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Why most commercial masters clip.. Mas­ter­ing Plugins
Old 27th December 2016
  #1
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Why most commercial masters clip..

I think I figured out why most commercial masters clip. For one I don't think most mastering engineers know or care to make sure they're using a limiter that doesn't allow anything past the set ceiling.

In Ozone 7 Advanced this is labelled as "True Peak Limiting"



Also, I notice that many meters don't even register the quick, intersample overs or clipping in many Wave (Windows) or AIFF (Apple) files.

One of the few meters I've run across that is fast and accurate enough to catch them is Izotope Insight.

Old 27th December 2016
  #2
ISP dont matter if the target is CD. The only issue with isp is mp3/aac/.... encoding. These codec introduce more level than the original file. Even a wav file with no isp but hitting -0.1dbtp will give a mp3 with isp at about +0,5/+1dbtp that's why limiters include isp protection and why it's safer to ceil at -0.5 or -1dbtp to avoid additional clipping effect when converting with lossy codecs.
Old 27th December 2016
  #3
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I'm still waiting to find out if the mastering engineer provided this mp3, or if the client converted a WAV to mp3 but either way...I recently mastered an album for a new client, and they had unknowingly had a few songs already mastered as singles by a very "big time" mastering engineer at a mastering studio everybody would know the name of. One of the biggest in the US for sure.

There was one song where they were liking the original single master for better than my album master, so they sent me an mp3 of the single master version to check out. (see attached screen shot).

The overall loudness and especially the digital/true peaks were very alarming. +2dB! Yes, this is a modern pop/dance type production but +2dB on the lossy encode seems a bit much. It sounded "OK" but I didn't bother to test on cheaper systems, only my studio.

I was able to do a more reasonable album master that they are very satisfied with but it was interesting to see how one of the biggest mastering studios in the world is operating regarding loudness and peak levels. It seems careless.

Even if this was for the "CD master" which actually doesn't exist as this was a digital-only single, I think it's still important to leave that headroom for lossy encoding because of the marginal number of CD users out there, most of them simply load the CD into their iTunes library as mp3 or AAC and never touch the CD. The number of people actually listening to the CD itself is fairly small I would say, and shrinking exponentially.
Attached Thumbnails
Why most commercial masters clip..-screen-shot-2016-12-27-8.29.51-am.jpg  

Last edited by Justin P.; 27th December 2016 at 03:57 PM..
Old 27th December 2016
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Precision Studio View Post
ISP dont matter if the target is CD.
It actually does. Overloading the D/A of the playback device should always be a concern. It's common knowledge that a waveform described by two adjacent samples can create a signal of higher level than each single sample represents. A digital system requires at least 3.5dB of analogue headroom to avoid overloading due to this phenomenon, especially if the reconstruction filter is phase-linear.

Even many modern CD players do not have sufficient headroom to avoid the issue. Hence, many listerners still experience the issue. 16 years later, the Søren Nielsen / Thomas Lund paper is still relevant:
http://www.tcelectronic.com/media/10...0_0dbfs_le.pdf

Many broadcast processors do not provide sufficient headroom (and not only the lossy codec processors). This is why the EBU R128 spec specifies True Peaks should never exceed -1dBTP, and ATSC specifies -2dBTP. Avoid the issue at input, to avoid the issue at output. The same thinking should be applied when mastering for physical digital formats.

The issue has such a straightforward solution: use a Limiter which offers True Peak measurement, don't ride final peak levels up to 0dBFS, and QA everything before it leaves the facility.

Last edited by reynaud; 27th December 2016 at 03:56 PM..
Old 27th December 2016
  #5
I had some years ago a mails exchange with Bob Katz about this and he told me that for CD isp effect was very negligeable.
Personaly i set my limiter to -0.5 with isp protection and it gives good results even after mp3 encoding.
Old 27th December 2016
  #6
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To answer the original question: fear.
Old 27th December 2016
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bcgood View Post
I think I figured out why most commercial masters clip. For one I don't think most mastering engineers know or care to make sure they're using a limiter that doesn't allow anything past the set ceiling.

In Ozone 7 Advanced this is labelled as "True Peak Limiting"
Your findings are more than old. But you should also consider that experienced guys do not use such "true peak" tools with good reasons.
Theres one easy and very transparent way to avoid ISP (which have nothing to do with codec clippings btw); just leave enough headroom. But it is also the truth that this is not easy to communicate with a A&R for example. So, in the end its like always a compromise between "technical correct" and "good sound".
The try to determine the quality of masters due to measurements leads to nowhere and I cant really get why those threads pops up again and again (we already had thousands of them in the past...). I think problem does not lay in too hot masters than more in the measurements tools in the hand from consumers which may lead them into analysing music with their eyes instead of just listening.
Its just a fear based topic...
Old 29th December 2016
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JP__ View Post
Your findings are more than old.
Hi JP, it really doesn't matter if a topic is old if its relevant and this topic is certainly very relevant still. I do notice that many programs don't catch peaks and don't have very accurate metering. Izotope Insight is one of the better meters I've come across and I highly suggest you check it out if you haven't.

To your second point, actually some professionals do use true peak limiting or at the very least don't provide masters that clip. It really isn't that hard to do if you know what you're doing and yes these master will often sound better than ones that clip. Bob Ludwig, (You've heard of him right? ; ) often provides masters that sound amazing and don't clip. Remember, mastering is the art and science of sound so this idea that you can't provide a proper loud master that also doesn't clip is misguided. Refer to post #4 above. I mostly buy CDs and LPs and as both a consumer and producer of music I would really appreciate getting a final product that doesn't clip!

Of course ultimately the master is all about the sound. That is so obvious it really should go without saying. Mastering engineers should educate A&R people who are often the ones blamed for all the bad trends in music by mastering engineers in this forum. Stop blaming others and become part of the solution if you are truly knowledgeable and professional!
Old 29th December 2016
  #9
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This is indeed nothing new, also it's imporant to compare waves and not homebrew MP3 derivates as these always show overs, even if the WAV was fine.
Old 29th December 2016
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Analogue Mastering View Post
This is indeed nothing new, also it's imporant to compare waves and not homebrew MP3 derivates as these always show overs, even if the WAV was fine.
Actually, the realization that I had that some mastering engineers today may not be aware that they don't have truly accurate metering is new.

Yes of course, I am only referring to lossless files.

WAV, FLAC, AIFF and ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec, used by iTunes) are all lossless audio formats.

MP3, MP4, and OGG are lossy audio formats.
Old 29th December 2016
  #11
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I hear you, catching these has never been a problem in WL. I don't think real engineers don't notice this.
In WL it's very easy to just lift the ceiling above 0,0dB, plenty of engineers deliberately program to allow overs to even +2 or +3
As this sounds often better than squeezing into -0.3dB with less dynamic range.
It's all a balancing act between what you can get away with and which damage is least harmfull.
There are very few converters that can't handle these (not all equally elegant I must add) but it never comes to hard ticks or clicks or mutes.
Not saying it's a good thing, but it's yet another 0.5dB for the ones who want it and some use it.
Old 29th December 2016
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Analogue Mastering View Post
I hear you, catching these has never been a problem in WL.
What's funny is I have Wavelab 9 and its metering is not as accurate as Insight. That realization was one of the catalysts for this thread
Old 29th December 2016
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bcgood View Post
What's funny is I have Wavelab 9 and its metering is not as accurate as Insight. That realization was one of the catalysts for this thread
Which meters did you look at? There are many.
It also depends if you look at true or digital peaks. You have to activate true peaks in the master section to see them
Old 29th December 2016
  #14
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Notice the discrepancy in the metering between WL9 and Insight?

(Right click and choose view image to see the full size image)

Old 29th December 2016
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Justin P. View Post
I'm still waiting to find out if the mastering engineer provided this mp3, or if the client converted a WAV to mp3 but either way...I recently mastered an album for a new client, and they had unknowingly had a few songs already mastered as singles by a very "big time" mastering engineer at a mastering studio everybody would know the name of. One of the biggest in the US for sure.

There was one song where they were liking the original single master for better than my album master, so they sent me an mp3 of the single master version to check out. (see attached screen shot).

The overall loudness and especially the digital/true peaks were very alarming. +2dB! Yes, this is a modern pop/dance type production but +2dB on the lossy encode seems a bit much. It sounded "OK" but I didn't bother to test on cheaper systems, only my studio.

I was able to do a more reasonable album master that they are very satisfied with but it was interesting to see how one of the biggest mastering studios in the world is operating regarding loudness and peak levels. It seems careless.

Even if this was for the "CD master" which actually doesn't exist as this was a digital-only single, I think it's still important to leave that headroom for lossy encoding because of the marginal number of CD users out there, most of them simply load the CD into their iTunes library as mp3 or AAC and never touch the CD. The number of people actually listening to the CD itself is fairly small I would say, and shrinking exponentially.
This is insane, or maybe the artists have made it louder?
Old 29th December 2016
  #16
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Is true peak activated? (Page 416 of the manual)

Also from the manual:
When a digital signal is converted to an analog signal, the EBU R-128 recommends measuring an estimation of the real peaks, rather than relying on digital peaks, to avoid clipping and distortion. This is accomplished by over-sampling the signal 4 times and retaining the peak values.

Last edited by Analogue Mastering; 29th December 2016 at 08:50 AM..
Old 29th December 2016
  #17
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No true peak meterering is really accurate. Its always an approximation, always. You will never really know how much overshoots exist as the probem lays within the subject.
So, definitly not a topic to overthink and trying to be nitpicking...
Its a fearbased topic. If one is realy fearless just leave 2dB of safety headroom (and be prepared for some discussion with your clients..).
Old 29th December 2016
  #18
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Why most commercial masters clip..
Because someone, somewhere just doesnt give a toss.

I am so sick of getting clipped and ISP-ridden commercial releases Ive started returning them as unfit for purpose with their afclip output printout. Its not like we just discovered ISPs, there really is no excuse.
Old 29th December 2016
  #19
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I would say it's more to do with many MEs clipping their AD for level which results in more ISPs, unless you are at high sample rates.

Even using a limiter post clipping will have high ISPs if the ceiling isn't low enough.

Now with MFiT delivery I believe more experienced MEs are aware of true peak overs, but I still see and hear heavy clipping on many releases.
Old 29th December 2016
  #20
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Yes, the fear of not being loud enough has been driving this trend for many years, and not only on pop records. Clipping seems to have become the chic thing to do on many genres these days - and is also an obvious timesaver.

Quite strange considering that many genres and newer delivery formats don't call for the super hot levels of yesterday.

Even so, we still see and hear mastering engineeers clipping the bejesus out of their converters etc. It probably wont go away any time soon.

The Insight meter has 9x oversampling, IOW a few steps up from the EBU R-128 requirement mentioned above, and will give a very good idea of the magnitude of the True Peak overshoots.

JB
Old 29th December 2016
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Frederickalonso View Post
This is insane, or maybe the artists have made it louder?
I really don't think the artist made it louder after the mastering engineer but I am trying to find out if the mastering engineer encoded and sent the mp3 or if the client ended this mp3 from a master WAV.

Either way, it is pretty crazy. I'm just waiting for the project to fully wrap up before asking the nature of the mp3 as to not open any cans of worms.

I guess I could check the Apple Music version if it's been released as a single.
Old 29th December 2016
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bcgood View Post
Notice the discrepancy in the metering between WL9 and Insight?

(Right click and choose view image to see the full size image)

Is this WaveLab Elements? I don't believe WaveLab Elements measures true peaks, only WaveLab Pro. I'm 99% sure on this but I have both Pro and Elements and I'm not seeing any True Peak support in Elements.
Old 29th December 2016
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Justin P. View Post
Is this WaveLab Elements? I don't believe WaveLab Elements measures true peaks, only WaveLab Pro. I'm 99% sure on this but I have both Pro and Elements and I'm not seeing any True Peak support in Elements.
Yup, it is elements
Old 29th December 2016
  #24
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Originally Posted by bcgood View Post
Yup, it is elements
Ah ha. You need WaveLab Pro to see True Peaks and LUFS. In Elements you are seeing RMS and digital peaks so this probably explains at least some of the discrepancy between WaveLab Elements and Insight. Also, the WaveLab meters reset for each playback where Insight may not depending on the settings.

I find the metering in WaveLab Pro to be one of the best as far as native DAW metering.
Old 29th December 2016
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bcgood View Post
Yup, it is elements
There you go, problem solved
Old 29th December 2016
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Justin P. View Post
I find the metering in WaveLab Pro to be one of the best as far as native DAW metering.
Indeed!
Old 29th December 2016
  #27
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Honestly with Insight I definitely have my metering bases covered. It's actually interesting to me to see the difference
Old 29th December 2016
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JP__ View Post
No true peak meterering is really accurate. Its always an approximation, always.
That's right. True peak meters try to guess what the reconstructed waveform will look like but every DAC is different so you can never be 100% sure.

Bottom line: a slight difference in metering doesn't really amount to anything. If we're hitting a limiter hard enough to get ISP the damage is already done.
Old 29th December 2016
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg Reierson View Post
That's right. True peak meters try to guess what the reconstructed waveform will look like but every DAC is different so you can never be 100% sure.

Bottom line: a slight difference in metering doesn't really amount to anything. If we're hitting a limiter hard enough to get ISP the damage is already done.
This!
Old 29th December 2016
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ben F View Post
I would say it's more to do with many MEs clipping their AD for level which results in more ISPs, unless you are at high sample rates.

Even using a limiter post clipping will have high ISPs if the ceiling isn't low enough.

Now with MFiT delivery I believe more experienced MEs are aware of true peak overs, but I still see and hear heavy clipping on many releases.
Clipping the A/D is so much 2015... ;-)

seriously: I'm a bit surprised how many many big names still didn't care about the needs today - we have to deliver for many different release-forms.
cd, downloadable in different resolutions incl. mfit, streaming, vinyl, tv, radio...
if you print only a clipped master, your already outdated as a mastering engineer (even if you still benefit from your portfolio).
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