Clipping audio is a music production problem that can ruin a great mix—especially when it comes time for mastering.

But clipping isn’t always the enemy. Sometimes you even bring it into your mix on purpose with saturation plugins!

So what exactly does clipping mean? And how can you avoid it when you need to? Can you ever bring back a signal that’s been clipped? These are common questions for beginner and intermediate producers.

If you’ve stopped by the LANDR Blog lately we’ve been taking a deep dive into distortion in music.

Today I’m breaking down its similar, but related cousin—clipping. In this article I’ll explain everything you need to know.

Let’s get started!

What is clipping?

Clipping is a destructive change to an audio signal that happens when the level is too high for the system it’s passing through.

This could mean recording the levels too hot on your audio interface or pushing your master fader into the red in your DAW.

When the signal level goes past the maximum level allowed by the system, the tops of the waveform begin to be chopped off at the limit.

In a digital system like a DAW, clipping results in harsh, unpleasant distortion that you want to avoid.

Clipping is a destructive change to an audio signal that happens when the level is too high for the system it’s passing through.

However, producers often use a softer form of clipping called saturation as a mixing tool. If you want to learn more about how this type of clipping can help your mix, we’ve got a detailed overview to help you understand.

That said, the bad type of clipping that comes from poor gain staging is almost always a negative outcome.

In fact, it’s one of the most common mix issues we see in submissions to LANDR Mastering.

How to fix clipping audio

Unfortunately, clipping is one of the few processes in digital audio that’s truly destructive.

That means that once it occurs, there’s no way back to the original signal.

There’s some advanced software out there with the ability to rebuild clipped waveforms. But the de-clipped material is never more than an educated guess at what used to be there.

The best way to fix clipping audio is to avoid it altogether. I’ll cover that more in the next section.

The best way to fix clipping audio is to avoid it altogether.

But even if you’re doing your best to avoid bad clipping, you may sometimes have to work with clipped audio.

This can happen if you ever use material that was recorded live or captured with a portable recording device like a field recorder.

You might even be tempted to use a great take you recorded that accidentally went over the limit at the loudest moment.

In these cases, audio restoration software might help you lessen the worst effects of clipped audio.

Here’s a good roundup of the options that are out there, but be warned—this plugin type requires highly advanced technology, so it’s often pretty expensive.

Luckily, you won’t have to bother with that if you take steps to fix the problem before it occurs!

How to avoid clipping

The best way to avoid clipping is to make sure your signal levels have plenty of room before the limit as you work.

This practice is called gain staging and it’s the key to keeping good headroom throughout your workflow.


These terms have their own related meanings, so check back into our in-depth guide for the full breakdown.

But at the simplest level, you just need to learn your audio meters and keep an eye on them as you go.

If you need a refresher on how to read meters to see the signal level, here’s our guide.

If you already know how they work, you can use a rule of thumb—aim to have the peaks of your signals hitting around -9 dBFS and the body of the signal hovering around -18 dBFS.

Once all your audio is captured in your DAW, the most important place to avoid clipping is on export.

Keep that in mind as you record with your interface, apply plugins and mix tracks in your DAW. If you do it right you won’t have to trim your faders drastically at the end of your mix to export a file that doesn’t clip.

While we’re on the subject, once all your audio is captured in your DAW, the most important place to avoid clipping is on export.

The reason why has to do with the way your DAW’s mixer handles the math that combines your signals together.

Once the file leaves your DAW, clipping can show up even if you didn’t necessarily hear it in the project.

That’s why dealing with the possibility of clipping should be high on your pre-mastering checklist.

As you prepare your audio for mastering, you can address clipping by making changes to the master fader, bringing down individual track faders, or fixing gain issues with plugins.

Make sure you’re following the -9 dBFS/-18 dBFS guideline and you’ll have plenty of headroom left for mastering.

Turn it down right

Clipping is an easy problem to deal with once you understand why it’s an issue.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t wreak havoc on your mix. A clipped, distorted mix is a recipe for bad sound in mastering.

Luckily, the info in this guide will make sure you never have to worry about making that mistake again.

Now that you have the basics down, get back to your DAW and keep creating.

Audio LANDR