Have you ever had the experienced where you tried to play a song and all you got was distortion from the audio system. If so then this can be explained by a phenomena known as clipping.
Clipping is often misunderstood by people because of a lack of knowledge. Clipping is a problem that occurs due to issues experienced in the music production stage.
Everyone who listens to music should be aware of the problems that are caused by clipping. Clipping can cause a lot of inconvenience and trouble, including damaging your speaker.
If you feel like a song sounds distorted while you are listening to it at the ideal volume, it would not be a good idea to increase the volume to its maximum as this could completely damage your speaker system.
Clipping is itself quite rare and tends to occur when songs are played by a new producer, who has forgotten to add limiters to their songs. Even professional producers can forget to add limiters to their audio tracks which results in clipping.
The listener can solve this problem by turning off the song and searching for another version. The music producer can solve this problem by adding a limiter and eliminating the clipping in the master track.
Clipping can be stopped by lowering the volume in all the elements in an audio track or by adding a compressor-limiter in the master track to eliminate any excess volume. A volume above 0 dB usually distorts as a result of clipping.
It is important to know how clipping occurs and how to solve the problem. This will ensure that you produce good projects. In this article, I will walk you through clipping, explain how to avoid it, and explain the consequences of clipping as well. Let’s dive in, shall we,
What is clipping
Simply put clipping is nothing but your master volume track going red, and displaying a reading above 0db. In reality, as soon as the volume is above 0db you will start to experience distortion in and vibration of the speaker system. Anything and everything above 0db will be completely crushed and won’t be translated properly in your speakers.
Clipping can be quite a big hurdle for a novice producer to identify, particularly when first beginning to use audio production software. The joy of producing your first track leads you to believing that everything is fine.
But as soon as the track is exported, it starts experiencing problems in places where the master track is higher than 0db.
This is one of the reasons why understanding clipping as a beginner music producer has so much value.
You cannot ignore learning about limiting and clipping. Whenever you take videos at loud parties or festivals with loud music, you often end up with audio that cannot be used for anything else. This is because of clipping as well.
This happens because the input audio that was recorded by the microphone on your mobile phone, couldn’t handle the volume that was recorded. Consequently the readings will be greater than 0db.
When trying to understand clipping you must also understand limiting. Without a solid understanding how limiting works it’s hard to find out how to stop clipping, or to even understand how to use clipping to your advantage, when you are mixing and working on songs in projects.
adding a limiter to audio production software is not easy and making it fix your clipping issues is just as difficult. You really should know what you are doing.
The relationship between limiting and clipping can be explained as follows. When the audio exceeds 0db, it’s called clipping, when the audio is compressed under 0db it’s called limiting.
The term clipping can also be sometimes a bit controversial as clippers are also used to cut off the top edges over 0db, and are sometimes preferred over limiters by mastering engineers.
Limiters and clippers are audio technique fundamentals used by professionals all over the world to make sure that the optimum levels of sound are being exported from audio production software.
People don’t understand that the same song, not properly optimized, can even blow the tweeters in your speakers at a lower volume.
Clippers and limiters can push your volume to above -5LUFS. This is where you find distortion in audio tracks.
When a song is being limited, the audio that was above 0db will be pushed down, and anything that was distorted, will remain distorted, but won’t damage your speakers.
If the song is not limited by using a limiter in the master track, you will have a track that will cause damage to your speaker system.
This is the exact opposite of how a clipper works when trying to stop clipping from occurring in the master track. A clipper shaves off any audio that exceeds a volume above 0db. This allows the audio track to be clean.
This is one of the reasons why clipping is a dangerous function in audio production software and even in an audio project. This can make or break the song in so many ways.
There are certain things to be noted when clipping is brought into the conversation, such as
- How clipping occurs in a project
- What is clipping vs limiting
- How to avoid clipping
- Consequences of clipping
Let’s get started on each one of them shall we,
How clipping occurs in a project
Clipping poses a major threat to an audio project. It destroys the ability to use the audio track that is mastered from the project. If you want to eliminate this issue, you have to understand the ways clipping occurs in a project.
There are various ways in which clipping usually occurs. For example using no compression in a song or an audio project will lead to uncompressed highly dynamic songs that always exceed the limit that is set for the mastering phase.
This usually happens in the mixing phase, where compression is applied on each track so they can gel together.
Mixing engineers who are new to mixing will forget to add these compressors, which are essential in keeping the dynamic range of the audio project in control.
Not performing any leveling in a song to keep it under -6db is another big mistake that takes place in a project. Newbie mixing engineers usually leave all the levels in a project at their max of 0db and never look them to blend all the elements.
They instead try to increase the volume more and more, resulting in an audio track that clips.
This is one of the reasons why we employ the mixing technique of starting your drums in your track at -12db and then proceed to mix all other elements around it. This ensures that your track volume doesn’t become excessive when all elements are brought together.
Adding too many limiters and pushing every element in the track to its absolute limit is another mistake that beginner engineers make in an audio project.
This can be avoided by always making sure the recording volume for the input signal is at an optimum level, so that you don’t have to boost it in post production. This alleviates a huge burden from the shoulders of a mixing engineer.
The next reason why clipping occurs is due to the use of excess equalization. When you do minor boosts in all the elements of a song you will run into issues where the song will be boosted about 3db everywhere.
This doesn’t seem like much at the start, but when you bring all the elements together into the mixing phase, you will encounter plenty of issues.
The magic rule in mixing is keeping it minimal. But the first thing you will encounter when you go beyond the limits is clipping. Even a small amount added over all the tracks will boost the volume so much and will make it clip.
Using too many software modulations is another reason why you might encounter clipping. When you add software modulations into each track, this audio production technique makes your songs volume increase drastically.
Using parallel effects throughout the track without considering the gain changes in volume is also considered a blind spot for many producers.
One of the reasons why clipping occurs is due to carelessness regarding the input volume for each audio production technique. Every software component has a sweet spot to work with. This is called an ideal volume range. When you exceed or are below this limit, you will find that the effect is not ideal.
This input volume then results in a small increase in volume throughout all the elements in the particular project. When you add it all up in the end, you will find the master bus with a solid red color blink, stating that the track is clipping. Usually, a newbie producer who doesn’t have any experience in music production will ignore this, resulting in bad tracks.
What is clipping vs limiting
When you start to talk to a mastering engineer for your song to be mastered they will always mention either clipping or limiting. These terms are used ad nauseam in the post-production of audio tracks in the music industry.
It is because of how much value these two audio techniques add in making a song sound incredible especially on digital platforms and sound systems.
Let’s look at clipping first,
- In the simplest form, if we have to explain clipping, it’s nothing but waveform distortion. When you push your tracks to the absolute limit they go into overdrive. This is the place where you start to lose detail in the clipped track.
- Clipping has a different effect on analog and digital systems. In analog systems, you will find that if it’s in a clipping state for too long, there is the potential for damage to occur due to overheating.
- A digital system n the other hand can be overloaded at the input stage to the point of clipping.
- Although clipping is made to sound bad, it’s not the worst thing that can happen to a song whilst being made. Sometimes clipping can even make the song sound better than when it wasn’t clipping. Such techniques are used in electronic dance music.
- Clipping can be caused by the use of digital mixers in today’s world, based on how the mixers are configured.
- When the fader in your sound system blinks red from time to time, that is not a problem. If it’s constantly in red, you have to bring the volume down to avoid clipping. This applies to mixing in audio production software as well.
- Clipping is used to create a soft head in the audio spectrum of songs, at the top where you have high hitting drums. Using clipping to creatively take away the complete strike that happens in drums provides a thumbing effect that is welcomed by listeners in electronic dance music.
When you look at limiting,
- Limiting is a process that can be described as the opposite of clipping. It has nothing to do with what a clipper does. A limiter is used by music producers to make the song as loud as possible without causing clipping and distortion.
- These two terms limiting and distortion are always brought up when we compare clipping to limiting. The purpose of using a limiter is to make the song louder.
- When you have the limit of 0db it’s like pushing the song towards a wall in order to make it loud. This is where distortion or noise comes into play.
- When you use a limiter anything above 0db is compressed and pushed down. No signal is lost. This is not the same case in a clipper where whatever is above 0db is completely taken away. Both these techniques are extensively used in the mastering world.
- When comparing clipping and limiting, losing detail in an audio track through clipping is more dangerous than losing it through limiting. This is why clipping is not used so much in the music production world. A lot of music production engineers prefer to use limiters.
- When used creatively, limiters are used to create the extra pump in the top end by compressing the songs and making them louder to the point where the loss of detail is insignificant.
- One thing to keep in mind while limiting is that it reduces the dynamic range that you will have when working on a song. This is completely different in clipping where you will lose detail rather than the dynamic range.
How to avoid clipping
Clipping can be avoided in a variety of steps. Let’s look at them one by one.
- Having a template in your audio production software is the first thing you need to do if you are struggling to get your music into the proper audio volume range.
- This is an amazing technique to use because the volume faders will already be set for you to use in the right place.
- This makes a huge difference during the mixing stage as all your faders will point the song to be under -6db
- Not using too many audio techniques to manipulate the audio track and keeping it minimal is a great way to avoid clipping as well.
- When you start adding a lot of audio techniques over each other, you will forget to check the amplitude which will start to increase rapidly.
- The increase in gains due to audio techniques is often not taken into consideration. Always minimize the usage of audio techniques.
- Usage of a limiter in the master channel is a great way to completely stop clipping. This is however a double-edged sword. If your track has too much clipping then the limiter would make it sound even worse.
- If it has less limiting then you have to make the song sound good by pushing the sound at the top. Putting a limiter in your master bus in audio production software is a must.
- Check the equalization in an audio track and make sure there are no extra gain filters added through the bell curves.
- Check the saturation strip in your audio track when you are adding saturation in your master bus.
- There is a hidden boost that sometimes happens with some saturation strips, which makes the song clip even when the percentage applied is as low as 6%.
- Always use a saturator that doesn’t cause changes in your volume gains in a project. This makes the saturation precise when compared to the other audio production techniques applied on the track.
- Adding too many compressors is another way to completely ruin a song and make it clip. Compression should always be applied mildly and should be applied based on the requirements of the particular track.
- When applying compression, people often forget the gain knob where the slightest movement could completely change how the track sounds. This is a very common mistake as well.
- The ultimate RMS value of the song increases drastically when a compressed element is added to the mastering bus.
- Not checking the volume limit before sending to mixing is another huge mistake that might lead to destroying the track in the mastering phase.
- When you are sending your track to mastering, always make sure it’s below -6db.
- Having this headroom for the mastering engineer to work in the song takes away the chances of the song clipping and losing detail in the process.
- Planning the LUFS limits is another place where most music producers miss the mark.
- This is another place where more attention is needed. LUFS limit is nothing but the value used to determine the volume levels in the song at the end of the mastering process.
- It is expanded as loudness unit full scale. Nowadays for streaming platforms, it is advised to have it at about -14LUFS for optimum loudness.
Consequences of clipping
- When a track has issues, you can usually work on them or repair them for other purposes. If a track has clipping issues, it becomes completely unusable for any purpose.
- Usually when a track has too much reverb or a particular effect or filter added, it can be repurposed for background music and various other projects.
- This is not possible when a track is clipping and has already lost half the detail of the audio clip.
- One of the main problems with clipping is that you cannot recover any detail that is lost in clipping.
- If you make mistakes while using a compressor, you can recover at least 50% of what you lost. When it comes to clipping anything above 0db is completely lost.
- If you send a clipped track for mastering, you are sending a crippled track for post-production without even knowing it.
- When you listen to a clipped track you that it translates very poorly in audio systems. It will sound as if it is being played underwater.
- This because the amplifier in the audio system is unable to translate sounds above the 0db level.
- This also causes vibration and rumble in the low end of the song. At the high end, you might hear a lot of metallic noise. This can sometimes be accompanied by a popping sound as well.
- A clipped track can cause damage to an audio system. When a particular track is clipping, even if the volume level is low, the track will cause problems in the audio system, and will lead to overheating because the amplifiers can’t handle the excess RMS being thrown at the system.
- This can lead to wear and tear of the instrument. If played at higher volume this might even lead to the complete failure of the audio system.
- If you spot any difference in the way the song sounds in the audio system, don’t play it again without checking the track with a music producer.
How do I stop my amp from clipping?
The first thing to do is to lower the volume until the meter displays everything in green.
This is not a full proof solution because a signal with clipping can affect an amp at lower volume levels.
The best solution is to select unclipped songs that are properly limited.
Is clipping bad for an AMP?
Any clipped signal can damage a speaker. It doesn’t necessarily have to be on a higher volume. The amp gets heated when you are playing a clipped signal. Damage can occur even when the amplifier is not at full output.
Is audio clipping bad?
Yes, audio clipping is bad for an audio track as it destroys the detail in the musical composition. This results in distortion and vibration when the song is played in an audio speaker system.
What does audio clipping sound like?
Clipping sounds like a noise that has few details in it. If a proper musical track has 20% noise in it. A clipped track would have 80% noise in it.
Audio clipping will cause a rumble in the low end and a high screeching sound in the high end.
How do I remove audio distortion?
Removing distortion in an audio track is a complex process, and depends on the quality of the track. Audio distortion is usually removed by mixing and mastering engineers through the use of audio production software.
Why does my speaker sound distorted?
Your speaker may sound distorted due to many reasons, including audio clipping in the master channel, the broken tweeter in a speaker, and even connections not plugged in properly.
I hope that this article helped you in understanding the effects of clipping in audio production software and what it does to an audio track. Following the above steps will provide a clear path to eliminating such issues.
Going through the basic techniques and honing ones skills is essential to becoming a good music producer. This way you avoid making lots of mistakes. Continuous learning and improvement is another way of stopping clipping.
If you don’t educate yourself in music production , you will always be prone to making mistakes. The best thing to do is to learn continuously from everything that you do in music production.