How Soft Limit Can Help Save Your Recording

It happens too often—you set up your session, check your levels, and are ready to record. The vocalist steps up to the mic and everything is going well. Then it happens. They get louder than you were prepared for and you’re suddenly clipping.

The only solution is to go back and re-record the areas that clipped. This can cause problems when it comes to time restraints and is even just a general pain regardless.

Rather than constantly punching in to fix overly enthusiastic vocals or performances, there’s a way to tone it down before it even hits the converter.

Apogee’s Soft Limit

Introduced in 1992 through Apogee’s AD-500, soft limit helps prevent digital clipping while giving you that analog warmth that everyone loves. This superior analog design prevents the digital clipping that causes distortion by instantaneously rounding off transient peaks before they hit the analog-to-digital converter while giving it a more analog-like saturation.

To put it simply, it stops the clipping before it gets to your AD converter.

Soft Limit allows several more decibels of apparent level to be recorded which is perfect for any loud situation.

Another useful situation for Soft Limit is live recording. If you’re in a situation where you are recording a performance and you encounter unexpected high level, the damage is done. The clipping will be heard and your recording is hindered. However, if you are tracking the performance through an Apogee interface with Soft Limit, you’ll be covered and avoid disaster.

Engaging in Maestro

If you’re using a Symphony MK1 8×8 with Maestro open, you can engage Soft Limit on each analog input with specific settings. The following options are available:

  • -2 dBfs – Soft Limit begins to attenuate transient peaks at a level of -2 dBfs. This is the most transparent Soft Limit setting.
  • -4 dBfs – Soft Limit begins to attenuate transient peaks at a level of -4 dBfs. This is the threshold of previous implementations of Soft Limit.
  • Soft Saturate – a lower threshold, plus asymmetrical clipping in a manner similar to tube circuits.
  • Soft Crush – The most extreme setting, where audible distortion and dirty mojo are required. Take that, drums!

For all other interfaces with Soft Limit, the options are on and off. Turning Soft Limit on automatically enables the -4 dBfs option listed above.

Mastering With Warmth

Not only is Soft Limit a great tool for tracking, but it can also be a helpful tool when mastering. Here is a quick trick to get a few more dB out of of your track and add some analog warmth:

  • On Output 1 & 2 in Logic, set up an analog insert by going to Utility_I/O
  • Assign the output to 3 & 4 or 5 & 6 — wherever you don’t have monitors connected
  • Choose any pair of inputs — for the sake of example we’ll use 1 & 2
  • Use two TRS to XLR Male cable to connect the outputs to the inputs
  • Set the inputs you choose to +4dBu in the Maestro Input page
  • Engage Soft Limit on these two inputs
  • In the I/O window, click on “Ping” — Logic will set a latency offset
  • Hit Play
  • If the output of your mix is low, you may need to boost the gain with the gain plugin
  • Put the gain plugin right before the I/O plugin — or you can add a compressor, eq, or anything you wish to shape the sound

As you see, we have boosted the gain a fair amount but the mix stays below zero.

Soft Limit is a practical tool for any audio environment. Whether you’re recording in the studio or mixing a live show, soft limit can help reduce the risk of digital clipping while adding analog warmth. This feature is available on Apogee interfaces such as Duet, Quartet, Symphony I/O, and Ensemble. Enhance your Soft Limit abilities by engaging the feature through Apogee’s audio interface control application, Maestro.