Why You Shouldn’t Mix Too Hot

Loud is the new black, so it seems that everyone is recording music as hot as possible – not just beefing it up at the mastering stage, but firing everything close to zero at all stages in the recording chain. Maybe it’s a hangover from the analog days where we had to keep everything as high above the hiss as possible, but nowadays there’s a lot more headroom that people don’t seem to be fully aware of…
(from DAW)

Too Hot In The Mixer?

There are few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to mixing, but there are good reasons why you should record somewhat below the physical limitations of your hardware. One such reason is inter-sample clipping; although 0dB is the loudest signal allowed in a digital system, a peculiarity of the digital-to-analog conversion process means that if you have two contiguous samples forming at peak at 0dB, an analog system will smooth these out to form a wave that peaks slightly above 0dB. You can find a good illustration of this phenomenon at Hometracked. If you keep your mix away from this danger zone, then you can avoid this problem altogether (although some mastering tools such as Izotope’s Ozone have a special inter-sample clipping defeater).

Make Use of Your Headroom

If you want your final product to be incredibly loud, you really shouldn’t try to do that in the mix. Although the practise of squashing a track to a pulp is frowned upon by many engineers, if you really want it that way then you should leave it until the mastering stage. The more headroom the mastering crew have to work with, the better (and louder) they can make it. If it’s squashed to begin with, then there’s not so much they can do.

At any rate, digital systems have such a low noise floor that there’s no need to keep the faders high. It’s a much better idea to mix at lower gains and just turn up your monitors; this will give your dynamics full reign. A 16-bit digital system has a noise floor of -96dB, which is quite a lot of space – and if you operate at 24-bit, you’ll have a noise floor of -144dB to play with. So why not take full advantage of this superb range – and let the mastering people worry about making it ‘loud’ later on.


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