How To Set A Final Limiter For Mastering

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How To Set A Final Limiter For Mastering
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Tips for setting your final limiter for mastering.

Software/Plugins:
– Avid Pro Tools
– FabFilter Pro-L

This is going to be a follow-up to my mastering tutorial, it’s all about setting the final limiter, which is probably the last step. A lot of times I am required to print the mix that will actually be the final mix sent to the duplication house and so understanding how to set a limiter is very important, it is going to be the final touch.

Now, the key to setting a limiter is constant gained monitoring. What that means is that however much is being input into the limiter, the same amount is being attenuated on the output for monitoring purposes. This will give us a more honest perspective of what the limiter is actually doing to the sound.

So let’s check this out. Here we have the Fab Filter Pro L. We’ve got two little controls here, the gain right here and the output right here. These are going to be the two most important controls that we work with. And that’s going to be true of any limiter. There’s nothing more important than the amount of limiting being done and how we monitor it. Everything else that we do down the line is going to be used to fine tune that.

So, what we’re going to do is play the record and figure out about how much room we have until we hit our absolute peaks. And by the way, we’re going to play the record from the loudest part of the overall song because that’s where the limiter is going to start working the hardest.

So it looks like, according to these meter, we’ve got about, maybe eleven decibels until we hit absolute peak volume. We’re going to go a little bit further past that. we’re going to find the point of distortion and then we’re going to start backing it off. So let’s say sixteen decibels. So I’m turning up the gain and turning down the output. And what we’re going to hear is the signal hitting the limiter without changing the volume.

Okay, so that’s too much. The snare is getting totally flattened and there’s definitely some pumping going on. So let’s adjust it, let’s back it off to maybe, let’s try 13.5.

So that’s a lot more transparent. I think that that’s probably a good level, even if the band asked me to push it a little bit more, we could probably push it without too much damage. IN fact, just for the sake of demonstration purposes, let’s push it up just a hair more. Alright, great. So, now we’re going to play it and here we get into the fine tuning aspect of things. So, not all limiters are built this way. For a lot of limiters, this is going to be all you get, which is actually the most important thing. You set it, you find the level where it sounds best, where it doesn’t sound like it’s pumping or distorted and you leave it go.

But, we have a couple of other little tools in this. We have this advanced little section here, which has this style setting, a look ahead and attack and release. So these are all things that we can use to perhaps optimist the sound that we’re getting. Okay, but what do we want to optimize? What are we listening for? Well, distortion, minimal pumping, and the most natural articulation on the transience. Those are the things that I think would determine the best sound.

So, let’s start playing with some controls. I usually input the transience first. Because that’s usually the most distinct part.

Okay, so what was all that? Well, the biggest thing that changed was when I changed the style mode, when I changed it to dynamic, the snare popped right back to life. So that was a big, right there, a big improvement. The other things that mattered were the attack and the release. For this style of music, it seems like the further this attack goes, the more crispness on the snare I get. So, I’ve got it pretty far, I don’t really know how this corresponds to how the limiter is acting, it doesn’t sound like it’s clipping so, who knows? But anyway, I just set it and I keep listening for those transients and listening for the distortion, listening for the pumping and see what works the best.

So the slower attack here and the very slow release seem to the best most natural and switching it to dynamic also seemed to preserve the sound the best. The look ahead function was a little function, so if I turned it too short the transient disappeared, but if I turned it too long the transient also disappeared, so that was weird. But, yeah, anyway, I got something that I like. I’m going to set this to default and now we can AB between what we just came up with and the default setting.

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26 thoughts on “How To Set A Final Limiter For Mastering”

  1. This has been extremely interesting, I have a video that talks about some
    similar themes but with a bit of a different spin, check it out!

  2. yes, yes. click here, move this knob over there, thought I may not know
    what Im doing I just hope for the best. This is the overall mindset of the
    wanna be’s.

    this is why there is so much noisy garbage these days due to all those know
    how wanna be’s who know little and rely on digital plugins for all their
    audio needs.

  3. Hey, dude! You’re output is way to low! Now people will think they shout
    put the same low output as you’re doing in this video. This master would
    never be final for release at this DB.

  4. Great tutorial! Keep up the good work! How would you compare the Pro-L to
    the waves L2, as far as the combination of the quality of the sound
    produced and the over-all loudness capabilities? The Pro-L looks more
    visually friendly and has some more features, but the waves L2 has been my
    go to limiter for years… and others have sworn to it being the best…
    even though Izotope has some great new stuff. I’m considering trying out
    the Pro-L, but for most of the stuff I produce (mostly electronic music),
    the L2 still seems to sound better for going extreme with loudness &
    maintaining some quality of dynamics. Also, would you say that pushing the
    limiter to -6 dB of gain reduction is too much? I’ve heard -3 is good…
    but recently people told me to push it to -6.

  5. Why is it that my track can never reach -0.1 DB without sounding crazy
    distorted and squashed?

  6. Stiff Richard wrote “Most consumers are playing music from small speaker
    setups like phones and laptops, that is why the heavy compression is
    happening now a days. People are getting used to the very compressed sound.
    Gotta stay on top of the game”
    And that’s a rotten shame!. Engineers, even if paid to, should not have
    to engineer music to the least common denominator. IE: Portable devices
    with amplifiers the size of a Tic-Tac.
    Once I installed DAW(digital audio workstation) software on my computer and
    learned what was being advertised as “digitally remastered” really sounded
    like(and looks like), Most of it was just compressed, limited, and gaines
    up to be LOUDASPOSSIBLE. I thus began a 3 year campaign to make sure my CD
    and download collection was as “remaster”-free as possible. Plus I already
    had a great collection of original-release CDs from when I started
    collecting back in the late 1980s.
    The original CDs translated to great sounding MP3s on even my smallest
    devices, and none of my guests at my events have yet to complain about the
    sound! The key is gain-staging and sufficient amplification AT THE
    PLAYBACK END, not in the mastering of content. Let the amplifier do the
    work, and don’t overload the input stages with overly hot, comprsssed and
    regained content.

  7. thanks for the tutorial man helped me out alot…
    would you recommend to ever set the gain higher than the reduction of the
    signal ?

  8. On Mac, you can just hold down the Option key while adjusting either the
    main Output knob or the the Gain level – it’ll adjust them both together
    simultaneously like you’re showing us (Alt key for PC).
    Great tutorial – re-watched several times!

  9. Pro L all the way. Izotope Maximizer IRC3 or 4 also puts a smile on my face
    in most cases.

  10. Before rendering the master how would you set your output level.
    Conservatively like a -.3 or at unity or -.1since you’ve found a proper
    gain? Or would you set it based of a target RMS adjusted to K-scale
    metering and the ISP level for end users?

    Great tutorial very informative!
    Keep it up!!!

    P.S. If you hold the ALT key and raise the Gain it automatically adjusts
    the output to gain match!

    Peace and Blessings from Baltimore.

  11. I seem to get very sharp peaks from my drum bus because the glue compressor
    has an attack of .3.. How do i fix this?

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