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What Is Audio Clipping And How Is It Used?

What Is Clipping And How Is It Used

Audio clipping is something that many of us have come across at one point or the other. The term “audio clipping” is also quite common and is represented by the admonishing red light on the DAW, speakers, or audio interface. The result, most times, is that you start to scramble for faders or knobs so that the light can go away. With these practical experiences, it is also essential to explain in theory what audio clipping is, what it sounds like and how to deal with it.

What is audio clipping?

Audio clipping is the amplification of an audio signal beyond its maximum allowed limit in an analog or digital system. It is also called overdrive, and similarly to the guitar pedals (also called overdrive), it can cause distortion and reduce the quality of the audio.

This image shows the audio wave when clipping sets in. it distorts the audio wave. Ordinarily, the audio wave is supposed to be smooth and rounded, but clipping ‘clips off’ the troughs and peaks and produces a flat plateau. Playing this flat plateau from your loudspeaker makes a jarring and unnatural noise that not only sounds horrible but can blow off the speakers.

When a loudspeaker is clipping, the phenomenon is aurally understood as a break-up or distortion. If the loudspeaker is left in the clipping stage for an extended period, it may start to overheat, and the possibility for damage increases exponentially. However, many speakers have built-in precautions to prevent this situation, such as soft-clip circuits acting like limiters to the noise or distortion. These soft-clip circuits have been used since the 80s to limit the input stage signal in speakers. So, when there is an input signal, for example, about 10db higher than the maximum specified input for the speaker, the soft-clip circuit works to limit this signal to prevent clipping.

How does audio clipping sound

Clipping is a phenomenon that leads to sound distortion. Distortion is often heard in heavy metal and rock guitars every time, but that distortion is often purposeful and tasteful. Three levels define distortion in the music industry. They are:

  • Fuzz
  • Distortion
  • Overdrive

These levels are all noticeable, but the second and third levels make the distortion very obvious. The lowest level here is the overdrive. It’s only a slight amount of distortion and may go unnoticed sometimes. Distortion starts when you start noticing that your audio is losing quality and breaking up. Fuzz is the highest level and can be very disturbing. The main difference between an accidental clipping and an intentionally distorted guitar is that clipping affects the whole audio track and makes it sound horrible.

The second image above is a clear visual and graphical representation of what clipping looks like and the result of the distortion. It causes you to lose resolution and detail. The sound is no longer sharp or clear, but what you are getting instead are unwanted noise, clicks, pops, hiss, and other sounds that should not be in your audio.

How to prevent sound clipping

One of the first things that you must note is that if there is clipping at an early stage in your playback chain, the future part will also sound distorted whether or not you end up setting the correct levels.

A good example is in the VLC player software used to play movies and music on computers. It allows users to turn the volume up to 200% and above. If you set your computer’s speaker to be quiet and turn the volume of the VLC player to be extremely high, your speakers are going to be giving out clipping audios at a very low volume.

This phenomenon is called gain staging. It is used to stop clipping and ensure that it does not happen again. In dealing with clipping, it is also important to note a big difference between volume and gain.


One of the primary causes of clipping is that the audio signal becomes too hot at some point along the line that leads to the loudspeakers or headphones. This means the voltage (volume and amplitude) has become too high, or the bits are maxing out at a digital stage.

You do not have to be a trained electrical engineer or even know any of the key technical details before you can understand these basics about audio clipping or how to fix it. However, it is a common occurrence, and many people have learned to handle it too.

While there may be many more things that you need to learn about clipping, this article already discusses what it is, how it sounds, and how to prevent it in your production.

Author Bio

His name is Samuel Matthews. He is 33 years old and lives in Manchester. He worked as a journalist for custom essay writing service and wrote his own detective story. He loved to learn something new and meet different people. His hobbies are travel, sports, and drumming.

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