Limiters are employed mostly for a single purpose: to limit the output of a signal in a way that prevents undesirable distortion and excessive peaks while, when used correctly, preserving the overall balance and color of a mix. This reduces the dynamic range of a signal, in turn making it possible to increase its loudness. In the vast majority of cases, limiters will be found in the master bus, at the very end of the mastering chain. In the following tutorial, we’ll show you how to use multiple limiters to gain more control over your track and ultimately make it louder.

As usual, let’s begin by listening to a short sequence created in SoundBridge: DAW. It contains the majority of a full mix’s elements, with an additional mastering effect chain.

This is a screenshot of my mix in SoundBridge: DAW before any processing on the master channel.
~Full Mix – Full Mastering Chain

The idea behind this technique is that instead of using one limiter, you can use two. It’s similar to the concept of compressing in stages, but instead, you’re limiting. We will essentially be dividing up the limiting process into two steps. The first one is going to tame any rough transients that are popping out in the mix. Often it will tame instruments like drums or synths. The second limiter, not having to deal with many rough transients, will allow you to get more overall volume. Let’s take a look at our effect chain on the master channel.

This is a screenshot of my mix showing a compressor and limiter No.1 that I used on the master channel.

Limiters and other effects of the mastering chain

The Kramer PIE compressor by Waves Audio is the first effect, as shown in the picture above. It’s essentially a “glue” compressor set to work with a small amount of gain reduction (one up to two dB’s). After the compressor, we can see the first limiter in our effect chain, FabFilter Pro L-2. As you can see, we’ve set the attack time to around 12 ms. This tames some of the heavier transients in the mix. We’ve also set the release time to a medium range, and the output to -0.1 dB, on the right. This limiter’s gain reduction sits at+12 dB, which can seem shocking, but there is still a lot of headroom in this mix. Now, let’s move to forward.

This is a screenshot of my mix showing an EQ and limiter No.2 that I used on the master channel.

The next effect in our master chain is an EQ, where we have boosted mid-range frequencies by 4.5 dB. After that, as you can see, we’ve used the Fab Filter limiter again as the last effect on the chain. However, we have a completely different attack setting for this one, much longer. It’s worth mentioning that optimal settings for the attack depend on the tempo of your track, the genre of music, and the type of mix you’re working on. The gain reduction here is around -6 dB, and we’ve achieved an overall loudness of around -8 LUFS (short term).

~Full Mix – Full Mastering Chain

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