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Saturation/Soft Clipping Hardware/Plugin Suitable for Mastering?
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csl
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8th October 2009
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Saturation/Soft Clipping Hardware/Plugin Suitable for Mastering?

I'm curious - does anyone have any software recommendations for cleanly saturating/soft clipping peaks in full mixes (without noticeably distorting, obviously)? I tried the IK Soft Clipper and thought it was hideous. The saturation in PSP's sQuad is pretty impressive at lightly reducing the dynamic range of peaky material without treading all over it, but then that's a bundle of EQs I don't need just for a little of the saturation element (though it's probably my favourite so far). I've tried some of Voxengo's offerings but still preferred the PSP sQuad.

I'm not really looking for a coloured processor, like Vintage Warmer or Varisaturator, or a conventional dynamic processor per se, but something which can soften peaks and perhaps bring out detail. Are there any alternatives out there in VST form, that you'd let anywhere near a full mix? Or would this be strictly hardware territory?

If hardware would be the only way to go, I'd be interested to hear suggestions, although please keep it within the sub-£2k range. There are apparently similar capabilities within the Lavrys, as well as other convertors, but might there be anything a little more amenable to ITB use?
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hey chris, try using a saturator in a parallel fashion.. sometimes that can be the ticket.
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Cheers John! I've a suspicion I should be thinking and looking OTB, as there seem to be good saturation options for capable convertors.
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Lavry AD122-96-MKIII would do it but you'll need to add another three bags of sand to your two bags, if you know what I mean?
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Check out Urs saturation plug-in 2.5.

I want to try it myself but have no ilok yet...
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csl
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Table Of Tone View Post
Lavry AD122-96-MKIII would do it but you'll need to add another three bags of sand to your two bags, if you know what I mean?
Oh, I wouldn't mind being in the position to seriously consider one of these! Now which of my kidneys don't I want? Can I make do without either?

One of the Blue or Blacks are probably more up my financial alley. Then I'd simply be routing the DA straight back into the AD purely for the soft clipping! I'd be room to grow anyway.

Is the URS worth another demo on my iLok? Seems like it's really designed for imparting tracking flavour. I'll investigate though, thanks.
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csl: I got a Pendulum PL-2 because I wasn't satisfied by any of the software alternatives. I have tested -all- of them, on various systems, native or DSP card based, what not, and the PL-2 is far better at doing exactly what you want. If you want me to run a segment from mix through it feel free to post it here or PM me.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by csl View Post
Oh, I wouldn't mind being in the position to seriously consider one of these! Now which of my kidneys don't I want? Can I make do without either?

One of the Blue or Blacks are probably more up my financial alley. Then I'd simply be routing the DA straight back into the AD purely for the soft clipping! I'd be room to grow anyway.

Is the URS worth another demo on my iLok? Seems like it's really designed for imparting tracking flavour. I'll investigate though, thanks.
The 6db soft sat on the blue is not anywhere near as natural, punchy or nice sounding as either the 3db or 6db on the gold.

Also, check out the DSM plugin.

It's a funny little thing really.
It doesn't quite know what it is!
It can be a little clippy but with certain things, it works pretty well.
For some reason it loves being at the business end of prism ADC's.

Weird, but cool sometimes!
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The idea of soft clipping / saturation without adding distortion doesn't make any sense to me.

If you want to reduce peaks without distortion, choose any one of the many digital limiters available. Some will do this with less distortion, and will reduce punch proportionally......others will keep more punch, but will add more distortion and other artifacts.

For real soft clipping / saturation, i haven't heard anything digital that sounds as "real" as overloading some good ol' fashioned analog gear - for this purpose i use the input drive on the Phoenix. I've been meaning to pick up some prism overkillers too for a laugh but haven't had time. One day i'd like to check out the Lavry Gold too as everyone raves about it.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Darius van H View Post
I've been meaning to pick up some prism overkillers too for a laugh but haven't had time. One day i'd like to check out the Lavry Gold too as everyone raves about it.
A zener is cheap..


(pardon if I misunderstood, but isn't that all there is to those XLR barrel things?)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Darius van H View Post

For real soft clipping / saturation, i haven't heard anything digital that sounds as "real" as overloading some good ol' fashioned analog gear - for this purpose i use the input drive on the Phoenix.
yes
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Quote:
Originally Posted by csl View Post
I'm curious - does anyone have any software recommendations for cleanly saturating/soft clipping peaks in full mixes (without noticeably distorting, obviously)? I tried the IK Soft Clipper and thought it was hideous. The saturation in PSP's sQuad is pretty impressive at lightly reducing the dynamic range of peaky material without treading all over it, but then that's a bundle of EQs I don't need just for a little of the saturation element (though it's probably my favourite so far). I've tried some of Voxengo's offerings but still preferred the PSP sQuad.

I'm not really looking for a coloured processor, like Vintage Warmer or Varisaturator, or a conventional dynamic processor per se, but something which can soften peaks and perhaps bring out detail. Are there any alternatives out there in VST form, that you'd let anywhere near a full mix? Or would this be strictly hardware territory?

If hardware would be the only way to go, I'd be interested to hear suggestions, although please keep it within the sub-£2k range. There are apparently similar capabilities within the Lavrys, as well as other convertors, but might there be anything a little more amenable to ITB use?

if you like PSP, you should try PSP MIX Saturator,
great plugin
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tresperros View Post
if you like PSP, you should try PSP MIX Saturator,
great plugin
It is a great plugin, but I wouldn't really want to use it for mastering, as it's rather strong stuff (though the mix control is handy here). That's why I like the saturation implemented in the sQuad plugins -- seems much cleaner and more level-dependent, with a nice soft transfer curve that sharpens towards unity. If you drive the signal until it peaks at around -1dB, it stays quite clean, with a distortion that appears to simply bring out detail rather than audibly distort (which it will do if you push it further). Then I can limit the top half, to one dB with the Sonnox if I need to.

I like using saturation this way as opposed to limiting as I find it less intrusive, avoiding the side-effects of attack/delay distortion, and greatly prefer softer saturation's effects on the peaks. The subtle effect of bringing out extra detail is icing on the cake, which while not suitable for every project, really comes in handy.

The Pendulum PL-2 does look very handy, and I have been reading up on it on and off over the past couple of months, but as I'm completely ITB at the moment, it's something to consider down the line as my setup grows to accommodate more outboard. Still, I think I shall send Shy a PM to see what it sounds like on some of my peakier material (thanks!).
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[QUOTE=csl;4661173]It is a great plugin, but I wouldn't really want to use it for mastering, as it's rather strong stuff (though the mix control is handy here). That's why I like the saturation implemented in the sQuad plugins -- seems much cleaner and more level-dependent, with a nice soft transfer curve that sharpens towards unity. If you drive the signal until it peaks at around -1dB, it stays quite clean, with a distortion that appears to simply bring out detail rather than audibly distort (which it will do if you push it further). Then I can limit the top half, to one dB with the Sonnox if I need to.

I like using saturation this way as opposed to limiting as I find it less intrusive, avoiding the side-effects of attack/delay distortion, and greatly prefer softer saturation's effects on the peaks. The subtle effect of bringing out extra detail is icing on the cake, which while not suitable for every project, really comes in handy.

The Pendulum PL-2 does look very handy, and I have been reading up on it on and off over the past couple of months, but as I'm completely ITB at the moment, it's something to consider down the line as my setup grows to accommodate more outboard. Still, I think I shall send Shy a PM to see what it sounds like on some of my peakier material (thanks!).[/QUOTE

The best soft clipping, the lavry gold I used for tango in many projects an keep everything clear, punchy and open.
When the PL-2 transparent but not that sparkle and punchy.
On my first years of mastering I was using the P38 that it's not that bad.
I don't used Soft Clip on the lavry for everything for most of the stuff I used the PL-2 give in it a notch of limiting, A/D to the lavry and sometimes for tie stuff add 0.3 on the L2 Hardware.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by csl View Post
There are apparently similar capabilities within the Lavrys, as well as other convertors, but might there be anything a little more amenable to ITB use?
Chris, have you entertained the thought of the UAD Precision Maximiser? It can be nicely controlled for the purpose you have in mind, if it's operated as such.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WBM View Post
The best soft clipping, the lavry gold I used for tango in many projects an keep everything clear, punchy and open.
When the PL-2 transparent but not that sparkle and punchy.
I'd love to do a comparison then. I think the PL-2 will clearly win. (at least for someone like me who prefers a really transparent result in mastering gain reduction instead of something "added" which I reserve for mixing.)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shy View Post
I'd love to do a comparison then. I think the PL-2 will clearly win.

I like the PL-2 better in terms of limiting, I'm using it in 85% of the projects but in soft clipping the Lavry gold at 3 db sound real nice for some stuff .
How you used your PL-2 with the gain engaged ?
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I deliberately "clip" the McDSP Filterbank EQ's. Their "Analog Saturation Modeling" doesn't suck to my ears. When I do this aggressively, I often use several Filterbank EQ's in series, "clipping" each one slightly by raising the input level in each instance of the plug-in incrementally while watching the meters (and listening, of course). I might be fooling my ears, but I think it sounds better this way than using only one of them and clipping it by a larger amount. I also tend to use the multi-mono version of the plug-in when doing this across a full mix. This gives me a far more transparent loudness boost than any mastering limiter I've used. I am aware of the potential disadvantages of clipping, however my experience has shown me that using the McDSP EQs in this way has provided superior results.

One more thing to add: Make sure the output level of the last EQ in the chain has its output level set to -0.1 or so, unless you intend to add another mastering limiter. I tend to use a run of the mill mastering limiter at the end of this chain, just to basically lower the output ceiling and add dither. I generally don't lower the threshold at all, and don't really need any gain reduction to be provided by the limiter by the time it gets to this stage. YMMV.

-Ben B
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WBM View Post
I like the PL-2 better in terms of limiting, I'm using it in 85% of the projects but in soft clipping the Lavry gold at 3 db sound real nice for some stuff .
How you used your PL-2 with the gain engaged ?
Yep, used it in every way. At "just" 3db reduction I don't think any soft clipping gets anywhere near its quality. The imperceivable change of the original timbre is amazing. Of course, it also depends on taste, if someone prefers the kind of soft clipping like in LavryGold, can't argue with that . It certainly is great.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Number 6 View Post
Chris, have you entertained the thought of the UAD Precision Maximiser? It can be nicely controlled for the purpose you have in mind, if it's operated as such.
Ah yes -- I demoed it back when it was released, but decided against buying it as I have Inflator. I can't really remember how the soft clipper performed though... hmm. I would prefer something native if at all possible, as I don't plan on having these UAD-1s for too much longer. Thanks for the suggestion though -- might be worth getting another demo, if I can.

Tomás -- Phoenix would be great, but unfortunately I'm VST-only.

Shy, WBM -- I'm going to post up a snippet of synth music full of spiky synth drums. Might I occupy a moment of your time to run the snippet through your respective units? (PL-2/Gold) Perhaps with some gain of 3dB and 6dB (or perhaps with even more extreme settings to get an idea of their sound when pushed)? Would be hugely appreciated.
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Sure, the PL-2 is hungry for some spikes, it didn't have them for breakfast.
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Great, thanks! Here's a track snippet. 44.1/24. It's got some sub bass in there too, which may affect how far you can push the PL-2, but nevertheless it'll be interesting to see how this sounds.
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Sorry for the delay, I've been away. csl: really a very demanding piece. Good thing you posted it, now I know exactly what to recommend for it. This just shows that recommending what usually works best for us isn't necessarily so useful, and only when there's some audio then truly useful recommendations are possible.

The PL-2 and peak limiters like it actually don't work well with this kind of audio. It's much too "clean" for it, so there is far too much audible distortion. I've found that the soft clipper in the Algorithmix Splitcomp works better than anything on mixes like this. The PL-2 can actually give a cleaner, more balanced result with "denser" mixes, but the Splitcomp clipper is perfectly suited for this one. Good news, because it's a native plugin.

Here are the samples. Two of PL-2, #1 with ~3db reduction and #2 quite distorted with ~5db reduction. Two of Splitcomp, #1 with ~3db reduction, very transparent, #2 with ~5db reduction, still quite transparent.

Sorry, I have no time to level match the files. But do match them to accurately hear how small the difference is between the original and the Splitcomp clipper processed files (I usually do it by encoding to flac or wavpack and replaygaining in foobar2000).

Edit: the link in the previous post is dead, so here is the original unprocessed snippet.
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Brilliant -- thanks very much, Shy!

Yep, the material is very clean, and sure to show up any distortion, as you've discovered. Definitely sobering results regarding the PL-2 -- not ideal for this style.

For the sake of comparison, I've done some with the PSP sQuad demo:

3dB gain
5dB gain
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csl: you're welcome.
sQuad gives a nice result, but too pumpy, so it really transforms this mix which has an especially smooth and solid character, into something different.
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Of course -- they're certainly extreme settings, but they illustrate the different flavour of saturation quite nicely, I think.
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Definitely. If more people posted their own results, threads like this would be even better .
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Darius van H View Post
The idea of soft clipping / saturation without adding distortion doesn't make any sense to me.

If you want to reduce peaks without distortion, choose any one of the many digital limiters available. Some will do this with less distortion, and will reduce punch proportionally......others will keep more punch, but will add more distortion and other artifacts.

For real soft clipping / saturation, i haven't heard anything digital that sounds as "real" as overloading some good ol' fashioned analog gear - for this purpose i use the input drive on the Phoenix. I've been meaning to pick up some prism overkillers too for a laugh but haven't had time. One day i'd like to check out the Lavry Gold too as everyone raves about it.
The overkillers will constipate the bottom end and you will start to get stardust in the upper mids, quite early on.

I have them in an orpheus and also tried the barrels to see if they were any different!
They weren't!

They are pretty cheap N' easy to make but I don't use em for mastering.
Pretty good for tracking drums though!
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