Audio limiters fall into the category of dynamics processors that seemingly don’t do a whole lot, but are nevertheless essential for great sounding mixes.
Similar to compressors in function, limiters limit the dynamic range of signals. That way you can crank out more loudness out of an otherwise weak audio signal.
And while there are many great professional options you could get, there are a bunch of free alternatives. So in this article, we’ll look at some of the best free limiter VST and AU plugins you can try out.
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Introduction: About Limiters
Like many plugins we’ve covered, both free and professional, limiter software plugins aim to replicate the functions of classic hardware circuits.
Some of the best limiter plug-ins on the market are able to approximate the sound and response of classic units to a remarkably accurate degree, and even free offerings do a great job of handling standard to more extreme limiting tasks.
Free Limiter Plugins
- D16 Group Frontier
- LVC-Audio ClipShifter
- Vlagsound Limiter No6
- LVC Audio Limited-Z
- LoudMax Plugin
- Yohng W1 Limiter
Free Limiter Plugin Roundup
D16 Group’s Frontier is a limiter plug-in that is capable of so much more than standard peak leveling. Free for registered owners of D16 products–or those who plan to purchase D16 plug-ins in the future–Frontier can work as a mono ducker, a soft clipper, and a wave shaper. And like many of D16’s offerings, it sounds great on single tracks, group busses, and even on the master buss.
Frontier’s automatic gain makeup algorithm normalizes the volume of the signal after the limiting stage. Enabling the soft-clip option and cranking the input will give you a good idea of the plug-in’s wave shaping capabilities.
Frontier doesn’t have as many controls as the more popular paid limiter plug-ins, but it does offer just enough to walk the line between functionality and ease of use. Transparent at moderate settings and characterful at more extreme ones, Frontier is a versatile plug-in that meets the highest standards for software limiters.
LVC Audio’s ClipShifter is more of a bona fide wave-shaping plugin that does double-duty as a clipping limiter. But with its good range of controls that allow for precision tailoring of the sound, it can handle a much more varied array of tasks than your typical saturation plug-in.
From adding grit to bass and drum tracks to sweetening mixes and even maximizing master levels, the ClipShifter handles a multitude of tasks with elegance and ease.
As far as its clipping capabilities go, ClipShifter ranges from hard, brickwall limiting to gentle compressor-style saturation. It can even be set up to respond to transients, giving it more scope than your average limiter plug-in.
Vlagsound’s Limiter No6 incorporates five distinct dynamics processing modules: an RMS compressor, a peak limiter, a high-frequency limiter, a clipper, and a true peak limiter.
These modules give users a broad range of options by which to process individual tracks and masters, and to keep level peaks at bay.
With optional 4x oversampling capability, M/S and multiband modes, and inter-sample peak limiting, No6 is capable of handling most any limiter-specific task.
Results are especially impressive when two instances are used in a chain–one at the start and one at the end. A transparent limiter that imparts that “already-processed” and “mastered” sound to your mixes.
Also from LVC Audio is Limited-Z, which is the company’s definitive free limiter plug-in. A fully-featured, yet easy to use brickwall limiter, it is equally suited to mixing as it is for mastering.
Multiple limiting algorithms are employed with the goal of producing great sound that retains punch, clarity, and transparency.
Even so, Limited-Z is also capable of heating up when cranked, with the “Aggressive” setting especially suitable for livening up drums, guitars, and other sound sources.
Many limiter plug-ins are advertised as having “clear and transparent” sound, but few of them can actually deliver like LoudMax can.
A look-ahead brickwall loudness maximizer in the vein of Waves’ celebrated L1, L2, and L3, LoudMax manages to retain the original character of the sound even at more extreme compression settings.
LoudMax does have a tendency to pump if the gain reduction is set to high levels, but this is true for the Waves L-series as well. In any case, this plug-in is certainly worth a look if you need a limiter that can handle everything from subtle leveling to more aggressive squashing.
Yohng’s W1 Limiter is a classic in the audio world, and even professional engineers have this in their toolbox along with their pricier plug-ins. The W1 is actually a clone of the aforementioned Waves L1, and by most accounts, it does a remarkable job of replicating the sound and response of the original.
W1 isn’t a 100% spot-on clone. It has a slight dip at 20Hz, and there is a bit of a dip in the low mids as well. In most other areas however, the W1 is a pretty close approximation, and you certainly can’t beat the price.
The aptly-named easyLimiter isn’t the most fully-featured limiter we’ve seen. In fact, it doesn’t even have an input level control.
What it does have are three clipping options–soft, medium, and hard–and a “real time” button.
In any case, it is an undeniably good-sounding look-ahead limiter that is as easy to use as the name suggests.
With so many great-sounding limiter plug-ins…how do we pick just one?
Answer; we don’t! Instead of singling out one of these fine offerings as “The Best”, we would simply advise you to check out as many as you can, and see which one clicks for you.
The Frontier and the ClipShifter definitely rank high up there for their sound-shaping capabilities. A similar argument could be made for the Limiter No6, which adds even more control and an appealing selection of vintage-style GUIs.
Then there’s the LoudMax and the W1, both of which give you that distinct L1/L2 style limiting for free. And for quick and easy no-frills limiting, the Limited-Z and the easyLimiter simply can’t be beat.
Considering that all these plug-ins are free, you could do much worse than to just download all of them and use each according to its strengths.