Looking for the best limiter plugins? This Icon Picks roundup features ten excellent limiter plugins for mixing, mastering, and sound design.
What are Audio Limiters?
Limiters are essential dynamic processing tools used for mixing and mastering. At a basic level, limiters reduce the peaks in a waveform and prevents them from exceeding a digital ceiling. The results reduce the dynamic range of an audio signal and increases perceived loudness. However, limiting comes at the price of losing detail and punch. It also introduces digital distortion and clipping when pushed hard.
Limiters work much like compressors set to a high compression ratio of 10:1 or higher. While both processors reduce dynamic range, the way they do it differs. A compressor gradually reduces the signal level above a certain threshold. Whereas a limiter prevents the signal from going over a specified threshold level. Preventing the signal from crossing a set output ceiling is also known as “peak” or “brickwall” limiting. Limiters also share similar controls as compressors. It’s common to see controls for setting attack and release times. Many also offer lookahead and knee controls. The big difference between a compressor and a limiter is the ratio.
Ways to Apply Limiting
Limiters can be used for a variety of tasks and purposes. Below are the three most common ways to apply audio limiting:
Mastering with Limiter Plugins
A limiter plays a vital role in the mastering stage. Its primary purpose is to make your track as loud as possible without causing clipping or distortion. Boosting the overall level and perceived loudness is necessary to achieve competitive commercial levels. Limiters are also inserted as the last processing device on the master to prevent clipping.
Mixing with Limiter Plugins
Limiters also work great for mixing and sound design. Use them to process both single tracks and group busses. They help reduce excessive transients, control dynamics, glue sounds together, boost levels, and add power.
Limiters act as a safety device that prevents the audio signal from clipping. Safeguarding against signal peaking prevents damaging equipment and your hearing.
Choosing the Best Limiter Plugins
There is a vast selection of limiter plugins on the market. Also, there are several types of limiters designed for different tasks. Choosing the right limiter for the job is crucial, and there are many great plugins for the task. This buyers guide narrows down the options and features ten of the best limiter plugins available.
1. FabFilter | Pro-L 2
Pro-L 2 is a versatile peak limiter that delivers excellent results for any mixing or mastering task. It does it all! Moreover, this feature-packed limiter offers eight different limiting algorithms. Each style brings its own character and purpose. It also comes equipped with true peak level meters, extensive loudness metering, and a spectrum analyzer. Not to mention, it sports one of the best-looking user interfaces on the market.
2. iZotope | Ozone 8 Maximizer
Ozone’s Maximizer is one of the industry’s most regarded mastering limiters. It excels at boosting the overall loudness of a mix while adding fullness and polish to your music. The Maximizer module offers multiple IRC (Intelligent Release Control) modes, automatic threshold adjustment, independent stereo detection, and other advanced technology. It also provides various metering and scrolling waveform display.
3. Waves | L2 Ultramaximizer or L3-LL Multimaximizer
The L3-LL is the latest limiter plugin in Waves’ L-Series. It is a multiband peak limiter that features five band crossover filters for precise control over frequencies. The L3-LL is also another all-purpose limiter capable of maxing levels for any mix or mastering task. Moreover, it offers a versatile set of presets and advanced capabilities. It is also a transparent sounding limiter plugin that will make your mix load while preserving detail.
The L2 Ultramaximizer is another acclaimed limiter plugin for mixing and mastering. It is a single band peak limiter that also maximizes level at high resolution.
4. UAD | Precision Limiter
The Precision Limiter plugin is a single-band, look-ahead brickwall limiter. This transparent mastering limiter does not pass audio through any filters; it only affects the gain. It works great for maximizing bus group level or adding the final boost during mastering.
5. A.O.M. | Invisible Limiter G2
A.O.M. Invisible Limiter is a transparent look-ahead brickwall limiter. It features automatic attack and release-times for best results. It also has a reputation for being one of the most transparent sounding limiters on the market. The second generation of this acclaimed mastering limiter plugin brings new features, improved response, extended metering, and more.
6. Sonnox | Oxford Limiter v3
The Oxford Limiter v3 is a long-time favorite by industry pros. It delivers maximum loudness and presence while retaining clarity and transient detail. This all-purpose peak limiter plugin is an excellent choice for any mix or mastering task. Also notable is its unique Enhance function. It provides a musical boost when increasing apparent loudness.
7. Brainworx | bx_limiter
The bx_limiter is a simple all-purpose limiter plugin perfect for mixing single tracks and stems. Brainworx designed the bx_limiter to treat multiple busses. It works great at smoothing out the signal and gluing tracks together. It also excels at taming peaks and adding color to sounds. Moreover, bx_limiter features a Mix control and a unique Channel Link knob. This control blends between unlinked and linked peak detection. bx_limiter also rocks an XL saturation control to boost level and fattiness.
8. PSP | Xenon
PSP Xenon is a full band, dual-stage limiter plugin. It is another workhorse ideal for any mixing or mastering task. Xenon’s two processing stages make it special. The first stage is more forgiving. It uses Infinite Impulse Response filters to apply the initial gain reduction. This allows transients to exceed the output ceiling. The second stage takes a hard line. It uses Finite Impulse Response filters that act like a brickwall limiter.
9. Slate Digital | FG-X Mastering Processor
The FG-X Mastering Processor is Slate Digital’s award-winning mastering plugin. It offers three modules in a single plugin. The FG-X combines an ultra-transparent compressor, a loudness enhancer, and a metering panel. Moreover, FG-X can make your mixes louder without altering the dynamics, removing punch, or skewing your mix balances.
10. IK Multimedia | Stealth Limiter
T-RackS Stealth Limiter is an ultra-transparent mastering peak limiter. It’s also a versatile limiting plugin, perfect for any mixing or mastering task. It features four modes, each designed for a different mastering purpose. Stealth Limiter also delivers transparent results while preserving the perceived sense of dynamics. Moreover, it sports simple controls and intuitive features.
There are a lot of excellent limiter plugins on the market. It makes it hard to narrow down the top ten. Below are five more limiter plugins worth considering: