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Set The Proper “Headroom” Before Mastering

Audio Headroom

“Let your music breathe and speak!”

What is the “Headroom”?

The headroom is the amount of space in dB between 0dB and the point at which your signal processor clipping, peaks that exceed 0dB (1.23 volts) are less likely to distort. If your track has no headroom then it is pretty easy to overload it. Headroom can be also explained as a safety zone.

If your track does not get enough headroom then it will not be able to make a good presence in the mastering output and will not sound lively into the mastering, rather will sound distorted. It’s quite difficult to actually ‘saturate’ any sound-track in your mix which has no headroom. We can say that the headroom is the breathing room for your mix.

Audio Mastering Headroom

How to work with headroom in your mix? 

Here we will use two terms which are Peak and Clipping.

Volume PeakPeak is the maximum level of volume which is shown in dB scale and clipping is the reach of volume signal to anywhere above from 0dB.

So this is peak (see the image), you can see a yellow line here that I pointed, this is the Peak, the highest volume level of the track.

Well, that is what we need to know for going further into the headroom topic. The beginner producers will naturally have the tendency to crank the fader up above 0dB for their wrong concept of “the louder the better”. But what it will actually do is create a distortion when the track will meet the audio mastering session. It will totally ruin the whole track.

You have to keep in mind one thing, that while mixing multiple tracks it’s not wise to take individual or master track fader above 0dB. Because as we know during mixing process the raw audio clip will go through several basic processing like EQ, Reverb, Compression and various other uncommon processing which depends on the producer or on the flavor of the track. Which all together eventually change a lot in the dynamics and characteristics of that clip. So it’s obvious that there is a need for some space in between the peak level and 0dB in order to work with that track for audio mastering.

Here we can see the unused dynamic range or headroom to work with, which is very good.

dynamic range

Where should I put the peak level or how much headroom I need to keep for the mastering session after mixing? Will be fine at -10? -10? -8? -6? or Just at level Zero(0)?

Typically the wise and good music producer will obviously keep his peak near around -6 to 0 or maybe not as equal to zero(0). Because he wants to make his mixing a lot richer in sound and spices in it.

I have collected few track graphics to perfectly give you a vision and sense of what I am actually talking about.

This sound clip has its peak around at -6dB which may seem very low and to is heard in the whole mix where it might lose the presence of it. But yet I am saying not to worry about it, we can crank it up to a certain level during audio mastering by processing it just under the peak level at -6dB.

sound clip

This is another clip which has its peak at around -3dB.Which obviously seems to be awesome and great to work with as it normally can make its presence in the mix. And obviously is with a very nice headroom to work with.

sound clip

This clip is exactly to the peak level at Zero (0).Which is will not be preferable by many sound engineers those who want to put a lot of spice by processing the track, but yet is perfect to work with for normal and very small processing on it.

sound clip

In this abnormal and cranked up clip, you can see some of the points on the track seem to be flat with the top of the layer.

This is a pure sign of distortion in your clip. For which you get a limitation to your audio mastering techniques and probably will ruin the piece of music if processed. And to say, this very abnormal and cranked up clip has its peak level at +3dB which seems to be insane. So that is what was needed to be shown for a better understanding for all of you.

sound clip

So, let us have a look at altogether what is good and what is bad:

Sound Headroom Good
Sound Headroom Bad
Sound Headroom Bad

Here are another visuals that you have to keep in mind during mixing.

audio mixing settings

As I said earlier, clipping is bad. No matter where it is. Whether it reaches up to red or yellow, simply it is bad. So, make sure the master fader is not showing it.

The peak should be just like this (third picture). Which ultimately will let you put all your spices into your tracks.

If you find this article interesting, please share it with your friends and if you have anything to add please use the comments section below.

6 thoughts on “Set The Proper “Headroom” Before Mastering

  1. nevian says:

    Just export in 32-Bit Floating Point and don’t worry about peaks 😉 this advice would be much more helpful I would say… 🙂

  2. nevian says:

    Just export in 32-Bit Floating Point and don’t worry about peaks 😉 this advice would be much more helpful I would say… 🙂

  3. Don White says:

    “You have to keep in mind one thing, that while mixing multiple tracks it is NOW wise to take individual or master track fader above 0dB.”

    I assume you mean NOT.

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