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6 Essential Limiter Plugins for Mastering

As I cover in-depth in my new online course (Mastering In The Box), limiting is an invaluable tool for any mastering engineer, when used correctly, of course. Here are some of my favorite and most used limiter plugins.

1. FabFilter Pro-L 2

The Pro L-2 from Fabfilter makes its way onto at least three-quarters of the tracks I master, it’s that good. It received numerous upgrades over its predecessor, the Pro-L, which was already a top-tier mastering limiter. It features true peak limiting, a real-time level display that includes peak gain reduction labels, and up to x32 linear-phase oversampling. It also adopted more loudness metering options including the EBU R128, ITU-R BS.1770-4 and ATSC A/85 standards.

Something I’ve noticed about most plugin limiters is that they can be a bit finicky, perhaps responding to a variety of pieces of program material unpredictably. Sometimes the low end suffers, other times the transients aren’t preserved to my liking, and other times the tonality of a master is negatively affected. The Pro-L 2, however, is a consistent workhorse.

It’s set up as the final link in my default mastering chain because I can trust it. It’s mostly transparent, but definitely has a sound, or should I say sounds depending on the “style’ that you choose. You can push it quite hard before the mix becomes compromised, and the visual feedback that it provides you is excellent, as is the case with every other Fabfilter plugin. The true peak limiting and metering are must-have features that really give the Pro-L 2 an advantage over older limiter plugins.

Mastering Tip: Toggle through the styles to see what best fits your material. I will say that I end up using ‘modern’ quite a bit more than the other styles, but each of them adapts to material in a unique way. Although I mentioned that this is a mostly transparent limiter, the transients, stereo image, frequency spectrum and other qualities can be affected by the Pro-L 2, so make sure to get the most out of this plugin by learning the tendencies of the different styles.

2. PSP Xenon

Here’s another limiter that has a handful of great features, putting it above its competitors.

The transient stage is extremely flexible, and it’s easy to dial in a setting that won’t ruin the punch of percussive elements in your mix. The leveler section makes the Xenon even more useful. What makes it so great is how transparent it is. If I want a limiter that preserves the low end, and adds very little color or hype to a mix, I choose the Xenon.

Unique feature: The leveler and stereo unlink controls, which can help you obtain loud volumes, while still maintaining the integrity of your program material.

3. Sonnox Oxford Limiter v2

This is just a solid, straightforward, great sounding limiter. The user interface is minimal and not distracting at all, allowing you to first and foremost focus on the sound.

Unique feature: The enhance section which is somewhat hard to describe. It seems to give a bump in the low and high frequencies, and adds overall intensity and perceived loudness to your material without sounding pumpy.

4. iZotope Ozone 7 Dynamics & Vintage Limiter

These two modules found within iZotope’s Ozone 7 are extremely deep. I can’t think of another dynamics processor that is multiband, works in mid-side mode, and has a parallel processing feature.

All of these features wouldn’t matter if it didn’t sound great — but it does. The vintage limiter is great for adding coloration and vibe to your material if needed.

Unique feature: Any plugin that has a wet/dry blend feature is a winner in my book, and this plugin has about half a dozen unique features, but the ability to preview the .mp3 or .aac codec is a standout.

5. Waves L3-LL Multimaximizer

What makes the L3-LL so great is that it allows for multiband limiting. If you’ve got buildup in the low mid-range, or harshness because of sibilance, the L3-LL allows you to hone in and process whichever specific range(s) you desire. Additionally, it has many of the other features that one would want in a typical limiter including dither and master release controls.

I like using the L3-LL because it isn’t transparent when pushed. If, (and this is a big if) I want to make a master sound larger-than-life and hyped, it does the trick.

Unique feature: Being able to solo the separate bands when processing really allows me to find any problematic frequency ranges very quickly.

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6. Weiss Compressor/Limiter

There is no shortage of limiters on the plugin market, so whenever I see a new one coming out, I’m skeptical if its existence is justified. I have plenty of limiters in my dynamics folder collecting metaphorical dust. However, after running the Weiss Compressor/Limiter through its paces on a variety of upcoming pop releases, I’m convinced that it will stay close to the top of my collection of “final limiters”.

Available within the Weiss DS1- MK3 collection or on its own, the Compressor/Limiter is packed with virtually every feature you’d need to dial in an appropriately loud, yet still dynamic masters. The filters are excellent for preventing the limiter from introducing unwanted pumping. The attack, release, threshold, ratio and knee are fully sweepable and therefore great for fine-tuning the processing based on the dynamics of the program material. Additionally, it allows for mid-side and parallel processing. Lastly, the metering on the Compressor/Limiter is cleanly laid out and extremely helpful.

Mix Tip:

Sonically speaking, I’ve found the entire Weiss collection to have “a sound”, meaning that there are certain characteristics that will be imparted onto your material when using these plugins. Despite being mostly transparent, harmonically, I definitely hear a certain “up-frontness”, especially when pushing the Compressor/Limiter aggressively. The punch is left very much intact, and there’s a cohesiveness added to the  interaction between the different elements, making it a great option for modern-sounding masters.

Chances are if I’m going for a loud and proud, in-your-face pop master, i’ll be using the Weiss Compressor/Limiter, not only for its versatility, but for its recognizable effect on the dynamics of program material.

Honorable Mentions

Massey L2007

The L2007 has an awesome transparent sound and a simple design. Despite lacking some of the features of the aforementioned limiters, I still find myself using it quite often.

Waves L2

Though many newer limiter plugins have come along and offered more transparent sound and more features than the L2, this was truly the first of its kind. And it still does have a sound that we’re familiar with, if that’s what your material needs. I’ve used it a lot, and for that reason alone, it belongs on the list.

Mastering in the Box Course

If you’re interested in expanding your knowledge and learning effective techniques for getting great sounding masters 100% in the box, check out my debut course: Mastering in the Box

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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 Mastering in the Box and Mixing Pop.

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