Individual track limiting + multi track clipping

Hi All,

I’ve recently started using N-Track for mixing and mastering projects recorded on a portable multi-track. I’ve tried using the search here and generally doing some background reading but at the end of the day I’m a bit stuck with a couple of fundamental concepts, and I’d appreciate any help or advice.

1) Individual track compressing/limiting

I’m using a VST limiter to bring up the levels of some individual tracks in the mix, particularly the vocals and stuff I didn’t record particularly well. I don’t understand the difference between using the limiter’s gain to do the full job, or increasing the pre-gain into the limiter and keeping the limiter with a lower gain. Or… unity gain into the limiter, then using post gain on the output of the limiter. Are these fundamentally the same thing, is there a best mixing practice around which way to do it?

2) Multiple track clipping

I can get all my individual tracks pretty hot without clipping. When I combine them, the result sounds OK, but it’s major Return Of The Clip from the master VU meter. I guess I fundamentally don’t understand how this can happen, thinking that mixing is more like blending than stacking volume wise.

Thanks in advance for your time :)

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I guess I fundamentally don’t understand how this can happen, thinking that mixing is more like blending than stacking volume wise.


It’s both. What you want to probably do is place a limiter on your 2 bus. When n-track chops your mix output from 32 bit float (which is #### near impossible to clip) to your soundcard’s format (16 or 24 bit) clipping can occur. This is just how digital audio is. So try limiting or compressing. I don;t have the energy to go into the whole mixing versus mastering argument, don’t compress the 2 buss etc, but hopefully this gives you a direction to run in.

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I’m using a VST limiter to bring up the levels of some individual tracks in the mix, particularly the vocals and stuff I didn’t record particularly well. I don’t understand the difference between using the limiter’s gain to do the full job, or increasing the pre-gain into the limiter and keeping the limiter with a lower gain. Or… unity gain into the limiter, then using post gain on the output of the limiter. Are these fundamentally the same thing, is there a best mixing practice around which way to do it?


I’ll try to help a bit with this one. I’m going to use the example of a generic hardware limiter, since I can picture it’s functions in my head and I don’t know what your VST limiter functions are.

A limiter is basically a fancy sort of compressor. They have threshold value that you can set, and sometimes have attack and release functions (or sometimes not). Generally there is also a make-up gain amplifier so you can boost the level of the limited signal if you need to. Any signal that you send into the box that is below the threshold level will have no processing done to it, and any signal that is above the threshold level will be “limited” to that threshold level. Pretty simple actually, but what does it mean in practice?

Let’s say you got a low level signal going into the box and a high threshold. The limiter won’t limit this low level signal, and if you turn up the output amplifier, you’ll just be amplifying the “unlimited” signal. This may sound cool if you have a nice outboard unit with a groovy amplifier that has a big ol’ output transformer, or it may just be a louder version of what you put in.

If you put in a signal that just tickles the threshold, you’ll get a bit of limiting action going on. The limiting effect may mean that your resultant signal is not loud enough for your taste and you can then dial in some of the make-up gain in order to make things a bit louder. Whether you need this make-up gain is kinda dependent on what the threshold is. A high threshold may not need much gain to get the result as loud as you want it; a low threshold might need more gain, since you’ve used the box to effectively reduce the average level of the original signal. This slightly limited signal will sound different than the unprocessed input because the limiter is changing the dynamics of the signal. May sound cool, may be more “even” in volume, may or may not be a sound you’re looking for.

Now, crank the pregain on your input signal. This may make most of the input be above the threshold level and result in a buncha limiting happening. You may still need to add some make-up gain to your processed signal in order for it to be as loud as you want. Your signal will most likely sound very different from the input because of how the dynamics have been altered by the box.

Any one of these applications can be “right”, depending on what you want to hear. If you like the dynamic range of your input signal, but it just isn’t loud enough for your taste, you’ll probably want to use the limiter more as an amplifier and less as a dynamics controller. There may even by a better box than a limiter for this job…say just a dedicated amplification stage. My console, for example, has an extra make-up gain stage available on the tape returns (above and beyond the faders) for just this purpose. If you want to control a track that has some inconsistant levels but don’t want to alter it’s sound too much (bass tracks are a classic for this) then perhaps just a bit of limiting may be needed. If you’re looking for that super squished Latin Playboys kinda drum or vocal sound, than use a buncha limiting, either by cranking the input gain, dropping the threshold, or some combination of both. What the thing does is entirely dependent on the input signal level and the threshold at which the limiting begins.

I dunno…does any of that make any sense?