A Limiter Tournament

So i set up a Limiter Tournament (using a variation on single elimination style) to decisively rank my Clipper/Limiter/Maximizer plugins against each other. Unlike with compression, which i often like to use for adding character, injecting density, and enhancing groove, my primary purpose for limiters tends to be to increase headroom by curtailing short transient peaks, leading to a consistent, clean output. For this reason, it is not so impractical for me to classify some limiters as “better” than other (unlike with compressors). This is also the reason why i am including clippers and limiters both in the same tournament. Limiters tend to pump and Clippers tend to distort, but lots of plugins have characteristics of both, and the basic purpose is the same for both: to reduce the pokiness of peaks which are so fast we don’t really hear them anyways. Maximizers? What the fuck are those? There is no consensus as different developers release things they call “maximizers” which do different things, but in general, they combine peak limiting with either low-level compression or saturation.

4 limiter/clipper/maximizer models at a time were pitted against each other in contests using HOFA BlindTest with clips gradually pushed into 35dB of limiting, gain-matched using Melda’s MAGC to be able to hear only dynamics, tone, and distortion characteristics without loudness levels affecting perception.

The worst performer of each contest will be eliminated. The first-, second-, and third-ranked devices will then be pitted against others in the same tier. This pattern will continue until all but the best-sounding have been eliminated. For the sake of thoroughness and fairness, any limiter which has variable controls will include multiple entrants (usually “fast”, “300ms” and “slow”).

My choices of “best” in each contest are based primarily on transparency. Excessive distortion and pumping both reduce a limiter’s chance to win.

Skip to the bottom to see the “Grand Winners” and “Runners Up”, or scroll down through the contests for further insight into which limiters defeated which other ones.

Listen to the test clips yourself HERE if you want to (all 119 of them).

Limiter Tournament.JPG

Round 1 Results

Round 1-1
1: Glue Soft Clip
2: Ableton Limiter (300ms)
3: Ableton Limiter (auto release)
4: Ableton Limiter (fast)
Notes: The Glue’s soft clipping is really quite nice.

Round 1-2
1: Ableton Limiter (slow)
2: Ableton Saturator (digital clip)
3: Ableton Saturator (analog clip)
4: Ableton Saturator (hard curve)
Notes: Ableton’s limiter set slow trounces the saturator clipping.

Round 1-3
1: Ableton Saturator (soft clip)
2: Ableton Saturator (soft sine)
3: Ableton Saturator (medium curve)
4: Ableton Saturator (sinoid fold)
Notes: None of these really sound that great as limiters.

Round 1-4
1: Airwindows ClipOnly
2: Airwindows Slew (heavy)
3: Airwindows AQuickVoiceClip
4: Airwindows Loud
Notes: Slew darkens as it limits.

Round 1-5
1: ATK StereoLimiter (slow)
2: Airwindows Slew2
3: Airwindows Slew (light)
4: ATK StereoLimiter (fast)
Notes: ATK’s Limiter is both the best and the worst here. I think that means it’s versatile. Slew2 and Slew are both solid & clean.

Round 1-6
1: bx_Limiter (300ms)
2: Barricade (300ms)
3: Barricade (slow)
4: Barricade (fast)
Notes: Barricade is better-than-average. But bx_Limiter is better.

Round 1-7
1: bx_Limiter (slow)
2: ClipShifter (300ms)
3: bx_Limiter (fast)
4: Clipmax
Notes: bx_Limiter edges out ClipShifter.

Round 1-8
1: ClipShifter (slow)
2: easyLimiter (medium)
3: easyLimiter (hard)
4: ClipShifter (fast shaped)
Notes: both Clipshifter and easyLimiter are quality devices.

Round 1-9
1: FR-87 Limiter (default)
2: easyLimiter (soft)
3: Event Horizon (auto release)
4: Event Horizon (slow)
Notes: Event Horizon gets pretty harsh fast.

Round 1-10
1: FR-87 Limiter (slow)
2: Frontier (slow)
3: Frontier (medium)
4: Frontier (fast clip)
Notes: Frontier is a bit pumpy but has nice character to it.

Round 1-11
1: kHs Limiter (slow)
2: kHs Limiter (fast)
3: GClip (soft)
4: GClip (hard)
Notes: kHs Limiter and GClip are both decent devices.

Round 1-12
1: Limited-Z (loud-punchy)
2: Limited-Z (deep)
3: Limited-Z (aggressive)
4: Klipfreak
Notes: The “loud-punchy” mode of Limited-Z is slightly less crunchy than its contenders here.

Round 1-13
1: Limited-Z (vintage bus)
2: Limited-Z (traditional)
3: Limited-Z (smooth-clean)
4: Limited-Z (lvc-basic)
Notes: Limited-Z’s “vintage bus” mode has nice density and breaks apart less than the others.

Round 1-14
1: Loser Master Limiter (fast)
2: Limitless (warm)
3: Limitless (punchy)
4: Limitless (aggressive)
Notes: 
An obscure free reaJS effect outperforms a renowned high-end limiter. Marketing hype isn’t everything!

Round 1-15
1: Loser Master Limiter (medium)
2: Loser Master Limiter (slow)
3: LoudMax
4: Max PeakLimiter (punch)
Notes: Loser Master limiter is super clean. LoudMax is also very clean but with a slight touch of tasty density.

Round 1-16
1: MGA JS Limiter (slow)
2: MGA JS Limiter (300ms)
3: MGA JS Limiter (fast)
4: Max PeakLimiter (smooth)
Notes: MGA JS at its worst sounds better than Max PeakLimiter does at its best.

Round 1-17
1: OClip (classic)
2: MLimiter (clip)
3: MLimiter (soft)
4: MLimiter (folder)
Notes: Closest competition yet. It was pretty difficult to hear the difference between these 4.

Round 1-18
1: OClip (clean 2)
2: OClip (glassy)
3: OClip (clean 1)
4: OClip (noisy)
Notes: Only very slight differences between the different O-clip models.

Round 1-19
1: Schwa Soft Clipper
2: P&M Retro Limiter (slow)
3: P&M Retro Limiter (medium)
4: P&M Retro Limiter (fast)
Notes: P&M Retro Limiter breaks apart like a tube when you push it hard.

Round 1-20
1: TDR Limiter 6 Clipper (lf clip)
2: TDR Limiter 6 Clipper (open)
3: Stealth Limiter
4: TDR Limiter 6 Clipper (brickwall)
Notes: TDR’s Limiter 6 Clipper performs admirably, but the Stealth Limiter does beat its brickwall mode.

Round 1-21
1:  TDR Limiter 6 Peak Limiter (brickwall 300ms)
2: TDR Limiter 6 Peak Limiter (brickwall fast)
3: TDR Limiter 6 Output Limiter (true peak)
4: TDR Limiter 6 Output Limiter (pcm)
Notes: TDR Limiter 6’s peak limiter is pretty clean at 300ms release time.

Round 1-22
1: Unlimited (dull)
2: Unlimited (sharp)
3: TDR Limiter 6 Peak Limiter (brickwall slow)
4: TDR Limiter 6 Peak Limiter (multiband)
Notes:  None of these options sound bad, but Unlimited pulls ahead in terms of transparency.

Round 1-23
1: W1 Limiter (slow)
2: W1 Limiter (300ms adaptive)
3: W1 Limiter (fast)
4: Venn Freeclip
Notes:  The results keep showing us that limiters tend to sound better with slower release.

Round 1-24
1: Xhip Limiter (slow)
2: Xhip Limiter (fast)
3: Xhip Clipper
4: Zero Crossing Maximizer
Notes:  Zero Crossing Maximizer causes unreported delay, yikes. It also both pumps and distorts like hell.

Round 1-25
1: GSatMax (slow)
2: GSatMax (300ms)
3: UltraMaxIt (slow)
4: GSatMax (fast drive)
Notes:  GSatMax is distinctly more transparent than UltraMaxIt.

Round 1-26
1: OneKnob Louder
2: UltraMaxIt (fast)
3: ReaLoud
Notes:  ReaLoud perhaps sounds smoother than UltraMaxIt, but also darkens the tone.

Round 1-27
1: BBE Loudness Maximizer (slow)
2: BBE Loudness Maximizer (300ms)
3: BBE Loudness Maximizer (fast)
Notes:  Slow is quite clean & solid; fast is quite scrunchy.

Round 1 Winners

First Place
Ableton Glue Soft Clip
Ableton Limiter (slow)
Ableton Saturator (soft clip)
Airwindows ClipOnly
ATK StereoLimiter (slow)
bx_Limiter (300ms)
bx_Limiter (slow)
ClipShifter (slow)
FR-87 Limiter (default)
FR-87 Limiter (slow)
kHs Limiter (slow)
Limited-Z (loud-punchy)
Limited-Z (vintage bus)
Loser Master Limiter (fast)
Loser Master Limiter (medium)
MGA JS Limiter (slow)
OClip (classic)
OClip (clean 2)
Schwa Soft Clipper
TDR Limiter 6 Clipper (lf clip)
TDR Limiter 6 Peak Limiter (brickwall 300ms)
Unlimited (dull)
W1 Limiter (slow)
Xhip Limiter (slow)
GSatMax (slow)
OneKnob Louder
BBE Loudness Maximizer (slow)

Second Place
Ableton Limiter (300ms)
Ableton Saturator (digital clip)
Ableton Saturator (soft sine)
Airwindows Slew (heavy)
Airwindows Slew2
Barricade (300ms)
ClipShifter (300ms)
easyLimiter (medium)
easyLimiter (soft)
Frontier (slow)
kHs Limiter (fast)
Limited-Z (deep)
Limited-Z (traditional)
Limitless (warm)
Loser Master Limiter (slow)
MGA JS Limiter (300ms)
MLimiter (clip)
OClip (glassy)
P&M Retro Limiter (slow)
TDR Limiter 6 Clipper (open)
TDR Limiter 6 Peak Limiter (brickwall fast)
Unlimited (sharp)
W1 Limiter (300ms adaptive)
Xhip Limiter (fast)
GSatMax (300ms)
UltraMaxIt (fast)
BBE Loudness Maximizer (300ms)

Third Place
Ableton Limiter (auto release)
Ableton Saturator (analog clip)
Ableton Saturator (medium curve)
Airwindows AQuickVoiceClip
Airwindows Slew (light)
Barricade (slow)
bx_Limiter (fast)
easyLimiter (hard)
Event Horizon (auto release)
Frontier (medium)
GClip (soft)
Limited-Z (aggressive)
Limited-Z (smooth-clean)
Limitless (punchy)
LoudMax
MGA JS Limiter (fast)
MLimiter (soft)
OClip (clean 1)
P&M Retro Limiter (medium)
Stealth Limiter
TDR Limiter 6 Output Limiter (true peak)
TDR Limiter 6 Peak Limiter (brickwall slow)
W1 Limiter (fast)
Xhip Clipper
UltraMaxIt (slow)

Round 2 Results

Round 2-1-1
1: Ableton Limiter (slow)
2: Airwindows ClipOnly
3: Ableton Saturator Soft Clip
4: Ableton Glue Soft Clip
Notes: Ableton Limiter is the decisive winner here.

Round 2-1-2
1: bx_Limiter (slow)
2: ClipShifter (slow)
3: bx_Limiter (300ms)
4: ATK StereoLimiter (slow)
Notes: bx_Limiter (300ms) and ATK StereoLimiter (slow) sound similar to each other, but ATK’s sounds a bit more frantic while the brainworx one is a bit more controlled. ClipShifter (slow) gives a touch of gritty fuzz, but much less than most clippers.

Round 2-1-3
1: kHs Limiter (slow)
2: FR-87 Limiter (slow)
3: FR-87 Limiter (default)
4: Limited-Z (loud-punchy)
Notes: The Kilohearts and eaReckon limiters are on par with each other; both excellent. The kHs Limiter seems a subliminal degree more punchy.

Round 2-1-4
1: Loser Master Limiter (medium)
2: MGA JS Limiter (slow)
3: Limited-Z (vintage bus)
4: Loser Master Limiter (fast)
Notes: Limited-Z (vintage bus) has an interesting high-frequency sizzle.

Round 2-1-5
1: TDR Limiter 6 Clipper (LF clip)
2: Schwa Soft Clipper
3: O-Clip (clean 2)
4: O-Clip (classic)
Notes: Schwa Soft Clipper and O-Clip sound extremely similar, to the point where it was quite difficult to tell any difference between them.

Round 2-1-6
1: Xhip Limiter (slow)
2: W1 Limiter (slow)
3: Unlimited (dull)
4: TDR Limiter 6 Peak Limiter (brickwall 300ms)
Notes: Xhip beats out some tough contenders!

Round 2-1-7
1: BBE Loudness Maximizer (slow)
2: GSatMax (slow)
3: OneKnob Louder
Notes: BBE Loudness Maximizer barely defeats GSatMax for having slightly more solid consistency.

Round 2-2-1
1: Ableton Limiter (300ms)
2: Ableton Saturator (digital clip)
3: Ableton Saturator (soft sine)
4: Airwindows Slew (heavy)
Notes: Ableton Limiter is the clear winner here.

Round 2-2-2
1: ClipShifter (300ms)
2: easyLimiter (medium)
3: Airwindows Slew2
4: Barricade (300ms)
Notes: None of these are perfect, but ClipShifter retains the original image the best out of these, i’d say.

Round 2-2-3
1: easyLimiter (soft)
2: Frontier (slow)
3: kHs Limiter (fast)
4: Limited-Z (deep)
Notes: Frontier has a nice smooth density to it.

Round 2-2-4
1: Loser Master Limiter (slow)
2: MGA JS Limiter (300ms)
3: Limitless (warm)
4: Limited-Z (traditional)
Notes: MGA JS Limiter has a nice thick density to it. Limitless has a fizzy fuzz which softens transients while Limited-Z retains more punch and transients.

Round 2-2-5
1: TDR Limiter 6 Clipper (open)
2: MLimiter (clip)
3: O-Clip (glassy)
4: P&M Retro Limiter (slow)
Notes: It was quite difficult to tell the difference between MLimiter and O-Clip!

Round 2-2-6
1: Unlimited (sharp)
2: W1 Limiter (300ms adaptive)
3: Xhip Limiter (fast)
4: TDR Limiter 6 Peak Limiter (brickwall fast)
Notes: W1 with 300ms release does have a really thickness thickness to it. TDR Limiter 6 Peak Limiter in brickwall fast mode has a burly attack to it.

Round 2-2-7
1: LoudMax
2: GSatMax (300ms)
3: BBE Loudness Maximizer (300ms)
4: UltraMaxIt (fast)
Notes: LoudMax, GSatMax, and BBE Loudness Maximizer are all excellent devices and it was a bit tricky to choose between them.

Round 2-3-1
1: Ableton Limiter (auto release)
2: Ableton Saturator (analog clip)
3: Airwindows AQuickVoiceClip
4: Ableton Saturator (medium curve)
Notes: None of these options are all that great.

Round 2-3-2
1: Airwindows Slew (light)
2: Barricade (slow)
3: bx_Limiter (fast)
4: easyLimiter (hard)
Notes: They all sound relatively good.

Round 2-3-3
1: Frontier (medium)
2: GClip (soft)
3: Limited-Z (aggressive)
4: Event Horizon (auto release)
Notes: Frontier is pretty pumpy, GClip and Limited-Z provide not bad clipping.

Round 2-3-4
1: MGA JS Limiter (fast)
2: Limited-Z (smooth-clean)
3: Limitless (punchy)
4: MLimiter (soft)
Notes: MGA JS Limiter and Limited-Z surprisingly overtake Limitless and MLimiter again fails to impress.

Round 2-3-5
1: Stealth Limiter
2: TDR Limiter 6 Output Limiter (true peak)
3: O-Clip (clean 1)
4: P&M Retro Limiter (medium)
Notes: The top three placings here all sound pretty decent.

Round 2-3-6
1: TDR Limiter 6 Peak Limiter (brickwall slow)
2: UltraMaxIt (slow)
3: W1 Limiter (fast)
4: Xhip Clipper
Notes: TDR Limiter 6 Peak Limiter is clearly the most transparent choice here.

Round 2 Winners

First Place
Ableton Limiter (slow)
bx_Limiter (slow)
kHs Limiter (slow)
Loser Master Limiter (medium)
TDR Limiter 6 Clipper (lf clip)
W1 Limiter (slow)
BBE Loudness Maximizer (slow)

Second Place
Ableton Limiter (300ms)
Clipshifter (300ms)
easyLimiter (soft)
Loser Master Limiter (slow)
TDR Limiter 6 Clipper (open)
Unlimited (sharp)
LoudMax

Third Place
Ableton Limiter (slow)
Airwindows Slew (light)
Frontier (medium)
MGA-JS Limiter (fast)
Stealth Limiter
TDR Limiter 6 Peak Limiter (brickwall slow)

Round 3 Results

Round 3-1-1
1: kHs Limiter (slow)
2: bx_Limiter (slow)
3: Loser Master Limiter (medium)
4: Ableton Limiter (slow)
Notes: kHs Limiter vs bx_Limiter was a very close choice and i’d say they’re on par.

Round 3-1-2
1: BBE Loudness Maximizer (slow)
2: W1 Limiter (slow)
3:TDR Limiter 6 Clipper (LF clip)
Notes: BBE Loudness Maximizer wins here, but the W1 is only slightly behind it.

Round 3-2-1
1: Loser Master Limiter (slow)
2: easyLimiter (soft)
3: ClipShifter (300ms)
4: Ableton Limiter (300ms)
Notes: All of these sound pretty good.

Round 3-2-2
1: LoudMax
2: Unlimited (sharp)
3: TDR Limiter 6 Clipper (open)
Notes: LoudMax is very transparent and Unlimited adds tasty density. Limiter 6 Clipper is a bit dirty but not bad.

Round 3-3-1
1: Airwindows Slew (light)
2: Frontier (medium)
3: Ableton Limiter (auto release)
Notes: Slew always stays in-control, Frontier pumps juicily.

Round 3-3-2
1: TDR Limiter 6 Peak Limiter (brickwall slow)
2: MGA JS Limiter (fast)
3: Stealth Limiter
Notes: MGA JS Limiter has tasty density.

Round 3 Winners

First Place
kHs Limiter (slow)
BBE Loudness Maximizer (slow)

Second Place
Loser Master Limiter (slow)
LoudMax

Third Place
Airwindows Slew (light)
TDR Limiter 6 Peak Limiter (brickwall slow)

Round 4 Results

Round 4-1
1: BBE Loudness Maximizer
2: kHs Limiter (slow)
Notes: So close! It could have gone to either.

Round 4-2
1: LoudMax
2: Loser Master Limiter (slow)
Notes: 
Again, super close; could have gone to either.

Round 4-3
1: TDR Limiter 6 Peak Limiter (brickwall slow)
2: Airwindows Slew
Notes:
Limiter 6’s slow brickwall peak limiter is more transparent; Slew is more dense.

GRAND WINNERS

1: BBE Loudness Maximizer
2: kHs Limiter
3: LoudMax
4: Loser Master Limiter

RUNNERS UP

(in no particular order)
Ableton Limiter
bx_Limiter
TDR Limiter 6
W1 Limiter

HONORABLE MENTION FOR TASTY DENSITY

These limiters each stood out to me as sounding tasty, but with a compressor-like character. So while not winners of this tournament, they sound good and can be useful.  I would recommend any of the following for the purpose of adding density to mix elements (just like you would use compression for) but generally not as a final master output limiter.
ATK StereoLimiter
easyLimiter
FR-87 Limiter
Frontier
GSatMax
Limited-Z (vintage bus mode)
MGA JS Limiter
OneKnob Louder
Unlimited
Xhip Limiter

Random Side Note
“Slew” “Slew2”, “ReaLoud”, and “TDR Limiter 6 (HF Limiter)” all have the effect of darkening tone the harder they are pushed into.

Yay!

I’m going to be testing out the winners of this tournament as the final limiter on my next mastering job, fo sho.

 

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