Digital DJ Tips reader Toni writes: “So, how should I use Traktor limiter in a right way? Some say limiter makes songs sound crappy. Does it sound still crappy if I lower the master so that limiter shouldn’t be active? It definitely takes away possibility to add volume momentarily as an effect if the settings are not right. How does it work with older songs, that have to be played a bit louder to equal new songs? Does it take the edge of scratching, flanger and other stuff that tends to activate it? I’ve been playing usually so that master is way lower than 0dB, because I want to take advantage of the headroom and control the overall volume from mixer, not from the PA or somewhere else. Then there’s some vinyl rips with snap, crackle and pop that I’d really like to limit. Can you help?”
Digital DJ Tips says:
First, trust your ears! Who cares what people say? Does it sound crappy to you? Does it still sound crappy if you lower the master? Learning to trust what you hear is an essential part of developing confidence as a DJ. OK, the limiter is there because distortion sounds bad, and digital distortion sounds double bad. It is designed to tail off any peaks in the overall volume that are too loud. So you’re right, throwing in a load of effects and the like could potentially trigger it if you’re not being careful, but again, trust your judgement over how much that affects the overall quality of your sound.
I’d suggest sorting out your vinyl rips away from your DJ software to remove pops and crackles, using Audacity or something similar, because it would be a shame to play with the limiter on if you decide you’d rather not (and if you stay “out of the red” like it seems you are, there’s no need for the limiter anyway). Personally, I often keep the limiter on when I DJ, but watch it like a hawk, and use it as an indicator that I’ve pushed things a bit too far and adjust accordingly. Certainly if you’re playing into a fixed PA system with a fixed volume, the temptation can be to try and squeeze as much volume out of your controller as you can, and the limiter is a good way to rein that – but playing with it constantly actually activated will definitely affect your sound. Conversely, if you have it switched on and you’re not triggering it, it won’t make any difference (but as I say, trust your ears).
The biggest thing to remember is: don’t play in the red. Don’t go into the red on your channels, on your master output, on any mixer you’re going through, or on any PA system. That way you’ll not need a limiter, and your sound quality will always be as good as it can be.
Do you have a particular way you approach getting the levels right and avoiding using the limiter in your DJ software? Or do you just leave it on and play at whatever level you like? Please share your advice in the comments below.