Top level vs. Strong Dynamics?

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by ailgun, Sep 29, 2010.

  1. ailgun

    ailgun Active Member


    I have a big question about mastering my recordings. Thank you for starting to read.

    To start from the beginning I record everything cool enough at -20,-15 dB according to my Logic's MultiMeter. So a normal, quiet section would be very quiet after the bounce because the later-on parts of the track has really loud parts, and a really compressed vocal that cracks time to time. (It was a wanted effect) So that vocal hits to 0 dB and of course Logic normalizes according to that which leaves the earlier parts really quite.

    It's all about having a disturbingly loud section. And maintaining the overall volume.

    So I thought I can use L1-Ultramaximizer. I can increase the volume by dragging down the threshold and there is no audible distortion on the first parts, but when the loud-noisy part kicks in, there is lots of distortion going on. What is the function of this plug-in if it causes distortion where it should be activated?

    Now I can go to my original file and increase the volume of the hole first part, track by track, till they get close to 0 dB too. But I have to add gain. The slider on my Logic should go above 0 dB. Which never should. That's another paradox.

    Here I have uploaded the track, in case you want to check it out;
    Welcome to MindFire Academy

    I would be most grateful for a detailed answer.

    Kind regards,
  2. CDSoundMaster

    CDSoundMaster Active Member

    Programs like L1 help control levels and prevent overs and are typically refered to as 'brickwall' limiting because they stop anything that goes over the set level. But, for drastically wide dynamic range, a very obvious audible negative effect will be heard even from the best limiting program. If it were a matter of a few dB's difference adn the loudest portion caused distortion, you can change the limiter from automatic release (I think they call it arc) and use a longer release time which generally changes the character of the sound but produces less distortion.
    The best thing to do is to decide the dynamics that you want the song to have before doing pseudo mastering. Let's say that you like the mix in the quiet section(s) and you like the mix in the loud section(s), but you are not happy with the difference in volume from one to another. The best thing to do for the mix would be to mix it with headroom preventing overs for the loud portion, and use at least 24 bit, 32bit is better considering the quietness of the lower volume areas. Then, highlight the quiet portion(s) and raise it by the number of dB's that sound correct in relation to the loud portion. That means, don't change it file by file, track by track in your multi-session, but adjust it on the mix. A program like Wavelab can work in song sectors easily, or you can take the mix, place it on 2 stereo tracks in a new daw session, and use volume envelopes to highlight the loud and quiet portions. Turn the loud track down a little and bring the whole mix level up a little. In this case, going +dB's at master to raise things while still below digital zero is fine. This way you are not destroying the loud portion with a limiter to bring up the quiet sections. Just bring the quiet section up or reduce the loud parts down, then do a final master with much less limiting.
  3. ailgun

    ailgun Active Member

    Thank you very much for your answer.

    I have set the loud part to peak at 0 dB. (Only at a small part it goes to 0.1 dB but I'm the brick wall limiter can handle it smoothly) And the quiet section peaks around -8 dB. So I assume the listener should adjust his/her listening volume according to -8 dB and when the loud part kicks in 'woah!' =)

    Other than that (This is little off topic) may I ask why does my overall volume increases when I drag down the threshold. Why does the volume change when I change the level where the limiter should be actitaved? And what's the difference between 'Out Ceiling' and 'Threshold'? Out Ceiling is the maximum level that the signal can reach and after that all is cut, right?

    Then what is threshold? And is it healthly to increase the volume until we hear a distortion on louder parts?

    Thanks again, and sorry for being a newbie.

  4. CDSoundMaster

    CDSoundMaster Active Member

    You are welcome. Everyone is a newbie at one time. If we never asked questions we could remain newbies! :)

    It is actually worth it to lower the whole mix now to clear that .1dB before running to the L1.
    The truth is that digital has a ceiling of 0dB and when we go beyond that, we can't trust the recording of that, say, on a CD or mp3, to not distort. Yes, the L1 can catch it, but depending on its interaction with the preferences in your DAW it may not avoid even that 1/10th dB clipping before it reads the signal.

    The L1 compresses by the amount of signal and threshold. Usually, a compressor has a few typical functions:
    Usually a comp has:
    Attack, Release, Ratio, and Threshold, and sometimes things like Look Ahead and Make Up Gain.
    Usually, Attack would tell how fast it reacts to a signal, Release tells how long to wait until letting go of the signal once attack starts, threshold tells us how many dB deep into the signal we want our compression to go, and the ratio would stand for how much compression we want to take place in relation to the weight of the file aka (a 1:1 ratio would be no compressing, a 2:1 ratio would be double that for the given threshold). When a ratio reaches its max amount, it is then said to be limiting, which means that it is in a state of always controlling a certain amount of peak volume from going beyond a threshold point.
    The L1 is in the world of brickwall limiters where the right position is the ceiling volume chosen and the left position is a single control for the entire algo under the hood for how much to compress the signal. Instead of controlling overs or balancing between low and high volume sections, people often use it to squash the whole recording, which is a short cut to trying to match the volume of modern mastered records. Unfortunately this causes more harm than good. There are several elements involved in a well-balanced, loud sounding master (even though it is almost guaranteed that we still wish it were several dB quieter), including balancing eq first before compressing or limiting (some always eq after comp- that is a methodology discussion), spacial characteristics like deciding to narrow or widen the stereo field of certain frequency ranges to give the sound proper placement or a bigger sound without more volume, and mid/side editing, etc. If these things are handled well, then very little final limiting is required.
    Use the L1 just a very small amount for the sound that it delivers in bringing things together if desired, but for the most part you want to decide the sound difference between the -8dB and 0dB yourself, so that the variation of quiet-loud sounds correct before limiting.
  5. ailgun

    ailgun Active Member

    Thank you very much for your detailed answer. I now realize what it is for.

    When I increase the Threshold of something it decreases the difference between average level and the peak level, squashing everything between 0dB and -5dB when it was between 0dB and -15dB. Killing all the dynamics, tightening the headroom. So any kind of brick wall limiters main function is 'Just in case', if you are not a slave of loudness war, right? (And if you have L1, you have IDR too)

    And I have read that some other brands limiters can increase the volume handling the headroom better than other brands. Is this true? I mean how can it differ? Isn't it pure mathematical equations?
  6. I suggest you will read the scientific tests done by those developers or reviews. If you search in Google for example "L2 wave reviews, test", you can read some tests done by the reviewers when they using those limiters.

    I am not claiming expertise in limiting and mastering, but the important in mastering is to have a balance between loudness (average SPL) and dynamics. In between, for me is the optimum. It is because if you compress too much such that it will sound very loud, then the dynamics will be affected, and the resulting sounds boring and dull. If you do not compress much, the recording is not very loud thus listeners may notice it when they play your CD along with loud CDs.

    Personally, I go for strong dynamics. Let the listeners turned their volume up and when its loud, they can still enjoy the dynamics in the recording. If your recording is already very loud, turning up the volume level makes no sense, and if it is forced, the dynamics is not that good and in worst scenario if the wave is clipped at 0 or even above 0dB, distortion can occur which not pleasant to hear.
  7. ailgun

    ailgun Active Member

    I see, but for example L1 has a preset called High Quality CD or something like that. It adds 3 dB from the start. I wonder from which point the headroom-dynamics start to suffer? Is adding 3 dB audiable at all? Or lets say I want to keep my mix as it is. It peaks at 0 dB at it's most loud point and I'm pretty happy with it's dynamics. So would I still need to use limiter in the end? No I guess, right?
  8. After mixdown, the wave before mastering should not be peaking at 0dB. Ideally, you should give some room for mastering. Personally after mixdown, I will checked out that my mixdown wave should be peaking -6dB to -3dB (peak). Then if you are using L1 which adds 3dB, by estimation, it is enough to increase the loudness while the dynamics is possibly not affected.

    This is just an opinion, the best measure comes from your ear. So if you apply L1 during the mastering stage, try to listen to the resulting wave very carefully. Does it have the dynamics which is intended for some parts of the song? Does it have the appropriate loudness level? The gears(L1, L2, etc) are meant to make mastering stage as convenient as it could be, but the final decision does not rest on relying the gears alone but you should use your ears.

    it is why mastering engineers have a well-trained ear they have acquired through years of practice, it is their most precious studio asset. If you still use the limiter while the wave peaks at 0, try to apply some limiting and then judge using your ear if the limiting does not drastically affect the dynamics.
  9. ailgun

    ailgun Active Member

    Hi, thanks for your reply.

    I see why mastering depends on ear so much, especially trying to deal it so much on the last 2-3 weeks and getting nowhere :)

    So now I have some new questions...

    1) I hear records with real dynamics yet they still are loudt than mine. I analyze them with Logic's Multi-Meter and I see that mostly what we call 'Quiet parts' peak at -3dB or so and the loud parts hit 0dB of course. But other than that I see it's general frequency spectrum gets wider and wider which gives a louder, fuller sound. Is this right?

    2) Should we normalize the final mix-down before the mastering stage? It peaks around -3dB - 0dB at it's louder parts. No clips of course.

    And finally I guess I'm a person learning better with examples and explanations over them. Maybe I can upload two songs (one mine and another with my ideal mix-master) and can you give me some advices (with exlanation of their reason) regarding them both?

    I hope I'm asking to much, can't tell how much I appreciate your help.

  10. Massive Mastering

    Massive Mastering Well-Known Member

    2-3 weeks and you're frustrated...? Keep working at it for 2-3 years and see if you start getting anywhere with it. If not, you might just not be cut out for it (most people aren't, so don't worry about it).

    A lot of people "these days" tend to shoot for "loud" right off the bat - which is exactly the best way to make sure you won't have it later. You can bet those dynamic-sounding recording that seems as if they have obscene amounts of headroom were recorded dynamically with obscene amounts of headroom - for starters. The dynamics of the core sounds and keeping those dynamics intact, along with running the input chain properly (no "track as hot as you can without clipping" garbage) with freakish amounts of headroom at every single possible point in the chain and part of the process -- If you want a recording that doesn't mind being pushed far beyond where it should be (not that I'm advocating that - and I really wish people would stop equating "mastering" simply with "making it loud" which is really one of the last things on our minds when we're working) -- That's how you do it.

    Normalization... Worthless.
  11. ailgun

    ailgun Active Member

    Sorry, I don't equate mastering with loudness, it's just where I'm at right now, and I'm well aware that it will take years. - I just thought I could manage ONE songs levels over a month (-:

    And I know in the very beginning of a mix when everything is freshly recorded, headroom is really shallow since everything must be waving around -20dB and -15dB ... And of course after the mix things will get more dynamic. But what if you mix it just as you want it dynamically take it to the mastering stage, and can't make it louder cause the louder parts will start to get distorted? (via a brick-wall limiter) Is it a problem of bad mixing, or am I trying to make it more loud than I should?
  12. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    The answer depends on the goal and what the dynamic spread is in the "pre-mastered" mix. If you have a six dB spread in decibels then you will be able to "push" it more than a 22dB dynamic spread.

    If it is pop music and not classical, then when you are mixing you probably want to keep the decibel spread smaller and use your different harmonic/rhythmic contouring to affect the perceived or psychoacoustic loudness level. You can do more spread live than you can on today's butchered radio playlists. Even live the sound scape can be sculpted tonally to achieve better perceived dynamic levels.

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