When exporting a song I was working on in Ableton I decided to export it as an .aiff file for the first time, just for kicks I guess, when I noticed some options that I had never really paid attention to. Specifically the option to Normalize the track.

haha heyeah ableton

After a tad bit of research I came to the conclusion that it has something to do with fixing the volume peaks of the song to make it more "normal." I thought that was what a limiter or a compressor does and didn't get how it was different.

Then I read that it is destructive to the sound waves or something? I don't see why someone would want to destroy their sound (unless of course your into death metal or that sort of thing ;]).

So what exactly does it mean to normalize a song and how is this process done?

  • Destructive, in this context, just means that it is altering the actual audio... As opposed to an EDL that leaves the original audio intact.
    – JoshP
    Oct 11, 2012 at 20:26
  • what exactly is an EDL
    – Travis Dtfsu Crum
    Oct 11, 2012 at 20:27
  • Edit Decision List. The original audio is never altered. All of the "edits" that are made just tell the application how to play it back according to the edits. Meaning you can always undo your edits.
    – JoshP
    Oct 11, 2012 at 20:37

2 Answers 2


There are a few misconceptions here. Normalization, in the most basic sense, raises the gain of the ENTIRE track to a nominal level. What you are trying to do with normalization is maximize signal. The relative dynamics of the track are not changed. There are actually two types of normalization, but the most common is peak normalization, where the loudest peaks of the signal are brought up to the highest level they can without clipping or overdriving the signal.

This is very different than compression, which applies DIFFERENT amounts of gain to different parts of the track. This reduces the "loudness" range of the track, make it punchier but less dynamic.

Limiting simply prevents the signal from going over a set limit. It's similar to compression, but it doesn't mess with overall dynamics...just peaks.

And the term "destructive" means that you cannot undo the process, and only applies to this instance within this software. It is not a quality-value term.

  • ah ok. thanks for clarification. I know some people who use compression to raise gain a bit which is what confused me. And isn't a limiter essentially a compressor with the ratio set to infinite? I'm gonna wait to see if anyone else answers before I accept your's
    – Travis Dtfsu Crum
    Oct 11, 2012 at 20:50
  • yes, a limiter is a special case of a compressor. Oct 12, 2012 at 0:53
  • 2
    This is a very good answer. I just wanted to add that if it is anything that you might ever want to release, it's best to render a version without any normalization or compression. You and/or a mastering engineer will thank you later.
    – JPollock
    Oct 16, 2012 at 19:04
  • @thanks for the tip JPollock. I haven't actually used normalization yet and I try to not use any compression on the master bus but tend to end up usually a very gentle compression setting since I am my own "mastering engineer" ;)
    – Travis Dtfsu Crum
    Oct 18, 2012 at 18:30

There is Peak normalization and Loudness normalization, not sure which one this is, you might want to check the manual.

Peak normalization simply changes the volume of the entire song, this will also amplify quiet stuff too. If you do it on a classical symphony track you will hear the sniffs and AC of the concert hall louder.

Loudness normalization will bring your song's perceived loudness up to a certain level. This will usually make all your songs in your playlist sound about the same loudness.

  • 1
    Loudness normalization is a bit of a funny term as it combines normalization with compression. It is normalization based on RMS level, rather than peak level, along with overload protection limiting.
    – JPollock
    Oct 16, 2012 at 19:06

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