Here’s a hypothetical: You are mixing a song for a band, and you finally have the mix sounding great.
The drums and bass are punchy, and the vocals are sparkly. You send it over to the band, and the only feedback they give you is “It’s too quiet.”
So how do you fix it? You need a limiter. That begs the question…
What is an audio limiter?
To put it in simple terms, a limiter can make things louder. It does this by ensuring audio doesn’t go past a specified dB ceiling while simultaneously raising the gain of the entire track.
Effectively, this lowers the dynamic range of the whole piece of audio and allows you to make it louder overall. Of course, it could be explained with much more precision but, that’s not why you’re here.
You’re here to see which ones I would recommend.
The best limiter plugins (to me) are affordable, powerful, and versatile. There’s no better tool to improve the levels and impact of your music than a solid limiter.
Any engineer trying to mix or master music should have a few options as far as limiting goes. You need something that both sounds incredible and is reliable.
People notice the results of effective limiting immediately, so it is critical to have something that works well in your setup that you can access quickly.
I’ve put this article together for individuals looking for ways to improve their sound.
Whether you are a beginner looking for reliable software to start with or a professional looking to upgrade your workflow, these limiters are all impressive processors that will work for any job you throw at them.
They will work with both Windows and OSx operating systems, so these are good choices if you have a PC or a Mac (just be sure to look at the OS requirements to ensure they work with your current version!).
So then, without further preamble, here is a list of the 5 best limiter plugins:
1.) IK Multimedia T-Racks Stealth Limiter
I use this limiter more than any other. Whether I am trying to add subtle glue to really make a song pop, or I am trying to push a track as far as it can go, the Stealth Limiter does it all with ease.
I am always impressed by the precision and control in this plugin. The user interface is pleasant to look at and intuitive. I regularly add this to my mastering chains to add extra polish to any production I am working on.
This limiter contains 4 operating modes that are easy to switch between and allow you to refine your sound as you see fit.
The Stealth Limiter also takes the Fletcher-Munson curves into account by providing a unity gain monitor to help you compare processed and unprocessed audio.
Another included feature is a 22Hz high-pass filter to cut out unwanted sub-bass frequencies. This makes a great addition to your plugin arsenal and, if used correctly, will take your signal processing chain to the next level.
This plugin gives you transparent stereo shaping and clean limiting that ensure your production will get the result you want.
If you want an affordable plugin, that won’t color your sound heavily, the Stealth Limiter from IK Multimedia is a terrific choice.
- 4 operating modes provide versatility
- Unity Gain Monitor
- 22Hz infrasonic filter
- Intersample peak-limiting
- Can have a high CPU load
- Occasional latency issues
2.) Waves CLA-2A Modeled Compressor/Limiter
Modeled from a classic piece of hardware, the Waves CLA-2A faithfully reproduces the smooth vintage tone of the original.
With both a compressor and limiter mode, this plugin is versatile enough to use in a wide variety of contexts. It sounds as smooth on a drum bus as it does on a vocal chain.
The limiter is full and warm and will add both depth and control to any song.
With a simple interface, the CLA-2A also emulates the look and aesthetic presence of the original hardware to your session. With precise knobs and an accurate monitor, it is fast and simple to dial this plugin to just the right sound.
On top of all that, this limiter comes in at an extremely affordable price point and makes an excellent choice if you are on a tight budget.
You can’t go wrong with having an exceptional emulation of classic analog gear!
- Warm vintage tone
- Compressor/Limiter combination
- Unavoidably colors your sound
3.) IK Multimedia T-Racks Quad Limiter
Every engineer should have a powerful multiband limiter at their disposal and the T-Racks Quad Limiter is a terrific option.
A multiband limiter allows you to add control to a specific frequency range without affecting others.
That means you can clean up the low end on a master or add depth to bring the vocals up without impacting the rest of the mix. That makes this plugin one of the best tools for adding clarity and depth to the stereo image of any mix you are working on.
The Quad Limiter allows you to use that precise control over 4 adjustable frequency bands with clean crossover points. The limiters are transparent and smooth, allowing you to dial in the sound you need.
This plugin also includes a master brick wall limiter chained after the multiband limiter to ensure your track doesn’t peak too loud. This is a solid option if you require elevated harmonic control.
The GUI of IK Multimedia’s plugins is sophisticated and user-friendly, offering everything you might need with intuitive labeling.
The Quad Limiter features an easy-to-use stereo, mid, and side control, letting you really fine-tune how you limit the music.
This plugin gives you an invisible crossover across the frequency spectrum while cleaning up your sound.
The best part is that all of that comes in one plugin that won’t hit your bank account too hard.
- 4 adjustable frequency bands with silent crossover
- Master brick wall limiter
- Stereo & M/S control
- Full-Latency compensation
- The learning curve of multiband limiting
- Metering leaves a bit to be desired
4.) FabFilter Pro-L 2 Brickwall Limiter
The FabFilter Pro-L 2 is a beast of its own. This Brickwall Limiter comes filled to the brim with various impressive features that are expertly designed to make your audio sound exquisite.
The Pro-L 2 includes a total of eight unique and distinct limiting algorithms that provide updated versatility.
This limiter is an excellent choice for any style of music, whether it is soft, nuanced jazz, or aggressive, hard-hitting rock.
If you are looking to master multichannel situations, the Pro-L 2 has you covered by supporting Dolby Atmos 7.0.2 and 7.1.2 formats.
The Pro-L 2 also offers customizable surround channel linking, perfect for any monitoring setup.
Another nice feature of the Pro-L 2 is the included True Peak limiting mode. This option allows you to have complete control over digital and analog signals alike and helps eliminate distortion if the peak level is exceeded.
The metering included by FabFilter is top-notch. You can monitor True Peak loudness as well as short-term and long-term peaks in real-time.
In addition, the full spectrum analyzer allows you to see, in real-time, what frequencies the limiter is being applied to.
This plugin allows easy access to every little bit of information about your audio and offers more features than many competitors.
Of course, that comes with a price tag and makes this one of the more expensive options on this list.
- 8 limiting algorithms
- Supports Dolby Atmos 7.0.2/7.1.2
- True Peak Limiting option
- Terrific metering and monitoring
- Higher price tag
- Somewhat confusing UI
5.) NUGEN Audio ISL 2 Real-Time True Peak Limiter
If you want stunningly transparent brick-wall limiting, the Nugen Audio ISL 2 is the plugin for you.
Utilizing multiple true-peak standards, the ISL 2 makes it simple to bring your work to the right level for broadcast or release.
This plugin helps protect your audio from the distortion caused by lossy MP3 or AAC formats with impressive peak limiting.
True Peak limiting is extremely useful when you are going to release on digital streaming platforms because it ensures your music won’t be limited by the likes of Spotify’s algorithm.
An added benefit of this program is the “Mastered for iTunes” feature, which allows you to limit your music, specifically to the standards of several online platforms. This is a useful function that enables you to ensure your record is ready for release without error.
The limiter in the ISL 2 plugin has a combination of clarity and punch that will make your master sound enormous.
The sound quality and interface of this plugin should be more than enough of an incentive to add it to your library.
NUGEN kept going, though, and included limiting for channel configurations from mono, to stereo, to 5.1 surround sound. That means you’ll be able to master almost any audio that comes through your doors.
All of these incredible functions inevitably add up to a higher price point, though, making this the most expensive plugin on the list.
- Mastered for iTunes feature
- Precise true peak limiting
- Mono through 5.1 surround channels compatibility
- Transparent look-ahead
- The interface can be slow to navigate
Bonus – Waves WLM Plus Loudness Meter
I am adding the WLM Plus metering plugin as a bonus since it does include an exquisite True Peak limiter.
More importantly, though, this plugin pairs perfectly alongside most, if not all, of the others featured on the list.
My personal favorite combination is using this in my mastering chain after the IK Multimedia Stealth Limiter.
If you are looking to get a more professional sound, adding the WLM Plus to your signal processing chain is an excellent move.
The low price is just an extra incentive!
The WLM Plus allows you to monitor TPdB, short-term and long-term LUFS, as well as the dynamic range throughout the entirety of your music.
In addition, a customizable pre-filter allows you to cut out any high or low transience with precise high and low-pass filtering.
In combination with a great limiter, the WLM Plus will help the acoustics of your audio come alive.
Precision monitoring paired with clean limiting adds depth and fullness to the stereo image of your tracks.
There is an endless amount of plugins on the market right now, and that number is only going to go up.
More than a definitive guide, this list should be used as a reference for features to look for in a limiter. Everybody has a unique workflow, and you must find something that works well for you.
I may love the Stealth Limiter, but maybe iZotope Ozone 9’s mastering assistant is better for your process, or perhaps you prefer the modular design of the TDR Limiter 6 GE (both of which are good choices, by the way).
It is always good to have options, so I encourage you to explore the choices on this list and see if they may be a good fit for you.
There’s nothing worse than buying brand new software and then having it sit on your computer unused, metaphorically collecting dust (okay, maybe there are a few worse things).
The plugins on this list will certainly see usage once you get your hands on them, as they all add character and power to anything thrown at them.
If you don’t have the room or budget for a physical piece of limiting hardware, you should look into plugins as your solution. They take up very little space and expand the sound of your mixes and master considerably.
This list includes options available to anyone regardless of budget or skill level. I’ve included a variety of limiter types from True Peak, to brick wall, to multiband, so you have a good idea of what to look for in each type.
Use this as a guide, and you’re sure to find a plugin that works perfectly for you!