Do you want to get your tracks louder, but feel like limiters are ruining your mix? Clipping might be able to save you!
Clipping is a way of squashing the dynamics of a waveform, similar to compression and limiting. The key difference, though, is with compression and limiting, it's reacting to the audio to turn the volume down dynamically as it gets louder, creating a smoother squashing effect, whereas clipping simply chops off and flattens any peaks that cross the loudness threshold.
This can create digital distortion and make your track sound bad if done in excess. However, this can also be one of the most effective ways to boost loudness especially while preserving the punch of the transients and the "apparent" loudness / energy of the sound.
Meanwhile limiting can kind of take away some of that energy, make things feel quieter, and negatively impact transients. This is especially valuable in genres where loudness is valued higher, however clipping can still have uses in any genre, so long as you know what you're after.
Which Clipper Should I Use?
That's a great question, and there are many possible answers! There are some free clippers out there such as GClip, and then some which will cost some change like Standard Clip, KClip, Clipshifter, ClippedMAX, and so on. The key here is to try out as many clippers as you can and try pushing different source material through them to see how it affects the sound.
I like to try pushing a kick through it and see how loud I can push it until it starts to sound bad. I've found that Clipshifter by LVC Audio handles this test pretty well, and I personally use it on my master channel in lieu of a limiter. Your DAW itself is also a clipper if you push things into the red, however in that instance you don't have much control of it and compared to some of these clipper options it starts to sound bad more quickly.
Types of Clipping
Most clippers let you choose between hard and soft clipping. The softer the clipping the more gentle it affects the corners of the waveform while harder clipping can cause more digital distortion.
Although you may be thinking "digital distortion = bad" there may be some specific cases where you want some of it intentionally for taste, as many clippers these days are designed to clip things in a more tasteful way than just pushing it into the red from your DAW. Hard clipping is also a useful utility for shaving off unwanted peaks without the unwanted pumping effect a limiter or compressor could introduce.
Soft clipping introduces a certain kind of saturation as well as the utility of clipping, and so can be used to introduce a certain color or timbre to your sound. As with saturation units, different clippers will sound different and by exploring different options you will discover what suits you best and have different options to use for different scenarios.
Other Situations To Use A Clipper
Besides throwing one on the master channel, you might experiment with using a clipper in some various situations, such as group processing while mixing, if a certain group of instruments is meant to function together as a singular sound, such as layered instruments or a group that creates a sort of wall of sound, you can try using a clipper to glue it together, control the dynamics, while maximizing the volume. It is easy to go too far and ruin the sound, so it does take some practice in that sense.
Another use is on a single instrument track where there are crazy peaks all over, you might normally use a compressor or limiter, but you could also try a clipper and see how it is different. If something sounds too "poky" for example, it may be a good candidate for using a clipper. There's no singular solution to every problem but knowing how and when you can try using a clipper is going to improve your overall abilities as a producer.
Using some light clipping in your processing chain to control the dynamics can be one of several plug ins you use to subtly glue and control your sounds, adding clipping before limiting can help give you the best of both worlds with a louder more aggressive sound than you would get from just limiting and a cleaner sound than you would get from only clipping.
In summary, there are many ways you can use a clipper to enhance your mix, so why not try some clippers out!
Until Next Time,