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July 30, 2014

by Larry Jordan

You ever have a problem where the audio levels you recorded for your talent are too low, or vary wildly in level? Yeah, me too. All the time. We can add audio keyframes to each clip and try to smooth things out, but, frankly, life is too short.

A while ago, I discovered some audio effects that can make this task a LOT easier. In this article, I’ll show you how they work in Final Cut Pro X. (In a second article, I show how they work in Adobe Premiere Pro CC.)

NOTE: Personally, while the audio processing effects in both FCP X and Premiere aren’t too bad, I find that the precision and control Audition provides is superior to both. While learning an audio app can be intimidating, the time you invest pays major dividends in making your audio sound really, really good. (Here’s a link to my training on Adobe Audition.) ProTools is another excellent audio package, but I’ve never had success working with their iLok copy protection.


The Limiter effect is my tool of choice in FCP X for boosting and smoothing levels.

Because effects process before audio settings in the Inspector, we need to collect the audio we want to control into a compound clip then apply the limiter effect to the compound clip.

Also, while it is a good idea to boost and limit dialog, interviews and narration, it is generally not a good idea to do the same with either sound effects or music.

NOTE: Here’s a companion article I wrote that is the second half of the “good audio” equation: using EQ to shape your sound to make it warm up a voice and make it more intelligible.


The human voice is unquestionably a challenging instrument to record. Whether singing or speaking, it has a huge dynamic range; meaning that it can vary from loud to soft back to loud in an instant. Sometimes, when you are working with professional voice actors, that dynamic range is fully under control.

Most of the time, we’re just hanging on for dear life.

There are two key rules you need to keep in mind about audio when you are mixing:

  1. At NO time during export should your audio levels ever exceed 0 dB. Not once, not even for “a little bit.” Never.
  2. Audio recorded on set is always recorded at lower levels so that there’s no risk of distorting an irreplaceable take.

This means that during our final audio mix, we need to boost soft levels, make the levels consistent so that we can clearly hear what’s being said, yet make sure all levels always stay below 0 dB.

Click here for more of Larry Jordan’s article FCP X: Boost and Smooth Audio Levels