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How to Use a Limiter to Boost Voice Recording Levels in DaVinci Resolve

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Working on audio in DaVinci Resolve’s Fairlight suite is enjoyable: Fairlight has a thoughtful design, a huge selection of great tools, and room for more audio channels than you’ll likely ever need. In this tutorial you'll learn about using the limiter tool to increase the volume of spoken-word recordings and dialogue, while avoiding peaking.

What is a Limiter? 

A limiter is used to control the maximum range of a signal. This is helpful for managing one or multiple audio sources.

Limiters and Compression

Limiters are an often-misunderstood tool that is easily confused with a compressor. While similar, they achieve different results. If you would like to know more about the background on limiters, compression, the differences between them and how they work, check out this article: A Beginner's Introduction to Limiters. We also cover compression in our tutorial about how to sweeten spoken-word audio in Fairlight.

How to Use a Limiter in Fairlight

Using the Limiter tool in Fairlight is really easy!

Open up the Fairlight part of Resolve by clicking the little musical note icon on the bottom toolbar. On the right side of the resulting screen you'll find the Mixer, with a list of tools on the left side. Find the header Dynamics. Across from this header is a small grid with four quadrants. Double-click this grid to access the Dynamics popup.

The mixer panel in FairlightThe mixer panel in FairlightThe mixer panel in Fairlight
The Mixer panel in Fairlight

You’ll see a few options of editable parameters such as Expander and Compressor, but for this tutorial we will focus on the Limiter, on the far right, as well as the top section.

Fairlight dynamics panelFairlight dynamics panelFairlight dynamics panel
The dynamic pop-up in Fairlight

Using the Limiter

Let’s think about a podcast or interview as an example. Let's assume the audio is basically clean and the levels between the host and guest are balanced, the only problem being that clips recorded lack gain, which is totally normal: it makes sense to keep a little headroom in your recording. Our goal is to increase the gain while managing the louder noises that can happen, such as: laughter, sneezes, and coughs.

Here’s a quick explanation of the parameters we’ll be using in the limiter. 

Make Up: This refers to gain, and is what you will use to make adjustment to the volume of your clip.

Threshold: This controls at what level limiting is triggered. 

Attack: The attack is the amount of time it takes to turn on the limiter once the threshold is reached. 

Hold: The amount of time the limiter will stay on for after the threshold is no longer reached. This really depends on the situation and what kind of effect you’re after. I use this one loosely.

Release: This acts as a fade on your hold. 

OK, let's get to editing your audio; load your media into the timeline.

Read the Input

With Dynamics open, click on the toggle beside Limiter to enable the tool. Play your audio to get a general idea of your peak level, using the Input Meter on the left. For this example let’s say the peak input is -12dB.

Adjust Make Up Gain

Now adjust the gain with the Make Up slider, and watch as the changes are expressed on the graph and meters. If your peak input level is -12dB, you won’t need to move this slider much to get it to an ideal level for dialogue. Try setting the gain make up so that the Output Meter read-out peaks at about -14db.

Set the Threshold

Then set your Threshold. For dialogue, I usually adjust this to one point above the value to set Make Up. So In this example our Gain Make Up is set to -14dB. So I will set my Threshold to -15dB.

Set the Attack and Release. For Dialogue, I like to have this set to the default setting. In Fairlight that is .70ms.93. Since we are dealing just the occasional peak, the Hold can be set to 0ms

Lastly, set your Release. If your dialogue is only occasionally hitting the threshold, setting this to the 50ms should be fine.

Listen to the Results

Take a break, go get a tea or otherwise give your ears and brain a nice pause, and then come back and listen fresh to your adjusted sound.

Learning the ins and outs of the tools available is key component to editing, but it’s good to remember that audio editing is best done with our ears just as video editing is best done with our eyes. Every audio track is different, so a cut and paste approach doesn’t always yield best results. Learn to trust your ears as you develop your understanding of editing and you’ll serve yourself well, in the long run.

Keep Learning Audio in Resolve

Thanks for learning the basics of using a Fairlight’s limiter with us. Make sure to check out other tutorials covering DaVinci Resolve, including templates to help you achieve outstanding results.

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