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Did a search here and didn't come across anything recent so I thought I'd ask. Even though it's probably a forbidden topic. I find myself in situations where I'm wearing multiple hats as conductor and engineer (and performer sometimes too)
I know I can set levels low and make up some of the gain later, but I'm contemplating putting a limiter on the front end of my main stereo pair when I record a large orchestra/ choir/ band concert and can't monitor levels. As with many amateur groups, the levels on a sound check or in rehearsals are not the same as in performance.

Do any of you use a limiter with a very high floor to handle those peaks and if so are there brands you would recommend?

If I set the levels too low I have a difficult time getting the eventual CDs loud enough without compression changing the characteristics of the entire piece. I've got a colleague retiring and I'd like to get some nice audio out of the gig, but I know I'll be busy and want to set levels in advance.


Thoughts or options?


TheJackAttack Mon, 03/29/2010 - 21:57

Phil, I know what you mean about too low of levels when you are also performing/conducting. Are you recording direct into PT through your 003? Or do you have any outboard preamps or a separate recorder or board somewhere in the chain-something with inserts? If you had the gear you could come out of the preamps into a compressor and then into the Digi. If you have the Waves plugins I think there is a halfway decent limiter in the collection but I don't think the plugs sound as clean as hardware. Maybe an ART VLA II is in order. That would get your main pair which is what you really need.

Boswell Tue, 03/30/2010 - 02:20

Plug-in limiters are too late!

The [[url=http://[/URL]="http://www.davelect…"]DAV BG4[/]="http://www.davelect…"]DAV BG4[/] is what I have seen used for classical recording - it's an updated version of the Decca Studios kit. It's designed for balanced I/O, but with a bit of care in the wiring and a 6dB change in the threshold setting, it can be used with unbalanced insert jacks.

pmolsonmus Tue, 03/30/2010 - 14:23

Thanks for the replies,

If it helps, I'm usually going outboard pres - and usually no more than 4 tracks - Main Stereo Pair and a few outriggers - I have the Seb 4 ch, and Sytek 4 ch both which usually give me more than enough head room except for those percussion peaks or Rambo moments 8 )- sorry Jack .... But I usually go direct from the pres into the 003r and don't bring a mixer. So inserts are not an option with the current set up.

Typical quick set up in a decent room is 2 Rode NT5's as the main and 2 414s in omni for the room. Down and dirty and usually pretty good with limited set up time.

I'll look into the BG4 - it's a bit over my anticipated budget, but I can be convinced and if it saves a once-in-a-lifetime recording it would be worth it.

Other thoughts? Options?

I've got an old Aphex Over/Easy Compressor, but it doesn't seem to be sensitive enough for this setting. It could very well be operator error however. I haven't spent that much time in a good room with time to make adjustments. All of our concerts are off premises so rehearsal time is limited.


TheJackAttack Tue, 03/30/2010 - 15:17

As far as compressors and jazz or classical recordings, if I don't get a sound check I know my preamps and my mic combos pretty well so I set the mic's where they are normally on the preamp and then about two stitches more. I never push things too much because I want the full dynamic spread and I like a really soft knee to the limiter. What is a "stitch" you might ask? It's kind of like cooking. Ask a chef how much a "pinch" is. Everyone has a different answer because of course it's to taste.

Of course in an ideal world you'd get the mic levels set as close to a 2-bus mix level anyway. I just never seem to get enough time to do that.

Cucco Wed, 03/31/2010 - 11:47

Hey Phil -
Interesting topic - one that should get some folks' panties in a bunch for sure! ;-)

While tracking, I can't see the need for a limiter. Even if you used one, I'd hate to think of the cost, weight, size and form factor of such a beast. The only outboard limiter that I've owned, used or liked that was useful for classical music was the Waves MaxxBCL. However, it's expensive, heavy and hot.

In my case, I do use a limiter from time to time on classical or acoustically-oriented music. However, it's always in post production/editing. If a peak jumps by me that I didn't expect, it's almost always a cymbal, snare drum or bass drum hit. All of which are fast enough that a clip is usually in the realm of only a few samples and isn't a problem. That being said, I do track kind of conservatively, but not THAT much. I usually have my peaks hitting in the -10 - -6dBFS range. That being said, I know that, on my preamps (the True Systems P8s) that the gain pot should be set darn dear dead center for most of the mics I use. Doing that, I've rarely found myself reaching for the gain either to turn down or turn up - even on quieter sources.

If I need to boost inside the software and assuming I record at 24 bit (usually do)...I've got plenty of headroom.

In the editing process, I almost always turn on a limiter even if the source material never touches it. That way, any odd transient doesn't cause a clip. Usually, the transients that do are the ones like the percussion instruments I mentioned before where it's not a big deal.

Is your concern more that the music, when turned up, loses its character?


pmolsonmus Wed, 03/31/2010 - 17:47

My concerns are really two-fold.

Jeremy - I'm really talking about tracking and I'm recording at 24 bit usually.

1. If I set levels too low, in order to get some decent levels on the resulting CD I have to push the faders and usually add some compression and then limiting to the end result. I get the levels closer to where I would like them, but as with all compression (inboard/outboard) the characteristic tone is altered.
I'm not trying to be a purist, its only high school, but I'm trying to capture what we spend a lot of time getting right in rehearsal. Most of our Cds are for in house and I don't claim to be a recording engineer and especially not a mastering engineer. Its rare that we take that additional step for cost reasons.

2. If I set levels close to where I think they will be/should be, invariably along comes a major peak or 3 that clips the main stereo pair and I'm not a good enough engineer to edit the peaks, bring up the levels from the outriggers and not make it sound noticeable. (help in this area might be another direction)


JoeH Fri, 04/02/2010 - 18:53

Sadly, I don't think there's any one perfect way to deal with this. I'm with Jeremy on this, and unlike Phil, I'm "only" the engineer, not conducting as well, and trying to do it all myself. That's a tough gig, alright. In fact, I have a couple of clients in Phil's similar situation: how to get the best levels without clipping and/or keeping everything in the dirt?

I run a CDr and a stereo (2track) chip-recorder backup in most cases, "just because". (It's my insurance policy; when I use it, nothing bad ever seems to happen. When I DONT....hoo boy...) Anyway, the recorder is an M-Audio MircoTrack II. It has mic inputs (and 48V phantom power) as well as 1/8" stereo jack inputs (for mic and line), and it also has SP/DIF, which is great for systems that have that (including my RME Fireface 800) There IS a stereo link to keep each channel running together, as well as a limiter, which kicks in only sparingly, but I have to fess up that when it DOES, it's pretty darn good, and very forgiving.

OTOH, I track at 24 bits in Samp/Sequoia, and only use limiting in post production. In most cases (like Jeremy), I keep the gain under control, and very often only go after the "rogue" peaks after I've done a stereo mix/bounce to two tracks. In this way (esp with Samp/Sequoia's sonically transparant limiters and other dynamic DSP tools), I can gently get the gain riding I need, without artifacts. I've also used (very sparingly) the multiband limiter, but with a LOT of special trickery, including un-linking the bands so they can work independently, a lot of looking-ahead, and very gentle, fast response peak limiting. (This is usually for very wild/loud stuff that needs some taming for broadcast or final CD tracks, etc. Overbearing tympanii can be tamed this way, for example, without gain-riding the rest of the mix. Ditto for loud brass, etc. etc.)

I also know that no dress rehearsal/sound check is the final word; musicians (being human and all that), almost ALWAYS play a few DB louder/hotter in the heat of the moment than they do in rehearsal. It's just natural for more adrenaline and excitement to kick in, in front of a live audience. One just has to dial this in ahead of time; NEVER assume it's going to be the same level as the rehearsal; it will ALWAYS be louder. I just plan on it automatically.

Let's face it; with today's gear, we now have plenty of great signal path, even when recording low, so it's not a big deal anymore to track at a very conservative volume and bring it up later in post; it's not like the old days when we'd be cranking up the tape hiss & mixer noise as well. I know it takes TIME to do any kind of post production, but it can be done fairily quickly in today's modern DSP world. I transfer my 2-mixes (and remote location HD materials) to my DAW while I'm doing other things, so it's pretty fast once I sit down and trim the rogue peaks, normalize/optimize my levels, etc., and build a quick demo CD for clients.

I'm sure there are alot of fairly transparent and great-sounding stand-alone comp/limiters out there, but I've been lucky enough to avoid them entirely while tracking out in the field. For classical/jazz/acoustic, I've found it's best to avoid them any time you can, even for quick & dirty live CDs.

Shadow_7 Tue, 04/06/2010 - 14:34

pmolsonmus, post: 344922 wrote:
Do any of you use a limiter with a very high floor to handle those peaks and if so are there brands you would recommend?

If I set the levels too low I have a difficult time getting the eventual CDs loud enough without compression changing the characteristics of the entire piece. I've got a colleague retiring and I'd like to get some nice audio out of the gig, but I know I'll be busy and want to set levels in advance.

I recently got some Sound Devices preamps (MM-1 x2). They have a decent limiter, the gain stages are stepped, so I set them up until the limiter kicks in, then back one until they don't clip for rehearsals. Then back one more for the performance. There's only 10 steps 0dB - 66dB of gain. And I know the settings on my field recorder so maxed and limiter kicked in is -3dB to 0dB. These settings I'd consider very conservative. Beyond that you've just got to have mics with a low noise floor so you can play it safe. And record in 24 bit or better. I'm never really comfortable doing that, it would be so much nicer to have hardware times 3 for 3 guesses (hot / good / safe) and take the best one in the end. But I haven't won the lottery yet.

I tend towards -18, but that's sans drums / loud sections. If I'm only dealing with brass, -12 is risky, but sane. It's always the drums with the unruly peeks, and just having them doubles the SPL IMO. Some people like having a set of faders and ride them throughout the entire concert. I prefer to trust the musicians for the dynamics. Plus it opens up the option to be less involved in the recording process. To either conduct or spend the time between recording video. While still feeling safe about my audio setup / levels. Everything else I do in post. My mics have a fairly high noise floor so it's not always roses and sunshine. But it's better than nothing. Having better preamps helps a lot. Having a limiter that actually works keeps me sane. You can't really relay on your last settings since different mic locations and different venues can impact the settings as much as those pesky drummers. And someday I'll gets some mics with some gusto.

RemyRAD Wed, 04/07/2010 - 12:12

Well you might want to look into a peak limiter that utilizes a peak detector instead of most of those RMS style ones such as DBX, etc.. Those are not peak detectors. Even if they have a limiter section it's not the same as a broadcast style peak limiter. And it's a bit pricey to utilize 2 UREI/UA 1176's. You might be able to find a used Orban 418A or old FM OPTi-Mod? Those are most definitely peak stoppers.

Old broadcast broad
Mx. Remy Ann David