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  1. Music & Audio
  2. Mixing & Mastering
Music

14 Popular and Effective Limiters

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Limiters are used for everyday mixing and mastering and choosing the right one for the job in hand is important and there are many great plugins for the task. 

I usually se up mastering as the last element of the chain. The limiters available today have similar feature sets and interfaces, but the decision as to which one to use is always based on the sound. 

And I'll continually experiment looking for the best sound.

I based the selection on these criteria:

  • Sound
  • Settings
  • Graphical interface
  • Workflow

The list below is in no particular order; there are no winners. Instead, I've listed them here for you test and experiment on your own audio projects.

A Selection of Limiters

AOM Invisible Limiter

Key feature set:

  • Transparent limiting
  • Equal loudness monitoring
  • Oversampling
  • Automatic attack and release optimization

DMG Audio Limitless

Key feature set:

  • Feedback based transparent limiting
  • Two stage dynamic handling
  • Minimal interface
  • Capable of handling inter samples and true peak

Fabfilter Pro-L

Key feature set:

  • Transparent limiting in harmony with loudness
  • Four different working methods
  • Low CPU usage
  • Precise monitoring
  • Good handling of inter sample peaks
Fabfilter Pro-L
I used Fabfilter Pro-L on a drum loop in a light way

Flux Elixir

Key feature set:

  • Compatible with ITU-R BS.1770 standard
  • Capable of handling EBU R128
  • Transparent and natural system regarding to sound tone as well
  • Designed for professional usage including radio, television and post production

IK Stealth Limiter

Key feature set:

  • Analyzes the actual and the future incoming signal
  • The cleanest limiter from IK Multimedia
  • Mastering grade processor
  • 4 algorithms

iZotope Ozone 7

Key feature set:

  • New IRC IV algorithm
  • Spectral shaping
  • Preserves rhythm and transient information as well
  • Optionable maximizer and vintage plugin

Sonnox Oxford Limiter

Key feature set:

  • True peak limiter
  • Attack, release and soft-knee can be set up very precisely
  • Compatible with ITU-R BS.1770-4 standards
  • TPDF dithering
  • Monitors with real signal instead of file based samples

Vladg/sound Limiter No6

Key feature set:

  • Freeware
  • Modular system, each module with different stages
  • Good for mastering as well
  • Mid-side and multichannel mode
  • 4x oversampling
  • Capable of handling inter sample peaks

Voxengo Elephant

Key feature set:

  • Mastering limiter
  • K-system monitoring
  • DC offset filtering
  • Detailed settings
  • Headroom estimation
  • Bit depth converter with noise shaping

Waves L2

Key feature set:

  • Works at ultra big resolution, IDR technology
  • Bit depth re-quantisation
  • Dithering with noise shaping
  • Automatic control of release

PSP Xenon

Key feature set:

  • Single band, two stage limiting
  • K-System monitoring
  • Algorithm optimized for psychoacoustics

Slate Digital FG-X

Key feature set:

  • Intelligent algorithm for keeping transients
  • So much more than a simple brickwall limiter
  • Optimizes the saturation peaks in a natural way

HOFA IQ-Limiter

Key feature set:

  • Adapts highly to increasing the input volume gain
  • 3 different algorithms
  • 64 bit inner working
  • Handling of inter sample peaks

Brainworx bx_limiter

Key feature set:

  • Low CPU usage
  • Low latency
  • One-click loudness compensation
  • Optional saturation stage
  • Complex settings can be automated

Using a Limiter

ToneBoosters Barricade CM
I used ToneBoosters Barricade on the master track, the input gain is only for a very short time

If you're new to Limiters I suggest you use only two controls:

  • Input gain
  • Output gain

The input gain sets the average loudness. Be careful not to add too much or it will destroy the dynamics in the music. 

Volume dynamics and average loudness are in inverse proportionality. 

The output gain set the absolute output level, which should be always below 0 dBFS. Most typical values are between -1 dBFS up to -0.1 dbFS. I usually use -0.2 dBFS or -0.3 dbFS.

Increasing the Volume

When you amplify the signal with a limiter, listen closely how it transforms the sound. There is a sweet spot between different volumes. For this you can use other mastered reference tracks.

In many cases you can't reach the reference level due to differences in sounds and instruments. But you can still aim for a general, similar loudness level.

Stock Limiters

Ableton Limiter
I mainly use Ableton Limiter for single instruments and not for mastering

Limiters that come bundled with DAWs, or digital audio workstations, like Ableton Limiter can be used for mastering. Have in mind, however, that it can't handle too much amplification without distorting the sound.

Usually dedicated third party limiters have much more quality and transparency. For starters I recommend something from Fabfilter, Waves, Sonnox or the free vladg limiters.

Limiters I Use for Mastering

In the past I used these ones a lot:

  • Kjaerhus Audio Classic Master Limiter
  • PSP Xenon
  • Fabfilter Pro-L
  • Vladg/sound Limiter No 6

Nowadays I use Toneboosters TB Barricade CM from the CM studio pack.

Summary

In this tutorial, I've shown you a number of different limiters for you to experiment with in your own audio projects. 

My advice is to stick with one very good general-purpose limiter and experiment with others to suit the sound you're striving for.

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