Get The Most From Your Master - Vol 3: ‘Peak Control’

An important element of getting a clean, loud and dynamic master is proper peak control. When you don’t control your peaks well in the mix, you’re risking alot of destructive processing and distortion in the mastering stage.

In the days of analog mixing, this wasn’t an issue due to how analog circuits and tape behaved. Signals were inputted hot into the console (and tape recorder) for a good signal to noise ratio and the peaks were rounded off naturally thanks to analog saturation.

In digital, what you have is what you get. You’ve got to watch your peaks and deal with them accordingly. Luckily, technology has come a long way and there are ways to do it transparently.

Here’s an example of a sample that has spiky peaks that don’t contribute anything musically to the track and presented issues in mastering. When pushing the final volume to hot levels comparable to other tracks in its genre, the synth was distorting in the quiet passages of the tune. 

I advised the producer to use soft clipping to transparently reduce the peak levels of the track. Below is the before and after:

As you can see, the spikes are gone and the rest remains relatively unchanged. When listening to the results, it sounds the same and provided another 4db’s of headroom. If you can gain headroom without ruining the sound, that’s an epic win!

There’s a great FREE plugin that can do soft clipping and a whole lot more called Limiter No. 6 by Vladg Sound. Here are some sample settings:

Place the threshold to where you want to remove the peak and experiment with knee amounts, oversampling and modes til you’ve found the sweet spot.

-Mike Bell

Darkart Mastering