Anyone can throw a limiter on a track, crush the source audio and get a crispy, aggressive sound out of it. It takes a handful of small tweaks around most limiters to get the most out of them – here are a few of our favorite ways to supercharge our limiters for optimal performance:
1. High Pass Your Limiter
What good is your limited signal if it’s got a bunch of overhyped low end in it? Adding a high-pass filter just before your limiter, you’re only affecting the relevant content in the track.
What does this accomplish?
A few things. First, you’re giving yourself a headroom buffer that commonly gets disregarded when limiting most of the time. A good limiter will stop you from clipping, but for the most transparent sound, you should be doing everything you can to take that strain off of the limiter.
In addition to the additional headroom, you’re potentially changing where the audio is hitting the limiters threshold. If frequencies that are now getting filtered out were triggering the limiter, you’re going to be hitting the threshold at different peaks now. Peaks you were really after all along.
The high-pass filter is becoming increasingly popular in limiters, with some limiters even including sidechain HPF & monitoring controls.
2. Take Advantage of Digital Limiter Flexibilities
Limiters offer an immense amount of production value in the studio, and they have for decades. There were plenty of issues with hardware limiters that we’ve recently started addressing in the digital realm, but too many engineers are slow on taking full advantage of the new features.
Digital limiters are flexible in ways that you just can’t do with hardware.
The biggest addition to plugins (and not just limiters) has to be look-ahead functionality. For time-based effects, this look-ahead helps the plugin anticipate upcoming changes and prepare to process them (as opposed to operating reactively). This takes a huge amount of CPU processing, and allows your DAW to allocate it more evenly throughout a session.
With dynamic tools like limiters and compressors, look-ahead is revolutionary. FET limiters (like the coveted 1176) were so widely used in analog recording because of their responsiveness and ability to start limiting almost instantly.
Look-ahead makes it so that there is no room for error when it comes to catching peaks. Just like the time-based plugins anticipate the changes, compressors and limiters can anticipate peaks before they arrive and can start compression immediately preceding the peak.
3. Limit In Parallel
Parallel compression (also known as New York Compression) is one of the most common tools to bring the dynamics out of a drum mix while preserving the dynamics of the instrument. If you haven’t worked with parallel compression before, there are plenty of step-by-step guides available online to explain how you do it.
Limiting is another tool than can be applied in parallel for similar results. It can be a great way to process a softer vocal to add in some bite without overpowering the performance. Some have even gone as far as to limit their master in parallel for similar results. It’s important to note that while doing this, you’ll want to be conscious of how this might change your master prior to processing.
Remember: Less is more when it comes to processing your master bus.
In an effort to make parallel processing easier to implement, some limiting plugins include a mix knob, so you can find the balance between the limited and non-limited signal on a single track. This is a quick and easy way to experiment with parallel processing without all of the additional setup traditionally required.
4. Don’t Limit Your Options
Too many limiter options are one-trick ponies. You spend hundreds on something that does one thing really well, and you use it to do that one thing consistently.
The problem with this is approach is that you end up spending way too much for “options” over the course of your career. Whenever there’s an update to your DAW, you’re not just checking compatibility with one plugin, but dozens.
When it comes to hardware emulations, this cycle can be endless, especially if you find a tool that sounds spot-on with the original. But what if there was a better way?
A powerful digital limiter doesn’t limit its functionality for the sake of emulation. With so many plugins on the market, why sacrifice multiple transient & color modes that do nothing but add flexibility to your tonal options?
Picking A Limiter That Works For You
You’ve got plenty to consider when it comes to picking the tools in your DAW. When it comes to limiting, you deal with more hardware emulations than virtually any other type of processor. Emulations that limit your creativity with “authenticity”.
It’ll cost you more to add an option later than it is to have features you’re not using on this session (but might have use for in another).
This is the reason we build plugins like Finality that give you the whole kitchen sink of limiting for an affordable price. We build plugins that are usable & effective in real-world sessions; plugins that should make your job easier and let you focus on making great music.