Best Limiter Plugins of 2020 – Ultimate Guide

If you’re listening to any kind of modern music one of the first things you will notice is that those songs sound clear and loud. The latter attribute is made thanks to the type of plugin we’re gonna talk about today and it has been used probably on any commercial song you know.

Our Top Picks for Limiter Plugins

  • 8 advanced algorithms
  • Editable look-ahead values
  • Dolby Atmos supported
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  • Maximising loudness tool
  • Four noises shaping modes
  • True Peak measurement
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  • 6 specialized modules
  • 3-stage drive parameter
  • Useful 90Hz HF Limiter
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Comparison of the Best Limiter Plugins

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • 8 advanced algorithms with up to 32x oversampling
  • Editable look-ahead, attack and release values
  • Surround support up to Dolby Atmos 7.1.2
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  • Effective for maximising loudness
  • Four noises shaping modes
  • Supports true peak measurement industry standard
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  • 6 specialized rearrangeable modules
  • 3-stage drive parameter
  • Very useful 90Hz HF Limiter
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  • Transparent Multi-Band Transient reshaping
  • Intelligent Algorithms up to 26 transient bands
  • Define transient curve by drawing
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  • Full band dual-stage limiter
  • 64-bit precision processing
  • 3 different K-System metering scales
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  • Straight-forward graphical limiter
  • Up to 8x oversampling and optional dithering
  • Suitable for beginners
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  • Tube emulating limiter
  • Output ranging all over up to +20dB
  • 5-Band graphic EQ with Pre and Post option
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  • Official dbx 160 emulation
  • Includes extra features compared to the hardware
  • Works in studio and live
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What is a Limiter Plugin and What Does it Do? 

A limiter is a type of compressor designed to limit the level of a signal at the threshold given by the parameters provided. Limiter could be considered as a very extreme compressor as well because of the very high ratio it uses. It blocks (limits) any volume increase over the threshold value you have provided and prevents creating too loud or distorted signal peaks. It could be said that it defines the sonic ballpark where the song is playing. 

These features made it possible to increase the overall loudness of the modern songs as the lowest and middle parts are getting louder while keeping the loud parts out from any distortions. It’s one of those tools that affect the loudness the most by reducing the overall dynamics and lifting the quiet parts. 

They come with similar parameters like compressor has, offering threshold, attack, and release displayed in milliseconds that allow you to control how loud you want to make your song. The quicker attack leads to louder and more aggressive tracks in general while slower will result in much smoother results. They are often used combined with the compressor as a second effect to handle any strong peaks present in the audio track.

Is a Limiter Plugin Hard to Learn?

If you have any experience with using a compressor, the limiter shouldn’t be any trouble to apply. In case you haven’t used one, a limiter might be a proper way to get introduced with the compression as the terms and logic behind are quite similar. 

The good thing is that there is no “right way” to do it. Applying a limiter is mostly a matter of taste and even two professionals may apply it differently. You will have to use your ears and reference tracks to monitor your progress and accept that it will take some trial and error before you get it right.

Are All Limiter Plugins The Same? 

All Limiters are built to do the same thing - limit the maximum volume level output.

However, they don’t get to the result in the same manner. Some may be simplified and easier for newbies to understand what’s going on, while some professionals will enjoy using a multiband limiter that will provide him options for surgical precise changes. 

Also, they may include a look-ahead feature and several editable parameters such as attack and release. Some may look very graphical, showing you various changes while others resemble vintage hardware units and come with the VU meter.

Quick Take: 
Top 3 Picks

Review of the Best Limiter Plugins 

Let’s check what limiters we have on the market at the moment:

Best Overall:
FabFilter Pro-L 2

PROS

  • Editable look-ahead, attack, and release values
  • Precise true peak level meters and loudness metering
  • Unity Gain feature to hear the effect of the applied limiting
  • Channel linking and surround support up to Dolby Atmos 7.1.2
  • 8 advanced algorithms with up to 32x linear-phase oversampling

CONS

  • No soft knee control available
  • Side chain works only for mono tracks

Features and Specifications

This plugin is a professional true peak limiter that comes with 8 algorithms, 32x linear-phase oversampling and a bunch of factories presets. It has a real-time level display with editable look-ahead, attack and release values, and optional side chain triggering and DC Offset filtering. It also supports Surround sound systems up to  Dolby Atmos 7.1.2

Unity Gain feature helps you to easily listen to the effect of the limiting you applied at unity gain level, while the Audition Limiting option will let you monitor applied gain change only.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Digital audio processing can introduce inter-sample peaks. But, Pro-L 2 will detect true peaks instead and reduce them appropriately with smooth attenuation.

It can sound both transparent and loud and it will work for any kind of music genre you have in mind and it comes with special algorithms made just for electronic music. The user interface is extremely graphical and well-organized. It was designed to show you as much information as possible.

Metering is very precise and the algorithms are versatile enough so it will cover both distortion-free limiting or very punchy and pumping that will work for individual tracks.

PROS

  • Four noises shaping modes
  • Adjustable attack, release, and soft knee
  • Can be heavily applied for creative purposes
  • True peak limit effective for maximizing loudness
  • Supports true peak measurement industry standard and 24-bit and 16-bit output

CONS

  • A bit expensive
  • Multi-band limiting would wonderful

Features and Specifications

Oxford Limiter v2 is made from four processes placed in the next order: pre-gain control, program enhancement and overshoot, reconstruction compensation, and dithering and noise shaping that come with four strength-variable modes. 

Pre-Process provides a musical program-leveling function and can be also used as a leveling tool with the Soft Knee fader that adjusts the response curve between hard limiting and softer limiting and Auto Gain which handles large level changes while still allowing fast peak modeling.

It supports the industry's true peak measurement standard ITU-R BS.1770-4 and can handle both 24-bit and 16-bit output.

Why it Stands Out to Us

It’s very easy to set it up and make it work thanks to the bunch of useful factories presets provided.

The Recon Meter and Auto Comp allow you to correct invisible overloads automatically without losing overall loudness while noise-shaped dithering diminishes or removes the noise heard at a low level. 

Enhancement Section is something you don’t find on your everyday limiter and it’s a very effective and simple tool that provides you with the safe mode to prevent any distortion from occurring and highly processed content can be boosted to acquire even greater perceived loudness. 

Best for the Money:
TDR Limiter 6 GE

PROS

  • 3-stage drive parameter
  • Very useful 90Hz HF Limiter
  • 6 specialized rearrangeable modules
  • EBU R128 compliant loudness metering section
  • Modern dynamics compression and limiting toolkit

CONS

  • Doesn’t support 32-bit OS
  • Look-ahead parameter is fixed

Features and Specifications

It’s made from 6 modules where the first four can be re-organized by a single dragging in any order you prefer. You can also hide them by clicking on the tab if you’re not using it. It’s made from a compressor, clipper, HF Limiter, Peak Limiter, Output, and the Meter section displaying both true peak and momentary independently. 

All modules have their own two-needle gain reduction meters displaying output or stereo width. In case you’re operating in mono mode, stereo width can be hidden from a display from a dedicated button.

Why it Stands Out to Us

It’s incredible but what TDR managed to offer at such a low price.  

Compressor module behaves like a typical compressor unit, Peak Limiter can act like a brick wall limiter with a lookahead, while HF Limiter will focus on high frequencies only. The Clipper will be very useful for any kind of inharmonic material that is happening much faster than tonal ones. 

While it was named the TDR Limiter, it’s a simple but complete dynamics bundle that can cover any kind of brick wall behavior and creative crunching during the mixing process. The equal loudness bypass will balance out your aural perception from any loudness differences.

Best Brickwall Limiter VST:
Boz Digital Labs The Wall

PROS

  • Suitable for beginners
  • Useful Sanity Check feature
  • 3 completely different limiting algorithms
  • Up to 8x oversampling and optional dithering
  • Affordable and straight-forward graphical limiter

CONS

  • Not intended for advanced users
  • Watch out for unwanted colorization while dialing certain Flavor values

Features and Specifications

The user interface is designed in a simple but graphical way. There are two large sliders dedicated to threshold and ceiling and a unique horizontal slider that combines all regular limiter parameters into a single parameter called the Flavor. 

The threshold can be set to behave smooth or aggressive On the top-right you have buttons for Stereo Link, Dithering, and up to 8x oversampling while Sanity Check is a very handy feature that normalizes your level so you can compare your original sound with the compressed sound without introducing a level change.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Sometimes you don’t need advanced limiting options and that’s what guys from Boz Digital thought so. In case you want just to make your mixes loud and keep the punch and tonality intact, consider this unit.

They made an affordable, basic but effective limiter that won’t excel at any special operation, but, in case you’re not very sure what you’re supposed to do, the chances you will do something wrong are minimal thanks to very straight-forward sliders.

Instead of dialing various parameters up and down, they combined them all into one simple horizontal slider called Flavour and make this unit completely newbie-friendly.

Editor's Pick:
Waves dbx 160

PROS

  • Designed for both studio and live use
  • Quite handy high-pass filtering applied
  • Supports stereo, dual and mid/side linking
  • Includes extra features compared to the hardware
  • Perfect emulation of the dbx 160 hardware compressor

CONS

  • High-pass filter value is fixed
  • There was enough space to display all parameters on the single screen

Features and Specifications

This is the officially endorsed emulation of the hardware VCA compressor dbx 160. It comes with all features found in the original model so that the Threshold is not displayed in dB (milliVolts instead) and the compression ratio goes to infinite.

It also comes with new features such as Input, Mix, and Noise knobs found beneath the Collapse switch. There is also a high-pass filter that prevents bass content from pumping the compressor.

It can work on stereo tracks in both linked and unlinked mode (Duo), too and it also supports mid/side mode. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

Hardware version of dbx 160 is a versatile VCA compressor that is considered as one of the best drum compressors ever made and it has been used widely during the ‘70s and ‘80s giving the much-needed punch to those tracks. 

This plugin made by Waves is so good that even the hardware owners of the original 1st generation couldn’t tell a difference. Thanks to its snappy behavior and infinite ratio it can also work as a limiter when needed, so, it’s pretty much like you’re getting two in one software.

Best Tube Emulation Limiter VST:
New Nomad Factory Blue Tubes Limiter LM2S

PROS

  • Tube emulating limiter
  • Easy to use user interface
  • Output ranging all over up to +20dB
  • 5-Band graphic EQ with Pre and Post option
  • Big VU meter displaying input, output or gain reduction level

CONS

  • EQs are not parametric
  • No oversampling provided

Features and Specifications

The user interface is designed in a rack-like module with four big knobs dedicated for threshold up to -60dB, attack covering the range from 1ms to 1 second while release extends from 50ms to 5 seconds. Output gain can be set anywhere from -20dB to 20dB. 

On the right part, there is a 5-band EQ that can be set to pre or post limiter stage, and the central part of the interface is intended for VU meter that monitors Input, Output, or Gain Reduction level all selectable from the buttons beneath.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The included 5-band graphic EQ is a very nice add-on that can perform some nice tune-ups during your mastering sessions. 

It’s not so often that we find output ranging up to +20 dB on a limiter plugin either. This feature will allow you to emulate tube limiters, so, if you set an output to extreme values you will get that tube saturation which will provide your mix with additional warmth.

It will also work great for quick saving rough mixes and demos so they are matching the usually expected loudness and we recommend it for rock-based music.

Best Transparent Limiter VST:
PSP Xenon

PROS

  • Full band dual-stage limiter
  • Leveller and K-System modules bundled
  • Transparent response and intuitive design
  • 3 different K-System metering scales available
  • 64-bit precision processing throughout the entire path

CONS

  • Lacks of graphical display
  • Menu is too much tab-driven

Features and Specifications

PSP Xenon's limiter section is made from two stages. First uses multiple Infinite Impulse Response filters with only a small amount of lookahead. It comes with a dedicated attack and release knobs detector switch and react and predict buttons mode dedicated for transient hard or smoother clipping.

The second stage is dedicated to the Leveller function and has a wordlength section organized into bits and noise shape buttons. 

Metering offers three stereo meters and eight mode and calibration buttons to toggle between the different metering modes and scales including K-system standards.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This unit excels at being simple and doing exactly what it was meant to do - create ceiling and hold all peaks beneath them without saturating or distorting the signal at any point. K-Systems will cover various purposes, from broadcasting, CD, or movie production standards.

Link knob is a useful feature for making optimal loudness. It will allow you to benefit from limiting channels individually without harming the stereo image in general by blending such output with the regular stereo mix.

The auto mode button may help you to compare original and processed signals at the same level by maintaining the output level with the input gain automatically.

Best Limiter VST For Mastering:
Eventide Punctuate

PROS

  • Define the transient curve by drawing
  • Transparent Multi-Band Transient reshaping
  • Transient Emphasis can be defined in general and per band.
  • Detailed scrolling transient and long input/output metering
  • Intelligent Adaptive Algorithms with up to 26 transient bands

CONS

  • More detailed manual would be welcomed
  • May require a time for you to adapt to its workflow

Features and Specifications

Punctuate is made from 26 frequency band sliders that can be either raised or lowered up to 12 dB.  There are four controls available for every band so you can define transient detection with Transient Length while Transient Emphasis can be either suppressed or emphasized in general or per band. 

Every band range is based on the Mel Scale between 0 Hz and 20 kHz, and you can edit the center frequency of each band. Detailed scrolling transient and long input/output metering are always visible on the front panel.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Adaptive Length is a unique feature that allows this plugin to treat lower bands differently so they may have longer lengths and react more slowly. This way you can turn just the kick drum, without the bass guitar or treat any frequency-specific melodic instrument.

The multiple bands provide you with the option to use it more subtly. Thanks to controls provided it gives you even more control over how it affects the signal it is processing. And just in case you may need, by pulling the Adaptive Transient scale to 0% will make Punctuate work like a single band limiter.

Why Did These Limiter Plugins Make Our List? 

If you think that maybe all limiter plugins are the same here are some reasons to explain why we picked these plugins instead of others:

Versatility

Having a multiband limiter is a god-send for any serious music producer. The limiter is usually considered as a very harsh tool, so having an ability to treat various bands independently will eventually allow you to approach the overall volume output in a much more sophisticated manner. You can isolate an instrument and make it louder without affecting others.

User Interface

Having a proper user interface can make wonders for any VST effect. Even the most advanced plugins may sound bad if they don’t come with an intuitive workflow. That’s why a comprehensive and inspiring user interface may be a great game changer even when it comes with fewer features.

Community Support

All features and parameters are great in theory. However, their real proving ground is the users and the songs they make. That’s why we took research based on the feedback of some experienced users. 

With the music producing community being so active these days, you can be assured that if the opinion is not positive, there are really small chances that you’re going to have a different experience.

Limiter Plugin - Dos and Don’ts List

Here are some tips that could guide you about using the limiter properly:

Dos

Below are the things that you can do: 

Always Apply it as the Last Effect in the Chain

Using a limiter isn’t mandatory. It should be applied only when you have a lot of peaks in your waveform. That’s why it works the best when it’s used as the last effect in a chain after all compression and EQing.

Stack Limiters

Applying several more subtle limiters may lead to more sophisticated and balanced volume build-up than applying one with high value.

Check the Target Level of the Digital Platform

Youtube, Spotify, and other platforms have their industry standards regarding volume. If you make your track louder it won’t make any sense as it will be compressed down to the level acceptable for them.

Make it Inaudible

The best way to use it is to make it inaudible to the audience. The only notice they could have is that the song is really loud. If there is any pumping effect present after you apply the limiter, go back to the drawing board

It’s Fine to Use Auto Switches

Auto switches may save you a lot of time, especially regarding balancing the output and input level. This way you can listen to sonic changes and not get tricked by the volume increase.

Don'ts

Below are the things that you can't do: 

Don’t Use it For Mixing 

Mixing isn’t meant to be loud. It’s about getting the right balance. Unless you’re using it in some extremely creative way to get a specific timbre, there’s no need for limiting at this stage.

Don’t Overuse it

Louder is not always better and the limiter belongs to those effects where less is more. Remember that by applying a limiter you’re affecting the dynamics of the song. Too much limiting and your song will be a flat line.

Conclusion 

If you load any modern music song into a wave editor you will notice how loud it is all the time. While we may argue about it, the truth is that you will have to keep up with such a pace for a while. That’s why buying a good limiter is a great call.

People Also Ask

Now that you’re more aware of the importance of the limiter for your projects, let’s check what should be the most proper way to apply it and see what terms such as Loudness War, Brickwall Limiter represent. Also, let's see if there are any differences between Clipper, Maximizer, and Limiter effect.

What is a Loudness War?

It’s a never-ending trend of increasing the volume of the audio recording. You would be surprised to find out that the first report was generated back in the 1940s. But, the real “war” started in the 90s when digital sound production and compact disc became a standard.

What is a Brickwall Limiter?

Brickwall Limiter is an extreme version of a limiter with a dedicated lookahead parameter that doesn’t allow any signal to output level above the given threshold. They have a high infinity ratio and work snappy so even short audio level peaks without creating audible artifacts.

Should I Put a Limiter on my Master?

Definitely. The mastering limiter allows your track to compete with the loudness of professional tracks. It was built to change the sound of your recording so that the peak limiting is applied in the most transparent way possible while reaching certain commercial standards of modern music. 

However, please, don’t mix with the limiter turned on.

Should I Use a Limiter on Vocals?

There are certain music genres where limiters on vocals will come handy. While we won’t advise you to put in on your pop or rock tracks, hip-hop songs could have a lot of benefits from such an effect. You can also apply it as a safety check so that no peak comes over and causes dynamic trouble.

What is the Difference Between a Compressor and a Limiter?

Both of these effects belong to the same category - they cut the signal that goes above the threshold with the specific ratio provided. And exactly the ratio is the main feature of how you can tell a difference - while the compressor applies 1dB of gain to a certain ratio, that ratio is set to infinite for the limiter.

What is the Difference Between a Clipper and a Limiter?

Roughly speaking, they do the same thing. However, when the amplitude goes over a threshold, a clipper will cut it down until it is placed beneath the given values.

In a limiter, the volume will be first reduced and then compensated with make-up gain. This makes the limiter signal as transparent as possible.

What is the Difference Between a Maximizer and a Limiter?

Limiter defines the loudest levels of your track without affecting any other part of your track. Maximizer raises the level of the track first up to the gain you have provided and then applies a limiting effect to the peaks exceeding that range. So it’s safe to say that it works as an advanced limiter.