What is a limiter in music, and what are the best cheap limiter plugins? This roundup features ten limiter effects and four free bonus limiter plugins.
- 1 What Is Limiter In Music?
- 2 When should I use a Limiter?
- 3 What is the difference between Limiter and Compressor?
- 3.1 10 Best Cheap Limiter Plugins 2021
- 3.2 1. Signum Audio BUTE Limiter 2 Stereo Review
- 3.3 2. TDR Limiter 6 GE Review
- 3.4 3. W. A. Production Vocal Limiter Review
- 3.5 4. HoRNet Magnus MK2 Review
- 3.6 5. MeldaProduction MUltramaximizer Review
- 3.7 6. Joey Sturgis Tones Finality Advanced Review
- 3.8 Key Features:
- 3.9 7. MSG Mastering Limiter Review
- 3.10 8. Venomode Maximal 2 Review
- 3.11 9. Korneff Audio Talkback Limiter Review
- 3.12 10. Boz Digital Labs Little Clipper Review
- 3.13 Key Features:
- 3.14 The 4 Best FREE Limiter Plugins 2021
- 3.15 1. Barricade Pro By Jeroen Breebaart Review
- 3.16 2. Vladg Sound Limiter №6 Review
- 3.17 Key Features:
- 3.18 Compatibility:
- 3.19 3. kiloHearts Limiter Snapin Review
- 3.20 4. LVC-Audio ClipShifter Review
- 4 Conclusion & Verdict
What Is Limiter In Music?
A limiter is a tool used in music production to prevent loud peaks from crossing a threshold. It manages the quiet and loud sounds of an audio signal to even out the dynamic range. Limiters have been used for audio processing since the 1930s and have evolved into versatile tools.
Nowadays, there are several plugin emulations of hardware limiters. Similarly, new limiter plugins come up now and then that deserve attention. This article will focus on ten of the most affordable limiter plugins, providing an in-depth review for each.
When should I use a Limiter?
Limiting should be used at the mastering stage of production to ensure the final track has the desired dynamics. These should be very transparent limiters that don’t add unwanted coloration to the mix. Additionally, engineers choose to use limiters during mixing to control peaks a compressor can’t.
What is the difference between Limiter and Compressor?
The main difference is you choose compressors for the character they add to the signal, while limiters favor transparency. Compressors tend to be more nuanced in the dynamics they can produce, while a limiter is more aggressive. One can say a limiter is just a compressor with a very high ratio.
Engineers tend to use limiters to increase quiet signals and compressors to tame down loud peaks. Therefore, some compressors work as both a compressor and a limiter, although you can’t use a limiter as a compressor.
10 Best Cheap Limiter Plugins 2021
1. Signum Audio BUTE Limiter 2 Stereo Review
Signum Audio’s BUTE Limiter is a versatile plugin with an adaptable, user-friendly UI. It’s the most expensive plugin on this list, and for a good reason.
At the core of the BUTE lies Signum Audio’s brick-wall limiting algorithm, which ensures no peaks will go past it. The auto-release function is highly reliable, and its Pre/Post Gain structure provides you can also use it as a maximizer. The five different release curves and the adjustable Release Factor in auto mode make this an exact tool.
- Auto and Manual Release – this plugin offers the ability to choose your release time or let the algorithm decide.
- Release Curves – The five release curves offer different ways to limit the signal, from more transparent to more compressed. They are linear, natural, transparent, smooth, and pumping.
- Max Target Function – Set a Max Target level, and the limiter will automatically calculate the post gain needed to reach it. It can be helpful to create the Maximizer effect. To do so, set a target and lower the threshold to create the dynamic range. The peaks will never get past the mark you set.
- Different Color Graphics – The different colors in the graphics display represent input and output signals. You can choose to see either one or both to visualize the differences.
- Surround Version Available.
Character & Sound:
Signum Audio has truly nailed True Peak transparency with this plugin. Whether at mixing or mastering situations, there is no coloration added. You hear the source material’s character being masterfully limited at all frequencies with no distortion whatsoever. Depending on how you use the Post Gain function, there might be some overshoots. But that happens after limiting, and the plugin instantly alerts the user with a red flag.
It was developed for Windows 8.1 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher and compatible with 64-bit VST, AU, and AAX.
The BUTE Limiter offers very transparent sound, and the algorithms are designed to be extra transparent in the lower frequencies. The lack of an attack knob ensures there will be no transient-related issues, which is a bonus. Besides, the ability to thoroughly analyze the limiting history is excellent for understanding your track’s dynamics.
2. TDR Limiter 6 GE Review
The Limiter 6 GE, by TokyoDawnRecords, is a shockingly precise, versatile tool with multiple workflow options.
The plugin offers five processing steps and the output limiter that works as a safety net. Apart from the output, all other processors can be moved to create a signal flow that best suits the music. It is an all-in-one mastering suite designed to serve multiple workflows and musical genres.
- Six Modules:
- Dynamic compressor
- High-Frequency Limiter
- Peak Limiter
- Output Limiter
- True Peak EBU Loudness Meter
- Multiple algorithms: Each module has its own set of algorithms that provide precise control and more processing options.
- Appealing UI: The User Interface is inviting and intuitive. Anyone familiar with a compressor can find their way through the plugin.
Character & Sound:
The Limiter 6 GE is a versatile-sounding plugin. It is naturally transparent but offers a wide possibility of harmonic coloration. The built-in compressor and clipper can add a warm character when pushed but will be very natural when not. All this so you can choose what kind of coloration to add, depending on the source material.
The plugin runs on macOS 10.9 or above and Win XP SP2 or above, as VST, AAX, or AU, with the Mac versions being 64-bit only.
This is a great plugin for on-a-budget mastering engineers since it contains most steps of dynamic processing used in mastering. The ability to go from macro to microprocessing makes this a detail-oriented plugin.
3. W. A. Production Vocal Limiter Review
Designed to go last on the vocal processing chain, Vocal Limiter by W.A. Production goes from smooth to hard limiting.
As it is a dedicated vocal processor, this plugin offers better results in the mid-range, where the voice is active. The UI is very minimal, all so you can focus on the resulting sound. The plugin offers a threshold bar, four auto-release presets, and input and output sliders.
- Auto Release: the four options go from fast to ultra-slow, and the same preset can vary results depending on the source material.
- Output: this can be used as a make-up gain function to increase or decrease the loudness after processing.
Character & Sound:
This is a clean-sounding limiter that focuses on the mid-range, eliminating possible distortion caused by lower frequencies. It can also add some warmth to the sound as it pushes up low-mid frequencies. The release times make it surprisingly adaptable and effective.
It’s available as 64-bit only for macOS 10.7 or newer and as both 32 and 64-bit for Windows 7 or newer, as VST, AAX, or AU.
This plugin’s simplicity makes it friendly for the beginner and experienced producers since it helps save time during mixing. A must-have for its price and straightforwardness. Just because it’s a vocal limiter doesn’t mean it works only on vocals, which consequently gives it more applications.
4. HoRNet Magnus MK2 Review
The Magnus MK2 by HoRNet is a 2-stage limiter that proposes a different way of limiting.
The first stage in this plugin is a clipper that can be soft as analog or hard as digital. It aims at squaring off the loudest peaks in the signal, so the limiter doesn’t have to work as hard. The second stage is the brick-wall limiter. Both stages have multiple oversampling options that allow for extra clarity and better frequency response.
- Clipper: clipping is the process of cutting the louder parts of transients and turning them into square waves. Analog clipping is soft, while digital is more aggressive. This process, placed before the limiter, improves transparency since it makes the limiter focus on a smaller dynamic range.
- Oversampling: this is a common method among limiters that uses a lot more CPU but produces cleaner sounds. It also helps with transparency.
- Attack and Release: the plugin’s instant attack is countered by the gradual release that ties into the measure in auto mode.
Character & Sound:
A very musical plugin due to its attack and release technology, the MK2 sounds like it’s not there. The auto-release envelope allows for a high level of gain reduction without the noticeable pumping caused by the compression.
This plugin works on macOS 10.7 or higher as well as Windows 7 and up. It is available for 32 and 64-bit Operating Systems in VST2.4, VST3, and AAX.
HoRNet’s Magnus MK2 is a great addition to any engineer who needs a loud, punchy outcome. At the price tag, this is a must-have. Certainly, its design and innovative approach make it a user-friendly plugin, especially for beginners who might be new to limiting.
5. MeldaProduction MUltramaximizer Review
MeldaProduction’s MUltraMaximizer is a simple to use multi-band limiter with an impressive sound, despite the short set of parameters.
This plugin thrives on the fact of having few controls. Its simple-to-use interface does the basic you expect from a multi-band limiter, prioritizing loudness. Metering takes center stage in this plugin’s UI, providing gain and saturation reduction and input and output levels.
- Multiple Styles: Change the plugin’s look to make it your own—a MeldaProduction standard feature.
- Eight-channel support: The MUltraMaximizer can operate at up to eight surround channels.
Character & Sound:
The built-in saturator can really make this limiter sound aggressive, but you can always tame it down for a clearer sound. Also, the upsampling feature helps reduce aliasing, making the sound clearer.
It can run on Windows Vista, 7, 8, and 10 at 32 and 64-bit and macOS 10.9 and up at 64-bit. Formats available are VST, VST3, AAX, and AU.
This is a great, easy-to-use limiter that is enhanced by Melda Production’s innovative technology. It is an entry-level plugin for its basic features but impressive nonetheless. The loudness levels it can produce can benefit some productions, even though nowadays we tend to go for quieter levels.
6. Joey Sturgis Tones Finality Advanced Review
The Finality Advanced is not a brick-wall limiter, making it a poor choice for mastering but great for mixing.
Joey Sturgis Tones Finality Advanced is a versatile tool with several parameters and possible applications. It offers different gain stages, a sidechain high-pass filter, and a mix knob for parallel limiting. The two modes provide either hard or soft limiting, which influences the tone of the resulting material.
- Hard & Soft: These two modes change the character of the transients by adjusting the knee curve.
- Sidechain High-Pass Filter: this function offers the ability to ignore lower frequencies in a side-chain scenario. The frequency knob and the SC Monitor button help the producer choose the best frequency range for this function.
- Aggro: here, you can alter the release envelope to sound more musical on drums and other percussive instruments. Additionally, you can adjust the release to fit it according to the song’s tempo.
Character & Sound:
If not driven hard, the Finality can be transparent, although it adds color and aggressiveness as you lower the threshold. There are also two dedicated buttons: Aggro and Color. Respectively, what they do is alter the release envelope to favor drums and add saturation and presence. If you want a smoother sound, choose the Soft mode. In contrast, the Hard mode offers a more compressed outcome.
The plugin is available at 32 and 64-bit in VST2, VST3, AU, AAX, and RTAS for Windows and Mac running on either AMD or Intel.
This is an excellent limiter for bus tracks or individual instruments, which operates like a more versatile FET compressor. Although you can use it transparently, this plugin really shines when you push it hard enough to reach saturation. It’s super easy to get a squashed sound, either on purpose or by mistake, so be thoughtful when using it.
7. MSG Mastering Limiter Review
Minimal System Group’s Mastering Limiter is a straightforward plugin with a transparent sound.
There are very few faders in this plugin’s UI, meaning it delivers loudness with a clear sound. It offers an Attenuator metering so you can keep an eye on the peak reductions. You can also save, and load presets in the options menu.
- Threshold: adjust the loudness of the output material with this fader. Lower it to crush the dynamics or keep it up top to preserve them.
- Ceiling: set the brick-wall output level, and the peaks will always stay under it.
- Release: fine-tune the release to the input signal with this wide-ranging function that can be set to ultra-fast or ultra-slow.
Character & Sound:
The Mastering Limiter is a straight-to-the-point limiter that delivers a pristine sound. It aims at increasing the level and the resolution of the input signal, so quality and transparency are its priorities.
This is a Windows-only plugin that runs on 32 and 64-bit machines as a VST.
A very minimalistic and precise plugin, it does what is proposed without any additional functionality. Minimal System advises users to add this to the end of the mastering chain as an output limiter. For the price, it’s an excellent tool to have around.
8. Venomode Maximal 2 Review
Venomode’s Maximal 2 is a loudness maximizer that delivers significant volume while emulating analog technology.
It uses a blend of brick-wall limiting, soft clipping, saturation, and analog emulation to achieve punch and loudness.
- Quality: this feature is an upsampling algorithm that improves clarity up to eight times before the signal hits the limiter.
- Modes: the four modes offer different textures, including tape and tube emulations, that adds analog saturation and color to the sound.
- Response: by adjusting this knob, you can choose between faster or slower response times, resulting in louder or smoother sounds, respectively.
Character & Sound:
Maximal 2 offers increasingly saturated sounds, ranging from transparent limiting at Clean mode to punchy saturation at Tube mode. The technology behind this plugin helps avoid the pumping sounds found in other limiters. It relies on lookahead and multi-stage envelope release to focus on adding character to the sound.
Maximal 2 works at 32 and 64-bit on Windows 7 and up in VST and AAX formats. It also works on 64-bit macOS 10.7 and up as a VST, AU, or AAX plugin and 64-bit Ubuntu systems as a VST.
A great plugin to have around whenever analog coloration is needed for a project. This can be used during mastering to improve the character or on single instruments to add punch and warmth.
9. Korneff Audio Talkback Limiter Review
Korneff Audio’s Talkback Limiter is an impressive-sounding SSL 4000 bus compressor emulation that is amazing on drums.
With a single limiter knob, the plugin makes it extremely easy to apply limiting to your tracks, whether they’re single instruments, busses, or even the master track. With a 100:1 compression ratio, this is genuinely a brick-wall limiter that can go as loud as it gets.
- Listen 1: this knob lowers the limiter’s threshold, applying a FET style compression at a 100:1 ratio.
- Blend: use this to get the benefits of a parallel limiting situation instantly, bring back some dynamic to the sound
- Input: Add 30db of gain and lots of harmonic saturation just by switching the input from Line to Mic.
- Other side: you can tweak its compression character, add a low pass filter and adjust oversampling by entering the plugin’s “Other Side” mode.
Character & Sound:
This plugin has a fixed, fast attack designed to add punch to anything. It sounds great on any instrument by bringing up their hidden tones. The sound is very characteristic of SSL-like compressors but with greater punch and character. Also, try clicking any of the yellow LEDs at the top to simulate a power failure that generates massive distortion.
The Talkback Limiter is available in AU, VST3, and AAX formats for 64-bit Mac and Windows computers.
Korneff Audio’s Talkback Limiter is a beast in disguise. Its tiny size and minimalistic design say nothing about its massive, overloaded sound. A must-have for any producer who struggles with achieving loud, punchy drums, in-your-face guitars, or loud-and-clear vocals.
10. Boz Digital Labs Little Clipper Review
The Little Clipper is a precise tool for controlling dynamic spikes at just the right amount.
This plugin’s condensed UI gives exactly what you need: input and ceiling knobs, a knee slider, and the metering section. The input is called Push and squashes the sound as you turn it up. The ceiling is called Pull and reduces the loudness as you turn it down. A mix of both knobs, plus the knee slider, lets you add soft clipping or hard-hitting distortion to the sound.
- Choose your clipping: the blue box up top lets you choose if you want clipping over the stereo field, mid+side, mid, or sides. This gives you more control to focus on the outcome you want.
- Mix Knob: At the upper right corner, there’s a knob that controls the amount of wet signal. Blend some dry signal back to get a parallel clipping effect.
Character & Sound:
The Little Clipper adds presence and fatness to any instrument with dynamic oscillations, sounding incredibly harmonic on bass and drums. You can go wild on its Push knob and add a lot of exciting distortion for an effect.
This plugin is available as an AAX, AU, RTAS, VST, and VST3 for Mac and Windows.
Boz Digital’s Little Clipper is a reliable tool that offers the essentials and more due to its Stereo/Mid-Side controls. Add this plugin in Mid-Side mode at a stereo bus for a more natural result. In addition, try using it before a compressor in the signal chain to help the compressor focus and sound more musical.
The 4 Best FREE Limiter Plugins 2021
1. Barricade Pro By Jeroen Breebaart Review
Barricade Pro by Jeroen Breebaart operates simultaneously at four different factors, Waveform, Envelope, Loudness, and Correlation.
That means you get more than one knob for the release, for example, because you’re setting different releases simultaneously. You get more freedom to achieve the sounds you’re after with this extensive set of controls. Also, you have the basic two-fader formula present in most limiters for input and output control.
- Envelope: This factor has three controls – Release, Hyst, and Link. You use them to shape the general release of the input material. Hyst uses the previous milliseconds of audio to learn what it has to do with the upcoming transients. The Link knob works across the stereo image to apply the same processing to both channels.
- XCorr: Process the information at both sides of your audio, applying gain and shaping the sides’ information threshold.
- SoftClip: Here, you can add some clipping to benefit from the inherent distortion you get by lowering the threshold.
- RMS: This section controls the final loudness of your track, with the standard attack, threshold, and release controls.
Character & Sound:
Overall, this is a very transparent plugin, with greater tonal possibilities added by the built-in soft clipper.
Barricade Pro is available for 32-bit Windows only as a VST.
This is a very complex plugin with strong possibilities, which is great for a free plugin. Nevertheless, it can scare producers who are new to limiting because the plugin makes it challenging to balance all parameters. A nice all-in-one plugin that does its job quite well.
2. Vladg Sound Limiter №6 Review
VladG Sound’s Limiter №6 is a free option to another plugin on this list: TDR’s Limiter 6 GE.
VladG’s Limiter Nº6 is a transparent plugin with a great application for mastering. It eliminates the need for more plugins in the signal chain, although it doesn’t offer as many possibilities as TDR’s. You get several parameters, as well as modes, that bring up different flavors to this plugin.
- Five Modules:
- Compressor: A complete compressor with Gain, Ratio, Attack, Release, Dry Mix, and Stereo/Mid-Side options.
- Peak Limiter: A capable peak limiter with five types and four modes, versatile and suitable for most musical genres.
- High-Frequency Limiter: a strong de-esser with a simple threshold knob.
- Clipper: a great addition to the signal chain, this clipper offers three modes and an upsampling option for better clarity. You can bring soft or hard distortion to your mix and still sound harmonic.
- Protection: this is no more than an output limiter in which you can set the ceiling for the whole chain. Also, you can compensate for the increased gain added by the previous steps. You control the output in ISPs (inter-sample peaks) with a soft-clipping option.
- Classic VUs: Limiter Nº6 provides the user with classic VUs with multiple needles for Mid-Side Gain reduction metering. It lacks a metering section, though. Whether in LUFs, RMS, or True Peak EBU, you need another plugin to measure your output information.
- Ordering: you can change the order between the compressor and the limiter at the compressor’s upper right corner. This changes the signal flow to limit first and increases the overall volume with the compressor afterward.
Character & Sound:
Overall, this is a very clean-sounding plugin, with little to no added distortion. If all parameters are at zero, it will add no coloration whatsoever. That’s great for mastering since it lets you focus on the limiting and compression you’re adding to the track.
VladG’s Limiter Nº6 is available for 32 and 64-bit Mac and Windows computers, as VST2 and AU formats.
An impressive plugin like this for free is almost too good to be true. This is an essential tool for serious mastering, especially for producers and engineers working exclusively in the box. The Limiter 6 is versatile and eliminates the need for more plugins in the chain, helping you focus your attention on a single interface.
3. kiloHearts Limiter Snapin Review
Limiter Snapin by kiloHearts is a transparent limiter with straightforward knobs that offers the basics in a modern interface.
This limiter does a great job of maintaining sound clarity while pushing the volume. You can also control the output gain after the limiting process if you need more volume. It is a part of the kiloHearts set of snapin plugins. This means it can be added, along with other plugins by the same developer, into their snapin host.
- Easy-to-use controls: the plugin offers four knobs and a single peak meter, where you can see if peaks are crossing the threshold.
- Presets: when you cross the mouse over the plugin, a white down-arrow appears at the top right corner. There, you’ll find presets to improve your time-management significantly.
Character & Sound:
This plugin thrives on being extraordinarily transparent and adding absolutely no character to the sound. Great if a clean sound is what you’re looking for.
kiloHearts Limiter is available as 64-bit VST, AU, and AAX plugins for Windows and Mac.
In conclusion, this is a nice plugin to have in your mastering chain for an absolutely clear result. It can also be added to single instruments for controlling wild peaks without adding character. A simple plugin that gets better outcomes when added together with the other plugins from kiloHearts in their snapin module.
4. LVC-Audio ClipShifter Review
The free version of LVC-Audio’s ClipShifter offers a wide range of saturation, from soft and harmonic to heavy distortion.
With lots of parameters to be tweaked, the ClipShifter proves it can be a versatile tool. Set how much headroom you need with the threshold knob and drive the In Gain to start getting some compression. After that, try the Clip Shape knob to cut off the harshest peaks and add some character to the sound.
- Harmonics: control how you want your limiter to sound. If you push the input too hard, this will automatically start adding nice overtones and making the output louder.
- Metering: The plugin offers VU-style, PPM-style, and loudness meters so you can thoroughly monitor the output. There are also an input meter and a clip meter, so you can see what’s happening to the audio.
- Scale: get full control on how you want the waveform graph to show inside the plugin, with adjustable zoom and scale.
Character & Sound:
The ClipShifter is a versatile tool that ranges from transparent compression to hard-clipping distortion, with lots of possible nuances. The threshold menu offers a knee slider for further hardness shaping. The lack of oversampling on the free version keeps the plugin from getting ultra transparency.
This plugin is available in VST, AAX, and AU, for Mac and Windows on 32 and 64-bit computers.
This is an excellent limiter to add to single-instrument channels for the clipping and harmonics added. The character can benefit drums, 808 machines, or even guitars. The ClipShifter by LVC-Audio has been discontinued, but this free version is still supported.
Conclusion & Verdict
Limiting is an essential part of music production, and all these cheap, or even free, plugins bring great options to the table. Some plugins in this list offer the basics, while others have very advanced and helpful functions. In the end, it all goes down to taste and budget.
However, plugins like the Limiter 6 GE, The Talkback Limiter, and Maximal 2 are essentials. These should be taken into consideration when shopping for plugins. Whatever you choose, remember that any tool can be a great one with a little bit of creativity.
Pedro Nascente is an artist, record producer, and mix engineer, currently operating his own studio and working with his band, Yellow Boulevard. Believing that music should convey experiences and feelings, Pedro is known for applying design thinking to his workflow to achieve different sounds and deliver the right messages.