Your Questions: Why Is Music I Buy Commercially Full Of Clipped Peaks?

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music production Pro
Last updated 25 March, 2018

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Digital DJ Masterclass student Kenny writes: “I started looking to re-edit my first track – just cutting out a part of intro vocal I don’t like so much for starters. On loading it into my DAW (Audacity), I discovered that while the intro beats are fine, it goes banging into the red all the way through until the outro beats.

“One option is to just reduce overall volume in Audacity until it doesn’t go banging into the red any more, but I’m hesitant to do so because the cut-offs in sound that may have been caused by the track going into the red will not be ‘regained’ by turning it down, so surely doing this won’t actually improve the sound?

“And is this actually a problem? Since it is a track from a commercial release on a respected label, I would assume the mastering would/should have been to professional standards, no?”

Digital DJ Tips Says:

So a few thoughts Kenny. Firstly, you’re right – altering the volume of an audio source in a DAW won’t improve the quality if the track is already digitally “clipping”. The reason for this is the music lost thanks to digital clipping cannot, as you say, be regained just by lowering the volume.

If it makes you happy to reduce the overall volume slightly so you don’t see peaks above 0dB, say, then do it – no harm done.

Record labels often push volumes to the max on tracks (especially radio releases) using compression and other tricks to make the tracks jump out on small speakers and in noisy environments, and they sail a bit too close to the wind at times with this – it’s common nowadays, unfortunately.

Personally, I love the “black magic” of Mixed In Key’s Platinum Notes software to fight back against this. If you have it, try running your original file through it and listen to the results. It has a good stab at restoring “lost” music.

platinum
Mixed In Key’s Platinum Notes software can be good at repairing at least some of the damage caused by digital clipping.

Note that Platinum Notes is intrusive (in that it processes the file to “correct” a number of things), but it can sometimes do wonders not only in fixing files in the way I described, but also in “reversing” over-compression (one of its stated aims is to re-introduce dynamic range to tracks that have been released in the way I describe). Think of it as an automatic mastering tool.

As always, listen to the results (it doesn’t always improve things) – but you may find you like what you hear.

Have you encountered badly mastered, clipping or over-compressed tracks in your collection? Do you think it really matters? What are your experiences? Please share in the comments.

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