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How to Limit Your Master

When limiting your master, it’s best to find a limiter that works best for the genre and you’re intended amount of attenuation. Some settings that’ll help you limit your master include a 50-millisecond release, no more than 6dB of attenuation, and use oversampling when it’s available.

What are Some of the Best Limiters?

Although there are a lot of great ones, here are some of our picks for the best:

  • Best Free Limiter: Limiter No. 6
  • Best Introductory Limiter: Waves L1
  • Best Versatile Limiter: FabFilter Pro L2
  • Best Limiter for Retaining Detail: Newfangled Audio’s Elevate
  • Overall Best Sounding Limiter: Voxengo’s Elephant

These are just our opinions though, so keep this in mind. Also, if there’s one you love that you think is better than these tell us about it in a comment in the video above.

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How Much Attenuation when Limiting?

How much attenuation you introduce will depend on how loud you want your master - typically I avoid more than 5 to 6dB of attenuation at any point, but some engineers use more if the genre or track calls for it. Typically, significant attenuation can be avoided.

For example, if I wanted a loud master I could use low-level compression prior to limiting. This will amplify the quieter parts of the signal , in turn, increase the master’s loudness, without increasing the peaks.

Best Release Time When Limiting?

When using a limiter, a 50ms release time is the best for creating a loud master without introducing distortion. Any time quicker than 50ms will cause the track to mildly to moderately distort - which may or may not be wanted depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.

If you want a smoother-sounding master, try 250ms or above, or if you don’t care about distortion and simply want as loud of a track as possible, use a release time of 5 to 10ms.

Listen to an Example ➜ Youtube Link

Best Attack Time When Limiting?

If you see an attack time on a limiter, keep in mind that it doesn’t behave like the attack time on a compressor - all attack times on limiters are nearly instant or 0ms. Instead, the attack time here means the time before the release envelope begins.

So if you want less distortion, set a quicker attack, but if you want a louder master, a longer attack time will work better. Combine this with the release time for greater control of your master’s timbre.

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Should I Use True Peak Detection when Limiting?

In most instances, it's best not to use true peak detection when limiting - the reason being, the effect will alter your master’s transients, cause a less impactful sound. Instead, slightly lower the ceiling of your limiter, and use oversampling and a short amount of lookahead.

The ceiling will keep the signal from peaking,oversampling will cause more accurate quantization and less aliasing distortion, and lookahead will duck the signal to avoid peaking.

These effects are less aggressive than true peak detection.

Should I Use Oversampling when Limiting?

When you’re using a limiter on your master you should absolutely use oversampling to avoid aliasing distortion and to create a more accurate amplitude for your signal - which reduces peaking. Oversampling has no negative or adverse effect on your signal, and really only benefits your master.

When pushing your signal into a brick wall ceiling, you’ll likely get some harmonic distortion - if the harmonics are created from higher frequencies this will likely cause unwanted aliasing distortion.

So, use oversampling to avoid aliasing distortion.

Stereo Expansion when Limiting

Stereo expansion can be introduced when limiting in a couple of ways - the first is by using a mid-side limiter to attenuate more of the mid than side. The second way to expand the stereo image is by unlinking the channels so that they’re affected independently.

Granted, unlinking your channels won’t make your master’s stereo image wider in all cases, but it can have a pleasant effect on the stereo image by making your left and right signals more unique and distinct.

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