When to use a limiter on instruments?

If you are new here check this forum first, your question may have been answered.
ScrLk
KVRist
262 posts since 2 Nov, 2020

Post Tue Nov 24, 2020 11:21 am

I understand using a limiter on the final mix, but I want to find out if, when and why I should use a limiter on individual tracks.

sleepcircle
KVRian
869 posts since 28 Nov, 2016

Post Tue Nov 24, 2020 12:43 pm

well usually you have a compressor on the stereo bus, too, right?

if some track is spiking like crazy, it will get its peaks chopped off by the stereo bus limiter, right?—but not before it causes the bus compressor to freak out over it. So all of a sudden you'll get a weird dip in the whole song as the compressor ducks everything (too slowly) in an attempt to remove the out-of-control peak.

also analogue limiters can offer interesting saturation for things like drums.

ScrLk
KVRist
262 posts since 2 Nov, 2020

Post Tue Nov 24, 2020 12:55 pm

sleepcircle wrote:
Tue Nov 24, 2020 12:43 pm
well usually you have a compressor on the stereo bus, too, right?

if some track is spiking like crazy, it will get its peaks chopped off by the stereo bus limiter, right?—but not before it causes the bus compressor to freak out over it. So all of a sudden you'll get a weird dip in the whole song as the compressor ducks everything (too slowly) in an attempt to remove the out-of-control peak.

also analogue limiters can offer interesting saturation for things like drums.
Such a good answer, thank you!

Is it true then that for some types of instruments you choose a limiter, and for some others a clipper?

sleepcircle
KVRian
869 posts since 28 Nov, 2016

Post Tue Nov 24, 2020 1:58 pm

possibly, although clipping sounds can get messy really quickly. you want a square-wave? put a sine-wave through a clipper. boom, now you have a square-wave.

so if you have a long sustained tone of any kind and you ram it through a clipper you will hear the corners being shaved off for every single hertz that a sound wave goes past its threshold, AND every time the soundwave comes back under the threshold again. whereas a limiter (which generally has SOME sort of release time) will be slightly more transparent/less grindy.

when people turn away from regular compression, and reach for a peak-slicing tool, they generally use clippers on drums and things with millisecond volume spikes that need shushing, and limiters on other, more sustained or tonal stuff. Obviously these are not hard and fast rules, and you may do what you like, but these are the reasons why people prefer one thing over another.

(if i DO use a clipper/limiter on an instrument track, i tend to run it through tape first (or a tape simulator if i'm in a hurry/getting the sound figured out) or just drive the sound into one of fuse audio labs' interesting hardware simulations. it creates more natural/interesting peak reduction than a surgical/neutral clipper/limiter, which i tend to use for mastering stuff nearer the end of the song)
Last edited by sleepcircle on Thu Dec 24, 2020 5:05 am, edited 1 time in total.

codec_spurt
KVRAF
4263 posts since 21 Sep, 2005

Post Tue Nov 24, 2020 2:04 pm

When and why to use a limiter on specific tracks?

Drums are quite a common thing to use limiters on when they are used. Some argue against this, but many still do it. There is no wrong/right.

One of the reasons they are used on drums is because of the wide dynamic range and spikes in signal. In many ways, you would be better advised to use a clipper. In some ways they are easier to set up as well. But perhaps you want to fiddle with some gain reduction/boost stuff? Then a limiter is maybe more useful. I'd just use a clipper personally to give a shave and a haircut to those errant peaks. The same peaks the limiter would be catching, but whilst possibly pumping some of the other signal as well. A clipper is usually more 'transparent' at just a few dB of gain reduction, which is often all you want, and if you do need more then you need to have a good reason for that.

Then again you could use a limiter on vocals where there is some unusually high dynamic range and it needs to be caught, so the signal does not blow up in to the red and/or deafen people. Dodgy mics. Particularly exploratory and experimental FX. A very 'unbalanced' singer who is whispering one minute then SHOUTING and SMASHING THE f**king MICROPHONE TO PIECES THE NEXT! Sort of thing.

A limiter would probably be better in that scenario compared to a clipper. But why not both when you know what you are doing? You'll need to spend a little time learning the basics how to set this stuff up. Just watch out for the extra latency which may or may not be a problem with your setup.

There are some great free clippers and limiters out there to try for free. For pure ease of use and quality I would probably choose LoudMax - https://loudmax.blogspot.com/ for the limiter and GClip for the clipper - https://www.gvst.co.uk/gclip.htm

(Always nice to make a little donation as well)

LoudMax is known for being able to provide massive gain reduction without artefacts and GClip provides a very nice display to visualise things (and is also very clean, until you get in to the more silly ranges [which you may want to do later]).

I like Voxengo EBusLim as well for simple track limiting when it is called for. Also check out this Waves W1 Clone - http://www.yohng.com/software/w1limit.html

Remember that limiters can add latency to your tracks. If you are unsure of the specs of your limiter then load it up in REAPER and it will display the latency for you. Some will be better than others, but it shouldn't make much of a difference in practice. Some Limiters provide '0' latency, such as the Aradaz Maximizer - https://vst4free.com/plugin/1394/ - which some might argue is not a real limiter, but... it's also free to try and a nice tool in the box. Quite highly regarded. Does pretty much the same job as a limiter. I'll use it when I want a nice clean 0 latency tool to catch peaks.

Latency isn't so much of a problem to me these days but just be aware it can add up if you are limiting more than one track. Usually you'll find if you are using a limiter on a track channel, you aren't doing it on more than one or two offenders.

Learn when to use this tool (limiter) and when to use a clipper, which might better suit your needs in that kind of circumstance.

As noted by others as well, things like Saturators (which are a form of Clipper) can also do the job for you and may even be more of the right tool again, according to your program material and what you are trying to achieve.

ScrLk
KVRist
262 posts since 2 Nov, 2020

Post Wed Nov 25, 2020 6:00 am

sleepcircle wrote:
Tue Nov 24, 2020 1:58 pm
clipping sounds can get messy really quickly. you want a square-wave? put a sine-wave through a clipper. boom, now you have a square-wave.
...
whereas a limiter (which generally has SOME sort of release time) will be slightly more transparent/less grindy.
I think I'll get used to track limiting first before using clipping in my mixes.
sleepcircle wrote:
Tue Nov 24, 2020 1:58 pm
when people turn away from regular compression, and reach for a peak-slicing tool, they generally use clippers on drums and things with millisecond volume spikes that need shushing, and limiters on other, more sustained or tonal stuff.
I tried chopping off the "tip" of a snare sample and that worked out perfectly! It kept it more punchy than the limiter. On the other hand, when I hard clipped a synth bass, it became too noisy.
codec_spurt wrote:
Tue Nov 24, 2020 2:04 pm
Drums are quite a common thing to use limiters on when they are used. Some argue against this, but many still do it. There is no wrong/right.
...
I'd just use a clipper personally to give a shave and a haircut to those errant peaks.
Is it frowned upon because a limiter can decrease the impact of the drums?
codec_spurt wrote:
Tue Nov 24, 2020 2:04 pm
Then again you could use a limiter on vocals where there is some unusually high dynamic range and it needs to be caught, so the signal does not blow up in to the red and/or deafen people.
Is that better than using a compressor to tame a wide dynamic range?
codec_spurt wrote:
Tue Nov 24, 2020 2:04 pm
...Latency...
When recording a piano roll sequence I certainly don't want more latency but when it comes to mixing I should probably just accept latency as a necessary evil. I still try to keep it to a minimum if possible.
codec_spurt wrote:
Tue Nov 24, 2020 2:04 pm
...Plugins...
I haven't tried the plugins you mentioned yet, at the moment I was trialing DMG TrackLimit and SIR StandardCLIP and they seem really nice.
codec_spurt wrote:
Tue Nov 24, 2020 2:04 pm
Usually you'll find if you are using a limiter on a track channel, you aren't doing it on more than one or two offenders.
Yeah I've gathered that it's definitely not something to slap on every channel. It may be different for EDM and stuff like that.
codec_spurt wrote:
Tue Nov 24, 2020 2:04 pm
As noted by others as well, things like Saturators (which are a form of Clipper) can also do the job for you and may even be more of the right tool again, according to your program material and what you are trying to achieve.
To be honest I have no clue how to use saturators properly. I guess if hard clipping is equal to a limiter, soft clipping is equal to a compressor?

Thank you both for the long answers!

sleepcircle
KVRian
869 posts since 28 Nov, 2016

Post Wed Nov 25, 2020 6:39 am

Honestly, I have never actually tried to explain how saturation can 'soak up' peaks.

A hard clipper is known as a "brick wall," a lot of the time.

I guess a soft clipper would be a layer of foam on the wall first? But that's if it's the simplest possible wave-shaping. Hardware (or a really good simulation, like (again) fuse audio labs' stuff) tends to soak up and redistribute the energy, to bounce it back, or—in the case of tape—to react like a non-newtonian fluid which is liquid in its rest state, but pushes back the harder you push into it.

ScrLk
KVRist
262 posts since 2 Nov, 2020

Post Wed Nov 25, 2020 6:50 am

Oh, so when it comes to soft clipping there are various types of it...

I'll keep Fuse Audio in mind. They have a lot of products, so I'm not sure which one would be best for saturation. I also can't buy too much right now...

sleepcircle
KVRian
869 posts since 28 Nov, 2016

Post Wed Nov 25, 2020 7:32 am

yeah, sorry, hahah. i'm not suggesting you NEED their stuff to make music. it's just that reymund dratwa is one of my favourite developers.
Fuse's RS-W2395C is free, btw, so you might as well get it. It's an extremely gentle yet very pretty-sounding EQ based on an old, pre-digital method of doing it.

anyway, free saturation/clipping stuff that's high quality—and I mean SCARY high quality. Do not let the fact that they're free fool you—:

CHOW tape plugin. A university project by a talented coder.
Airwindows' Purest Drive. Simple soft clipping—will never let anything past -0db—but has a really nice push-back and pleasant, subtle tone.
Klanghelm's IVGI. A cut-down, free version of an extremely high-quality saturation plugin.

Experiment with these and see what they do to sharp volume spikes.

ScrLk
KVRist
262 posts since 2 Nov, 2020

Post Wed Nov 25, 2020 8:11 am

sleepcircle wrote:
Wed Nov 25, 2020 7:32 am
Klanghelm's IVGI. A cut-down, free version of an extremely high-quality saturation plugin.
Oh I actually have SDRR, I'm just not sure how to use it!

sleepcircle
KVRian
869 posts since 28 Nov, 2016

Post Wed Nov 25, 2020 8:15 am

Oh, right? Well, believe me, it is all you could possibly need, for a beginner (and for an experienced user, too, honestly). You won't need another saturation plugin for a while.

Do you have any questions about it? Maybe I could help you get the hang of it.

ScrLk
KVRist
262 posts since 2 Nov, 2020

Post Wed Nov 25, 2020 11:32 am

Hmm, I'm not sure when to use or what to use it on. And then whenever I tried, I just distorted the whole signal and I didn't make it sound any nicer...

It has Tube, Digi, Fuzz, and Desk and a lot of knobs... I basically don't know where to even start...

sleepcircle
KVRian
869 posts since 28 Nov, 2016

Post Wed Nov 25, 2020 1:19 pm

ScrLk wrote:
Wed Nov 25, 2020 11:32 am
Hmm, I'm not sure when to use or what to use it on. And then whenever I tried, I just distorted the whole signal and I didn't make it sound any nicer...

It has Tube, Digi, Fuzz, and Desk and a lot of knobs... I basically don't know where to even start...
you got discord or something? PM me your name and maybe i could give you a rundown or something. It'd probably be faster than doing it in a forum. Although, on the other hand, if I wrote it all down here, other people could read it…

User avatar
DJ Warmonger
KVRAF
4048 posts since 7 Jun, 2012 from Warsaw

Post Thu Nov 26, 2020 8:14 am

My answer: Never. I can't justify a situation when you'd absolutely have to hard-limit the amplitude of an instrument as a whole, before mixing / mastering stage. You will always lose ton of dynamics.

First of all, limiting makes sense only at master stage after all other processing, so that signal amplitude is fixed and't won't change later.

Secondly, there are other ways to cut the peaks of a signal, such as (band-limited) saturation, removing extreme resonant peaks with narrow EQ or simply adjusting the envelope manually (or via envelope generator such as VolumeShaper). These are more controllable and transparent, preserving some dynamics.
http://djwarmonger.wordpress.com/
Tricky-Loops wrote: (...)someone like Armin van Buuren who claims to make a track in half an hour and all his songs sound somewhat boring(...)

sleepcircle
KVRian
869 posts since 28 Nov, 2016

Post Fri Nov 27, 2020 4:30 pm

Yes, technically true, but sometimes people do it anyway, just because of workflow quirks or because they like the effect, hahah—and I may be wrong, but I believe that on older records people DID in fact use limiters or over-drive away peaks because they were trying to get everything possible out of the narrow head-room they had, cranking up the volume to just below the point of disrupting the musical quality of the signal in their efforts to float above the chest-height noise floor

if i recall correctly, pretty much every single individual track on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band went through the fairchild limiter before being mixed (although by modern standards, the fairchild is NOT a super-fast or especially precise limiter. it'd probably be thought of as 'quick compression' these days.)

Return to “Getting Started (AKA What is the best...?)”