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The Best Mastering Limiter Plugins for Producers (Shootout w/Audio Examples)

Most Transparent

best mastering limiter fabfilter

The best mixing and mastering service. Great accolades, analog gear, but expensive


Fantastic interface with A/B

Transparent with 32x oversampling

✅Versatile with 8 limiting algorithms

Loudness, & true peak limiting built-in

✅ Spectral visualization

❌ Expensive. Recommended for pros

❌ Easy to over compress


Pricing Options


Best For Tone Shaping

best maximizer plugin

Cheaper, huge industry accolades, virtual analogue gear


✅ Built-in dithering

Awesome mutli-band limiting

✅ Versatile with multiple limiting algorithms

✅ Lots of fantastic presets

✅ Features linear phase EQ

❌ Band attenuation is hard to control

❌ Easy to over compress


Pricing Options


Most Used in The Industry

izotop ozone 9 AI mastering plugin

Cheapest mixing & professional audio mastering, with fewer accolades


✅ Built-in dithering & true peak limiting

✅ Stereo independence controls

✅ 5 limiting modes for different character

✅ AI Assistant to help you get the right settings

✅ Full suite of mastering tools included

❌ Too aggresive on transients

❌ No oversampling


Pricing Options


Limiters are dynamic processors (very similar to compressors) that are often used by mastering engineers to get a song to a commercial level. They work as a ceiling to prevent a signal from passing beyond a prefixed threshold by applying very hard compression to it.

This compression helps glue together the different elements in your track, making it more exciting and achieving its maximum loudness potential.

However, too much limiting can also crush the dynamic range of your audio and suck the life out of it, which is why it's so important to be gentle with these tools.

In this article, we'll cover the best limiter plugins to use in mastering and how to use them to make your tracks sound professional.

What Does A Limiter Do?

A limiter compresses the audio signal to prevent it from reaching the saturation point, while increasing its overall loudness with heavy compression. A simple way to think about limiters is to think of them like a compressor, only that instead of compressing in small ratios, it uses an ∞:1 ratio.

The ratio is the key difference here because, in a compressor, it determines how much gain reduction will occur after passing a threshold. On the other hand, a limiter (as the name suggests), limits the input to the threshold.

In simpler words, a compressor will always allow audio to pass the threshold, but it'll reduce its volume according to the established ratio. In a limiter, the threshold acts more like a wall, and it'll only allow the audio signal to stay within this value and take the output to a specified level.

What Are The Different Styles of Limiting?

  • Clipping – Cuts off the audio in a straight line, and it's meant to add distortion and saturation.
    • Soft Clipping – Rounds off the edges of the clipped source, causing a significantly smaller distortion.
    • Hard Clipping – Squares off the peaks in a waveform, creating a similar distortion that occurs when a signal goes past the saturation point (hence, clipping)
  • Maximizing – Increases the overall loudness level to its maximum possible value by reducing the peak levels and normalizing the rest.
  • Brickwall Limiting – This is the standard form of limiting. It reduces occasional peaks in an audio signal.
  • True Peak Limiting – Picks out inter-sample peaks and limits them to ensure they don't clip.

What Are The Best Limiter Plugins?

Here's the complete list of the best limiter plugins for mixing and mastering:

  1. FabFilter Pro L
  2. Waves Audio L316
  3. Ozone Maximizer
  4. Waves Audio L1
  5. Voxengo Elephant
  6. TDR Limiter No. 6
  7. Sonible Smart:Limit

1. FabFilter Pro L

Compatibility: WinVista+, macOS 10.12+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit
Price: $199

fabfilter pro L best mastering limiter

Pros

✅ Super transparent limiter with up to 32x oversampling

✅ Spectral visualization lets you graphically understand what it's doing

✅ Incredibly versatile for use with eight limiting algorithms for different purposes

✅ The audition limiting option lets you compare more accurately with the unprocessed source

✅ 8 limiting styles suitable for different mixing and mastering situations

✅ Ability to link input and output for A/B comparison & delta channel monitoring

✅ Loudness and true-peak metering & built-in true peak limiting

Cons

❌Although it's very transparent, it can distort pretty badly or over-compress your mix without reaching the maximum loudness potential

❌Expensive

Fab Filter's Pro L2 is an update of their famous and versatile brick wall limiter plugin, Pro L. You're probably aware of this plugin if you ever watched any YouTube videos about mastering, but in case you haven't, it's well-known for its excellent set of unique limiting styles that make it incredibly adaptable for both mixing and mastering.

Pro L now features a true peak limiter and precise loudness metering, more oversampling capacity, and more limiting styles, going from very subtle and dynamic to aggressively distorted and punchy limiting configurations.

This limiter is a beautiful mastering tool because of its capability to work in multiple modes, which can deliver a different character without causing digital distortion. This makes Pro L an ideal weapon of choice during the mastering process.

How does it sound?

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2. Waves Audio L3-16 Multimaximizer

Compatibility: WinVista+, macOS 10.12+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit
Price: $549 (usually on sale for $44.99)

waves l316 multimaximizer for mastering

Pros

✅Several algorithms with different characters and purposes

✅Lots of presets to help you enhance your audio

✅Multiband limiting capabilities with six individual bands

✅Release characters can help a lot to find the best settings quickly

✅Features a linear-phase EQ

Cons

❌It takes a while to understand what it does and get it to work your way

❌Band attenuation is hard to control and can completely change the tone and color of the signal

❌It's easy to over-compress and creates unwanted pumping

The L316 is a multi-band audio maximizer, and is the most advanced of Waves Audio's L-series. This loudness maximizer has a crossover separating the frequency spectrum into six frequency bands. You can process them individually with parameters similar to a dynamic EQ.

Something to note is that it's easy to make things go wrong with this plugin, so we advise you to go easy on the spectral shaping settings. It's not meant for fixes but for fine-tuning in minimal amounts. Nevertheless, we found this plugin very good for mixing situations, particularly with instruments that are not exceptionally dynamic or relevant, like synths or background vocals.

Especially with vocals, it can help you get them to cut through the mix and sit upfront quite nicely. It's additionally terrific when used to round up your bass, especially if you like combining different tones because it glues them together. You can then shape the tone further with multiband maximization.

How does it sound?

Mix Before

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3. Ozone Maximizer

Compatibility: Win10+, macOS 10.12+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit
Price: $129

izotope ozone mastering suite

Pros

✅True Peak limiting

✅5 limiting modes with intelligent release control

✅Flexible stereo independence controls

✅Waveform visualizer to see how processing affects the signal

✅Volume match for accurate A/B comparison

✅Lets you tailor the AI assistant to the results you're looking for

✅Has amazing dithering and noise shaping options

Cons

❌It's a little too aggressive with transient information

❌The AI is not always helpful and gives you absurd results

❌No oversampling capabilities

❌You can't just get the plugin – you need to buy the full software

The Ozone Maximizer is part of iZotope's Ozone suite – a mastering software that includes several modules with everything you need to get a professional master for your track.

Ozone includes EQ, compressors, spectral shapers, and many other tools often used for this purpose. Even including a vintage limiter alongside the normal maximizer.

The maximizer itself is super simple to use, to the point where you need less than a minute to get your hands on it and instinctively learn how to use it. It's also subtle and delivers a pretty clean sound, even when taken to abusive settings. However, it can be aggressive to transients. To avoid this, we recommend using compression or soft limiters before the limiter on Ozone, to avoid dulling your audio.

We love that Ozone is incredibly musical, the different modules and interface make it incredibly easy to navigate, and the results are usually really good. The AI mastering assistance is a bit bittersweet for us, but for newer producers, it is a tremendous help, especially if you don't know much about mastering.

How does it sound?

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4. Waves Audio L1 Ultramaximizer

Compatibility: WinVista+, macOS 10.12+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit
Price: $149 (usually on sale for $29.99)

waves L1 ultramaximizer limiter plugin

Pros

✅Is the easiest to understand and quickly get you a good result

✅Has an incredibly smooth release

✅It colors the signal in a way that enhances your audio

✅You can alter between the modern and the legacy version, each with a particular character

✅Automatic release control allows more level without distortion

Cons

❌No oversampling ability

❌Doesn't support independent stereo limiting

❌Doesn't have dithering options

❌ Automatic release is far too slow and damages the transients and overall loudness

L1 is probably the most famous Waves Audio limiter plugin and is the perfect limiter if you're still learning.

What makes L1 one of the best, aside from being one of the simplest limiters out there, is that it sounds fantastic on its own, achieves very high volume levels without any digital distortion, and retains dynamics well. However, you need to be aware that the release control is not as intelligent.

We encourage you to alter the release time knob around until you hit the sweet spot release time for your track. Although the automatic feature delivers a much cleaner result and lets you push the signal a little higher, it does it in exchange for your loudness potential and transients.

This is the perfect example of a great, transparent mastering limiter plugin, besides the release problems. It's super interactive to use, and you can switch between the legacy and modern versions to see which character suits your master better. The legacy version sounds more vintage, and modern is super subtle.

How does it sound?

Mix Before

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5. Voxengo Elephant Mastering Limiter

Compatibility: WinVista+, macOS 10.11+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit
Price: $119

voxengo elephant mastering limiter

Pros

✅It's the most transparent limiter on this list & has a simple user interface

✅It has dithering capabilities and up to 8x oversampling

✅Includes integrated loudness, true peak, and crest factor metering

✅Has several limiting modes, including clipping and maximizing

✅Supports stereo, dual mono, and surround with individual channel processing

✅Three noise shaping possibilities

Cons

❌Heavy CPU usage

❌Input monitor doesn't match the levels of the unprocessed signal

Voxengo Elephant is this list's best-sounding limiter and is perfect for mixing and mastering engineers. This limiter plugin gives you precise control over your limiting, and you can use it as a brick wall limiter, clipper, and maximizer.

Elephant lets you get very specific about dithering and features a DC offset roll-off to prevent undesired amplitude and frequency modulations. It also features independent stereo detection and automatic or manual release settings.

You can obviously use it for mixing, but, the mastering stage is where you'll find its features most helpful. The 8x oversampling allows an increased digital resolution, reducing distortion and softening the overall processing – making the track sound even cleaner than it went in.

How does it sound?

Mix Before

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6. TDR Limiter No.6 (Free Mastering Limiter Plugin)

Compatibility: WinVista+, macOS 10.12+, VST, AU, 64-bit, 32-bit
Price: FREE

TDR No.6 free limiter plugin

Pros

✅Easy-to-follow workflow that lets you fine-tune the tone of your limiter

✅Five separate modules and several limiting modes, including M/S

✅Gives you a pleasant and balanced vintage sound

✅The clipper limiter can be very subtle and works great to accentuate the tone

✅Incredibly malleable, so you can use it for multiple mix and master situations

✅Up to 4x oversampling, and zero-latency monitoring

✅Two separate signal paths & automatic threshold adjustment

Cons

❌UI can be a bit too cluttered at first sight

❌Does not allow dithering

❌There's little to no audible difference between limiting modes

❌The high-frequency limiter can be too harsh sometimes

Limiter No. 6 is Tokyo Dawn Records' free limiter plugin. It's a vintage dynamic processor with four vintage limiter modules and a parallel compressor with mix control. Despite being a free plugin, it sounds incredible, especially for punchier and organic genres like Rock and Hip-Hop.

One of the coolest things about the No.6 limiter is, you can alter the signal path and decide whether you compress or limit first. We loved how it reacted when hitting the compressor first, and then running it parallel through the limiter.

The mix control is also a fantastic addition to the No.6. It's useful when trying to get extra loudness out of a track, as it uses RMS summing to increase the track's perceived loudness.

The high-frequency limiter and the clipper effect are also a beauty. They really let you shape a lovely and unique vintage tone, which is awesome if you're aiming for that type of sound. This free limiter plugin is fantastic on elements with lots of transients or dynamics in the mixing stage, like vocals and drums and we'd highly recommend it.

If you get No.6, there is also a paid version you can upgrade to called the No.6 GE (Gentlemen's Edition).

How does it sound?

Mix Before

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7. Sonible Smart:limiter

Compatibility: WinVista+, macOS 10.12+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit

Price: $129

sonible smart limiter

Pros

✅Interactive interface with a fantastic design

✅Includes a distortion monitor with a sonogram and spectrum analyzer

✅Target-based loudness metering with a visual of momentary and integrated loudness relative to the desired level

✅Includes preset targets for all streaming platforms and broadcast industry standards

✅Automatically adjusts and improves the overall sound of your audio, using AI to enhance the spectral balance and tighten up the low-end

✅It has a genre-based “quality check” that tells you if the dynamics and loudness are suitable for the genre you're working on

✅The AI tells estimates the loudness penalty and lets you know so that you can adjust the output.

✅Auto-release is super musical and doesn't take away as much loudness as usual

✅Incredibly clean and transparent mastering limiter, even when set at extreme configurations

Cons

❌ Low-end enhancement can get muddy in some cases

❌The saturation doesn't affect the perceived loudness

❌No oversampling ability

If you're like us and don't like to spend too much time working on one thing, then this is the best limiting plugin for you. It doesn't just look great, but it's also the most transparent limiter on this list and the one with the most helpful features.

We found this limiter to be the best mastering limiter, not only because of the intelligent features, but also the different metering and information it provides you with. The fact that it calculates the loudness penalty is also pretty stunning, especially for those who make YouTube videos, or master for streaming services.

Additionally, the quality check and saturation monitor are fantastic and something you don't get very often. However, we would've appreciated it more if the interface was bigger or re-scalable.

Another fascinating feature was the type, saturation, balance, and bass control, especially the balance and bass control. The “balance” dial says it helps to tame resonances and improves the spectral balance of the track.

And while that all sounds great, does it actually work?

To our ears, in a way, it did. However, it depended heavily on the track in our tests and what we figured out is that it's adding more high-mids and attenuating low frequencies on the audio tracks your feed it.

On the other hand, the “bass control” dial didn't live up to the bold claim in our eyes. It seems more like it's boosting it with compression, which does help with the sustain, but it feels like it adds some extra mud too, which is bad for clean limiting.

How does it sound?

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FAQ

When Should I Use Limiting?

  • Pop vocals – You can use clipping to shave the vocal's transient information and make it sound fuller, denser, and compressed.
  • Metal vocals (screams, growls, etc.) – when you mix metal vocals, you can duplicate the track, add heavy distortion and saturation with a limiter at the end to control the level, and blend it with the original track. Because of the limiting, it'll have a similar effect to parallel compression and give a unique tone to the vocal and integrate it with the mix.
  • Creating excitement – at the end of your mastering chain, you can add a gain plugin and automate the verses to be at -1DB and let the choruses remain at 0, then use a limiter to prevent saturation and to get even more level out of your track.
  • With a compressor – One way to make your track sound louder, keeping its natural dynamics, is using a compressor before the limiter. The compressor will control most of the transient information, providing more headroom, and allowing the limiter to hit harder without distorting.
  • With clipping or other limiters – stacking different types of dynamic processing in small proportions will ultimately increase the perceived loudness of your tracks and is more likely to preserve their dynamic content.

I often use limiters to “lock” the levels of my tracks by adding a limiter at the end of my bus chain because I use a lot of duplicates with heavy distortion and processing for the background of things like drums guitars, or vocals. The limiter not only lets me prevent a crazy lift in level but also helps bring some of these details forward.

Finally, my favorite way to use limiting is on the reverbs I use for my vocals. What I do, is to add first a filter EQ to make it mid-range-focused. Then add a short reverb, some chorus, distortion, or flange, limit the heck out of it and finally, add the actual reverb I want to use. The reason why I do this is that it creates a pretty unique ambiance around the vocal that keeps it exciting and catches the attention of the listener.

Should I Use A Limiter on Every Track?

No. Using limiters on every track will harm the dynamics of your song, making it sound over-compressed and lifeless.

Additionally, you're damaging your track's loudness potential with excess compression, which means that your track is less likely to meet a standard level. Limiters are very aggressive with the dynamic range of your mix, and you need to use them sparingly.

Should You Always Limit The Master?

In most cases, yes. This decision can vary depending on the type of work you're doing, the expectation, and the platform that you're mastering for. However, in most cases, you'd want to increase the level of your master because our ears perceive audio with higher quality when it's louder.

Additionally when mastering for streaming services, radio and other playback formats many have loudness rules on what they accept. If your track isn't limited or properly mastered it might either, be rejected from stores, or not create a big enough impact to be shared on air, for instance.

How Much Headroom Should I Leave for Liming?

When you're bouncing a mix for mastering, your ballpark should be between 4-6DBFS of headroom so that the mastering engineer has enough space to work with additional processing.

This rule also applies to limiting, as headroom enables audio to reach its maximum loudness potential.

Is A True Peak Limiter Best for Mastering?

In most cases, no. True peak limiting can alter your track's transients, causing a less impactful sound. To control inter-sample peaks is better to lower the ceiling of your brick-wall limiter and use oversampling and a short lookahead time. This way, you'll avoid clipping, aliasing, and distortion altogether with less aggressive processing.

When Should I Use Limiting Over Compression?

The short answer is that if you want to reduce the peak level of your audio without changing the envelope, you need to use a limiter instead of a compressor. Due to the attack times, compressors won't perform transparently but rather distort and bring artefacts to your signal if you try to use them that way.

For example, if I want to make my drums sound louder, I would use compression because I can benefit from slower attack and release times to allow the transients to pass and increase the average loudness level, resulting in a larger sound.

If I tried to use a limiter instead, the limiter would react to the transients first due to the 0ms attack time, which will destroy my transients and the energy of my track, besides adding undesired distortion to the drums.

On the other hand, if my drums were thin and snappy – whatever I do to give them more body will naturally increase the level of the transients as well. This is something I'd want to control with a limiter because it will prevent peak levels from going too far and allow me to enhance the sound of my drums.

If I tried to use a compressor in this case, it wouldn't succeed at efficiently controlling peak levels, resulting in either digital clipping or over-compression, damaging the overall quality of my audio and making my drums sound dull.

Is Limiting Different To Compression?

Yes, although it can be easy to confuse them because they share similar controls, they react very differently to input.

Limiting is not letting any part of an audio signal exceed the threshold as transparently as possible. Compression reduces the dynamic range by attenuating the loudest parts of a signal to even them up with the lowest.

Summary

To recap, here is the complete list of the best mastering limiter plugins:

  1. FabFilter Pro L
  2. Waves Audio L316
  3. Ozone Maximizer
  4. Waves Audio L1
  5. Voxengo Elephant
  6. TDR Limiter No. 6
  7. Sonible Smart:Limit

Limiter plugins are the last step of every mastering chain, and they're good to take your music production to commercial loudness levels, add a final glue to all elements of your tracks, and even add a little color to make things a little more exciting.

In this list, we've included a wide range of options, including a free one, so that you can pick the best limiter regardless of your level of expertise or budget.

To wrap up, and in case you're still indecisive, here are some guidelines that will help you find which suits you better:

  • Pro L is the cleanest limiter in this list. It's great because it gives you the most transparency and gains control.
  • Waves Audio L316 is the most complex mastering limiter in this list because it allows multiband audio limiting, which lets you achieve higher loudness levels by balancing the spectrum in a way that works.
  • Ozone Maximizer gives you a lot of transparency and cleanness with several dithering options. It's awesome to get louder masters.
  • Waves Audio L1 is the simplest of them all. With only input gain, output gain, and release controls, it still provides a clean sound and is the best limiter for beginners.
  • Voxengo Elephant is perhaps the better-sounding limiter plugin in this list because it gives you several dithering, noise shaping, and limiting options.
  • Limiter No. 6 is the free option, and it's the best vintage limiter for music production because it's capable of parallel audio limiting and hard clipping distortion and compression. Plus, you can switch the channel path to hit the compressor first, then the brick wall limiter, or vice versa.
  • Sonible Smart:Limit is the best mastering brickwall limiter plugin I've used because it gives you extensive loudness metering, understandable controls, intelligent processing features, and lots of visual aid.