Hands up if the last part of your mastering process, or chain, is adding a limiting element to your track with a ceiling of 0db? Yup, thought so.
That’s most producers out there. While this limits our track to lock in the sound we’ve worked so hard to create, especially when you’re listening to it in your preferred DAW platform, converting your track to an analog format usually causes some problems.
Most notably, I’m talking about when you convert your track to an MP3 format, for example, when you plan to upload it to SoundCloud, Spotify, YouTube and so on and so forth. After all, what’s the point of setting your ceiling above 0dB if it’s only going to become distorted?
However, if you take the time to put your track through an analyzer once it’s been converted, the chances are that you’ll notice it clipping, even though this isn’t the case when you’re playing it through your DAW.
What’s going on? Let’s find out.
Okay, Tell Me What’s Going On
The fact of the matter is when you put your track through the conversion process, especially when you’re compressing files into a smaller, perhaps lower-quality format, the reconstruction filter that’s applied during this process round off your digital audio signal.
This is to shrink your overall file size, but in doing so, you can also slightly adjust the levels of your audio, which can ultimately result in clipping. As I’m sure we’ll all agree, this isn’t ideal.
The Science Behind Inter-Sample Peak
When your sample breaches the 0dB, this is known as an inter-sample peak. Let’s say you’re listening to your track in your DAW. This means you’re listening to it in a digital format. However, listening to a compressed version are you listening to it in an analog format, as we’ve already discussed.
But, the digital format means that the waveform is ‘stepped,’ meaning straight lines and sharp corners, allowing you to keep it nicely aligned with your 0dB ceiling. However, an analog signal is curved, meaning it can easily breach this line, and therefore clipping will occur.
This diagram will help to explain;
When your analog line exceeds your 0dB ceiling, which in the image above would be the top grey line, this will create distortion, clipping and a low-quality sound.
Avoiding Inter-Sample Peaks
Okay, so now we know what inter-sample peaks are, we can now be proactive in minimizing the risk of them happening or getting rid of them altogether. Of course, based on the science that we’ve just learned about, the easiest way to avoid this would be to increase your ceiling level or to lower the parameter.
Regardless of what DAW you’re using, you can lower your parameter using the ‘Master Fader’ setting. Most professional productions will set this between 0.3 and 1dB, creating more than headroom for your track.
However, this will depend on your personal preference. Some producers have even been known to argue the case that inter-sample peaks shouldn’t even be worried about because the difference is so tiny, many listeners won’t even be able to detect the difference!
While this may be the case and you may choose to forget about it completely, there’s no denying that some distortion will be created, even more so if you’re playing your tracks out of a booming sound system, then you’re making it far more likely that it’s going to be heard.
When Will I Need to Apply This Setting?
Of course, it would take all day to apply this setting to every single one of your samples, especially when your to-do list is already overflowing. While it’s ideal to apply it to every track to minimize the risk of distortion, there are two main tracks that it’s essential on; vocals and piano.
This is because these tracks typically contain much higher, crisper and sharper notes and any distortion you have on this track will be audible or will at least damage the quality of your sound.
Are There Any Plug-ins That Can Help?
Well, I’m glad you asked! While applying the effects and raising the limiting level is something you can easily do from within your DAW platform, there are some leading plug-ins you can use to help you accurately check the levels of your analog sound files you can check to see whether you’re experiencing an inter-sample peak, or how much room you’ve got left to play with.
dpMeter II – While this is a free plug-in, it’s still very powerful when it comes to analyzing your tracks. This plug-in is incredibly easy to install and use and will give you a clear reading of the levels of your tracks.
K-Meter – A mid-range plug-in, K-Meter is a traditionally skinned analyzer and level checking plug-in that will help you easily identify the levels of your track and has several built-in functions to help you find the desired levels for each track or sample that you’re producing.
Loudness – By far the most expensive yet most fully-featured levels plug-in available, this highly-rated plugin is full of different ways for you to check your levels and countless knobs and dials that you can play with in order to find the suitable settings for you. Some users might need to overcome the learning curve when it comes to this powerful machine.
As you can see, it’s very important that you’re aware of what an inter-sample peak is and how you address it. While for many producers the change and distortion created by this problem may be minuscule, getting yourself into the habit of checking and addressing this problem can save you a lot of stress and hassle in the long-term.
As a producer, it’s only natural that you want to aim for best, highest quality you possibly can in order to be the best producer you can be. Using this information and the tools provided, you can now venture out to take your productions to the next level!