Clipping is OK?? Or no-no? LoFi vs. HiFi

This is probably a question of taste.

The Rolling Stones would often overdrive an acoustic guitar to make it sizzle like an electric. I understand that overdriving is about the same as clipping the sound. I’ve got a bunch of tracks where I’ve clipped. Is that just my sound? I’ve done some corrections of clipping, but then I wonder, am I clipping because I like the way it sounds in the headphones? It’s just pop music and I prefer a raw sound.

What about dirty sounding recording, in general?

McCartney liked pure Beach Boys type sounds. Then you have Lennon with I Am The Walrus. That recording is dirty sounding from the first 1/2 second. He recorded a vinyl blank demonstration disc with it’s hissing and popping. That sound is heard from the start to the finish. I Want You is a multiple rerecording (dubbing) until white noise is produced at the end.

Then you’ve got the whole DIY home recording movement with artists like Daniel Johnston recording in his living room with a cheap Phillips cassette recorder. His songs transcend the poor production. I would rather hear a poor recording of a great song than a great recording of a bad song. Dylan was considered to be LoFi in his early work. The Ramones were LoFi also. That given, they still all eventually gravitated to HiFi. Lennon & McCartney are the exception. They began as HiFi artists and evolved into LoFi with songs like Walrus and Yer Blues and McCartney’s 1st solo album, which was recorded in his basement.

This is probably a question of taste.

Clipping is distortion and it should generally be avoided, but yes it’s sometimes used intentionally/creatively. If you are the “producer” you can do whatever you want, and similarly if you are the listener you can alter the sound any way you like. :wink:

Most listeners want to hear a “clean sound” and virtually all modern recordings are made in soundproof studios with really-good, low-noise, low-distortion equipment. (But they may be recording a intentionally-distorted guitar or using a distortion plug-in.)

The concept of “high fidelity” is to reproduce the sound exactly as intended (by the producer and mixing/mastering engineer). Or, in the case of some music (such as classical) it should sound the same as it sounded when played & recorded. That means the playback system should have flat frequency response, and no audible distortion, and not add (audible) noise. But some people like to turn-up the bass, etc. I like to use the Dolby soundfield options to send added reverb to the rear channels in my surround-sound system.

Personally, I’m NOT a fan of distortion/clipping. I grew-up with vinyl and I’m not going back! Distortion wasn’t a big deal with most records but I ALWAYS hated the “snap”, crackle", and “pop”, although at the time it didn’t bother most people.

Usually hard-clipping is avoided. Most electric guitar players prefer tube amps because of they way they tend to “soft-clip” when driven into distortion. Solid state amps tend to hard-clip (like digital clipping) but solid state guitar amps are usually designed to behave like tube amps. Some recording engineers use a particular (usually tube) preamp when recording vocals for the same reason, but the distortion is usually MUCH more subtle (and they usually don’t like to call it “distortion”). This kind of intentional distortion is used separately on the guitar, and sometimes voice, so the whole recording isn’t distorted.

Analog tape also tends to soft-clip and the NAB equalization further softens/smooths the clipping so it’s more like limiting than clipping.

I would rather hear a poor recording of a great song than a great recording of a bad song.

I’m probably not doing to listen to either one. :wink: My dad used to talk about Big Band music (mostly from the 1940s, I guess). The recordings were old and not very good and our stereo was not that good, and I was into rock & roll and I just didn’t understand why he thought it was so great. Then some time after my dad passed away I heard a Big Band live and it sounded great! Since then, I have purchased some modern recordings of the same/similar music and it sounds great on a good-modern stereo (when I’m in the mood for it).

A free amp-simulator plugin which works in Audacity on Windows is Boogex.

If you want to add a dirty vinyl effect …

So what happens to the harmonics when the wave is clipped? It seems to make a guitar sound like a snare drum. That’s why I suspect that harmonics are lost somewhere. Where are the harmonics in a waveform? Can we see them, or do I switch to spectrogram to view them?

So what happens to the harmonics when the wave is clipped? It seems to make a guitar sound like a snare drum. That’s why I suspect that harmonics are lost somewhere.

Clipping generally adds harmonics (it is harmonic distortion) but if it’s really bad it can remove some of the existing harmonics and overtones.

A snare drum contains lots of broadband non-harmonic “random noise-like” sound.

For example, a square wave can be created or analyzed as a [u]series of harmonically related sine waves[/u] and severe clipping trends-toward square waves.

A pure sine wave doesn’t contain any harmonics. An arbitrary sound wave can contain unlimited harmonics (and/or additional non-harmonic sounds). A square wave contains a limited and defined set of harmonics.

With Audacity you can view the [u]spectrogram[/u] or you can [u]plot spectrum[/u] for a short selection.

The clipping will have to be very-bad before it shows-up visually in the spectrum or spectrogram. It will be easier to see if you experiment with pure test-tones.

Clipping generates harmonics.
If you clip a pure sine-wave you can see them on the spectrogram …

I learned something new today. How did you know that? Is there a reading list posted somehere? I have a book called Sound and Recording. Maybe that will help? I read halfway through it but don’t remember anything about clipping.