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Is it acceptable to put limiters on a master fader BEFORE sending it to Mastering? Dynamics Plugins
Old 10th November 2017
  #1
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Is it acceptable to put limiters on a master fader BEFORE sending it to Mastering?

hi all.....

so, I have 3 mixes that I'm considering sending to get mastered......the one that sounds best to me is the one that has a limiter on the master bus......BUT, I know that's clearly contradictory to sending it to be mastered in the first place.....

1. - is it ever acceptable to send a track to be mastered with a limiter on the master bus.....just as long as the levels are still hitting about 3/4's of the way up on the master fader roughly?

2. Also, just to confirm, completely acceptable to have limiters on vocals, drum or any other individual tracks when sending to mastering though correct???

I know the question is kind of dumb, but just wanted to be sure.....any input is much appreciated.....!
Old 10th November 2017
  #2
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wado1942's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by thebreaksnyc View Post
hi all.....

so, I have 3 mixes that I'm considering sending to get mastered......the one that sounds best to me is the one that has a limiter on the master bus......BUT, I know that's clearly contradictory to sending it to be mastered in the first place.....
Mastering and limiting are not mutually inclusive. However, putting a limiter on the buss makes it really hard for the mastering engineer to do a good job because it will already be heavily damaged, but needs another level of limiting at the end to return it to the original level you sent (see "Death Magnetic" comments).


Quote:
1. - is it ever acceptable to send a track to be mastered with a limiter on the master bus.....just as long as the levels are still hitting about 3/4's of the way up on the master fader roughly?
I would say "yes" under the stipulation that you supply a version with nothing on the main buss so the engineer has a sonic reference to get an idea of your expectations while having a clean mix to do the work.


Quote:
2. Also, just to confirm, completely acceptable to have limiters on vocals, drum or any other individual tracks when sending to mastering though correct???
Yes, though I'm not sure why you would do that. You wind up getting the distortion of limiting without much level advantage. I have put limiters on things within a mix but they were special cases, like a bass drum that was so heavily compressed in the recording that there was nothing but a click. Adding a hard limiter crushed down the click so I could hear some body in the drum.


I've had to master a few records that were already limited or compressed with no clean mixes available and I always felt like I had to work twice as hard to get good results vs. just being sent a clean mix. Of course, talking to your mastering engineer ahead of time is paramount either way.
Old 10th November 2017
  #3
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It depends what the goal of mastering is for you and your project but sending the limited version often limits (pun intended) how much the mastering engineer can really improve the track vs. how much collective damage might occur.

It's like grilling a steak with your eyes closed and then bringing that steak to a chef to cook it for you. What do you really expect them to do with it? You may have already charred it or wrecked it in some way. Best case scenario you've cooked to perfection or near perfection and little to nothing needs to be done after that.

What works well for me personally when mix engineers need/want to limit their mixes in the mixing process is to get a version with and without the limiting.

Usually the limited version gives me an idea of what they are shooting for but starting from the non-limited version gives me more headroom and freedom to correct issues and tie all the songs of an EP/album together more transparently.

Also, when I get mixes in that have moderate to heavy digital limiting and there is no way to get a better source due to ego/laziness or logistics, I usually end up staying all "in the box" and keep do very light touches at most, rather than use any analog tools which in some cases is why some clients hire a professional mastering engineer/studio.

I've also gotten better about just turning projects down that come in slammed already and I can tell it's going to be a headache and/or losing battle of unrealistic expectations with willingness to cooperate or compromise.

If you're adding the limiter just for the sake of loudness/glue etc, chances are that the mastering engineer can also do this but after any detailed digital and/or analog processing is done.
Old 11th November 2017
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Justin P. View Post
when I get mixes in that have moderate to heavy digital limiting and there is no way to get a better source due to ego/laziness or logistics, I usually end up staying all "in the box" and keep do very light touches at most
...
I've also gotten better about just turning projects down that come in slammed already and I can tell it's going to be a headache and/or losing battle of unrealistic expectations with willingness to cooperate or compromise.
Very good point. I had to use such an example in a mix with voice-over recently. I asked the artist for a non-limited version (I told him why) and he basically said he wouldn't do it. So, I had to use his squashed version and once I turned it down far enough to be able to comfortably hear the voice-over, it sounded really wimpy and annoying.

I haven't turned down a client outright yet, but I have refused to do further revisions unless the client take the action I requested (like supply a clean mix, which they never do). I've also asked clients not to contact me again about doing future work. It's interesting how the most demanding clients are also the least accommodating (and the most likely to stiff you on the bill).
Old 11th November 2017
  #5
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Justin P.'s Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by wado1942 View Post
I haven't turned down a client outright yet,
It's rare for me but it does happen. I recently turned down what would have been a bigger project for me with some great music but the mix guy was sending me brick-walled mixes and I knew the artist/client was really passionate about the vinyl sounding great.

I tried to explain why this isn't a good starting point for mastering any format really, and how even the unmastered mixes were too smashed to be vinyl friendly and were already well over the loudness threshold of most streaming service normalization.

The mix engineer's response was that he'd rather be out surfing than learn about this stuff.

I couldn't in good conscious tell the client I could do good work for him so I passed on the project as due to the mix engineer's attitude, the project had headache written all over it from the the very first email.
Old 11th November 2017
  #6
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I have 2 rules about this:

1. Send the mixes you love.

2. Don't overcook it purely for the sake of loudness.

If the limiter is baked into the mix and there for aesthetic reasons, it can be problematic to take it off. If it's there just for loudness or overdone, this can compromise the mastering. I find it's possible to improve an overcooked mix a little, but it can be a PITA.
Old 11th November 2017
  #7
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MontyMakesMusic's Avatar
 

If it sounds good it's fine.
Just leave room for the mastering engineer to work.
Old 11th November 2017
  #8
Send both mixes (with and without limiter) and tell your ME why you like more the limited mix and what you expect.

That way ME can decide which mix to start to work with.

Communication is the key
Old 11th November 2017
  #9
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when qiven the choice of limited or unlimited mixes i always choose the un versions.

i tell the client that we've got all the level you need right here in mastering.

if there's no option, and limited is the only "choice" then i go with it,

and make the best of it.

don't remember the last time we turned down a mastering gig, if ever.

jt
Old 11th November 2017
  #10
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teebaum's Avatar
if you know what you're doing, you can also set a limiter on the mix. but unfortunately, this is done almost exclusively by inexperienced technicians, whereas the experienced engineers have no need for it.
if you have to prove yourself in shotouts, the temptation as a mixer is of course great, at the end you have to tear up the heights and set a limiter - in order to look good against the other candidates.
sent to the masteringstudio, but the version without limiter belongs. these can be given with the message that the customer has accepted this version.
Old 11th November 2017
  #11
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Anything goes, but I prefer unlimited where possible, catching the odd 0.5db a few times during the mixdown isn’t to bad. But the worst ones are the one where the ceiling is dialed in to -5dB, but there is a squashed sauggage pressed against that ceiling. Shaving of 3 to 8dB constantly > mixdown ruined.
It has nothing to do with being close to 0dB, but everything with ruined transients and a trainwreck of a crest factor that leaves very little to work with. Sending stuff in with a limiter will LIMIT your result.
Sending in home masters doesn’t really help, we KNOW what you want, but we do it tighter and better balanced, so the homebrew is often more a courtesy eating away time. We communicate, talk a bit about reference tracks and take things from there.

Last edited by Analogue Mastering; 11th November 2017 at 03:51 PM..
Old 11th November 2017
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Analogue Mastering View Post
catching the odd 0.5db a few times during the mixdown isn’t to bad.
Yes, but better yet, save the "in the box" render/bounce as 32-bit float instead of 24-bit and any stray peaks are fully preserved for the mastering engineer to work with.

Last edited by Justin P.; 11th November 2017 at 04:21 PM..
Old 11th November 2017
  #13
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Not quite, when you export as 32bit float all bits above 24bits fixed are empty.
32bits float only works ITB before mixdown/export AFAIK
Reimporting a 32bit float file doesn’t give you the same headroom back as the session, but a 24bits fixed session
Old 11th November 2017
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Analogue Mastering View Post
Not quite, when you export as 32bit float all bits above 24bits fixed are empty.
32bits float only works ITB before mixdown/export AFAIK
Reimporting a 32bit float file doesn’t give you the same headroom back as the session, but a 24bits fixed session
It's not true.. you can perfectly represent overs in 32 bit float format and if you do export/bounce from a DAW with floating point mixbus, then those values over digital zero are preserved.
After import of those files back to another session or another floating point DAW, values are perfectly preserved - no clipping at new session, if you lower volume of those imported clips, peaks are still there.

There's one exception from that behavior, which is related to processing and plugins used during mixdown.
Some plugins intentionally clips any audio over digital zero even when used in floating point DAW. This apply to all dithering effects, some plugins with soft clipping at output stage or various enhancers like Sonnox Inflator for example (there is switchable option for that).
So when those plugin are at buses or someone forget about those in session, then of course export to floating point file doesn't preserve peaks, because it's already clipped before export.

Michal
Old 11th November 2017
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by msmucr View Post
It's not true.. you can perfectly represent overs in 32 bit float format and if you do export/bounce from a DAW with floating point mixbus, then those values over digital zero are preserved.
After import of those files back to another session or another floating point DAW, values are perfectly preserved - no clipping at new session, if you lower volume of those imported clips, peaks are still there.

There's one exception from that behavior, which is related to processing and plugins used during mixdown.
Some plugins intentionally clips any audio over digital zero even when used in floating point DAW. This apply to all dithering effects, some plugins with soft clipping at output stage or various enhancers like Sonnox Inflator for example (there is switchable option for that).
So when those plugin are at buses or someone forget about those in session, then of course export to floating point file doesn't preserve peaks, because it's already clipped before export.

Michal
Not only that, but if you have a da <> ad loop in there for for example an external conpressor, you’re back to 24 bits too. There are many examples where this can go wrong.
Old 11th November 2017
  #16
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I'm speaking of completely "in the box" mixes as mentioned which is usually what is happening in these cases. Most people using an analog loop on their mix bus understand the proper gain staging if if they don't then yes, we're stuck with 24-bit audio that could be clipped/limited. When working 100% in the box, if there are some stray peaks that exceed 0dBFS, if the mix/bounce/render etc. is saved as 32-bit floating rather than 24-bit, the peaks will be perfectly preserved assuming no digital plugin is creating a ceiling.

If there are plugins on the master bus that create a ceiling such as Sonnox Inflator as mentioned, then of course those would limit or shave the peaks off at 0dBFS but generally speaking, I'd prefer the client send a 32-bit float mix with a few peaks over 0dBFS rather than a 24-bit WAV with some clipping/limiting happening.

Then I can adjust the level as needed before starting with no compromise.

I once had a client send me some insanely loud mixes, something like peaks at +13 but since they were 32-bit float, all the peak info was there.

Now how it sounding coming out of his 24-bit interface for monitoring is another story (probably bad), but the point is, the peak info was all there to work from even though it initially looked like a disaster.
Old 11th November 2017
  #17
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Yes for ITB you are 100% correct here: only if the clipping is a result of daw summing gain and there are no plugins on the masterbus with a 0dB ceiling, internal 24bit resolution or other limiting factors. You then can indeed pull the volume down “restoring” the waveform below the 0db ceiling. My bad, I was still hung up on the limiter, hence my confusion.

Good call!
Old 11th November 2017
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Analogue Mastering View Post
Not only that, but if you have a da <> ad loop in there for for example an external conpressor, you’re back to 24 bits too. There are many examples where this can go wrong.
Yes, of course, but similarly like Justin already wrote, I believe, people with analog chain are aware of some analog/digital level alignment and watch the peaks.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Justin P. View Post
...
Now how it sounding coming out of his 24-bit interface for monitoring is another story (probably bad), but the point is, the peak info was all there to work from even though it initially looked like a disaster.
Exactly.. peaks are preserved. I've mentioned that mainly because we're discussing bypass of limiter for alternate bounce during mixdown.
For example.. under normal circumstances, when mixing engineer or artist works "through" the limiter at later stage of mix.. the limiter plugin naturally catches all the peaks. But, when he would like to export the working version for ME, clipping might occur, so export to floating point format is easiest way, how to prevent that.

Michal
Old 11th November 2017
  #19
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Good points both, I should recommend this more often, might often be easier than removing the limiter and turn the fader down enough not to clip.
Caution though where there are other plugs on the masterbus, those might need removing as well depending on their capabilities/characteristics.
Old 11th November 2017
  #20
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wado1942's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Analogue Mastering View Post
Sending in home masters doesn’t really help, we KNOW what you want, but we do it tighter and better balanced, so the homebrew is often more a courtesy eating away time.
I remember doing some preproduction consulting with a local band and they talked about how on their previous record, they wanted to hire a big name mastering engineer and in order to seem as professional as possible, they did a home brew mastering job to make his job easier. I told them they just made his job harder and they were lucky to wind up with results they liked.

I think most temptation to mix with a limiter on the main buss (or compressor) would be eliminated if people calibrated their monitors to THX standard levels. I don't even pay attention to the peak meters on my DAW because I know the monitors/converters are set up for ample headroom and somewhat loud but comfortable listening SPL.
Old 11th November 2017
  #21
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It depends. A lot of people like the sound of an L2. I've found that if you just put the L2 on the bass and sometimes the bass drum with no limiting at all, you can get the same effect without an L2 on the whole mix. If the limiter is rebalancing the mix, you might want to play with the balance so it's as good with or without the limiter so the balance can't get screwed up by broadcast limiting after it has been mastered.
Old 11th November 2017
  #22
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What techniques can a mastering engineer use to try to restore peaks lost during mix limiting?

I'm guessing reduce overall volume and use upwards expansion, or even some light transient processing (increase attack)?
Old 11th November 2017
  #23
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Bob Olhsson's Avatar
 

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I've always found attempts to expand peaks make me feel seasick.
Old 11th November 2017
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MogwaiBoy View Post
What techniques can a mastering engineer use to try to restore peaks lost during mix limiting?

I'm guessing reduce overall volume and use upwards expansion, or even some light transient processing (increase attack)?
A little of that, perhaps. A little normal compression, timed and set up right. Same with parallel processing, set up right to bring up peaks 'from underneath'.

I find dynamic eq/split band compression or expansion useful - think 'reducing crud' which had previously been contributing to the flatness. This leaves space (or at least the impression of space) for other nicer aspects, and make it all feel more open and dynamic. The Gyraf G21 is absolutely second to none in this regard.

The right amounts of all the above, and things can sound pretty good. Albeit with that layer of fuzzy shoite you're never going to get rid of.
Old 11th November 2017
  #25
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The only dynamics restoration tool I've ever had reasonable success with was Stereo Tool:
https://www.stereotool.com

I was sent a single song to master from a fairly well-known person and of course it was extremely brick-walled already and no change of him undoing it (ego/fear). I was about to turn the job down but decided to try an experiment because I really liked the band, had worked with them before, and wanted to continue working with them.

I was able to use Stereo Tool to "un-brickwall" the mix and then more or less do my usual mastering process.

The artist ended up liking my master more than the version done by the mix engineer's go-to mastering person.

The song eventually became part of an EP with some songs mixed by this well known mix engineer (all smashed already) and some mixed by the band themselves. The band acknowledged that while they like a lot things about the mixes of the well known mix engineer, they preferred the feel of the mixes they did themselves which in the end sounded really nice and pure/natural on the EP master while the other songs they didn't mixed were just a bit too over-cooked.

The well-known mix engineers mixes were really nice, but I think he ruined their full-potential by brick-walling them before mastering.
Old 12th November 2017
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MogwaiBoy View Post
What techniques can a mastering engineer use to try to restore peaks lost during mix limiting?

I'm guessing reduce overall volume and use upwards expansion, or even some light transient processing (increase attack)?
I've tried a lot of things, including trying to invent some processes of my own, but nothing can bring back what is lost. What I wind up doing with badly damaged mixes is work as light-handed as possible, generally using linear-phase EQ and concentrating mostly on the top end, reducing the crackle of digital clipping while retaining or bringing out some clarity. Even that increases the crest factor, so I usually wind up delivering masters that are .5-1dB lower than the crushed mixes but nobody really notices.

That brings me to another point; most people won't notice a level difference of 1dB but pushing something 1dB more into limiting or clipping can cause very audible degradation. Like, I find most rock mixes start falling apart above -10dBfs RMS. Most people these days want -4dB, but delivering -5dB will sound much better without anybody thinking it's "too quiet". Man, I hate this job some times. When -6 became the norm, I thought "OK there's no doubt this sounds terrible. Everything pumps and crackles constantly, it HAS to start going back the other way now." Boy was I wrong. This is coming from a guy that doesn't normally swear, but WHY THE #*@& does a chick singing to a piano need to constantly pump and crackle?! How does anybody think that's a quality product?
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