How to use a brickwall limiter in a mastering chain

Plus, how not to use one...

Brickwall limiter
If you're going to use a brickwall limiter, make sure you use it right.

Brickwall limiters are an essential part of the mastering chain. They add a final level of control, ensuring there are no overs or clipping. They also induce extra perceived volume and punch, allowing us to make our tracks larger than life.

These powerful processors can be abused or simply used incorrectly, and the results are often undesirable effects such as distortion, clipping and uncontrollable saturation. To avoid all of these problems, simply use sensible amounts of gain reduction and less gain.

Below you can see and hear the difference between a conservatively limited signal and one that has been pushed too far. The same limiter is used in both examples, and a loudness meter is used to monitor the results throughout the process.

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Step 1: An untreated pre-master is loaded and played back here. You can hear it in its raw state below. This has no limiting applied and, as you can see, has a low RMS and perceived volume level. Some limiting should fix this.

Step 2: A cutting-edge brickwall limiter is inserted into the signal path and gain is driven into the circuit until around 3dB of gain reduction is redacted. This brings us to around -10dB RMS and an acceptable perceived volume for this style of track.

Step 3: Push things too far and we create massive amounts of perceived level by killing our dynamic range. This gives us unwanted distortion and clipping. The resulting sound is unpleasant and contains no dynamics. Not good - this sort of limiter abuse should be avoided.

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