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Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin Dynamics Plugins
Old 6th June 2018
  #1
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Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin

Just realized I've been doing this for years, and I never see it being discussed.

I've spent more time than I care to count working with vocal levelers from Waves, Melda, and whatever else I could get my hands on. while some work better than others, I've never found one that comes even close to being something I could count on to get the job done.

In the meantime, I've also thrown just about every limiter I could find on vocals, and found that, more often than not, I got BETTER results by using limiters so long as they have the following features:

Deep knee
Long lookahead
Variable program dependent release (not too short)

I've gotten good results with Flux Pure Limiter 3 in particular, though it can start to sound a bit edgy (not necessarily bad as people often use 1176 to similar effect) beyond 6dB or so of GR. If you don't mind the edge, I can easily push it to -12 in a rock or dance context, and it just stays glued in place... so long as there aren't significant sibilance issues to begin with.

I still end up manually fiddling often, but I could probably just chalk that up to OCD since most folks would be happy with the results straight out of the plugin.

Who else is doing this? What other options, settings, or peculiarities have you noticed? Which limiters are working best for you? Which features? Anyone using compressors similarly with some sort of progressive ratio to tame peaks in one go?

Last edited by Ain't Nobody; 6th June 2018 at 02:24 AM..
Old 6th June 2018
  #2
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thismercifulfate's Avatar
I really like using the Vertigo VSC-2 in brickwall mode for vocals with fairly fast attack and release settings, taking off max 2db. But I’ll use other compressors behind it. And add saturation as well.
Old 6th June 2018
  #3
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TS-12's Avatar
Melda Produxtions auto level works perfect for leveling
Old 6th June 2018
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TS-12 View Post
Melda Produxtions auto level works perfect for leveling
Did you mean the MAutoVolume?
Old 6th June 2018
  #5
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zvukofor's Avatar
Depends on a vocal style/habits.
I've used some dirty limiters on a voice, like Airwindows IronOxide, or Limiter#6 in fast mode, it worked well in that particular mixes.
Old 6th June 2018
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TS-12 View Post
Melda Produxtions auto level works perfect for leveling
It's the best of those I've tried, but I still see a lot of room for improvement.
Old 6th June 2018
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ain't Nobody View Post
It's the best of those I've tried, but I still see a lot of room for improvement.
I've got MAutoVolume, but went back to manual automation when I pushed it too hard and heard distortion.

Can you expand on your thoughts on it please?
Old 6th June 2018
  #8
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MusiKLover's Avatar
Perhaps you could give Paul Frindles ProAudioDSP's DSM a go. It has about 18 bands, and there's a limiter included in the model itself. You can adjust the frequency range too.
Old 6th June 2018
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MusiKLover View Post
Perhaps you could give Paul Frindles ProAudioDSP's DSM a go. It has about 18 bands, and there's a limiter included in the model itself. You can adjust the frequency range too.
It does seem that no matter what the task is, DSM gets suggested. Could be a vast worldwide conspiracy... or I could be missing the greatest thing ever.
Old 6th June 2018
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alexis View Post
I've got MAutoVolume, but went back to manual automation when I pushed it too hard and heard distortion.

Can you expand on your thoughts on it please?
Don't have it in front of me... that's the LEVELING plug, right? (Not a limiter)

If so, both it and Waves suffer from not being adaptive enough. Specifically, the attack/release is too rigid. There may be no way to fix this without the plugin looking ahead significantly more to see how upcoming sounds will be affected.

Waves is much worse in this regard, and when I used Melda, I would stack two of them with different speed settings, each only doing a small amount. It was better, but still not nearly as good as doing it manually.

I actually just opened up a song I had mixed with 2 levelers stacked per track as described, and tried with some other tools. I was able to get better results with both Flux pure limiter and FF Pro-C2 using longer lookahead times, deep knees and fiddling with adaptive release.

I am somewhat ashamed to say that I sometimes used to just throw L1 on a vocal to save time... though it STILL usually sounded better than using Waves Auto Leveler (whatever it's called).
Old 7th June 2018
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ain't Nobody View Post
Don't have it in front of me... that's the LEVELING plug, right? (Not a limiter)

If so, both it and Waves suffer from not being adaptive enough. Specifically, the attack/release is too rigid. There may be no way to fix this without the plugin looking ahead significantly more to see how upcoming sounds will be affected.

Waves is much worse in this regard, and when I used Melda, I would stack two of them with different speed settings, each only doing a small amount. It was better, but still not nearly as good as doing it manually.

I actually just opened up a song I had mixed with 2 levelers stacked per track as described, and tried with some other tools. I was able to get better results with both Flux pure limiter and FF Pro-C2 using longer lookahead times, deep knees and fiddling with adaptive release.

I am somewhat ashamed to say that I sometimes used to just throw L1 on a vocal to save time... though it STILL usually sounded better than using Waves Auto Leveler (whatever it's called).
Thanks for that perspective, Ain't Nobody does it better!

It's just plain old fashioned manual volume automation for me on voices now, after first resizing the volume clip levels (manually) to get things in the ballpark a bit. I kind of feel that if I made the right settings on MAutoVolume I could get the same results a million times quicker. But I don't really want to have to decide, "Is there just the wee beginnings of distortion in this vocal because I ran it through MAutoVolume, or does it sound OK".

At least with manual volume automation, that isn't an issue. I remember times when I didn't notice the plug-in induced distortion till way down the road in the editing process, that was a real bummer.
Old 7th June 2018
  #12
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Ain't Nobody's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by alexis View Post
Thanks for that perspective, Ain't Nobody does it better!

It's just plain old fashioned manual volume automation for me on voices now, after first resizing the volume clip levels (manually) to get things in the ballpark a bit. I kind of feel that if I made the right settings on MAutoVolume I could get the same results a million times quicker. But I don't really want to have to decide, "Is there just the wee beginnings of distortion in this vocal because I ran it through MAutoVolume, or does it sound OK".

At least with manual volume automation, that isn't an issue. I remember times when I didn't notice the plug-in induced distortion till way down the road in the editing process, that was a real bummer.
It's kind of a tradeoff. Faster settings give distortion while slower setting are often fail to deal appropriately with rapid-fire vocal delivery. I suspect it works near perfectly on slow ballads, but that's nearly the opposite of what I'm usually working with.

I find those levelers are also prone to the same sort of over-reaction as limiters and compressors, so if using automated methods, I will generally knock down the worst peaks first either manually or via deep knee limiting... then feed it into the leveler once I know it's down to a range the plugin can handle appropriately. Sure, you could just limit the amount the leveler is able to react, but then it's not really been leveled.

I've tried it in just about every combination, and in one way or another, I always now deal now with the peaks first, then worry about what to do with the normal dynamic range. Flux with a deep knee, and long/auto lookahead/release can easily shave a few db off the worst peaks invisibly so that all the other plugs afterward don't freak out. I've gotten decent results with Pro-C as a limiter as well (lookahead, instant attack, deep knee, high ratio).

Just opened up a song I mixed a while back, and see that in that case, I settled on a limiter followed by 2 instances of Melda Auto-Leveling (one faster, one slower) followed by CLA-76 followed by CLA-2A. Apparently I have too much free time.
Old 8th June 2018
  #13
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That "Soothe" plugin sure sounds interesting …

https://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/oeksound-soothe

Review - soothe from oeksound
Old 8th June 2018
  #14
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Originally Posted by Ain't Nobody View Post
Just realized I've been doing this for years, and I never see it being discussed.
Engineers have been using hardware limiters for years on the way in to prevent overs. I'm not sure what the purpose would be after the fact unless you just like the effect on vocals, but at that stage I prefer a compressor to have better control of the mix.
Old 8th June 2018
  #15
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I think for me, I started doing it more for the controls. All the comps I was using caused issues with the attacks and releases for rapid fire vocals whereas I had several limiters with lookahead and variable release.

I have found, for instance, FF's ProC more useful than most due in large part to the lookahead and other features that allow it to be dialed in for true dynamics control rather than just post attack control, and overall, I do prefer the idea of a variable ratio. Ultimately, I'd prefer that it be progressive where the worst peaks get a higher ratio.

With some limiters, I get something similar with the deep knee.

Is there a compressor that does lookahead, so zero attack time with a tunable variable release, and a progressive ratio... and does it well?
Old 8th June 2018
  #16
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vze26m98's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ain't Nobody View Post
Is there a compressor that does lookahead, so zero attack time with a tunable variable release, and a progressive ratio... and does it well?
I’m sure there’re more, but off the top of my head, Softube FET compressor, which has a 0.8ms attack and adjustable lookahead that goes down to 1ms.

EDIT EDIT: Ah! I see you want progressive ratio as well. So far, two candidates that offer negative ratios: Elysia Mpressor and Klanghelm DC8C2. No lookahead, but they’re both very fast.

EDIT: Here's an approx. 900hz "compressor wedge" at 96khz, FET Compressor at it's fastest attack:

Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-fet_fastest_attack.png

Here's the above with the Lookahead control turned all the way on:

Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-ffa_plus_lookahead.png
Attached Thumbnails
Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-fet_fastest_attack.png   Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-ffa_plus_lookahead.png  

Last edited by vze26m98; 8th June 2018 at 09:01 PM..
Old 8th June 2018
  #17
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I am not sure I see the point of using a limiter plugin on vocals. It going to unnecessarily smash the peaks but then again you should never limit yourself so why not.
Old 8th June 2018
  #18
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I use a couple of tools on plugins including a limiter - at least on my own voice which typically needs the help. I typically need to get those vocals to compete with some heavy duty guitar parts so I need to keep the vocals out front.

The chain of effects aren't exclusive but I do use it allot for convenience purposes.

I will use a plugin called Voxengo Voxformer first. This is a Two Band compressor with a crossover point so I can compress the highs and lows independently and get the vocals to push more evenly. Its also got, a Parametric EQ, Noise Gate, DeEsser, Master Compressor that has its own gain and a presence boost adjust if needed.

If you cant get some decent vocals happening with just that one vocal strip plugin your voice must be worse then mine and all I can say to that is find a new profession.

After the vocal strip I may add a little doubling Chorus with a slow rotation to give it a short reflection that moves followed by either a Reverb or Echo. I have several different tools I use here and swap them out or omit them as needed.

I often use a very simply Limiter at then end. I've used different types but I always come back to a very old one I picked up decades ago. you cant even find it to download any more, its from a plugin suite called hypersonic or something like that. Its a direct X plugin that has practically no coloration at all. You don't even hear any kind of pumping or clipping yet it prevents overs which is the main reason I use it. I set the out to -3dB and that's it.

Here's and example of how that chain winds up sounding. I should note this was sung using a Ribbon mic so the signal strength started off being very low.

https://soundcloud.com/wrgkmc/00001-...streets-master
Old 8th June 2018
  #19
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For me, at least, a big part of what drove me in that direction is the lookahead. I've used softube for vocals years ago, but can't say I remember the details. Pro-C has the lookahead too, though I wish it gave more control over release. The progressive ratio thing is hard to come by.

As for clipping the peaks... that's why I use limiters like Flux that give deep knee. Shaving a few db off when you have a 12dB knee is certainly not harsh. WITHOUT that, yeah... your'e just clipping the peaks.

As for the initial transients going through... doesn't help if you feel good about your vocal when solo'd, but the initial transient along with a drum hit and a bass note kick in limiting on the MB or in mastering stage when then causes audible distortion on the voice in it's release... To avoid future problems, one must first see into the future... Confucius say "lookahead and never look back."
Old 9th June 2018
  #20
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Ain't Nobody's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by vze26m98 View Post
I’m sure there’re more, but off the top of my head, Softube FET compressor, which has a 0.8ms attack and adjustable lookahead that goes down to 1ms.

EDIT EDIT: Ah! I see you want progressive ratio as well. So far, two candidates that offer negative ratios: Elysia Mpressor and Klanghelm DC8C2. No lookahead, but they’re both very fast.

EDIT: Here's an approx. 900hz "compressor wedge" at 96khz, FET Compressor at it's fastest attack:



Here's the above with the Lookahead control turned all the way on:

The graphs are appreciated. Looks good... at least on a sine wave.

I know I'll likely get flamed for this, but I'm a strongly visual person, and auditory processing is LAST on my personal representation system hierarchy, so I really need tools that show me accurately what they're doing. Half of what I do is based on visual analysis... though the audio quality check always has the last veto. The "common sense" notion of "just use your ears" only works in a vacuum if you're primarily auditory.

That's why I use FF tools sometimes even though they're not always the best processing option... they help me to really dial them in. I suppose I could use 3rd party analyzers in conjunction (I already have frequency analyzers by default on the MB, drum, vocal, and instrument buses), but tools like FF work much better for me since they overlay before/after, or other ways of looking at the specific effect of the processing.

Any particular suggestions for comp/limiters that allow deep knees, lookahead, intelligent release along with strong integrated visual tools?
Old 9th June 2018
  #21
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UnderTow's Avatar
Have you tried DMG Limitless?

Personally my go to track limiter is Voxengo EBusLim but it doesn't have most of the features you are looking for. Limitless does (and more).

Alistair
Old 9th June 2018
  #22
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vze26m98's Avatar
 

(EDIT: Oops! Didn’t know where I was. I’ve been having a conversation about this thread in another one about progressive and serial compression.)

You won’t find me flaming you; I’m exactly the same way. Now that Klanghelm’s DC8C2 Expert Mode doesn’t crash Plugin Doctor, I’m actually making headway with some of the more obscure controls.

As for ones you might want to look at, I love Blue Cat’s Dynamics. DMG Compassion would also fit the bill, but I’ve only demo’ed it. Softube’s FET Compressor might deserve mention as having nice lookahead; perhaps as the first compressor in a series.

EDIT EDIT: You might want to have a look at the McDSP Compressor Bank series; pretty undervalued in my mind. No lookahead, but the Auto Release is quite effective on transients, and the knee can be set quite large. (Apologies, I chopped the values on the graph. It's in 12.5dB increments, so the setting is -12.5 and the knee begins almost at -37.5dB):

Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-cb-101-knee.png

This is the same file as in my above post, so you can compare it to the results obtained by the Softube FET lookahead:

Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-cb-101-transient.png
Attached Thumbnails
Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-cb-101-transient.png   Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-cb-101-knee.png  

Last edited by vze26m98; 9th June 2018 at 08:16 PM..
Old 9th June 2018
  #23
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Ain't Nobody's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by UnderTow View Post
Have you tried DMG Limitless?

Personally my go to track limiter is Voxengo EBusLim but it doesn't have most of the features you are looking for. Limitless does (and more).

Alistair
Tried it quite a while ago, but only on the MB as I remember.... and at the height of the loudness hysteria to boot. I don't remember much as I think I auditioned dozens of limiters at that time.

I don't recall ever trying it on vocals. May have to take another look.

I suppose I should have said in OP that I'm not hung up on a limiter vs compressor per se. I have nothing against lower ratios... just that most comps lack lookahead, and I often find I need additional peak control when using them. A comp (lower ratio or variable ratio) with all of the above features could be quite useful as well.

Ultimately, I often get the impression that what I want is something that digs very deep with a progressive ratio that ranges from 1:1 at the noise floor to much higher at the top peaks... in essence negating the need for separate and distincet clipping --> limiting --> compression stages. I'm guessing that would require the user to be able to set the lower and upper bounds (along with the upper ratio limit, and some meta controls to dial in auto-release and auto-attack)

Actually, that's what I need for everything... not just vocals.
Old 9th June 2018
  #24
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Last one for today, continuing on from the edit to my post above. McDSP's SPC2000 has a 4-compressor configuration that can be arranged serially, so you could really go crazy with the compression curve. Below is 1.25, 1.5, 1.75 and 2.0dB ratios at -48 (the lowest it will go), -36, -24 and -12dB thresholds. Knee is at the softest (-10) and attack/release is on Auto. Looks like compression starts at -62.5dB:

Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-spc404-curve.jpg

Auto does a pretty good job on transients, this being a 1000hz sine wave:

Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-spc404-transients.jpg

And to drive the point home about transients, here's white noise, the uncompressed signal in dark blue, the signal running through the SPC404 in white:

Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-spc404-white-noise.jpg

And of course where would we be without a sonic example? Here's a drum kit dry, and then run through the SPC404 settings as shown above.

"SPC404 Drums.zip", about a 9Mb download

One file is peak-matched, the other RMS matched.
Attached Thumbnails
Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-spc404-white-noise.jpg   Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-spc404-transients.jpg   Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-spc404-curve.jpg  

Last edited by vze26m98; 9th June 2018 at 09:19 PM..
Old 9th June 2018
  #25
My $0.02: Waves L1 is really useful for squashing takes with unruly dynamics or when you want vocals to be upfront with super constant levels. It has its own sound of course, which may or may not work, but it's worth a try...specially when you can grab it on one of those crazy $29 deals.
Old 9th June 2018
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vze26m98 View Post
Last one for today, continuing on from the edit to my post above. McDSP's SPC2000 has a 4-compressor configuration that can be arranged serially, so you could really go crazy with the compression curve. Below is 1.25, 1.5, 1.75 and 2.0dB ratios at -48 (the lowest it will go), -36, -24 and -12dB thresholds. Knee is at the softest (-10) and attack/release is on Auto. Looks like compression starts at -62.5dB:

Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-spc404-curve.jpg

Auto does a pretty good job on transients, this being a 1000hz sine wave:

Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-spc404-transients.jpg

And to drive the point home about transients, here's white noise, the uncompressed signal in dark blue, the signal running through the SPC404 in white:

Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-spc404-white-noise.jpg
Interesting. I recently got a response in another thread from FabianTDR (Tokyo Dawn) that discussed noise floor issues from stacking:

TDR Limiter 6 GE - Tokyo Dawn Records

I'll take his word for it, but I'm not quite clear whether the aliasing issues happen only when exiting the plugin, or possibly within an internal chain such as described with McDSP. His post does help to reaffirm for me that a single plug with a continuously progressive ratio is ideal.

Also, I suppose, I just have the innate assumption that a mathematically defined smooth curve between the ratios is preferable to discrete steps in the same way that if you wanted a round shape and didn't want noticeable vertices, then circle > octagon > pentagon > square...
Old 9th June 2018
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Diogo C View Post
My $0.02: Waves L1 is really useful for squashing takes with unruly dynamics or when you want vocals to be upfront with super constant levels. It has its own sound of course, which may or may not work, but it's worth a try...specially when you can grab it on one of those crazy $29 deals.
I've used it many times... though it definitely is in the "dumb" limiter category, and leads to a ruler flat buzzy sort of sound due to it's lack of finesse in knee, attack, and release.

It's not necessarily a bad sound, and can actually help cut through a rock or dance mix in much the same way that people use the edge from an 1176.

In particular, though, I'm more interested these days in finding smarter tools that can level more invisibly, and more dynamically rather than simply taking a samurai sword to a given threshold.

I've done a few tracks where I used ONLY L1... having preferred it's rather upfront fuzziness to the sorts of sharp attacks I'd get from traditional compressors that weren't reacting quickly enough. More typically, though, when I did use it, it was to knock 3db or so off the worst peaks, then step into something a bit more nuanced.

I've gone back quite a few times, though, and thought to myself "Why did I destroy that vocal take?"... when I probably could have used something to achieve more rounded peaks instead. Then again, I'm not doing rock or harder EDM styles that might really benefit from that sound.
Old 9th June 2018
  #28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ain't Nobody View Post
In particular, though, I'm more interested these days in finding smarter tools that can level more invisibly, and more dynamically rather than simply taking a samurai sword to a given threshold.
Have you tried the Sound Radix Powair?
Old 9th June 2018
  #29
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I put up some sound files on EDIT above that you might have missed. Still pondering whether drums are a useful example...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ain't Nobody View Post
I'll take his word for it, but I'm not quite clear whether the aliasing issues happen only when exiting the plugin, or possibly within an internal chain such as described with McDSP.
I'm not competent to make judgements about aliasing, THD and IMD, but for completeness here they are at the settings for the SPC404 example above. The pink is all four compressors, the other color in the background is the first, single instance:

Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-spc404-imd.png

Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-spc404-thd.png
Attached Thumbnails
Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-spc404-imd.png   Using a limiter as a vocal leveling plugin-spc404-thd.png  
Old 9th June 2018
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Diogo C View Post
Have you tried the Sound Radix Powair?
Never even heard of it.

Certainly checks off some of the spaces on my buzzword bingo card.

Looks more or less like Waves leveler followed by a compressor in same plug. AES vid seems to imply instant attack if "punch" dialed all the way down, though I see no specific mention of lookahead. Definitely not looking to have the level change from one section to the next like they indicate as a selling point with the comp. I'll happily add another processing chain on a separate bus if I need a chorus to be louder than a verse, for instance, but I'm always looking for LEVELING from a vocal leveling chain... albeit with a certain degree of microdynamics intact, and not flattened like a zero knee brickwall limiter.

Any users have feedback? Not much info on it out there.

Speaking of Waves... any other levelers out there besides Waves, Hornet, and Melda I should look into?

Last edited by Ain't Nobody; 10th June 2018 at 03:08 AM..
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