Pro Audio Files

5 Plugins to Boost Perceived Loudness without Ruining a Mix

When I was a younger audio engineer I always found myself frustrated when comparing my final mixes to commercial releases. I’d connect my iPod to different sound systems and A/B only to find my mixes pale in comparison to professionally engineered productions in terms of volume, presence and impact.

Here are several tips, and five plugins (and in some cases, their hardware counterparts) that, if used properly, can help increase the perceived loudness of your mixes.

Disclaimer: The key to making the most of these tips is thoroughly understanding the difference between Peak and RMS.

Additionally, I have recently switched from sending all tracks directly to the master bus to first through a series of sub-auxes which include drums and bass, all other instrument and vocals.

1. UAD Neve 33609

I recently demoed this plugin (which models the Neve classic) and found it does something that very few other plugin compressors can do. When used on the master bus, reducing only about 1.5 dB and with a   fast release, it offers an overall boost in RMS without introducing pumping and other negative artifacts.

I wouldn’t call it transparent as it adds impact, a clearer sense of space and a bit of brightness to most sources, but it certainly won’t negatively alter the dynamics and balance of a mix when used correctly. Just in time for the UAD sale!

2. FabFilter Pro-L

FabFilter Pro-L has definitely become my go-to limiter for most material. It’s versatile and offers a lot of control, so the learning curve is a little steep, but once you understand all that this plugin can do, it’s hard to refrain from placing it on the master bus. It adds brightness and brings content forward, so be careful to not overdo the gain reduction.

A key feature of this is the real-time RMS readout. I can see exactly how loud my mixes are at all times, truly a great limiter for someone wanting to understand the process better.

3. Waves L3-LL Multimaximizer

The L3-LL offers a similar hype as the famous (and perhaps overused L2) but in a multiband compressor format. I’ll set my threshold so that the material is rarely subject to significant gain reduction, and use another limiter such as the FabFilter Pro-L to do the heavy lifting.

Because it’s multiband, I can use it to compress problem areas like low-mids. Or sometimes just use it on the vocal aux to gently compress the sibilant 7-9k range.

4. UAD Studer A800 and Ampex ATR-102

I consider this another masterful job from UAD modeling classic and sought-after hardware. I’ve never heard a plugin do what these do. The Studer A800 offers more of a warm, vintage tone, and I often use it on individual tracks that need to be prominently featured in the mix. You’ll also find it works well on sub-auxes and the master bus.

The ATR-102 offers a different flavor, boosting the highs, creating a more defined sense of space, and helping in raising the RMS of a mix. Be careful to not push the meters into the red as it will crush transients and introduce unwanted distortion.

5. Cytomic The Glue

The Glue is modeled after the famous SSL Master Bus Compressor but offering the key feature of a dry/wet mix knob.

With the SSL compressor I only feel comfortable reducing about 2 dB of gain before my mixes start to pump, lose bass, and feel lifeless. With this I can push a bit harder (4 dB of gain reduction) and simply turn the affected signal down with the mix knob, essentially creating parallel compression but with fewer steps.

Using a slow attack and fast release, this plugin offers exactly what its name suggests.

Video Examples

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Ian Vargo

Ian Vargo

Ian Vargo is a Producer, Mixer and Audio Professor based in Los Angeles. He has worked on numerous major label and independent records. Get in touch on his website or learn more from him in his new Mastering in the Box course.

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  • Jakub Turecek

    How about the new audified u73b plug-in?

  • May I add the FG-X ? 😀 It rocks!

    • OriKing katrevendis

      The best on the range.. I often use it to master all my mix.. its dope this FG X… better than all it listing above.

  • I personally use Izotope’s Maximizer on my master. I find it is the most transparent, especially with the Transient Recovery engaged.

  • ironhead

    These aré of course some interesting plugins
    But also the wave 1176 Adds a Nice sterreo image to the mix without much compresión
    SoundRadix Pi in the bus really helps to glue mix

  • Marc Johanssen

    I’m looking forward to using the Flux Elixir V3 Limiter as well as the McDSP ML4000 High Resolution Limiter and multi-band Dynamics processor.

  • I recommend changing the bandwidth on the 16 kHz boost to broad.

  • Jérôme Albrecht

    I recommend AOM Invisible limiter or FG-X

    • Dangenoir

      The FG-X (still waiting for version II) is an amazing mastering tool ! I only use the FG-Level for the ITP/Dynamic Perception and the recovery lowpunch (kick)/Detail (snare) ! Then I use the best maximizer (Izotope ozone) ! And insert the ISRC and PQ codes send the DDP file to Warner and wait…..sofar 15 years have past ! But I’m dumb and I keep waiting !
      Goodnite Jerôme


  • bowlingotter

    IK Multimedia Stealth Limiter needs a little love too

  • Kung Schtefan

    I don’t agree with the waves L3-LL. It sounds terrible, the crossover points is so audible this one is unusable (unless you’re looking for the “multiband sound”.

    • Dangenoir

      Waves L3-LL stands for low latency. If latency is not a problem for you, try using Waves L3-16 you can lower the crossover points, whre they become invisible (close to) !
      BUT I doubt you have fully read the manual. These Multiband limiters work on priorities level ! Nothing to do with L2 ! The more higher the bell is the lesser it will be treated, as an exemple.


    • Kung Schtefan

      That’s why you can hear the crossover points, it’s not linear phase since they need it to be low latency, therefor it becomes audible. Just put the L3-LL on a track and you can hear the effect straight away.

  • Dangenoir

    Lots of weird and confusing descriptions.
    Let’s take the Waves L3-LL (not a multiband compressor, it is a Multimaximizer Low Latency MULTIBAND LIMITER Plugin).
    Tape emulations add wanted harmonics and SATURATION not distortion and they do not crush your transients.
    The glue is freely based (licensed free) on the ssl 4000 bus compressor, just to clarify, for the SSL duende bus compressor is based on the SSL XL9000 K-series console for instance.
    Lastly : This has nothing to do with mixing (unless the author is pretending to not know what is mixing vs mastering ?)
    This article in a (mixing category) should be in a (mastering category), for using plugins (or the real thing)on your master channel should be avoided, unless it is part of your music sound and that without this or these effects, your music can’t be created.

    Remember that mixing engineers aren’t mastering engineers ! And the DAW master fader is where mixing ends and mastering begins.

    But The PRO AUDIO FILES is only about mixing, if I’m right ! (specializing in EDM and Hip-Hop ?)


    • chadpry

      You should try to be more constructive in your criticism.

    • Dangenoir

      You should try to be happier in life !
      I don’t even have to reply to people like you !
      Am doing you a favor !
      So you owe me one !
      WHO CARES, nothing is important on music forums. It’s only theater or entertainment. But a backstage comment should remain backstage for it’s not part of the play. Never went to the ultimate useless funny GEARSLUTZ !!!!
      Ilaugh so much it’s painfull.
      Don’t be serious on stage, you’re ruining the show !
      Perhaps it is because of your medication ?
      Be happy on stage. It will be good for your sex partner or you may win more often at monopoly ????

  • John Foytek

    very helpful!

  • Loz Grover

    Why the LL version of L3 out of interest? The crossover points cause awful phase problems. Copy and paste the same preset into the linear phase version and compare. I have no idea why Waves even make a non linear phase version – it’s unusable for any task – the crossovers are very audible on anything you use it on.

    • have you tried the NLS summer plugin from waves yet? I am finding it could be something special for tone/color/thickening, but more as bus/direct insert than on my master output. it seems rather gritty for mastering work, but i am curious about why non-linear is an issue and if it applies to the summer plugin?

    • Loz Grover

      NLS is a wide/full band plugin which means it doesn’t have any crossover points (like a multiband plugin does) so there shouldn’t be any phase problems with it. It’s a different thing altogether to a multiband limiter though. My favourite tone/colour/thickener from Waves (that I sometimes use in my professional mastering) is Greg Wells Tonecentric – now that has a lovely analog thing going on, on the right material. I’ve never been impressed with NLS myself – it’s just a saturator at the end of the day.

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