Keep a Limiter on your Master

My all time top tip for getting a nice sound from Ableton Live (or any DAW) is to keep your channel faders low and the Master at 0db. I explain my reasoning in an older post from January 2008. You can read it and the great comments by: clicking here. A safety net or let’s say helper in keeping your Master at 0db is a Limiter. Luckily (finally!) they added a native Limiter to Ableton Live 8. I recommend saving your startup Template with the Limiter in place. How much headroom below 0db you should leave is questionable but mostly I just leave it at it’s default setting of -0.30 dB. I’m guessing Ableton set it there for a reason. Of course you can use Limiters to shape and pump your sound and for something like that I turn to other plug-ins like Wavearts FinalPlug ($199) or a hardware unit such as a Universal Audio 1176.

“The Limiter effect is a mastering-quality dynamic range processor that ensures that the output does not exceed a specied level. Limiter is ideal for use in the Master track, to prevent clipping. A limiter is essentially a compressor with an innite ratio. To ensure that your nal output will never clip, place Limiter as the last device in the Master track’s device chain and keep your Master fader below 0 dB.” – Ableton Live 8 User Manual

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Oliver Chesler

"Hello my name is Oliver and I'm going to tell you a story." I have been recording music since 1989 under the name The Horrorist. I have released over 60 singles and 4 full length albums. To hear my music please go to:

9 thoughts on “Keep a Limiter on your Master”

  1. the new ableton limiter is convenient, but i find that it sounds horrible. the artifacts show up almost instantly without turning up the gain.

    i recommend voxengo elephant to PC users, not sure if it’s available on mac yet.

    1. Interesting. I never really push it as I do keep my channel faders really low. I’m going to do a few sound tests and see if I can hear what the differences are (at least for my own ears).

  2. While working the master limiter should be a simple brickwall limiter (to make sure you don’t go over -0.3dB), not a mastering limiter (which dynamically processes the sound & adds delay, and should be used at the final mastering stage).

    According to my sound engineer, the -0.3dB value was decided a long time ago as cheap low-end D/A converters tended to saturate (sometimes even break) on the analogue side when receiving a numerical 0dB input.

  3. Yeah, there’s a mac version! I use it on master.
    I used Waves L2 when I worked on PC (Maybe it’s not just a limiter :B but it’s the best thing, I even read an article about maximizers and they said that L2 rules. unfortinately I couldn’t find it on Mac)

    Btw, want to ask, what is better Wavearts FinalPlug (u mentioned b4) or Voxengo Elephant? ’cause I’m looking now for good mac limiter)

      1. Man, I tried Wavearts FinalPlug. It’s sounds better than Voxengo Elephant). I think. I should make few more tests anyway but all I want 2 say is that Wavearts FinalPlug is really great.
        Btw, I tried Wavearts Multiband Dynamics. And figured out that it’s better than Ableton standard Multiband Dynamics)) I know this is kinda off topic but could you tell few words in future how to use MD.

  4. Another good reason to have a limiter somewhere by default is to prevent speaker and or ear destroying accidents when you do something bad, stupid or dangerous with a Max patch.

  5. As a mastering engineer,

    Putting a limiter on your mix buss is nice for catching the occasional “oops”, but if you plan on sending something out for professional mastering please just leave a few dB of headroom. Tracks that come in with limiting are much harder to place together into an album, it’s one of the biggest hassles of my job.

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