Limiter plug-ins have become essential tools in today’s productions and that very last insert on the mix bus or mastering chain is a frequent, and very often heated subject of conversation in our community. There are many limiter plug-ins out there these days with many different options to choose from, so in order to help you out we trawled through many of our discussion threads to find out which limiters are getting our members' attention. Here are our findings - in alphabetical order by manufacturer.
From the land of the rising sun comes A.O.M. and their Invisible Limiter, a plug-in that grabbed the Gearslutz community’s attention and rapidly became a frequent recommendation. Invisible Limiter is a brickwall limiter with automatic attack/release settings, working its magic 'under-the-hood' and presenting the user with a no-frills interface with only three knobs for setting the limit level and input/output gains. It also features an useful “unity gain” monitoring function that automatically compensates the output levels so you’re not fooled by the extra loudness. Invisible Limiter gets many compliments for keeping transparency under very high levels and its overall quality definitely puts this talented Japanese developer on the map.
DMG Audio is one of the leaders of the pack when it comes to plug-ins with 'depth'. Their Limitless plug-in is another prime example of their feature-rich approach to digital audio, offering the user an abundance of parameters for comprehensive control over the limiting process. At its core lies a flexible six-band limiter with linear phase crossovers and just like its siblings EQuilibrium, Compassion and Expurgate, Limitless works like a “sandbox” that allows the user to deeply customize this plug-in, both in terms of how it deals with the sound and what will be displayed in the interface. In that regard, it can also be set to display and operate with very streamlined controls if you’re not quite ready for more complex settings. Arguably one of the very best choices if “extremely configurable” is a necessity.
One of the most recommended limiters amongst our community, Pro-L brings FabFilter’s excellence in DSP innovation to the peak-limiting domain. This plug-in provides a feature set capable of handling basically any limiting task, including different limiting modes for more “pumpy” or more transparent action, dedicated attack/release controls, a variable stereo link for transient/release, ISP protection, advanced dithering options and internal oversampling up to 4x. FabFilter is known for its amazing interfaces and it's no different this time 'round with Pro-L - the controls are elegantly arranged for ease of use and all relevant information about the limiting process and output levels are displayed very clearly. Undoubtedly a great choice if you’re looking for a limiter with extensive features that’s masterfully put together.
Our list wouldn’t be complete without a true surround limiter and for such demands the Flux:: Elixir fits the bill perfectly, supporting up to 8 input/output channels to cover basically any traditional surround production setup. This elegant plug-in is quite painless in use with its unobstructed interface and simple controls. Elixir can increase the quality of its processing (at the expense of some CPU) by adding more limiting “stages” for greater transparency, and it also features true-peak limiting for optimal output protection, automatic or variable release and optional automatic make-up gain. It’s also fully compliant with industry standards such as ITU-R BS.1770/EBU R128 and supports a wide range of native (featured) and DSP formats. Needless to say it will also work beautifully on stereo mixes and music production as well as on post-production duty!
IK Multimedia’s latest limiter is all about not getting in the way - of either the sound or the user. The Stealth brings a super straightforward set of controls, with two knobs for input level and output ceiling and a handful of options for the operating mode, inter-sample peak management, unity gain monitoring and dithering. Despite its focus on transparency it also can add a bit of colour through a couple of “harmonics” operating modes that add to its versatility. Delivering great and loud sounding music should be quite effortless with the Stealth Limiter - it’s basically foolproof and an excellent choice if ultimate ease-of-use is what you are looking for.
iZotope’s Ozone is obviously much more than a limiter, with a whole suite of mastering tools under its umbrella, but the effectiveness of its brickwall limiter has been highly praised over the years and that praise awards it a spot on our list. Known for keeping up its transparency under extreme circumstances this limiter comes equipped with four different modes, true-peak limiting, fully variable stereo/dual-mono link, loudness-compensated bypass and also a slider that enables how much it will react to transients in order to best preserve them (or not!) This limiter offers excellent flexibility and as previously stated it’s part of a bigger mastering toolset with EQ, compression, stereo enhancer and saturation also in the bundle, so you’re getting a whole lot more for your buck. Read our user reviews.
In the "plugin wars," the Oxford Limiter is what you'd call a veteran. After many years' service it is still a widely respected limiter and has recently received a “V2” upgrade that enhanced the peak detection processes with the latest DSP developments - and provided a much-need visual makeover as well. The core is pretty much unchanged, with its trademark “enhance” button, dedicated attack/release settings, a variable knee, true-peak limiting and dither. Operation is a breeze with a clean (and now much better looking) interface that displays all parameters at the same time, providing concise information about the levels and without any hidden menus or other distractions. It’s also in conformity with the ITU-R BS.1770-4 industry measurement standard and available on basically every current native or DSP format. Surely a great choice for a “definitive” limiter. Read our user reviews.
The Limiter 6 is probably one of our community's favourite limiter plug-ins, not only because it costs nothing but for many practical reasons as well. This plug-in packs a substantial number of tools - besides the peak limiter it also comes with a fully-configurable compressor, a high-frequency limiter, a clipper, and ISP protection for very precise (and potentially very loud) results. Limiter 6 also been around for awhile and since its introduction Vladg has joined forces with TDR to develop some amazing plug-ins such as the Kotelnikov Compressor and Nova Dynamic Equalizer. Hopefully the duo will bring out a new limiter at some point, and given their past work it’s safe to say that it will be even better than the already awesome Limiter 6. (Currently this one is only available for AU and VST hosts, which adds further expectation for a new release!)
Elephant has been a consistent nominee in basically all the discussions we’ve read through - it has been around for a while but it manages to stay relevant. Voxengo has done a very good job on keeping that relevance by constantly refining it and adding more features, such as new operating modes, more timing adjustments and a deep limiter mode editor for extensive inner-tweaks. It’s also up-to-date with current plug-in formats and has recently been updated for Pro Tools 11/12 (AAX) compatibility, a long lingering issue that’s now resolved. It also supports 5.1 surround configurations. The sound was great from day one, but all the improvements over the years have definitely contributed to make it even better still and thus a wise choice for a workhorse master limiter.
Last (but not least) comes the Waves L2 Ultramaximizer plug-in, an emulation of the highly popular hardware limiter that helped Waves to establish itself as a force in the digital domain. The hardware unit had a very “peculiar” sound & good quality converters but more importantly it was known for delivering very loud results! It’s a rather simple-to-use unit that only requires you to pull the threshold for the desired loudness, choose the max peak level and pick automatic release (or set it manually). By many accounts the L2 plug-in sounds extremely close to the hardware (minus the sound of those converters), but it has all the convenience provided by a plug-in - not to mention it costs a whole lot less.
"an emulation of the highly popular hardware limiter that helped Waves to establish itself as a force in the digital domain. The hardware unit had a very “peculiar” sound & good quality converters but more importantly it was known for delivering very loud results! It’s a rather simple-to-use unit that only requires you to pull the threshold for the desired loudness, choose the max peak level and pick automatic release (or set it manually). By many accounts the L2 plug-in sounds extremely close to the hardware (minus the sound of those converters)"
Huh, what? emulation? It's exactly the same algorithm.
Wasn't the plug in first anyway?