If you are about to get your first analog limiter, we would be happy to help you. In this article, we’ve compiled the Top 6 Hardware Limiters 2022.
A limiter is an important audio engineering tool used in both mixing and mastering. It is a compressor with a very high ratio that keeps the signal from exceeding a certain threshold.
If you want to buy an analog limiter, we have good news. Our article will show you a list of the best gear to make it easier for you to get acquainted with what’s on the market.
Top 6 Analog Hardware Limiters 2022
1. UAD Teletronix® LA-2A (Limiter/Opto Comp)
The UAD Teletronix LA-2A is a recreation of the legendary studio unit at the top of the line for over 50 years.
The LA-2A is one of the most famous dynamic audio processing gear created by Teletronix in the 1960s. They were the first compressors that helped achieve a fast attack and soon proved to be excellent on vocals and bass. They provide a smooth and pronounced sound that sits well in the mix.
The famous California company Universal Audio has created its recreation of this legendary unit from Teletronix, which is called LA-2A Classic Leveling Amplifier. It uses classic components and delivers the same results as its predecessor.
Overall, you’ll have both a compression and limiting function and a pretty straightforward interface.
- Use Limiter or Compressor
On the front panel’s left side, you will see a switch between Limit and Compress modes. The limiter will increase the ratio, getting an almost brick wall limiter effect. It will give you the ability to hold things a little tighter. And, of course, the compressor mode will work like the usual Opto compressor.
- Output Monitoring
At the top right of the front panel, you will have a switch that adjusts the operation of the VU Level Indicator in the center. That way, you can monitor Gain Reduction or Outputs of +10 or +4 dB. By the way, the +4 dB humidification is a, so to speak, industry standard.
- Dial Into Compression/Limiting
All compression or limiting can be adjusted with just one knob called Peak Reduction. You will see it on the right side of the front panel. Here you will have the ability to take down as much as 40 decibels of gain.
- Attack and Release Time
This compressor/limiter has about ten milliseconds of attack and two release stages. The first stage is 50 percent, and the release is 0.7 seconds, then it works anywhere from half a second to five seconds as a full release. As for the release characteristic, it’s pretty smooth.
- 40 dB of Makeup Gain
If you lose too much gain through compression or limiting, you can make up for it with the Gain knob, which works like Makeup. As much as 40 decibels of makeup gain is available here. Don’t forget to use the two main knobs together to get the results you want.
- Terminal Strip Connections
On the rear panel of the UAD LA-2A, you will see several small Terminal Strip Connections. You can change the input resistance or connect several of these units with these. It will be useful if you need to process a stereo signal because one unit is designed for mono.
- Fine Adjustments for Calibration
You can somewhat calibrate the unit thanks to the small controls, which are also located on the back panel. In particular, there will be a special regulator, R37. If you turn it clockwise, you will be able to compress more high frequencies.
Character & Sound:
Smooth is the main characteristic that we can give to the sound of this compressor/limiter. It will give you a dense and rich signal with some analog coloring. In particular, this is the main thing it is used for.
The UAD Teletronix LA-2A is a recreation of the legendary compressor/limiter that will give you a great smooth sound. It’s pretty easy to use since there are only two main knobs – Gain and Peak Reduction.
Even though it is a recreation of a famous studio unit, it is still very expensive – about four and a half thousand dollars. But it is still cheaper than the original LA-2A, which costs several tens of thousands of dollars. Also, this unit is only suitable for mono signals. Therefore, for stereo, you will have to have two of them.
The LA-2A is best suited for vocals and bass guitar. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use it for other instruments. It can also produce amazing results with guitar, keyboards, and any other instrument where you want a smooth sound.
2. Manley Variable Mu Stereo Limiter Compressor – Mastering Version (Vari-Mu Limiter/Comp)
Manley Variable Mu is the legendary Stereo Limiter Compressor that will be the “bowl of cream” for your mixes and masters.
Vari Mu is a type of compressor and limiter, which means that they are based on the tubes where gain reduction takes place. Because of this, the sound gets extra harmonics, which makes it sound rich in its natural form. It is also worth adding that the Vari Mu is the most expensive gear in audio engineering.
The Manley Variable MU Compressor/Limiter is probably the most famous unit of its kind globally, which an American company Manley released back in the early 90s. It is used both for mixing and mastering and is deeply appreciated for the high quality of sound it can provide.
It is a two-channel compressor/limiter with quite a few interesting features.
- Switch from Compression to Limiting
You can find the dedicated switch between Compressor and Limiter modes of operation on the front panel’s left side. As for limiting, the ratio is from 4:1 to 20:1. Switching to compression, you will get from 1.5 to 1.
- Recovery Setting
In fact, “Recovery” in this unit means Release. You will get a knob of the same name to adjust this setting. For example, the slowest setting will be 10 seconds, and then 4 seconds, 600 milliseconds, 400, and 200 milliseconds as the fastest.
- Set Your Attack Time
Your attack setting will also vary from Slow to Fast. Use the necessary knob to get the slowest setting of 25 milliseconds. The fastest attack here can be as fast as 70 milliseconds, which is enough to get great performance results.
- Separate Link Function
You will have a special Link switch at your disposal to work on the stereo signal at the same time. If it is in a Separate position, you will be able to work on each side separately, which can also be useful in some cases. By the way, you will have a separate Output knob for the linked signal.
- High-Pass Side-Chain
Also, you will have two separate High-Pass Side-Chain mode switches for each of the channels. By applying it, the compressor will not consider the low frequencies. It will be especially useful not to burden it with this information and get a nice and punchier compressed signal.
Character & Sound:
The Manley Variable MU is unusually transparent, and this is the main reason why many professionals around the world love it. Thanks to the tubes, you can get a good “glued” signal and add some harmonics to it. It will allow you to open up some sparkle in the high frequencies.
A professional compressor/limiter with excellent sound quality can be useful in mixing and mastering. It not only “glues” the mix-bus sound but also provides excellent finishing touches in the mastering stage.
This unit is quite expensive. Its price is almost 4 thousand dollars, making it somewhat unaffordable for the average audio enthusiast. But you should consider that this is a first-class unit designed for professionals.
You can use the Manley Variable MU on almost any program material that needs compression or limiting. The unit can also work well on instrumental buses and individual tracks like vocals, bass, and guitar.
3. Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor (Limiter/Compressor)
A modern classic is what you might call the versatile EL8 X Distressor compressor and limiter from Empirical Labs.
It’s probably hard to find a professional recording studio that doesn’t have a Distressor. These units are among the most popular of their kind, thanks to their versatility. The fact is that they include emulation of various types of compression, which makes them ideal “workhorses” in any conditions and for any genre.
Distressor will give you different Ratio stages, the highest of which will act as a limiter. Also, there is a built-in High-Pass filter and four distinctive and handy white knobs, which you won’t find in any other unit. Let’s take a closer look at the specifications.
- Wide Range of Ratios
The Distressor will give you a pretty extensive choice of Compression Ratio. For example, it starts here at 1:1. Then there are 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, 6:1, 10:1 (an Opto compressor emulation), 20:1, and the most extreme Nuke setting, which will squash your signal to the max. Pretty good variety, isn’t it?
- Distinctive Knobs With All The Settings You Need
As for the knobs themselves, there are four, and they are quite comfortable, accurate, and look cool. In particular, these are the Input, Attack, Release, and Output knobs. You can achieve very fast attack and release times here and long ones.
- Detector Section
The Detector section will give you useful features to better tune the compressor and limiter performance to the signal’s frequency spectrum. For example, there is a High Pass filter here, thanks to which you can make the unit ignore low frequencies. In addition, there is a kind of Mid filter, which will help compress this range’s harshness.
- Audio Path Section
If the previous section was responsible for the unit’s behavior to the frequency spectrum, this one directly affects the signal. There is also a High Pass filter, which rolls back all lows and two Distortion Characteristics. The first will give an emulation of a tape machine, and the second of a console.
- Stereo Linking
You will have the ability to connect two Distressors to process a stereo signal. To do this, you will need to press a separate Link button. But in this case, there may be some imbalance between the two units. The developers have prepared another feature: the Stereo Image Link switch, which automatically balances the two boxes.
- Brit Mode Function
Another pretty good feature of the Distressor is the British Mode switch. In essence, it emulates the operation of the famous 1176 compressor when all of its ratio buttons are pressed simultaneously. In that case, you get the legendary crazy compression ratio.
Character & Sound:
The EL8 Distressor could be anything. You can get every known character and compression setting, from subtle to extreme and limiting. Plus, you’ll have the ability to add color to your sound with the two distortion settings. It’s a remarkably versatile unit.
Distressor is a true “Swiss knife” as far as controlling the dynamics of the sound is concerned. You get enough emulation to work on any instrument and any genre of music. But that doesn’t mean it’s a digital unit. It is analog but digitally controlled.
Distressor costs more than $1,500. But given its versatility, it’s not that expensive. Also, to process a stereo signal, you will need two of these units.
The EL8 works are great on any material. For example, you can use it on kick, snare, and other drums. Other than that, it can squeeze out the drum room nicely. The Distressor also works on vocals, guitars, bass, and anything else.
4. Warm Audio WA-2A (Limiter/Opto Comp)
The WA-2A from Warm Audio will be your affordable version of that very famous Opto compressor and limiter.
The American company Warm Audio has long established itself in the market for music production gear, as these guys provide excellent units at a relatively affordable price.
You can find their equipment, made in the image of other famous boxes, such as preamps, FET and Opto compressors, microphones, and many other things. Now we will look at their vision of the legendary LA-2A.
As soon as you look at the WA-2A, you’ll know what we’re talking about here. This unit is a compressor and a limiter, made in the same color as its “ancestor.”
The controls are also similar here – they are two knobs, which will be enough for you to get the known “warmth.” In addition to that, you get a few extra features, which we will discuss below.
- Use Compression or Limiting
Use the dedicated switch on the front panel’s left side to toggle between Compression and Limiting modes. The unit will operate as a fixed-ratio compressor in the former but still be somewhat source-based. In limiting mode, the ratio will be close to infinity.
- 40 dB of Available Gain
The left knob will allow you to adjust the Makeup Gain of your signal. As many as 40 decibels of gain are available here. It is a lot, so you probably won’t often turn it further than noon.
- Apply Your Compression
You will be able to adjust exactly how much compression to add to your signal, thanks to the second black knob on the right. It is called Peak Reduction. You can use it to raise or lower the compression threshold. In general, there are about 40 decibels of gain reduction.
- Set Your Meter
As with other compressors and limiters of this type, you will also have Meter Select Controls. It is a special switch, thanks to which you can choose what name information your VU Meter will show. There are options for Gain Reduction, Output +4, and Output +10.
- Pre-Emphasis Knob
This small knob allows you to adjust how the compressor and limiter perceive the frequency spectrum of your signal. In the leftmost position, it will be flat, but as soon as you turn it to the right, a filter will be applied that will not look at the lower-frequency plosives.
- Stereo Link Function
You will also be able to connect two of these units to process or record a signal. You will find a Stereo Link section with a special cable input for this purpose on the rear panel. Also, there is a Stand-Alone knob that will help you adjust the accuracy of the two boxes simultaneously.
Character & Sound:
The Warm Audio WA-2A will give you a warm and smooth analog sound. As for the difference between compression and limiting, it won’t be too noticeable at low ratios. As soon as you lower the threshold, you will immediately notice the difference in sound.
Of course, the WA-2A doesn’t sound like an exact copy of the LA-2A. Still, the developers provided maximum authenticity for a fairly affordable price, which is about $800. Despite this, there are quality components, and the unit itself works just fine.
To process a stereo signal, you will need two of these units. We cannot point out any other cons and advise you to check user reviews on the web.
Like other compressors and limiters of this type, the unit is wonderful for vocals and bass guitar. Also, you can run both acoustic and electric guitars and keys through it.
5. Bettermaker Mastering Limiter (Stereo Mastering Limiter)
If you want a modern unit that is surprising in quality and controlled digitally, the Bettermaker Mastering Limiter is a good option.
Many professionals these days like to get the best out of combining analog equipment with digital. That’s exactly what a machine from the American company Bettermaker will be, which is called simply – Mastering Limiter. It is an analog, professional mastering unit that is digitally controlled and easy to use.
You get a touch display and only a few controls that allow you to change settings. But the icing on the cake is that you will have a separate USB output, so you can connect this machine to your computer and control it with a separate plugin. Let’s take a closer look at what’s available here.
- All Metering In The Palm Of Your Hand
The Bettermaker Mastering Limiter will give you all the metering you can imagine. All of this can be seen on the unit’s touch screen. For example, the Input scale, Gain reduction, and Clipping percentage. In addition, there are different views like Loudness, Limiter, K-Meter, Phase correlation, RTA, VU Meter, and many more.
- Input and Output Control
In addition to the touch display, you will have two big knobs at your disposal – these are Input and Output controls. It is with Input that you can adjust the signal limiting level. The harder you add Input, the more you will limit it. In turn, use the Output to balance the signal.
- In-Built Clipper
This unit has a built-in clipper to cut peaks and achieve more volume in the limiting stage. You will find this function on the screen itself. Here, the clipping level is displayed as a percentage so that you can adjust it very precisely. In general, there is both Hard Clipping and Soft Clipping.
- Add Some Coloration
Another wonderful feature of this unit is the ability to add harmonics to your signal. You will also find the Color option enabled on the screen itself. Also, there are both Odd and Even harmonics. You can adjust its amount, Drive level, and desired frequency range.
- M/S Function
A separate M/S button on your screen will be responsible for the unit’s Mid/Side processing mode. You can get a more open sound by turning it on, which is quite difficult to get when using plugins. Experiment with it to see if it suits your master.
- Fully Digital Controlled
Thanks to a special plugin, the cherry on the cake is that you can fully control the unit digitally. You will be able to see how the settings in the analog box will change at the same time as you change them on the computer. You can also save presets there, which will be convenient for a more precise workflow.
Character & Sound:
The Bettermaker Mastering Limiter is quite versatile because you can choose the character of the sound yourself. With a minimum of colorization, it can sound quite transparent. As soon as you add harmonics, you’ll immediately hear how the coloration of the signal will change. In addition, the amount of clipping will also affect the sound.
A professional unit will be a great tool in a mastering engineer’s arsenal. In addition to the limiter itself, you get a clipper, the ability to add color, the M/S function, and a huge number of all kinds of metering. You can conveniently control all the settings from the touch screen and the plugin directly in your DAW.
The only disadvantage of this unit may be its high price, which is more than 2 thousand dollars.
Bettermaker Mastering Limiter is great for mastering. Thanks to its huge number of functions, you can use it for almost any genre of music, both in the professional and home studio.
6. Klark Teknik 76-KT (Limiter/FET-Compressor)
The Klark Teknik 76-KT is probably the most budget-friendly 1176 type compressor.
The British company Klark Teknik was especially famous in the 80s for its PA systems. Also, these guys produced excellent graphic EQ, which many audio enthusiasts wanted to get their hands on.
As far as we know, now this company is owned by Behringer, which has the possibility of mass production. Thus, Klark Teknik products turn out to be very cheap.
Now we will look at one of these units -- it is a budget copy of the legendary compressor and limiter 1167 – Klark Teknik 76-KT. It has a well-known appearance layout with two main knobs of the ratio buttons and the metering settings. Let’s break down all the features in more detail.
- Four Compression Settings
As on other similar units, you will have four buttons responsible for the Compression Ratio. Specifically, these are 4:1, 8:1, 12:1, and 20:1. Choose exactly how much you want for your material. By the way, the last button, 20:1, will be the function that will work as a limiter.
- Use Input and Output
When working with a unit, these two big knobs will be the main ones. With Input, you will be able to adjust the amount of signal fed to the compressor and limiter. The Output will act as an adjustment and balancing of the final signal. Use them together to find the right balance.
- Adjust Attack and Release
The 76-KT also has two separate knobs for Attack and Release. The first is in 20 to 800 microseconds, which is fast enough. As for Release, it is 80 to 700 milliseconds. Note that the left position will be the slowest parameter and the fastest in the right position.
- Vintage VU Meter
You also get a VU meter made in a vintage style. It will tell you how much Gain Reduction has been applied. But apart from that, you will have the ability to change the information. Besides Gain Reduction, you can also set the +4, +6, and +8 modes.
- PAD Function
If you get a too hot signal, you can lower its level and thereby make it acceptable for use. It is made possible by a separate PAD button located on the back of the unit.
Character & Sound:
The Klark Teknik 76-KT will give you compression and limiting with extremely fast attack and release. That’s exactly what this type of equipment is known for. The signal will also be quite transparent, distinguishing this unit from others like it.
An unusually cheap compressor and limiter do the job quite well. It will be especially useful for those who want to try to work with analog equipment for the first time without spending a lot of money.
Many users argue that the Klark Teknik 76-KT is too transparent and does not give the signal the harmonics and character that everyone loves compressors like 1176. Also, to process a stereo signal, you will need two of these units.
The Klark Teknik 76-KT can safely be used on kick and snare. In the same way, using two units, you can get good results with the drum room. In addition, it is suitable for bass, vocals, acoustic and electric guitars.
Chandler Limited TG 1 Limiter – Abbey Road Special Edition (Limiter/Compressor)
The legendary piece of gear that will give you a fat, warm sound is the Chandler Limited TG 1 Limiter.
The bonus unit on our list is modeled after the legendary limiter used on EMI consoles, which soon became known as Abbey Road. As you can guess, that equipment was used on recordings by The Beatles, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, and The Rolling Stones.
Initially, these limiters were very valuable because they were not available separately.
Chandler Limited recreated this unit separately, and it became part of the TG line already known among many audio professionals. It is a stereo compressor and limiter with a vintage-inspired look.
You will have the ability to switch between modes, adjust Recovery and add Harmonic Distortion.
- Use Compressor or Limiter
On the right side of the screen, you will have two switches between operation modes – Comp and Limit. The Compressor will give you a subtle effect, while the Limiter will give you a more extreme colorized effect, suitable for parallel processing on drums, for example.
- Adjust The Recovery
As many people know, Recovery in many units means Release. Here you get two such controls for each channel with a scale from 1 to 6. In Limiter mode, the release time will be 0.05 to 0.5, and in Compressor mode, it will be 0.25 to 10 seconds.
- All-Discrete Circuit
The Chandler Limited TG 1 limiter features fully discrete circuitry with transformer-balanced I/O. It means you get low noise and pleasant distortion. This technology also promises a much longer life for the unit.
- THD Function
This unit can also be a powerful tool for adding harmonic distortion. You can use the THD switch for this purpose. Thanks to this, the Input knobs will work in harmonic addition mode. You can add up to 2 percent distortion, which is twice as much as on analog tape.
- Use Stereo or Dual Mono
Another switch of TG 1 is responsible for the modes between Stereo and Dual Mono. So you can also use this compressor and limiter on separate mono instruments. Pretty good to give character to other tracks.
Character & Sound:
The character of the sound of this unit can be either quite subtle or quite extreme. It all depends on the settings you choose. One thing is certain – it can add a nice analog warmth and fatness and provide a nice shimmering in the upper frequencies.
It is a legendary unit used on top albums. The Chandler Limited TG 1 Limiter is a professional piece of equipment that can accurately add a certain character to your material, whether you’re mixing or mastering engineer.
The settings for this unit are somewhat limited. For example, you will not be able to adjust the attack. But this option is available in other versions of similar equipment. Also, this box is expensive – about $4,000.
The Chandler Limited TG 1 Limiter is great for just about any material. You can use it on bass, vocals, and keys. As for stereo sources, you can apply them to drums. Many people like to use it for parallel compression.
As you can see, there are plenty of analog limiters. Most of them act as compressors and have quite different characteristics and coloring. At the end of the post, let us give you some tips on choosing the right piece of gear.
Suppose you are a professional mastering engineer with enough resources and can afford expensive audio equipment. In that case, we recommend paying attention to number 2 of our list – Manley Variable MU Compressor/Limiter, number 5 – Bettermaker Mastering Limiter, and bonus item – Chandler Limited TG 1 Limiter.
If the limiter is another issue for you and you want to get a compressor, then not bad options for your wallet are #4 Warm Audio WA-2A and #6 Klark Teknik 76-KT. The real “Swiss knife” for your studio will be #3 Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor.
Choose what best suits your needs and budgetary abilities. Discovering new possibilities by experimenting will always benefit your creativity and experience. Good luck!
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Ilarion Ivanenko is a remote mixing and mastering engineer from Ukraine, a musician with more than 15 years of experience. Specializes in rock, metal, progressive and the other genres. He can’t imagine his life without music, as it is the biggest passion in his life