Simple mastering tip: leave some headroom

When a track is mastered at 0db, the maximum level for digital audio files, many converters and mp3-encoders are prone to clip (digital, terrible, distortion). Even for CD, mastering engineers leave at least -2db for headroom. Many CD-players and professional soundcards will sound distorted when a few bits are mastered at 0db. But things get even worse when using a mp3-encoder. Simply said: when encoding to mp3 you might even need more headroom!

In practice:

  • simply master your track and leave like -2db or -3db headroom
  • encode to mp3 and check your file; you need at least -1 db of headroom after conversion
  • if that didn’t work, master at a lower level and repeat the encoder process

I have to say that sometimes just one sample at 0db might not be an issue, but when at least 3 samples are at 0 db, clipping lights of most professional metering systems will light up. And your ears might not like these clipped bits too. At least mine 🙂

The only thing which is needed is a good metering system, like RME’s digiCHECK which is included with all RME soundcards and the one I am using for years. With such a metering system you are able to check the levels of your audio signals.

You also need to keep in mind that some media players change the gain/volume of a file. I recommend foobar2000, a free media player which doesn’t affect the source files at all.

Happy mixing and mastering!

Questions and suggestions? Just leave a comment.

2 Responses to Simple mastering tip: leave some headroom

  1. arnoud traa June 9, 2006 at 1:28 pm #

    Hey,
    GReat to read a production tip! While we are at subject of “headroom”.
    Another tip : try to monitor your mix on a well balanced system!
    The same manufacturer Marco talks about also implemented the K-system
    in to their analyser tool. K-system is development by Bob Katz.
    Check out his book: Mastering Audio.

    Arnoud

  2. Marco Raaphorst June 9, 2006 at 1:44 pm #

    So true Arnound. I am using K14 all the time in digiCHECK. Maybe I’ll post something about that subject too one day.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: