Most field mixers and portable recorders have basic limiters at least for the stereo output. Stereo linked, no threshold or release, just switch it on or off. When recording vocals I prefer recording without limiter even if I have to record at lower levels. For ambience or noise I will switch it on because a little harsh is better than a big digital distortion.
Everyone has a way of doing it, but Limiters are not for the lazy (IMO). If you have a limiter that you understand, and you work the input gain against it properly, it can be a wonderful thing.
We are in the digital age, but sound is converted from sound pressure to voltage, before its converted to 1's and 0's, and good capture practices are the same that they have always been (in general). "Fixing it in post" happens to be something that I would consider lazy to be honest. Record it correctly the first time, and at a good solid input level. The moment of capture is where the magic happens.
I never use limiters on field recording. I need the peaked audio from the slate hit to make syncing sound a bit easier, and I'd rather be diligent and make sure my audio is good than have a limited piece of audio. I've found that peaked audio was either really important - someone screaming, something high energy or startling - and needs to be recorded cleanly, or is not important at all and is going to be removed anyway.
I always have the limiters on in my Sound Devices 744, Sound Devices MP2 preamp, and Fostex FR2. On the preamp, I have the treshold set to the lowest setting, the recorders it is just an on or off choice.
Although I have very little experience with location sound, I would say that putting the limiters on when there is the possibility of clipping is not a bad thing. A bad thing would be to take less care setting your levels because you have the limiters on.
Put on the limiters, and then try your best to not hit them. At 24 bit and with decent gear, recording at low level to achieve this is no problem.
I find that limiters help with sounds that have a long attack time and go out of control such as public transport, especially trains... Typically recording at -24 to -12dbfs but every now and then something ugly pops up to eat all available headroom and ask for more. So the limiter switch stays at "on", all the time. And having said that, i frown when it's engaged. =]
I never ever disconnect the limiters in my FR-2, but I never intend them to be used either.
The way I work, I try to keep peaks somewhere between -4 and -10, or sometimes even down to -20 depending on how dynamically unpredictable the sound is. That way, there will (hopefully) not be any clippings messing up important takes/recordings I/the actor might not be able to repeat as well again. All limiters are different, and not all are transparent until clip, but on the regular FR-2 it is. Well, to be frank it's not exactly an Aaton, it's more like a really steep compressor as it kicks in at -2dB with a ratio of 1:5, but up until then it's completely transparent. However, it's not rare that things happen, a sound effect you expected to stay below a certain point might suddenly send unexpected but nice sounding transients due to the surface it is on, something hitting the boom might give a humongous bass-chock to the recording, or perhaps an actor who decides to change the performance mid-session. Without a limiter that could ruin the take. The limiter might sound a little more harsh when used (depending on the limiter), but the sound can without a doubt still be used without any extra processing, where had it been recorded without, the recording would probably be ruined.
I don't like using any processing while recording, any mistake no matter how small is completely irreversible, but with limiters I see it pretty much like a helmet or perhaps the steel-toe on my Martens; if away recording a demolition of a house or something else less than safe, I will do my absolute best not getting hit in the head with a beam or having an oversized boulder rolling over my feet, but if it happens, I prefer to be prepared. If it never happens, I still didn't lose anything :-)
I don't use a limiter for any recording, field or studio.
If I am worried about the levels I will use a y-split cable and record on two channels, making the second channel quieter so that if there is clipping I still have a spare clean channel. I will always split the signal prior to the preamps rather than after.
The difference in levels varies according to what I am recording, but the minimum difference is usually - 6 dB and the max - 18 dB.
Is it safe to use a Y-cable with mics? I don't know enough about the electrical side to predict what's going to happen, but with multiple inputs providing phantom power and multiple inputs accepting current from the mic (changing impendance?) I can imagine there could be some unwanted effects here?– EMVDec 7, 2011 at 12:10
There is a 3 dB drop and you need to have independent control over the phantom power. If the mic has an internal battery then I'll switch that on, or if it doesn't I will use a battery powered phantom supply. If you are at all worried you can use a mic splitter/isolator rolls.com/product.php?pid=MS20c– user80Dec 10, 2011 at 12:06
Limiters are for the lazy.
SQN have very harsh limiters kicking in very early with a 40:1 ratio which is a little mad as thats very strong. n Sound devices have softer limiters ad are also customisable which is much better.
Considering location audio should be mainly around -20 to -10 this should really give ample room for peaks, making limiters obsolete but who knows there are moments where you go wow, shit wish my limiters were on.
So set them t around 20dbu/0dbfs and you should be gravy... most hardware clips at 22dbu anyway so take note :D
Remember this is the digital age.... we can record a lot quiter these days and fix it in post... at most try and get your peaks no higher than -6dbfs but dont worry if the bulk of audio is low, currently doing a period drama and the mixers levels on average hit -20dbfs with peaks at -8 :)
When you say location audio should be -20 to -10, do you mean production dialogue for film should peak at those levels? Jun 9, 2010 at 6:33