Academy Dashboard Forum Production Mastering Do professional mastering engineers let their tracks clip? Reply To: Do professional mastering engineers let their tracks clip?

Robert Hundt

    Hey Kain

    I feel like your actual question has not been answered. I hope I have't just skipped it while flying through the answers.
    I work as a mastering engineer since 2009 (Berlin/Germany, so I hope i'm gonna make sense) and I would like to give you some insight into digital audio and I want to try shine some light on your question.

    So you are asking whether or not mastering engineers would let their masters exceed 0dbFS to have a louder master, compared to amateur mastering people.
    The answer has to be "Hard no!" and then I want to add "At least not intentionally" 😉

    I sincerely hope I'll be easy to undestand.
    About the capacity of an audio file:
    0dbFS is the upper limit of the digital capacity of an audio file. If peaks exceed 0dbFS during the export of a typical audio file, it will result in clipping, which during playback after will be heard as digital distortion.

    To visualize that clipping, imagine it as peaks getting clipped (imagine a nail clipper, if you want) of at the top because they exceed the capacity.
    If you picture a waveform, zoom into a waveform, find those round peak up top or down bottom, they will lose there round curve where they exceep 0dbFS and subsequently be flatted tops and flattened bottoms, instead of round. Imagine your thumb nail getting clipped off hard, it's going to look flat after.

    If you put "hard digital clipping" into google, you will find pictures. (mind you, some of those picture lead to articles claiming "don't care about clipping", which is not a good thing to say to a broad public, it's misleading!)

    real quick:
    dbFS = decibels Full Scale, which are the units of a Full Scale meter, a peak meter. Personally I interprete that as an "absolute meter", meaning it ranges form a lowest point -∞ to the maximum allowed, which is 0. Granted, in DAW channels those meters often range even higher, don't get confused by that. They go higher to show you how much you are exceeding the 0. In DAWs they often look like -∞..............0...+10 but what you have to be concerned with is -∞..............0

    Back to your question:
    A mastering engineer, exporting a master for a client in a typical format like 16bit/44.1khz or even atypical like 24bit/96khz has to make sure, that its peak level won't exceed 0dbFS, else clipping!!! And as a consequence audible digital distortion. That's why I would assume that no mentally healthy mastering person will let their peaks exceed 0dbFS.
    I believe the great and powerful Ian Shepherd, mastering engineer, has Video on his youtube channel, explaining this.

    There could be different reasons for why you get showed clipping from playing back a mastered track in your DAW. I don't know what software you're using and frankly, I can only speculate, which doesn't make much sense. I don't know if and what potential processing those files go through to end up on your DAW track. I don't know what audio files you're using, MP3? I don't know if you accidentally upped the gain...I don't know if your meter is detecting Intersample Peaks...or what have you.
    0 is 0! 0 is the limit, there is nothing over 0 in a typical file that's going out to the consumer, that's why you get clipping.
    So one final visualization: Imagine a fish, swimming in water, making a jump out of the water and diving back into it. If other observe that, they're going to see a bit of a curve for sure. But the round part above the water is not going be seen by the other fish, because the water surface is the barrier, their curve ends where the water ends, gets flattened, and starts back going back down where the fish dives into the water again. For them there is nothing above that magic barrier and for audio files it's the same.

    I have mentioned Intersample Peaks before but they are a can of worms to open! They are the reason why in the beginning I said mastering engineers wouldn't be clipping "intentionally". There might be Intersample Peaks. There was a time in which we didn't know they existed and we couldn't care because nobody complained. There is a chance that this could be an explanation for your meter readings, but you're saying "several db" of overs and I don't know what "several" means. 1db to maaayyybe even 2db? Well could(!) be a case of Intersample Peaks. If it's much higher, then probably not. But within the last few years more and more Limiter have added features to avoid Intersample Peaks.

    The reason why you're not hearing it as digital distortion in your DAW is what makes me skeptical of the files actually being distorted before they come into your DAW. If distortion was baked in, through the practice of exporting a clipping master for the consumer, then you would hear it, unless your hearing is not up to par, which I don't assume. If the clipping is caused by any process happening inside your DAW, then the modern processing architecture of many DAWs can prevent that distorted sound from being played back.

    Kain if you want, I can offer to check one or two of your masters, see if they're actually clipping or if the are normal. I could also tell you if they're simply mastered insanely loud. And if you're struggling to get to a similar loudness, I'm telling you, you don't have to get there unless you get hired to do it. I'll gladly help figure it what's up, no problem for me, no costs, of course 🙂

    Let me know if you have questions

    • This reply was modified 4 years ago by Robert Hundt.