Old 05-10-2018, 10:13 AM   #1
CrashAlpha
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Default Mixdown distortion

I searched this forum for "mixdown distortion" so forgive me if this is an old topic.

I was looking for advice on how to avoid mixdown distortion. I am sure that there are people who will just say, "turn everything down and stop trying for loudness" - but obviously there are people who get away this for genres that are really suited to loudness.

The issue I am talking about is that which arises when - regardless of being careful with over-compressing and limiting on each channel - the summed result sounds distorted because the limited master output causes the summed tracks to effectively create square waves. For some reason, there are times when I don't hear this when monitoring the summed master, but DO hear it when rendering (perhaps this is an MP3 issue, though).

I read this article which was informative as to the WHY this happens, but really didn't give me a clear idea of a methodology to consistently deal with it outside of the confines of the example used: https://www.musicradar.com/tuition/t...d-clear-633251
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Old 05-10-2018, 02:08 PM   #2
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If a limiter on the master is producing unwanted distortion on your mix, for goodness sake take it off (or back it off). If you're wedded to some kind of "creative" limiting, and you've got (say) some distortion on your bass, try tweaking the release time (longer, probably). Consider a lower ratio (compression rather than limiting?) - you may still get the effect you want, with less side-effect.

If you're after some kind of pumping thing, maybe do it at the track or buss level rather than across the entire mix?

If you're limiting for loudness - don't do it while you're mixing. Turn your monitors up! Or maybe, use some limiting while setting up your mix but take it off before you render, and then maybe treat mastering as a separate step...

If you're "mastering" and you find limiting (or broadband compression) isn't working consider multiband compression. Don't try to do everything with one limiter - stack up a couple - let some peaks past the first and catch them with the second (consider the attack / release times here)

If you're trying to maximise loudness try a plugin designed specifically for that job - or more than one :-)

If mp3s are coming back with some kind of peak distortion (but lossless files are OK) consider rendering mp3 a little less hot.
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Old 05-14-2018, 08:28 AM   #3
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Thanks, I've used these techniques to various degrees. The article I had posted was discussing a new approach which I didn't understand and was wondering if anyone did.
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Old 05-14-2018, 08:57 AM   #4
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are you using the limiter to avoid overs on the Master Bus?

Don't do that!

internally, REAPER works at 64 bit depth, you can't clip it. Instead of a Limter, just use the Master fader, or I prefer to use a simple gain plugin and keep the master fader at unity.

It's good practice to simply not run everything so hot into the master. This is one benefit of using a non 0db Pan law (-2.5 is my preference). You need to be mindful of your Folder and bussing hierarchy in this case though, so best to just start a mix with that and not try to switch mid mix.


Go for "Loud" in Mastering. you're less likely to mess things up.
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Old 05-14-2018, 08:58 AM   #5
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Quote:
I was looking for advice on how to avoid mixdown distortion. I am sure that there are people who will just say, "turn everything down and stop trying for loudness" - but obviously there are people who get away this for genres that are really suited to loudness.
FWIW: I don't know of many genres that are truly suited to over compression.

Moving on... That's because enough limiting IS distortion and you are going to have to accept some tradeoff. Case in point...

A good friend of mine, highly respected local musician and studio owner called me frantically this past Saturday... "I've got to get these masters out and it's distorted, I've never had this issue, can you help me?" I said "Of course, come on over, bring the original and mastered tracks over and fret not, we'll figure this out in a jiffy".

Before I listen to anything, I drop one of the tracks in Reaper (original and mastered versions)...



I playback a bit of the mastered track and immediately asked.. "Can I assume you are crushing this mix because the client gave you reference tracks and those are commercially crushed?" His answer was yes so I took a quick listen to the non-mastered track, it sounded fan-farking-tastic.

Comparing his mastered track to the commercial reference track, his crushed track was still less smashed than the reference. The commercial track was around -8 LUFS, his mastered track -11 LUFS, his non-mastered track -19 LUFS. As it turns out what he was hearing was the limiting distortion due to smashing away 9 db of dynamics and some attack/release time tweaks that were needed. However, in all cases his tracks sounded better in every way than the commercial tracks - go figure.

The point I'm rambling towards is there will be a point where if you need it that smashed you can get it only so good and have to live with some of what comes with applying actual distortion via limiting. You may be able to avoid some but not all of this by compressing individual tracks so there is less smashing on the master but again, this can only go so far. The less used to smashing DR one is, the more sensitive one is to the effect.

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Old 05-14-2018, 09:57 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by James HE View Post
are you using the limiter to avoid overs on the Master Bus?

Don't do that!

internally, REAPER works at 64 bit depth, you can't clip it.
Yes, I do just that. I'm wary of clips, especially since Reaper's clip indicators are sticky (it's been a while since I've looked into this to see if it can be changed) but all of my buss/folders and faders are dialed back to avoid touching the clips as much as possible. It had never occurred to me that you can't clip at 64 bit depth - do you mean this figuratively or literally?
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Old 05-14-2018, 10:41 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by karbomusic View Post
The point I'm rambling towards is there will be a point where if you need it that smashed you can get it only so good and have to live with some of what comes with applying actual distortion via limiting.
FWIW my output doesn't look like the crushed master you showed me, but neither does it look like the "before" version - the mix I am concerned with never goes above -1DB, and while it has a dynamic un-crushed shape (i.e. not a solid rectangular bar), it's solid black look suggested that I needed to look at "protective" limiting in the submixes.

I appreciate everyone's advice.
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Old 05-14-2018, 10:47 PM   #8
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Yes, I do just that. I'm wary of clips, especially since Reaper's clip indicators are sticky (it's been a while since I've looked into this to see if it can be changed) but all of my buss/folders and faders are dialed back to avoid touching the clips as much as possible. It had never occurred to me that you can't clip at 64 bit depth - do you mean this figuratively or literally?
literally. But you will clip your converters when monitoring and certainly the mix down will be clipped as well.

Take the limiter off. Mixing into a comp or limiter is fine, and usually preferred, but it's generally for some character on the mix. You shouldn't be trying to push your levels up that high when mixing. Back off the gain.

Quote:
...I am sure that there are people who will just say, "turn everything down and stop trying for loudness" - but obviously there are people who get away this for genres that are really suited to loudness.
the people who are getting away with this are mixing at reasonable levels well below clipping, and probably paying a mastering Engineer to get the track LOUD.

Just concentrate on making a good mix. Render it to wave (not to mp3) You can do your own Mastering for other formats from there.
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Old 05-15-2018, 05:27 AM   #9
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Thanks, I've used these techniques to various degrees. The article I had posted was discussing a new approach which I didn't understand and was wondering if anyone did.
It's gobbledygook. Probably best to ignore it.
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Old 05-15-2018, 05:34 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by karbomusic View Post
FWIW: I don't know of many genres that are truly suited to over compression.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zm669nGBxbs
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Old 05-15-2018, 06:04 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by jrk View Post
LOL, it would be thumpin' minus all that pillowy pumpin'.

To the OP, your screenshot still shows lots of compression, you're still faced with the tradeoff I mentioned. I'm not telling you not to do it, just saying nothing is for free in audio.

Quote:
the people who are getting away with it
It still sounds like shit. I tested this out on various unsuspecting, non-musician subjects a few years back, they all chose the more dynamic content 100% of the time and claimed the smashed content hurt their ears 100% of the time, in most cases they didn't even know it was at test and to this day don't know I tested them. It's an actual discomfort to the ears with music that is compressed that much due to the distortion - it also vastly limits the duration one can listen comfortably which I find ironic for people making music we expect others to listen to.

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Old 05-15-2018, 06:20 AM   #12
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LOL, it would be thumpin' minus all that pillowy pumping.
It went platinum in the UK and did two weeks at no 1 on the Billboard Dance Club chart. Maybe they're right, and we're wrong? :-)
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Old 05-15-2018, 06:25 AM   #13
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It went platinum in the UK and did two weeks at no 1 on the Billboard Dance Club chart. Maybe they're right, and we're wrong? :-)
People suffered through a bad mix of a good song without ever having a choice. IOW it's musical popularity has nothing to do with it's sonic mistreatment. It's an easy mental trap to fall into and that very trap creates the fear that keeps it going (for some).
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Old 05-15-2018, 06:40 AM   #14
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It's an easy mental trap to fall into and that very trap creates the fear that keeps it going (for some).
I (genuinely) respect your confidence in your own judgement. I remember the days when I was so sure of myself. Long gone. :-(
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Old 05-15-2018, 07:15 AM   #15
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I (genuinely) respect your confidence in your own judgement. I remember the days when I was so sure of myself. Long gone. :-(
The "mental trap" comment wasn't directed at you (as much reflection as anything).

At the ripe old age of 54... I have nothing to gain debating it, nor do I have any say in other people's choices (they are free to master however they wish!) but I do think it is important that people understand the effect, why it's used and it's shortcomings. There are lots of over-compressed songs that are current that I LOVE but I can't listen more than about one or two plays due to the distortion.

It does have one benefit, and that's the creation of a partial 'illusion' of it being cranked up and sounding great when at a fairly low volume, but beyond that, it's creates ear fatiuge, not the subjective type, the physical type.

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Old 05-17-2018, 02:36 AM   #16
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What Limiter do you use for starters?

I use AOM invisible Limiter and it does what it says on the tin(there are newer ones that are even more transparent apparently). But I've found as my mixing has improved over the years and I've learnt to control transients correctly in the mix and level the bass end properly that I can achieve competitive LUFS levels with very little limiting gain reduction.

Obviously I'm not going silly with LUF levels but have analysed some recent releases and -12 LUFS is a healthy median for home mastering.

Never have mixed with a limiter on the masterbuss though, I think people do that to help them gauge problems in the mix, ie transients or energy that is spiking the limiter into action. Deal with them in the mix, by limiting individual tracks and clipping the offending transients, or softening with a transient designer/compressor, some tape plugins are great at dealing with transients. This sounds much better than allowing a limiter to do the work and introducing artefacts over the entire mix.

But really if you are having to push a limiter into distortion to get a competitive loudness then the problem is either the plugin is not well designed, or that you're mixes are bass heavy. In my experience of my own mix journey the latter is the most likely culprit.

What sort of gain reduction on your limiter are you typically getting to achieve your loudness?
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Old 05-17-2018, 06:16 AM   #17
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Never have mixed with a limiter on the masterbuss though, I think people do that to help them gauge problems in the mix, ie transients or energy that is spiking the limiter into action. Deal with them in the mix, by limiting individual tracks and clipping the offending transients, or softening with a transient designer/compressor, some tape plugins are great at dealing with transients. This sounds much better than allowing a limiter to do the work and introducing artefacts over the entire mix.
Just a note that using compression or limiting on the master mix is all to do with awareness, if the limiter is constantly working, it doesn't really matter if it's on the master mix track or the master of the mastering project. Artifacts are the often result over over-limiting regardless of where it occurs. IOW, anyone with experience will know if the problem is the tracks themselves or the master track.

I tend to slowly build a full mastering chain during the lifetime of the mix, with the option of removing it at mastering time (if I'm going to have several songs to master) or leaving it if it's the only song. I think the only time having it on the mix is a problem is if someone is unaware, if they are aware it actually helps with the mastering process as the mix decisions take it's effect into account but I've seen many do it successfully both ways. In a recent project, I mixed with full mastering for almost the entire mix, when I removed the mix mastering chain when moving to the mastering project, they still sounded great though I had never really heard them that way up until that point - but that's because I wasn't over-limiting anywhere, anytime which is often the real culprit.

-12 isn't bad btw, IMHO it's on that edge but not necessarily over it. I like -14 better but that's YMMV.

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