Hello and welcome to this week's article, today we're going to talk about Clippers!
What is a Clipper? A clipper is a software similar to a Limiter, with the difference that a Limiter works as compressor but as you said it has zero attack, configurable release, infinite ratio and it automates gain, while a clipper on the other hand doesn't change gain, but shapes input signal according to a specific function (soft or hard clipping) which leads to gain decrease but its just side effect.
Why is it important? Because it can do some things that a Limiter can't, and vice versa it has some downside that a Limiter doesn't, so it's important to know both of them and choose the right tool for our job.
Although Limiters are basically compressors with a 1:20 to 1:infinite ratio (according to the type), they work differently from a clipper, which is basically a brickwall that just cuts flat everything that surpasses the given threshold; the only thing that can be adjusted is basically the knee of the cut, which is the softness of the level curve before starting the actual clipping.
What is the basic difference between a Limiter and a Clipper? A clipper is so hard that on one side is very easy to distort and ruin the song (while with a limiter there is usually a curve of sound degradation that can be tolerated before really damage the result), on the other side the Clipper helps us raising the overall volume retaining the (perceived) shape of the transients.
This means that using a Clipper instead of a Limiter will expose us more to the risks of really unpleasant distortions, but it will also help us retaining the snap of the snare, for example, which is the first thing that gets degraded when pushing a Limiter.
The controls are usually the same of a limiter: there is a Gain-Drive knob that raises the signal level, a Threshold-Clip knob that sets when the plugin should activate, and sometimes a knee control that helps slowing down the initial attack of the Clipper.
To understand when to use a limiter and when to use a clipper we shoul try both of them at the end of our Mastering Chain, and see for that specific project which tool is the most suited.
Today there are many Free Vst Clipper, and some DAW also features a bundled one.
Here are the most used freeware ones:
Gclip: probably the most famous and appreciated free Vst Clipper
Ncl Basic Soft Clipper: very simple soft clipper with Drive control
Lvc Audio ClipShifter: the most complete of all, available in both freeware and paid version.