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In this first installment of the Foundations of Audio series, author Brian Lee White shows how to improve the sound of a mix with compressors, limiters, gates, de-essers, and other dynamic processors. The course explains the fundamentals of sound waves, and amplitude, explores common compressor controls, and shows how to eliminate unwanted noise using gates and expanders. The course also demonstrates best practices in compression and limiting in a variety of audio applications and covers sculpting the attack and decay of individual notes with transient shapers and applying frequency specific dynamics control with multiband compressors. Exercise files accompany the course and include special Get in the Mix session files.
Using limiters to squash your entire mix into the loudest song ever created isn't the only way we can put them to work in our mix. We can also use them to better control a signal's peak to average level on an individual track. Let's listen to this example. (music playing) Notice that the signal contains many quick peaks that reach very close to 0 dBFS. Adding any compression without using a near-instant attack would clip the output of the compressor as those quick peaks sneak through the compressor's attack stage.
Watch the compressor's output and listen to the quick transients escape through the compressor's slower 20- millisecond attack stage and clip. (music playing) Likewise, adding any boost via EQ would cause a clip as well. Again, watch the EQ's output meter and listen to the EQ clip as the last bit of headroom is gobbled up with the EQ boost. (music playing) Instead of a regular compressor, by applying a brickwall limiter, we can retain most of the dynamic feel of the signal while keeping those peaks from jumping out too far from the mix.
I'm going to apply waves L1 to tame some of the biggest peaks, linking my threshold and output control, so no makeup gain is applied. Listen as I drag down the threshold and output controls. (music playing) Because the limiter works instantly and recovers nearly as quick, no peaks passed through.
This keeps the single from sounding like it has been compressed and works great as a transparent form of dynamics control. Listen again as I play back this strong pick scrape with and without the limiter. (music playing) By pulling down the threshold and output simultaneously, I'm not using any makeup gain, since my goal is to simply tame those peaks while leaving the rest of the signal unprocessed.
This technique is also great for controlling headroom between plug-ins inside your DAW. While a regular compressor would generally allow a bit of the signal's attack through, a limiter clamps down on those transients that may cause digital clipping within a plug-in. This allows us to regain some headroom below 0 dBFS, so we can apply gain in another way, like if we wanted to boost some frequencies with an EQ. Using limiters on individual tracks and between plug-ins really enables you to control the dynamics of all parts of your signal flow.
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