The Myth Of Digital Headroom.

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People talk about needing headroom for your tracks to avoid clipping at the master bus, or to avoid clipping your individual channels.

There’s just one problem.

You CAN’T clip inside of your DAW.

Those little red lights on your channels are to tell you where you WOULD be clipping if you were sending to a piece of hardware. The red on your 2 bus is sending to your d/a converters, and you CAN actually clip the output there.

But if you’re not leaving the box, you can completely ignore your clipping indicators on your channels. The above video was uploaded in 2011 by Dan Worrall, so this isn’t new technology.

However, bear in mind that it wasn’t always this way. People learned on more limited systems in the early days of digital audio, and many of the restrictions of that era are still being passed down as modern day concerns by mentors. If you’re using a 16 bit track mixer in your DAW, you may experience clipping. But odds are you’re using a 32 bit or even 64 bit mixer structure in your DAW, as this is likely the default configuration.

In this case, the bit depth determines the amount of headroom inside of the mixer itself, and not the bit depth of the audio passing through it. Since the audio passing through it is nothing more than a linear data point, having obscenely high amounts of headroom give us virtually infinite headroom in the box.

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EDIT: It’s been brought to my attention that this post may confuse newer engineers. While this post isn’t intended to be a 101 level post, I don’t want up and comers to ignore it because it’s confusing.

So if you’re a less experienced engineer who has questions about gain levels and plugins, I suggest you check out Gain Staging: What to know, and why you shouldn’t stress out about it!