Limiters are an integral part of any mixing and mastering toolbox and are necessary for creating a professional mix.
However, limiters are often misunderstood and misused when mixing and mastering. Many producers struggle to understand just how to apply a limiter to their tracks. In this article, I am going to go over three different ways that you can use a limiter on your tracks for a more professional-sounding mix.
Before we go over the uses of a limiter, let’s go over what a limiter actually is. Limiters are very similar to compressors. They are designed to limit the level of a signal to a certain threshold.
The limiter prevents an audio signal from going over a specified threshold meaning the entire signal above the threshold is attenuated.
By applying limiting to your track, you will raise the volume of your signal, but also reduce the dynamic range (the difference between the loudest and quietest parts of an audio signal).
Limiter Application #1
When you are doing heavy processing on your sounds, groups of sounds, or master chain, the audio coming out of your DAW can produce erratic sounds. These erratic sounds are often in the form of very high volume sharp transients and will cause clipping and distortion.
When working on your music, this is something you never want to encounter. These erratic transients can harm not only your ears, but also your equipment. To help prevent potential harm to your ears and equipment, we can use a limiter on the master channel in your DAW.
Any limiter will work here.
Not only that, you can load up the limiter with its default settings. The goal here is to provide a safety net. So no changing around of the gain, attack, release, or ceiling on the limiter is necessary.
Once we have this limiter with its default settings on the master, you will now be protected from having these high dynamic transients potentially hurt your ears and equipment.
Limiter Application #2
The drums and percussion sounds in your track have sharp transients. The sharp transients give these sounds their punch and attack.
While these transients produce desirable sonic characteristics, they can also have a negative impact on your mix. High transient audio can cause issues with headroom in your mix. Depending on just how loud a specific transient or transients are, they can cause an imbalance in your mix that must be dealt with.
This is where the limiter comes in.
If you find that your drums or any high transient material are causing your master channel dB meter to spike too high in relation to the average peak volume of your track then you can apply limiting to those specific sounds to tame the transients.
Simply put a limiter on these sounds and limit the sound until you start to get some gain reduction. Since a limiter attenuates the signal above the threshold, the sharp transient will flatten off and will no longer cause a volume spike in your mix.
Limiter Application #3
Finally, the third use of a limiter is for mastering.
In order to get your track up to commercial loudness, you will need to apply limiting. This kind of limiting is called brick wall limiting. The brick wall limiter is applied at the end of the master chain. Once the brick wall limiter is at the end of your master chain, you will need to adjust a few settings.
The ceiling will need to be set to -0.2 dB.
The ceiling is the maximum output of the limiter and we set this below 0.0 dB to avoid any potential distortion when played back on other sound systems.
Finally, we are going to adjust the gain/ threshold.
When adjusting the gain/threshold, look for around -2 to -4 dB of gain reduction or just before the song distorts. The amount of limiting that you will do will depend on how loud you want your track to sound, so adjust the gain/threshold to taste.
Limiters are a unique tool that play a big role in the mixing and mastering process. By following the article above you will gain a solid understanding of the function of a limiter and the situations that they can be used in.
This ultimately will give your track the best possible chance to succeed in today’s competitive music industry.
Daniel is a caffeine-dependent entrepreneur, music producer, sound design junkie, and world traveler crazy about teaching modern electronic music production through his site SoundShock.