Limiting and headroom at the AD converter stage

G’day Mike,

I’ve been mastering out of my Central Australian studio for the past 5 years or so, improving steadily with each mix that comes my way, and really enjoying the process.

I’ve found my biggest breakthrough recently was adjusting my digital Reference level on my converter input, and hitting the converter’s limiter at the just the right gain, this has really helped me with reaching a competitive perceived loudness and also tonally.

So my question is:

How much of the modern mastering sound is coming from the limiter/soft clipping at the converter stage, in your opinion?

And a related question: how important is the gain staging in your setup heading into your analogue gear, and then hitting the converters at the sweet spot?

Thanks so much for your thoughts!

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Hey Dave,

First, congrats on finding your recipe. I think advice from other people is a very important asset in figuring out what might work for your setup and your end goals, but ultimately it’s through trial and error that we find our sound and uniqueness as engineers, so kudos to you.

As for your question about clipping/limiting at the converter being part of a modern mastering sound, I can only say it works for me and am weary of a one size fits all idea.

I use my converter to act as a limiter, because clipping is probably the fastest limiter there is and it’s grabbing only the peaks. I also use my board’s limiter as its also a tool that can be employed to help get more perceived level.

In general you are correct about the gain staging. It’s the input and output levels, maybe some soft saturation at the converter, a bit of clipping, and possibly a hint of gain in the box. It’s a combination of all these things that gets me to the final level for the master.

Best of luck,