The clipped bits

I am sorry to say, but Scritti Politti’s Anomie & Bonomie from 1999 (!) was my first encounter with clipped bits, a CD which was mastered way too loud. A digital clip on every bassdrum hit, but even worse: total clipping during some passages.

During my flight to Lissabon, Portugal, I read an interview with Green Gartside of Scritti Politti who had just released this new album ‘Anomie & Bonomie’. I thought Green had disasppeared from the earth, but so wrong I was. Happyness! A new Scritti, that must be mind blowing! Green looked better than ever before; he surely was ready for the new century!

Our hotel, Hotel Eden, was located in the same building as Virgin Music Store and since our apartment had a miniset I bought the CD straight away. And man, I loved that album!

But sound-wise the album didn’t sound good to me. The music, the fresh arrangements and Green’s lovely voice were mind blowing, but the CD sounded rather distorted. Was my CD faulty? Probably not, maybe that miniset had a bad amplifier. Or not?

Back in the Netherlands I noticed that the CD also sounded worse that I was expecting. What was going on? I contacted Martin Walker of Sound On Sound and by email he explained to me that the thing I was hearing might be what they are calling ‘clipped bits’, several bits at the top-level of the CD: 0db. And so right he was.

In the following years I noticed that a lot of these modern CD’s had these artifacts. They were created by mastering engineers adding too much limiting to the music. All dynamics were gone and digital distortion was all over the place.

Was it a personal thing maybe? Maybe I was wrong and I needed to adopt to this sound. Like tube overdrive, maybe my ears needed to adopt to this ‘new sound’? Mm, I felt tube overdrive sounded musical, but digital distortion did not. Me, becoming an old fart? Maybe, and I became to appreciate digital overdrive as an effect but somehow I never felt loudly mastered music was sounding great anyway. Not only because of the digital distortion but also because it lacked dynamics. Not dynamic, no depth, just a VERY LOUD SOUND!

7 years later, a lot of people, like me, still don’t like these loudly mastered CD’s. I am not saying I am not becoming an old fart. But if so, at least I believe I am an old fart with good ears 🙂

Check out my post ‘Simple mastering tip: leave some headroom’ and read this recent document ‘Why music today, is merely noise’.


Agreed. It´s even more annoying, when top 40 radio station limiters kick in.
A very good article in about the subject:


I’ve been intrigued with those experimental artists who use the artifacts, as well as glitches and by-product clicks, to create sonic soundscapes. In a more mainstream mode, I like about Eno’s early post-Roxy work that he recognized the possibility in the “accidents” in the process. Certainly in some music from the early days of recording, the silences added not by design but by the limitations of the equipment now seem charming rather than shortcomings. Still, when one hears what one suspects is unintended glitch in a recording on which a fair amount of money was spent, one has to wonder about it.

I agree, but only as an effect, not as a bad mastering solution 🙂

I am using lowtech sounds, noise and overdrive all the time myself. When things sound perfectly fine, it is not perfect. The world is not perfect in a way, we need an edge all the time. But that’s a whole different story I guess than the mastering enigeer trying to make U2’s latest CD sound as loud as possible. That doen’t work for me: I am annoyed about the distortion and the lack of dynamics.

The lack of dynamics ist really the most annoying thing for me. That´s also the reason, why i can´t stand listening to mainstream radio stations these days any more.
First the mastering flattens out everything and then the limiters of the radio stations take the remaining dynamics out of the music.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.