How to Maximize Volume in Audio Recording?

Those 3 major processes affecting the quality of your overall tracks particularly equalization and compression process.

Honestly it is the limiting process the sets the volume really loud. This can be accomplished with a plugin called “limiter”. One of my personal favorite is using Waves L1 and L2. These are not free plug-ins but widely used among music production professionals. You can refer to this tutorial for some tips in using limiter.

You can also read this article on audio mastering software and plugins if you want free stuff/plug-ins.

Too much abuse of limiting to maximize loudness can squash or destroy the original dynamics of the recorded audio as illustrated here.

Normalization is a fairly easy process and less damaging to audio quality than limiting. The overall goal of normalization is to attain maximum peak volume (which is specified) without clipping. This preserves sound quality compared while making the music loud using limiter. Bear in mind that the final result of normalization is having a lesser average SPL volume than limiting.

Normalization is a classic technique to make sounds loud and was commonly applied during 60′s and 70′s. Have you noticed that when you compare Led Zeppelin tracks and Green Day tracks? The Led Zeppelin tracks tend to sound less loud than the Green Day tracks, but sound cleaner and clearer. It is because Led Zeppelin mastering engineers uses less compression/limiting and relies more on normalization.

The rest of the techniques illustrated below apply best to mastering process.

To do normalization in Adobe Audition 1.5 (similar steps to other audio editing software):

1. Using Edit view, highlight the parts of the audio wave you want to normalize.
2. Go to Effects—->Amplitude
3. Then in constant amplification tab, Find “calculate normalization value” then click “calculate now. This will give the amount of boost in dB needed to reach maximum amplitude of -0.2dB (0dB is not recommended, always give some headroom for best results)
4. Then click OK. It will then normalize the tracks to -0.2dB.

See screen shot before normalization :

Before normalization

Before normalization

See screen shot after normalization:

After normalization

After normalization

See the difference??? Normalization amplifies the whole waveform in such a way no peak will be louder than the specified target (e.g. 0dB). In other words it will not sound as loud as using compression but it sounds absolutely clean.

Below is a screen shot of the same wave using limiter:
Tools/Settings: Waves L2 Plug in, -8dB threshold, Out of ceiling= -0.2dB

Limiter output

Limiter output

Comparing the limiter output to the normalized output, you can observe that the limiter output has lesser dynamics (difference between loud and soft peaks in the audio waveform) although it would sound very loud compared to the normalized output. The normalized output preserves the dynamics of the original recording however it does not sound very loud.

Read this very useful guide on true measurement of “quality” loudness in audio mastering.

As bonus for you, you can read this tutorial on the 54 ways you can improve the quality of your recording projects.

Content last updated on October 22, 2012

  • Emerson Maningo

    You can use Voxengo R8brain for both dithering and sample rate conversion. I have tested it previously in Linux and it works. In their download page here:

    You can add it as VST for Mac and it should work. Regarding headroom you can read the following tutorials:

  • Boris Ivanov

    Hi Emerson,

    Congratulations for these best articles! I have a question about the conversion of the sample rate and dithering. You suggest in some place in the text to use a Voxengo r8 dither converter for better quality and more headroom, but it can be downloaded only for Windows. So, what the situation with MAC DAW – for example if I use a Presonus Studio One (or other software) do I need to make the dithering not within my software for more quality conversion?


    Boris Ivanov

  • Emerson Maningo

    What is the unit? Is that in dB? Probably you either set the limiting maximum to below 0dB or you are not recording in 24 bits that results to lower dynamic range.

  • Emerson Maningo

    You have two options here:
    a.) Apply stereo widening during mastering. Do that before EQ, Compression and Limiting. I would write some tutorials on stereo widening in the future but I believe Waves has some stereo widening plugin, you can read first their manual.

    b.) Make your mix sound wide, this is not in mastering but during the mixing process. This is done by careful panning, application of reverb, etc. This would make the mix sound wide which also translates to mastering.

  • dp

    Anytime I analyze other commercial tracks in wave lab, the maximum and minimum value is always 0 and -144, but my own is not like that, what is the problem?

  • dp

    I really love this post, I master my tracks with wave plugins.. My tracks sound loud compare to commercial track, but not as wider as commercial one…what can I do?

  • Collin

    In response to the article’s last picture, Waves L2 is not a compressor, nor does it use compression at all. It is a Brickwall Limiter. Brickwall limiters take any peaks past the threshold, in this case -8db, adjust them back down to the threshold, and then raise the overall audio up to the given output ceiling. The imagery you can use would be that of someone controlling the master volume knob on your mix. If it gets too loud, he turns it down and then back up once it is quiet again.

    Mastering usually uses a variety of compressors and limiters to achieve an overall competitive volume. The compression is usually done with hardware compressors and then a final limiting is done with a software brickwall limiter. Hardware limiters are slowly fading out of use because, simply put, they are not as effective as software limiters. With hardware limiters, the hardware cannot perceive a sound level above threshold until it has actually happened. This is a weakness because it cannot react as quickly or as effectively. With software limiters, you can have a lookahead feature that knows when the higher levels are coming up. Waves L2 is an incredibly popular plugin, and it is used in many high end mastering studios for this purpose. As you can imagine, the transitions between analog and digital requires some pretty important conversions, so top of the line A/D converters are used also.

    Along with equalizers, reverb, and a few other tricks, mastering is a necessity for taking any recorded music and putting into a happy consumer’s hand.

  • Emerson Maningo

    Hi Kareem,
    “how can I make sure that others will feel the same loudness on their speakers (mp3 players, car audio systems, …etc) that I produce in my home studio?”

    The numerical way to measure the average sound pressure level of the audio. This is in dB and most recording has this feature. So for example, if you measure the audio and it provides -13dB average SPL then it should sound the same with other monitoring systems except if the wave has been substantially altered or some effects are introduced.

    “Does using Wavelab (as an example) for measuring audio characteristics give a good indicator that I can refer to ?”

    Yes, any reputable software provides good indicator for measuring audio. Its all up to your ear.

  • Kareem

    I have a question please, how can I make sure that others will feel the same loudness on their speakers (mp3 players, car audio systems, …etc) that I produce in my home studio? Does using Wavelab (as an example) for measuring audio characteristics give a good indicator that I can refer to ? If not, is there any useful tool that I can use to assure a stable (or equal) loudness among different types of speakers? Knowing that I use Shure headphones for critical listening. Thank you..


    I’ve got a lot of hardwares, compressors, big bottom aural exciter, vitalizer jack and big mixing boards. Do i master with this or am i better with softwares? However, thanx for your tips.

  • Emerson Maningo

    If you start with hardware gears, better master it first as the principles of those are mostly the basis of those used in the softwares. In fact, those in softwares are said to “emulate” the features found in the hardware.

  • Anonymous

    very helpful, thanks for this.

  • Emerson Maningo

    Absolutely! Those long rectangle are distorted wave and will sound horrible at louder volumes (by turning up the volume of a monitor or audio player). Thanks for comment Jim.

  • Jim Robert

    I agree with you… but the fact of the matter is that compressed audio looks more like a long rectangle with a few dents in it 😉