Should You Use A Limiter Before Mastering?

Mastering is one of the most complex jobs in audio engineering because it involves many things that one has to take into consideration.

Most of the common effects used in mastering are EQ, Compression, Saturation and limiters.

In this post I’m going to zero in on one effect which is the limiter.

A limiter is basically a type of compressor that pushes a mix toward 0db to make it loud enough while ensuring that any clipping is avoided.

So, should you use a limiter before mastering?

Save your limiting for the mastering stage because that is when you’ll need to get some good volume into your mix. Limiting before mastering will just make your mastering harder because you’ll have no headroom left. Everything will be compressed and loud.

Limiting is meant to be the final process in mastering and arguably the most important.

Its primary purpose is to make your track as loud as possible while preventing it from going over 0db.

If you therefore carry out limiting before mastering, you’re essentially jumping to the last step of audio production without carrying out the pre-requisite steps that should propel you to the last step.

Things to do in mixing

Let’s get into some of the important things that you need to carry out in your mixing.

I’ve got many posts on mixing and mastering so I won’t really delve deep into the details because you can simply scroll to the menu of this site and find the “mixing and mastering” page.

Or you can simply go directly to my mixing and mastering articles via this link.

With that said, let’s touch on some things that are essential for mixing.

Get consistent volume in your mix elements

Mixing is not only about Blending your audio tracks together but it is also about getting a consistent volume through out your mix elements.

This is one thing you should focus on doing right.

If you get your volume levels correct in the mix, you’ve already won almost half the battle.

Take care of any editing

Editing is the process of taking your recording takes, cleaning them up for noise, checking and getting them in line so they’re consistent. And choosing which of these takes are the best and which ones should be left out or recorded again.

Proper editing doesn’t make mixing complicated because engineers would have already done the work so all the mixer or mixing engineer has to do; is get these takes to a good volume level, apply some effects and get the overall song ready for mastering.

Leave Headroom

Headroom is simply not over applying volume and max loudness to your mix elements so that mastering takes care of it with a limiter and other effects.

Things not do in mixing

Now that we’ve briefly gone into things you need to carry out in mixing your audio. Let’s look at the things that you should not do.

Use a limiter

First things first, you should not use a limiter when mixing because it will push your mix toward the 0db threshold giving it loudness that only should be introduced in the mastering phase. After the necessary processing is done.

Get the mix too loud

Your mixing should take into account the Headroom like I’ve already discussed.

You want to give mastering effects some space for them to work in.

If your mix is too loud, using and applying various mastering effects could lead to distortion.

This you have to avoid at all costs.

 Ensure that you only get your mix to a good level.

If you’re working with a mastering engineer then you can ask them about their preffered Headroom amount before sending over the track so that you work in line with it.

Mastering

Let’s get into a brief discussion of mastering so you get a better sense of what the process entails.

Effects

There are many effects that are used in mastering. All these effects are applied as the final touches to the record.

For example, EQ may be applied to the overall mix to get rid of any harsh high frequencies or any muddy low frequencies.

Some of the common plugin effects used in mastering are EQ, Compressors, Saturators, limiters, soft clippers etc.

Limiting

Limiting is a very important aspect of mastering because it is the effect that prevents your mix from clipping and also gives your mix much needed loudness.

One of the reasons why limiting is applied at the end is to allow it to do its job on the overall mix.

This is why you should only limit at the mastering stage and not any time before.

Clarity

Another important goal of mastering is to introduce clarity into a mix.

Clarity in a mix is what allows you to hear every element in the mix without it being distracting or unpleasant to listen to.