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by Post Malone

I’ve commented in previous columns how digital clipping is often used as a means of loudness enhancement, the idea being that you flat-top your waveform peaks to achieve a higher average signal level within a fixed digital headroom. The main side-effect of doing this is distortion, so it’s a tactic that you’re more likely to find in beat-heavy music, where the brief bursts of distortion on drum peaks are disguised to an extent by the noisy nature of the beats themselves — the distortion alters the drum tone, but it’s possible to compensate for that somewhat with adjustments to the mix itself.

Where this kind of loudness enhancement begins displaying its dirty underwear, though, is where powerful low-bass energy starts pushing pitched components of the mix into the clipping region, because the distortion artifacts aren’t masked as well as they are with drum hits. So, for instance, notice how the backing vocals in the chorus here (0:48-0:58) are overlayed with noticeable distortion crackles. Furthermore, the distortion often happens in the left and right channels at slightly different times, so it’s spread out right to the edges of the stereo picture — something that’s particularly distracting for headphone listeners. Indeed, if you check out this track’s Sides signal, it’s crunchy as hell. That said, from an aesthetic perspective, maybe that just makes it more urban and anti-establishment…