Gain Decrease Before Mastering Tools

freeg.pngHere’s another trick that I use from time to time, and might be applicable, but you need to test it out. I’ve noticed that if the headroom is tight before all the channel are fed to the mastering plug-ins, i.e. you see the signal going over to red quite a lot. Especially with Ableton Live the mastering plugins tend to do odd things with the clipping with hot signals. It’s not natural, rather a kind of chopping of transients and it all will otherwise make it sound very boxy.

What I do in Logic Pro is to place a Gain plug-in just before the mastering plug-ins and this way take down the signal. Usually between -1db and -3dB will make a nice difference. The plug-ins then operate with a lower signal and could do better adjustments. This is really how each one perceives it — you need to test this out yourself.

What about Ableton Live? Well, there’s this FreeG tool from Sonalksis that does the same thing. Here’s the link if you want to download this free plugin.

FreeG is nice to have, anyway. If you ever do Ableton Live warp work, and you want to adjust the volume levels between various tracks, use this tool, and look at the average values, not peak, and try to make each one close to 0dB average.Then when you do DJ work later, the volumes are balanced.


  1. Hi Kent,

    I like to keep all my channels in Ableton about -8db across the board all summing towards the master. Usually the master will peak in red just a very minor amount from time to time. I put a limiter (usually a Wavearts) on the master at -.1… Your hearing is correct: Ableton does not handling hot levels well. You can also overdrive cheaply written plug-ins. Many people say Ableton doesn’t sound as good but it’s mostly user error. Oh yeah don’t forget Ableton has a built in volume knob plug-in: Utility … check out my blog:

    Keep those faders low!

  2. Oops, yes I forgot that Utility has a similar gain reduction/boost feature. So there’s no need to install FreeG. Then again, FreeG has very nice metering.

    Anyway, your advice is sound. I’ve learned the hard way that the best results from Ableton Live mixing is when keeping the volumes low. This is another case where Logic handles hot signals better, and then we could read posts where someone is complaining that the overall sound in Logic/Cubase et rest is better than in Live. If one is careful, the quality is about the same.

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