard.
I mean analog clipping, maybe, but digital?! 8O

crumhorn
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Re: Does clipping above 0db actually cause worse audio quality?

Post by crumhorn » Tue May 12, 2015 2:25 pm

just to be pedantic - you can clip a square or pulse wave till kingdom come and make no difference at all to it. So I guess pure Chip Tunes would survive reasonably intact.
"The banjo is the perfect instrument for the antisocial."

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Tarekith
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Re: Does clipping above 0db actually cause worse audio quality?

Post by Tarekith » Tue May 12, 2015 3:23 pm

TomViolenz wrote:
Tarekith wrote:and being ABSOLUTELY sure it truly is transparent.
What do you mean?
Clipping (and limiting for that matter) can never be transparent.
Sorry Tom, but I disagree. There's lot of times you can be just barely clipping extremely short transients on a complex signal and it wont be audible as distortion. Sure, won't work on say a sine wav, but when you're talking about something like a complete mixdown, a dB or two of reduction that way likely won't be something you can hear. Maybe more.

Doesnt matter if it's done via boosting a hardware chain prior to the A/D, or via software. Plug-in limiters like Pro-L and Elephant have had this functionality for awhile, in Pro-L you just turn down the lookahead below -0.25 and it's straight clipping.

I'm not saying that I recommend it at all, limiting should still be the first option IMVHO. Done right it can be just as transparent for the same amount of gain reduction. Luckily it's not something I've ever needed to do in mastering but a handful of times a couple years ago. These days most people are more aware of the downsides of pushing a signal that much.

TomViolenz
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Re: Does clipping above 0db actually cause worse audio quality?

Post by TomViolenz » Tue May 12, 2015 3:45 pm

Interesting. I'm not old school at all and this still bothers me :lol:

So lets say I do this short transient clipping on many transients in short order, would that in your opinion still not be audible?! I see this as workable for a few transients with a lot of time in between, human perception is just not that detailed, but constantly? I mean I see the image above and my ears just hurt from looking at it.

Tarekith
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Re: Does clipping above 0db actually cause worse audio quality?

Post by Tarekith » Tue May 12, 2015 4:01 pm

Well, it really depends on the signal I guess. I could see that image being something that audibly isn't sounding clipped, but of course that's only the after picture and who knew what it looked like before. I've seen mixdowns with no compression, clipping, or limiting almost look that too.

Tagor
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Re: Does clipping above 0db actually cause worse audio quality?

Post by Tagor » Tue May 12, 2015 7:37 pm

i expeerienced that such things are audible specially when going to PA or loud envirements.
me tried to use m4l faintresponse as loudness reference but the real problem seem to be
the relation between the different elements, couse sometimes its hard to guess what impact
kick/bassline will be compared to FX/perc @the floor..

empathy1
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Re: Does clipping above 0db actually cause worse audio quality?

Post by empathy1 » Tue May 12, 2015 9:15 pm

the short answer is yes

Stromkraft
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Re: Does clipping above 0db actually cause worse audio quality?

Post by Stromkraft » Thu May 14, 2015 9:36 pm

My view on this is if you think you're making your tracks LOUD because you are clipping it, you're forgetting DJs can turn your track down at will! As will radio with their strict loudness rules. So there's no real gain to be had as your attempts will be fought back. DJs commonly want all tracks at the same volume more or less and will adjust the mix accordingly. You don't get to decide that. You just have to deliver what DJs can use.

And if the track is distorting many DJs will mix out your music and not put it on again. Case in point is the 2013 track "Colt" by "Dense & Pika", Great piece with intended distortion. However, I won't play it as I think it's over the top in the wrong way (The b side "Airless" gets all the play instead).

That said intended clipping before mastering can work great in some tracks. And a very small bunch of master engineers can even do it when mastering and it will sound good in many systems.
Make some music!

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