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Q. Can I flatten out my finished tracks using a hardware compressor?

TC Triple*C multi-band compressor.

In my hardware-based setup, with my TC electronics Triple*C compressor, is it possible to do the kind of limiting on a full mix where you end up with a waveform that is levelled off at the top and bottom, 'brick wall'-style? Also, when recording the co-axial digital output from the Triple*C onto my hi-fi CD recorder, what should the Triple*C's dither setting be if my source is a 24-bit Tascam 788?

SOS Forum Post

Reviews Editor Mike Senior replies: If you're after a waveform which is levelled off at the top and the bottom, then simply clip the output of the processor by cranking up the make-up gain control. To make this slightly less unpleasant on the ear, make sure that the Soft Clip option is on. However, you've got to ask yourself why you're wanting to do this. Although short-term clipping usually doesn't degrade pop music too much, it's really easy to go overboard and do serious damage to your audio if you're not careful. I'd advise doing an un-clipped version as well as the clipped version for safety's sake. You've got to ask yourself just how well your monitoring system compares to the one in a dedicated mastering studio — you should always let your ears be the judge, but remember that your monitors, combined with the room they are in, may not be giving you sufficient information to make an informed decision.

If you're after maximum loudness, then clipping isn't going to get you all the way there in any case. Use the Triple*C's multi-band compressor as well — set an infinity ratio, switch on lookahead, and make the attack time as fast as possible. Adjust the threshold and release time to taste. Make sure that you're aware of what the thresholds of the individual compression bands are doing as well (they're set in the Edit menu), as you might want to limit the different bands with different thresholds. Switch on Soft Clip and set the low level, high level, and make-up gain controls for the desired amount of clipping. Once again, make sure to record an unprocessed version for posterity as well, because you may well overdo things first time, or in case you get access to a dedicated loudness maximiser such as the Waves L2 in the future.

The Triple*C's dithering should be set to 16-bit, because you should set it according to the destination bit-depth, not the source bit-depth. The CD recorder will be 16-bit, so set the dithering to the 16-bit level.