Limiting during tracking?

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by foldedpath, Feb 19, 2005.

  1. foldedpath

    foldedpath Guest

    Hi all. This seems like a good place to ask about this. I record mostly acoustic music. Sometimes I record other performers (usually vocals, violin or piano), but more often I’m recording myself playing acoustic steel string guitar, acoustic baritone, classical guitar, various resonator slide guitars, snare drum and brushes, assorted hand percussion, etc.

    I can easily set and monitor levels when recording others, but when I’m recording myself, I don’t like to be constantly distracted by glancing over at the A/D input meter, looking for blinky red lights. So I just set the levels low enough not to worry about it. But sometimes that gives me a little less level than I’d like for mixing, and sometimes I get a little too enthusiastic or out of position relative to the mics, and clip the A/D. The level-setting twitchiness is probably exacerbated by close-micing, but the main room I record in has too much ambient noise to pull the mics back very far. I need to work on that, but it’s not going to improve anytime soon.

    So here’s the question. How bad would it be to use an outboard limiter to clamp the peaks? And do you have to go all the way up to the high-end gear like STC-8, etc. to get a transparent enough limiter for "purist" acoustic recording, or are there less expensive solutions? Or are these things damaging enough not to fool with at all? I haven't had a chance to use any high-end limiters so I don't know what's possible.

    P.S. and do any of you here use a limiter as a safety net for recording live classical performance (not sessions)? Or is that verboten? I've always been curious about that.

    Mike Barrs
  2. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    I would avoid any gain manipulation IF you are in 24-bit. If you peak at -48dBFS in 24-bit, that is the SAME as 0dBFS in 16-bit.

    If you are in 16-bit then things are different, then peak limit as needed, but in general it is best to not commit to anything permanent that is not neccesary. Are you recording into a DAW or standalone recorder?

    I record in 24-bit and do not want to see peaks any higher than -10 or -15dBFS This gives me room to add reverb and do other DSP things that may yield a gain increase. In my DAW I have over 90dB of gain available, so this is not the issue it used to be.

  3. foldedpath

    foldedpath Guest

    I'm recording 24-bit into a DAW. So I guess I shouldn't worry about keeping the levels lower. I want to try using a few nearby rooms with better acoustics, but I won't be able to monitor the input meters. So I was curious about how people felt about this. Thanks for the feedback.

    Mike Barrs
  4. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Be aware that limiting while recording is like squeezing toothpaste out of the tube. Let it out a bit and you aren't going to get it back in. If you record with the limiter doing too much of the work, you can do irreversable harm to your sound. Setting the gain lower so that your peaks aren't any higher than -6 or even -10 is a much safer method of preserving the sound when you record.

  5. honestly, for me, this kind of mentality is the problem with modern music/software recording. unless you are looking for some sort of odd sonic picture, limiting during recording is an absurd practice. there is absolutely no reason for not turning it down 3-5 dB or whatever it is you need.

    ask yourself what made the records of the last 50 years great. if one thinks ANY artist until the mid 90's was limiting multiple tracks during tracking, they are seriously fooling themselves. it wasn't even an option. people are losing perspective and this is ruining music.

    i feel pretty strongly about this, but i'm just another asshole i guess. sorry if anyone's offended.

  6. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    no offense taken at all Andrew; you wont get any argument here. I haven't used a limiter on live gigs in decades. Never really DID, actually; aside from rare instances where something (non-musicial, perhaps - an announcer or something - had to be tamed as it went to tape..)

    With proper level set, even with plenty of available headroom, it should all be fine. It's a myth among some that the best S/N ratio has to be achieved by running everything as HOT as possible, right up to/below peaking. Recording at 24/96 and with 90db of usuable dynamic range is more than most could ever take advantage of.

    If more people took the time to figure this out, and work their recordings that way, we'd have a MUCH better sound crop of recordings out there, including what passes for pop and rock nowadays.
  7. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    I will occasionally compress/limit to "tape" but it is rare and always for a reason... On occasion, I'll find that a bass or some other instrument sounds great going through a tube chain in the recording (ie Vac Rac preamp to a 1076 limiter)- something that will be nearly impossible to replicate in mixdown. Since I record ensembles live, I'll be pretty darned close in my mix even if I multitrack- the multitrack is just to tweak things and get the product from 90% of what I want to that full 100% of what is possible.

    I will never limit a lot in case I need more in the mix and I will never limit to prevent overs. That is what the gain structure of a recording is for.

    Thought I should clarify. :D

  8. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    When doing our live concert recording, our CDR live burn for the artists on the night always uses compression, about 1.6:1 from that fantastic toolbox, the TC Gold Channel.

    Because our main recorders are set cool and the fact that we want to only feed the little CD Burner digitally, due to its woeful analog inputs, and the fact that the artists often listen to the disk in the car back to the airport or on the plane back to Europe, then compression makes sense.

    I never record with any processing on the master recorder.
  9. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    I almost never compress or limit drums but for vocals, bass and guitars ... I almost always knock a few dBs off with an EL OP (vocal - bass) or a LA4 (guitars) ... I just like the way it sounds.

    I also like to hit at least -6dB on the DAW inputs... Once again, it just seems to work better when it comes to mix time. It sounds to me like things get ragged at mix when I have to boost a lot of tracks above 0.0 dB gain on the channel faders... like the extra math processing the processor has to do, to boost the gain on all those channels, is detrimental to the sound.
  10. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    During tracking for symphonic or even chamber works, I never use a limiter. However, in editing and mastering, I use a limiter almost always. This doesn't mean that the music hits it always, I just keep it on. With broad dynamic range music, such as some of the Copland stuff I just did, I don't want the rest of the piece to sound quiet just because there is a massive BD and Cymbal attack later in the piece. And of course, manual gain riding is an option, but if overdone, it can sound far worse than some judicious brick wall limiting for those occassional spikes.

    So, to make a long story short - no, limiting acoustic music during tracking isn't a fantastic idea (IMO), but limiters do have their place.

  11. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    yes indeed, there are often times when there is a lot of what I call "useless peaks" - dumb things that drive down the usable area because of unusual overal high peak - sometimes it's applause, or an occasional percussion peak or something. After I've bounced eveything down to a stereo mix, I then take a serious look at any false-peaks that really don't translate into anything useful.

    At that point, I may either draw it out with the pencil tool, or use a fast-attack limiter (if it's something musical), to tame it. I often split an object, say perhaps a piece of music with applause at the end. If the applause is disproportionally higher (due to mic placement, etc.) I can easily do a smooth crossfade from one to the other, allowing max levels of the music, unaffected by the peak of the applause.

    Always easier to bring it UP a bit than try to remove serious clipping.
  12. foldedpath

    foldedpath Guest

    Not offended, but I didn't say anything in the first post about smashing the music. This was about using it as a safety net in a particular situation.

    One of the recordings pointed out in a prior thread here as a paragon of live acoustic recording -- the Wailin' Jenny's radio broadcast demo -- used an SF-24 "fed into a set of VacRack electro-optical limiters linked for stereo and set for 3 dB of limiting to be safe." (according to the web site). It was a question about that sort of application, and I was curious how many people here used it that way. Anyway, thanks to everyone for the feedback.

    Mike Barrs
  13. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    the Wailin' Jenny's radio broadcast demo -- used an SF-24 "fed into a set of VacRack electro-optical limiters linked for stereo and set for 3 dB of limiting to be safe." (according to the web site).

    That is a fantastic recording, and hard to argue with whatever production went into it. I assumed the (mild) limiting was done because it was going to be broadcast. In this case, perhaps it was smarter to do their OWN peak limiting ahead of any radio station's processing. It obviously worked, and sure doesn't sound like a "processed" recording to me.
  14. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    That recording was limited just a touch because it was going out on air and wasn't going to end up at the mastering house. The Vac Rac limiters are also amongst the most transparent analog limiters you'll ever hear- I've taken 8-10 dB out on instruments and you'd never know it listening.

    The guy that made that recording is one of my mentors here in LA and a genius engineer (and designer- he designed the Vac Rac line). The recording was made pretty much with a single microphone (plus a spot for the box on one or two pieces). Despite what the website may say, the limiting was done more for the sound that he could get out of it- not to protect against overs.

  15. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Ben, what was the rest of the signal chain, I agree its a fantastic recording.
  16. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    SF-24 and one R122 (on the box as a spot- the box placed in the "null" side of the SF-24). Vac Rac preamps for all three. Mixed on a Mackie 1604VLZ Pro (I believe- it was a VLZ Pro mackie of some sort), with a Lexicon MPX-1 for reverb.

    Stereo out sent through the Vac Rac limiters to add a touch of "radio spank" (pre optimod) and printed to a HHB CD Recorder.

    The left and right performers were about 2 feet out from the mic on the positive side and the center performer was also about 2 feet out on the negative side, but centered. Players were instructed that if they could see the other side of the mic, they needed to move so they couldn't. That is how the recording was able to work. The panning was hard left and right with the idea that physical position would determine the Left-Right placement in the stereo field and the spread.

    I know- old school... Depending on the players to ballance/tune themselves and using the microphones position to determine stereo image... :-?

  17. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    "old school," yes...but it sure did WORK. :cool:

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