So i set up a Limiter Tournament (using a variation on single elimination style) to decisively rank my Clipper/Limiter/Maximizer plugins against each other. Unlike with compression, which i often like to use for adding character, injecting density, and enhancing groove, my primary purpose for limiters tends to be to increase headroom by curtailing short transient peaks, leading to a consistent, clean output. For this reason, it is not so impractical for me to classify some limiters as “better” than other (unlike with compressors). This is also the reason why i am including clippers and limiters both in the same tournament. Limiters tend to pump and Clippers tend to distort, but lots of plugins have characteristics of both, and the basic purpose is the same for both: to reduce the pokiness of peaks which are so fast we don’t really hear them anyways. Maximizers? What the fuck are those? There is no consensus as different developers release things they call “maximizers” which do different things, but in general, they combine peak limiting with either low-level compression or saturation.
4 limiter/clipper/maximizer models at a time were pitted against each other in contests using HOFA BlindTest with clips gradually pushed into 35dB of limiting, gain-matched using Melda’s MAGC to be able to hear only dynamics, tone, and distortion characteristics without loudness levels affecting perception.
“Testy Mastering” is a pack containing an epic effect rack which contains the entire mastering workflow for obtaining a reasonably loud and balanced master or pre-master, mimicking my real-life Tasty Mastering workflow but just using Ableton-native devices. It can be used to effectively polish up your mixdowns for presentation online or for using to test master your mixes, realize their shortcomings, and re-mix before submitting to a professional engineer for final mastering. It contains different modules for specific purposes: Filtering, Surgery, L/R Groove, M/S Groove, LCR Saturation, Serial Limiting, and M/S Analysis. Macro controls are formulated to minimize unwanted side effects such as phase offset, etc, while providing a toolset for enhancing the perceptible audibility by massaging tone and dynamics of a mixdown gracefully. The pack also includes an “Unmastering” rack for restoring a touch of dynamics to completely flattened material as well as a Testy Mastering Template set you can open up to quickly prepare a fresh mastering session.
Testy Mastering Submodules
♥Filtering Module to cut unnecessary sub- and ultra-sonic content clarifying the lows and highs, inject secret “focus sauce”, and massage multiband width using the “M/S Filtering” analysis to make informed decisions. This module alone can transform a mix from “eh” to “wow”.
♥Surgery Module to EQ effectively with selectable bands deliberately bounded in scope and with resonances tied to gain to minimize possible negative effects of over-EQing and to retain the natural heart of the mix.
♥L-R Groove may help prevent peaks from one or the other stereo channel from reducing headroom for the full mix, also offering a unique wideness-enhancing “stereo link inversion” cross-sidechain feature which can make one channel react more to the signal from the opposite side; interesting for making a mix sound more alive rather than flatly consistent (for example, with “inversion” set above 50% in a mix with guitars panned to the right and violins panned to the left, whichever group happened to be playing loudest at a given moment would take precedence, slightly attenuating the other side more).
♥M-S Groove can be used to balance the dynamics between the central and peripheral sides content in relation to each other, for a fuller, more 3-dimensional sound if setting attack, release, and thresholds carefully to pulse with the groove of the song.
♥LCR Saturation is meant to be applied subliminally, not able to hear the effect of each saturator individually. But when you A/B it on and off, it adds a miniscule degree of additional “width, depth and clarity” (thanks ubk happy funtime hour for that phrase).
Set the frequencies by ear at extreme intensity, then dial back into subliminality.
♥Serial Limiting is meant to be used not for ear-blistering loudness levels but rather for a refined, tasteful, and workable procedure implementation which can be used to quickly dial in an acceptable final loudness level without being too extreme in amounts of dynamic squashing. Using multiple forms of limiting/clipping to finalize tracks has in our extensive tests been a most adaptable method for consistent end results on the widest variety of genres and dynamic ranges of source tracks. Depending on a song’s internal energy density, each of the different submodules will be set differently; there is no one “set and forget” setting which will work for most material and thus presets are eschewed. Best general practice is to set so that each limiting stage only very occasionally shaves off the tiniest pixel of gain reduction, other than the soft clipper, which can afford to trigger a bit more often.
Mastering for Loudness?
A huge confusion many of us have about mastering is just how loud to make a track. It’s always possible to push something louder at the cost of dynamic flattening and distortion, so how do we know how hard to push something? It is subjective, but by implementing the workflow outlined in-depth in the included Testy Mastering lesson file (particularly when applying the serial limiting module so that each limiter only occasionally shaves off <1dB) , you can confidently hone in on a reasonable loudness level which will retain most of your natural dynamics yet be loud enough to compete alongside other streamed material; useful for quickly mastering a mixdown to hear its flaws more quickly for subsequent mix revision (thus the name “Testy”). It’s important to note that this is not an “automatic” or “artificially intelligent” mastering process, but one in which the true power is unleashed with careful setting of each parameter using your own aural instincts. Since Ableton’s limiter is not as transparent as some true-peak limiters which exist on the market, and since a couple of next-level processing options weren’t easily emulatable, if desiring extreme loudness (louder than say -10lufs integrated) we recommend using Testy Mastering for subtle pre-mastering and sending the resulting file to a professional mastering engineer for the final boost. Another approved procedure to juice up a handful more dB of loudness is placing an instance of your favorite, most transparent true-peak limiter vst after Testy Mastering as the very final effect (except for possible dithering). Keep in mind, however, that lufs-based loudness normalization protocols are becoming far more ubiquitous nowadays, as well as the streaming services which implement them, so making ultra-loud versions of tracks becomes less and less necessary. The Tasty Mastering recommendation is to save two final versions of every song, one dynamically mastered around -16 lufs (-18 to -14) for permanent archival and presentation through services which use loudness normalization (itunes, spotify, etc) and one pushed louder (-13 to -7lufs) for places that don’t (such as direct to CD).
Mastering for Performance
If you plan to drop any mastered songs as part of a performance (your productions or those of others), i’d recommend matching each (using ableton’s clip gain, non-destructively) to an integrated lufs of -16 and loops which are not full songs to -23. This will give a nice balance between energy and headroom to be able to stack layers into the master fader to deliver to the venue. This also reduces stress about whether some songs are louder than others in a set and makes the sound crew’s job easier.
“PMX FX Plus” is a pack including audio and MIDI effect racks (+ one template instrument rack) designed for specific instrument types, including updates of ones originally included with various PMX-300 instruments as well as brand new effects.
Attack Room: enhance roominess as well as frontal attack of drums, making them both big and in-your-face
Bass Texturizer: overall bass colorizer for dull bass parts
Bass Octaver: lower octave enhancer focused on bass guitar note range
Brasher: enhance frequencies normally associated with harshness and pain
Butterfly Tremolo: emulates air pushed through rotating valves of water
Combo Amp: select between gain-matched amp + cab models
Funky Auto Wah: filter which is quite reactive to the input signal
12-String: emulates a 12-string guitar’s extra notes
Strumtain: strum effect for midi chord notes
Creamy PadWasher: washy cream for pads
KeyPlunk: emulates the sound of physical keys dropping
Leslee Rotary: in-depth emulation of a famous dual spinning speaker
MS TremoGlitcher: glitchy dimensionality
Piano Reverb: moody chromatic tonal reverb
Pluck Space: ambience designed for plucked sounds
Harpeggiator: experimental pattern generator
Rhythmic ResoBumper: exploiting quantized filtration for fun
Slowww: fooor looong spaaaces
Wind Pipe: emulates breathy humanlike timbres for pairing with digital woodwinds
for lead synths
Zoink Container: an instrument rack you drop an instrument into, with built-in filter that follows the note you play leading to an organically moving razor-edge focus
What does compression sound like?
What are compressors actually doing to our audio?
I was super stoked to be a guest on the AfroDJMac Music Production Podcast. Here’s your chance to hear my actual, real-life voice(!) The sound quality on my side is not wonderful since i was recorded over skype, but whatexer. I had a great time chatting with Brian about random stuff… the conversation decided upon its own meandering path, touching on various topics including the crafting and sharing of Ableton Live racks, VST hoarding, my custom Elemental Mixing template channel strip database, workflow optimization, cassette processing, dynamic contrast between songs on albums, and even the Legend of Zelda (nerds). All in all it was a very invigorating experience and i definitely wouldn’t turn down being a guest again at some point in the future. I myself have quite enjoyed the other podcasts, as they contain a plethora of unconventional tips which are superb for kick-starting the creative juices.
Oh, and we also dropped a couple free audio effect racks for you to grab, including something i brainstormed up quite a while ago and finally implemented perfectly: ‘Dynamic Panning’ (compresses in one direction while it expands in the opposite for source-reactive width modification).
Check out AfroDJMac’s website to access the show.
The newest sale pack is here: “Bussification”. It consists of channel strip racks designed for placement on groups of tracks, auxiliary tracks, and on the master buss during mixing. Each macro control for each is specifically restrained in minimum and maximum ranges to exemplify the relevant characteristics of different types of instruments.
(massive props to Joshua Casper for the above video demonstration!)
By grouping similar instruments in a mix and placing different Bussification racks onto them, each is given a distinct frequency character “home”, leading to a clearer and more vibrant overall mix when applied carefully. For each buss, decide upon a frequency to enhance, in particular, to help it stand out. You can sculpt the brightness and darkness to fine-tune the resultant tone, remove unnecessary frequencies with “tauten”, and infuse parallel saturation. There is a “juice” control which determines overall intensity of various parameters, parallel saturation calibrated uniquely for each buss type, and finally a knob for natural-sounding, sophisticated level automation which works by balancing various internal parameters.
Set up two return channels (CMD/CTRL-ALT-T), one for “Dirt” and one for “Space”. Solo them and send just enough of each channel in the mix to it to be able to barely hear. Use “Dirt” to add a bit of edgy presence for a less muddy mix. Use “Space” to emulate a nice room tone, helping to glue all elements together and cohesify punchiness. After balancing all track sends, unsolo the return tracks, reduce their levels to minimum, and slowly introduce them into the overall mix for added vibe and color. A next-level trick is to automate those levels to introduce more dirt and space during different song sections.
Place one of these on the master buss to subtly alter the overall character from digital neutrality to match the media of choice. These each have different controls. “CD” is for general-purpose, modern pre-mastering with an emphasis on the solidity of bass and the clarity of high frequencies. “Vinyl Record” adds in custom emulations of turntable rumble, stylus quality, and surface grime, also with RIAA pre- or post-equalization. “Cassette Tape” is equipped with a very nifty tape hiss generator which creates the hiss based on the original material as well as nonlinear subtle sub and air contour distortion.
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Due to an increasing upcoming workload, we’ve decided to release the freeVST racks all at once, instead of in monthly batches as originally planned. That’s over four-hundred and twenty individual racks now available! Talk about an expanded toolkit.
These are “default/template” audio effect racks for many different plugins which are available publicly for free in 64-bit. You simply load any of these Ableton racks, and it loads its corresponding plugin (assuming it’s installed). Each rack includes help text which will be shown when hovering over macro controls.
Most of the plugins we have racks available for have 32- bit and mac versions as well; however, some are 64-bit or windows-only. Mac-only and AU plugin racks are planned for a future update. FreeVST racks here will be updated periodically as necessary to reflect developer updates. If you know of a free vst developer we missed or encounter any issues, please leave a comment.
ABLETON LIVE 9.6 required (Intro, Suite, or Standard).
Yes, you can even use all of these racks with Live 9 Intro!