SH Spotlight Compression & limiting in recording, mixing & mastering process: What is it? The good, bad, the ugly

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Patrick M, Jan 30, 2002.

  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Audiophile Music Mastering Your Host

    Thanks for your post. In my experience, most engineers without automation aren't fast enough to "duck" a trumpet and make it sound convincing, especially since only one or two notes of a phrase might peak. This is where the compressor works wonders. If used correctly it will sound natural and good. If overused, it will sound painful, but not as painful as a trumpet blast that kills your mix dead!
     
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  2. JamieLang

    JamieLang Forum Resident

    Location:
    Nashville, TN
    Most people have never heard a recording made without compressors and limiters. For good reason, IME. Maybe if we went back to the 50s and had 24bit digital rather than tape which acted as a brick wall limiter/clipper AND required even more limiting and compression to get signal into the narrow window between distortion and the hissy noise floor--maybe our ears and techniques wouldn't have adapted to using dynamics processing. But, that's not how it went down, so....

    The loudness in mastering complaint has to do with the specific tech of the digita,l buffer based, adaptive time constant limiters being abused to push masters into single digits. I will be GLAD to go into detail about the tech, which is actually lovely tech when it's used as intended, rather than how it's come to be abused. But, that SPECIFIC tool is what you have a beef with. Not dynamics processing in all it's flavors and uses.
     
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  3. ThirdBowl

    ThirdBowl Forum Resident

    Location:
    Santa Cruz, CA

    Thanks Steve, good points for sure. If that trumpet solo has a lot of peaks and valleys, level-wise, yes some compression is definitely your friend in that scenario.

    In the case of the projects I was working on, it was mostly just drums that needed some smoothing out during the mixing phase. Then, when the mixing was done, some mild compression during mastering....
     
  4. Jrr

    Jrr Forum Resident

    A great example. I absolutely hate that recording! And his voice isn't up to that style imo. He sounds best mixed in with everything else. Always has.
     
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  5. UltraSoundSquid

    UltraSoundSquid Forum Resident

    I've been mastering an album for a friend (maybe I'm not the most qualified for this, but it's a really good album and he couldn't afford a real engineer). I've been working with extreme respect to the dynamics (which there are a lot of).

    In the end, though, I found that the finalized master was too quiet; I had to turn my volume up twice as high to hear the clarity of the low end. I tried playing it in the car and we had to crank the volume all the way up for it to be clear. So I'll be going in and working on boosting the volume without abusing compression; I'm keeping the dynamic emphasis in place while slightly lowering the actual measured DR. That's not something I wanted to do, but I think it's something I have to.
     
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  6. ServingTheMusic

    ServingTheMusic Forum Resident

    Location:
    SoCal
    I would not be apologetic. Albums that you have to crank the volume knob to 80% of max are lifeless, limp, and devoid of any power. DR is not the gospel. I know high DR numbers are a badge of honor, but the CORRECT DR for any given album to me is key.
     
  7. UltraSoundSquid

    UltraSoundSquid Forum Resident

    That's exactly the conclusion we came to after listening to the full album after my first attempt. Sure, it looked nice when the waveforms had plenty of headroom in the diagram, but it sounded really weak. And no way am I going to pump up the bass at a lower volume; when you turn it up, the walls would shake. There's a tough distinction that I'm trying to find, between quiet and weak, or loud and overbearing.
     
  8. Jrr

    Jrr Forum Resident

    When I owned a studio the trick was always to mix and master at low levels. Usually, if it sounded good that way it would be fine loud as well. I think like all things it's about finding a balance. That is something that comes from experience, and of course you'll figure it out as you go back in and play with it some more. It's great you have some time to keep working on it.
     
  9. TokenGesture

    TokenGesture Forum Resident

    Location:
    London
    It's almost like mastering is an art form and not just a question of keeping the DR numbers high ;) :righton:
     
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  10. UltraSoundSquid

    UltraSoundSquid Forum Resident

    Yeah. He actually had the entire album recorded and mixed, but he waited a year before asking if I'd master it. Time is not a major complaint. We're both doing this for the art (which is a terrible thing to do nowadays, where money is king and talent is inessential). But, I think this is a perfect, ten-out-of-ten album, and not just because he's my friend - I want to make this sound as good as it can possibly be.

    And as for mixing at low levels, I do that too. I mix at a low level, bring it up, see if anything is overpowering, mix until it sounds good with the volume up, bring the volume down, see if anything is missing, and try to find a happy medium there. The Fletcher-Munson effect is really important, not just in engineering but in listening as well, I think it should be made more well-known (for lack of a better term). You'd think these top mastering engineers who are brickwalling so many releases are trying to make it sound as clear as they can when their speakers are playing back at 1%. "Well, I can kind of hear the guitar now..." And, I suppose, if you're listening at 1%, a bricked master might sound better than... no, actually, that would probably just be indistinguishable static. Never mind.
     
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  11. Hermetech Mastering

    Hermetech Mastering Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Paris, France
    I don't think mastering ever was about keeping the DR numbers high, although it's a common misconception. And besides, DR is a terrible gauge of perceived loudness, not sure why it has become so popular. Integrated LUFS is far closer to perceived volume (but still not nearly as clever as the ear).

    Equal loudness curves are flattest at around 80-85dB SPL, so this is where most of your mastering should be done, slightly lower in smaller rooms. Plus occasional checks louder and quieter to ensure consistency.
     
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  12. Rojo

    Rojo Forum Resident

    It's a great thread that I discovered very recently. But keep in mind many of us will find it interesting but perhaps will have little to contribute.
     
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  13. ServingTheMusic

    ServingTheMusic Forum Resident

    Location:
    SoCal
    Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but in the days of LP mastering there had to be enough compression/gain whatever so that the music would be
    enjoyable over the surface noise etc.

    And...albums mixed to a low volume basically had the tape hiss as loud as the music. Incredibly off putting.
     
  14. Claus

    Claus Foodie

    Location:
    Germany
    Mastering is NOT art! IMO
     
  15. ServingTheMusic

    ServingTheMusic Forum Resident

    Location:
    SoCal
    It was considered a utility job until the mid 90s.
     
  16. TokenGesture

    TokenGesture Forum Resident

    Location:
    London
    So is it a science?
     
  17. Hermetech Mastering

    Hermetech Mastering Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Paris, France
    IMHO mastering lies somewhere between an art and a science, hence the name of my studio.

    Good recording, mix, and master tape and "tape noise" is not a problem, good press and good vinyl setup and "surface noise" is not a problem. Check this vinyl rip demo I did recently, with no post processing: http://hermetechmastering.com/B12VinylRipDemo2496.flac

    With vinyl you haver the Length, Level and Bass triangle, and you can chose two. I have some vinyl with 30 minute sides and "surface noise" is not apparent (Eno & Laraaji's Ambient 3).

    There's compression done to fit better within the intended playback medium (not really necessary in 24 bit digital age), there's compression for effect/vibe/bounce/groove, and then there's just plain overcooked/badly used compression. There's also the natural compression and saturation inherent in a lot of analogue gear when pushed a little. Limiting is a whole other story. And we've been hearing compression since the 50's, so it's become a part of our aural history, whether we realise it or not.
     
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  18. ServingTheMusic

    ServingTheMusic Forum Resident

    Location:
    SoCal
    Great post, thank you!
     
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  19. BZync

    BZync Forum Resident

    Location:
    Los Angeles
    I like this forum best when I can pick up tips that may help me with my own recordings. I'm liking it a lot right now.
     
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  20. Grant

    Grant A Musical Free-Spirit

    Location:
    Arizona
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  21. clhboa

    clhboa Forum Resident

    Those Chess reissue lp's from the late 80's sound great!
     
  22. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Audiophile Music Mastering Your Host

    January, 2002? Yikes.
     
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  23. EVOLVIST

    EVOLVIST Forum Resident

    And 2002 was about 10 years after it all went downhill in the early '90s.

    It's a lost war. It's over.

    Today's audiophile is the Japanese soldier who stayed on the island for 45 years after the war ended, thinking there was still a war.

    They'll find us later like Morlocks.

    It's sad, but it's true.
     

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