One of the things that mastering strives to achieve is increase the overall program level of the mix. This is done by a combination of two of the mastering engineer's primary tools, the compressor and the limiter. The compressor is used to increase the small and medium level signals, while a limiter controls the instantaneous peaks. Remember that the sound of both compressor and limiter will have an effect on the final audio quality, especially if you push them hard, here's how you do it. Set the master level on the Limiter to -0.1 or -0.2 dB to contain the peaks and avoid digital overs.
Set a compressor at a ratio of 2:1 or 4:1 to increase the apparent level. Adjust the attack time to let the desired amount of transients through, the slower the attack time generally speaking the punchier the sound will be. (music playing) Adjust the release time to keep the track punchy sounding. A trick with compression in mastering is to use a release time that's set on the slow side, be careful not to set it too slow or the life will be sucked out of the track, set it too fast and the track will pump or distort.
(music playing) Decrease the threshold, you increase the amount of compression, which is usually less than about 5 dB. (music playing) Increase the level of the program to the desired level by increasing the output control of the compressor.
Be sure not to go beyond clipping. (music playing) Increase the Limiter threshold to increase the limiting and final level of the program. The more you increase the limiting the louder the program will get, but the more compressed it'll get as well, which generally doesn't sound that good. (music playing) Note that some mastering engineers utilize multiple stages of compression, that is more than one compressor in the signal path, so they can spread out the gain increase over several devices.
This technique can create simultaneously a smoother yet more powerful sound. (music playing) Remember that much of the gain and punch that come from the compressor, the more limiting you add the worse it'll usually sound.
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