Analogue versus digital ? Blatant fault or creative decision ? Better or worse than limiting ?
Some engineers deliberately clip their analogue gear or analogue-to-digital converters, some never clip anything, some use gentle clipping – what’s the best answer ?
There’s so much discussion about this topic, and more often I find that people are confused about exactly what “clipping” actually is in the first place.
So, I made this video to give my own perspective, and some clear examples of how hard digital clipping sounds, compared to soft “analogue” style clipping, and how it sounds compared to limiting.
The short version
Hard digital clipping gives the highest apparent loudness, but also the most distortion and the biggest loss of low bass.
Soft “analogue” clipping gives smoother, more “musical” sounding distortion, and retains more “punch” or thump. It’s still distorted, though.
Limiting usually gives the cleanest, least distorted results, but also reduces the apparent loudness the most, with the biggest loss of “punch”.
So, as always – you can’t have your cake and eat it ! The harder you push any kind of clipping or limiting, the more compromise there inevitably is – either in terms of added distortion or loss of “punch”.
Clever processors like the Slate FG-X do their best to trade the two factors off against each other, but at the end of the day it’s up to you to choose the perfect balance for your own music.
One more comment – “hard” digital clipping is the only one of the processes listed here that is entirely “un-natural”, meaning there’s no equivalent in analogue gear. Food for thought ?
Personally I sometimes choose to use a combination of both soft clipping and limiting when mastering. This is something I’ll be covering in more detail on the Home Mastering Masterclass course – for more details, click here.