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5 Tips for Mastering Soft Clipping in Logic Pro X

A quick soft clipping history

Before we get into all the ways you can soft clip your audio to perfection, we should discuss what clipping is, and why you want to do it in the first place. Clipping in the analog world was a result of overloading a piece of gear with too high of an input signal, which would cause distortion. While this generally wasn’t wanted, it was something that producers and engineers used intentionally to add some distortion and character to their tracks. This sound has become a staple in modern recording, with many digital options to replicate that sound.

So what exactly is clipping? The quick explanation is that clipping is when we chop off the information of audio at a given threshold. Whew! Ok, now let’s break that down a bit.

what is soft clipping

If we look at the image above for a second, we’ll see that the blue line represents a fairly standard sine wave. When we clip, we’re chopping off parts of the waveform. Hard clipping is like taking scissors and just shearing off a chunk of audio, and that is what the red line looks like. You’ll notice there’s a hard corner made at the threshold of clipping. Soft clipping is a bit of a softer, more rounded approach to clipping and looks like the orange line. This will produce a smoother and less distorted sound.

You’ll notice that when we clip (either soft or hard), we create a more complex waveform, with more points of change. Whereas the sine used to only have one point of change be each peak and trough, now the clipping has added an additional point. This means there is actually more information than you started with. 

We also lower the dynamic range of the audio when we clip. Because we’ve now chopped the top off, we can keep the same true peak (where the highest point of the audio reaches) and get an overall louder sound. This can be especially useful for tracks that have a loud and fast attack, as clipping can help get a more overall beefy sound by taming the peaks by the onset of the sound. A great example of this is clipping a clicky snare.

While we generally wouldn’t want to clip softer instruments with nicer tones like piano and violin, clipping can help beef up bass, individual drum tracks, and even your whole drum bus. Clipping your vocals can even be a cool effect sometimes!

Pro-tip: Be cognizant that you are adding gain when clipping and making the signal louder. Most clipping tools will have an output gain option that will let you lower the processed signal as is necessary.

Now that we have a better understanding of clipping and why it can be such a useful tool, lets look into these 5 tips for clipping in Logic Pro X.

Method #1: Phat FX Soft Limiting

Unfortunately, Logic doesn’t have a straight-up clipping plugin included stock, so we have to get a bit more creative to find the options for soft clipping. The first one we’ll discuss is the Phat FX. Originally Camelphat by Camel Audio, Apple purchased the company and added Phat FX and Alchemy to Logic.

Phat FX has many amazing features but for now we’ll only discuss its incredible distortion options. There are two approaches two soft clipping in Phat FX:

logic x phat fx soft clipper

In the Master section of Phat FX, you’ll notice that there are two options for overdriving the plugin. Utilizing the ‘soft limiting’ option will let you clip your audio by driving the input. Just make sure you disable any other parts of the plugin you don’t want on 

when you do this!

Method #2: Phat FX Soft Saturation

One of the available modes in the distortion section is ‘soft saturation’. Once set you can just pull the knob up to get the effect going!

logic x phat fx soft saturation

Method #3: Overdrive

With the Overdrive plugin it’s going to be all about restraint. You can pull that filter all the way up so that you’re affecting the whole frequency range and then you want to add subtle amounts of drive. Somewhere between 2dB and 6dB should still be pretty subtle and get you that soft clipping effect we’re after. You can obviously drive it a lot harder than this if that’s the sound you are going for, but that’s for another blog post.

logic x soft clipper

Method #4: Clip Distortion

The Clip Distortion plugin is designed for a harder more obvious distortion in mind, but with a few tweaks we can use it for soft clipping. Make sure your tone is set to 20Hz - 20kHz and that your LP Filter and High Shelving are turned all the way up to start. Then you can fool around with the input gain, drive, and mix to get your desired result.

logic x hard clipper

Method #5: Free Plugin Venn Audio

The baby version of their larger clipping plugin, this nifty tool has oversampling (which can help avoid aliasing problems), and seven different clipping algorithms built-in. While you can be covered for your clipping needs with the previously discussed options, this free plugin is a great tool to have in your arsenal.

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Final Thoughts

You now know when to use clipping, how it works, and which tools you have available to accomplish it. Used subtly in different key parts of your track, clipping can give you a fatter and louder mix. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out and I’ll be happy to address them!

- Shane

logic x soft clip video
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