Composing : Thursday Plugin: Mastering Limiter by Samuel Estes

Samuel Estes

Thursday Plugin: Mastering Limiter

Happy Thursday All! To follow up from last week, I thought we should look at a mastering limiter. A limiter really serves two purposes. 1) To keep your audio from going over a certain level and 2) to keep the softer program material and bring it up, sort of a way of "expanding" the quiet bits so your track is not overly dynamic and can fit in a nice range of "volume". Just as in my previous post there is so much content and so many different types of limiters out there it is really hard to explain which each one does. For the purposes of this feature - I'd like to show you McDSP's ML4000 (it comes with the ML1 and ML4) . I want to focus on the ML1, otherwise known as a brick-wall limiter. Boring Stuff: ---- Lets look at some basic terms: Peak vs Program (RMS), Threshold, Ceiling, Knee, Release Peak: These are the quick loud bursts of sound (like a big hit, snare hit, boom, etc) Program (RMS): this is the "average" volume of a track. With all compressors/limiters you have something called a threshold. This is basically a setting in which when the "volume" of the track is approaching a set "level" (or threshold), the limiter/compressor will start to react/respond. So say you set a threshold to -10db, when the volume of your mix is louder than -10db, then the limiter will be active and "compress" the sound by a set ratio (can be 1:2, 1:5, 1:10, 1:20, etc). In this case - a simple 1:10 ration would mean for every 1 decibel that is over the threshold it will compress it down by a factor of 10. For example: if your track is peaking at -5db and you put a limiter set to a threshold of -10db, at a 1:10 ratio, then the actual volume coming out at those peaks is -9.5db, not -5db. Ceiling is a "hard or brick-wall limiter" which means that the material will NEVER get above that value, it will "squash" the sound so you do not have any overages, or clipping. Usually I set mine to -0.1 db. Knee, is what happens before the threshold. A soft knee would start "compressing" the mix before it hits the threshold, a "hard" knee doesn't do any compression before the threshold value. Release - after the volume of your mix goes below the threshold, this is how long it will take for the compression to stop. It's a gradual thing, so if you are having a lot of fluttering happening, because the volumes are constantly floating around your threshold, increasing this value will often help with that. --- So how do you use the ML1? (or any limiter) I use this plugin in two stages of my mix. One on the track, and one on the final bus (as a brick-wall limiter) Obviously this depends on the style of music I am mixing/writing, but its a good qualifier. On the track, I use it to level out the program material and soften peaks that may mess up my mix, and on the final bus, I just use it so I don't get overages or distorted clips. Whats nice about the ML1 is that as you move the threshold to a lower value it will essentially start acting as a auto-leveler, meaning it will actually start bringing up the softer material, roughly equal to the difference of the ceiling. I'ts a great effect to really level out that softer material. Here is a really good in-depth discussion/tips on how to use the ML1: Any questions? Next week I'll go into a multi-band compressor situation - highlighting OZONE 6! -Sam

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