Why True Peak is Irrelevant For Most Music Producers

Why True Peak is Irrelevant For Most Music Producers

True Peak standards, which refer to the measurement of the highest level of sound waves in a digital audio signal, can be an important consideration for some forms of audio production, but what is it, and how does it affect the way you export your tracks? The way TruePeak differs from standard Peak metering is by attempting to account for the intersample peaks which appear upon a signal's recreation in the analogue domain.

The significance of this is massively overblown in the modern production industry, which thrives on buzzterms such as True Peak in order to sell largely-irrelevant tools. The following points explain why.

The 3 Reasons Why TruePeak is Irrelevant For Music Production

1: Over Processing

True Peak essentially functions by oversampling the detector circuit, showing (in theory) where inter-sample peaks are possibly going to lie in wait to ambush your song when it's recreated into an analogue wave via the digital-to-analogue converter.

The inherent issue here is that the True Peak meter, and by extension any True Peak limiter attached to it, is only guessing. In fact it is generating peaks which don't actually exist yet in order to force the limiter circuit to work even harder for a given output level.

The net effect is that for a given output level, a True Peak processed mix is going to sound way more 'smashed' than one simply processed at the native sample rate. For most music production, this is a very bad thing, because there are few benefits to be gained, and much to be lost.

Most audio reproduction systems contain some degree of headroom to prevent artificial clipping in the analogue domain. You may opt for True Peak processing to play it extra safe, but what you're actually sacrificing is the audio quality the other 99.9% of the time. It's a bit like throwing away a $100 bill to fit a quarter into your wallet, just because it may fit into that one vending machine.

2: Delivery Format

When music is provided to a streaming platform for archiving and reproduction, it will generally undergo additional processing. Most of the time this means being converted into an AAC, OGG or MP3 lossy audio file at a given bitrate.
What this process does is generate additional faux peaks beyond what's been accounted for by True Peak. The lower the resulting bitrate, the greater the potential overshoots.

So the question becomes one of: How much do you really want to sacrifice in order to satisfy your catch-all criteria? Not only are you over-processing the music with the True Peak limiter in order to satisfy the imaginary inter-sample peaks, but now you're also having to account for indeterminate faux bitrate compression peaks.

It's essentially the definition of playing a losing game. How much do you need to compromise your music in order to meet the criteria of never having a single potential unintended overshoot?

3: It's Best Suited To Broadcast & Post-Production

True Peak, by its very nature, is about safeguarding the integrity of an audio signal. Using True Peak meters can be useful when delivering tracks to different producers, or working with delivery standards in broadcast and post-production.
By that very definition, there is little to be gained by employing True Peak for creative music projects, because the technical limitations applied by adhering to True Peak will place creative limitations on the project, and that's simply just not worth it.

Conclusion

While true peak standards may be relevant for some forms of audio production, such as film sound design or mastering for broadcast, they are generally not relevant for most music production. The focus should instead be on creating a balanced, high-quality mix that sounds good in the final delivery format and in the intended listening environment.

Moreover, as a bonus point, not all clipping is bad and to be avoided. In fact, it was prolifically employed during the 90s and 2000s to create some of the greatest masters in history. If you want a tool that dispenses with the nonsense of True Peak, and instead embraces euphonic qualities for mastering, check out SubMission Audio's Flatline - the industry standard maximizer used by mastering professionals the world over to create reference-quality masters for their clients.

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