Mastering Limiter Plug-in

Nov 25, 2013 Enter the animated graphical display of of the FabFilter Pro-C, which shows you just what effect it's having on your signals, making it a breeze to set up. Pro-C is a truly modern and innovative VST/AU/RTAS compressor that's program-dependent. Mar 23, 2016  eq - fabfilter reverb - arts acoustic, native ableton sidechain - xfer lfo, native ableton compression - fab filter, native ableton synth - sylenth.

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If you’re feeling limited by your existing limiter, perhaps DMG Audio have the answer?

Dave Gamble is a plug-in developer who sets out to make his products the very last word in whatever it is they do. His Equilibrium equaliser and Compassion compressor are already the most comprehensive examples of those two processors I’ve ever come across, and now he’s turned his attention to the challenge of creating the ultimate plug-in mastering limiter.

At first glance, this seems like a less ambitious goal than designing the mother of all equalisers, or the compressor to end all compressors. After all, a mastering limiter is intended to do one very specific thing: to make your mixes as loud as possible, with as few side-effects as possible. Many limiting plug-ins thus have hardly any user controls beyond a simple threshold or gain setting — but you probably won’t be surprised to learn that DMG Audio’s Limitless is not among them.

Three Steps To Heaven

Putting a simple output limiter across the master bus is fine when you need to send clients a quick reference mix, but mastering engineers in pursuit of the best results will often use more than one stage of processing. The reason for this is that dynamic variation within programme audio happens on different timescales. At the ‘micro’ level, most mixes contain instantaneous, transient peaks caused by events such as drum hits; but the level of the audio also changes in a ‘macro’ fashion too. To achieve the loudest possible master with the fewest possible side-effects, it may be necessary to tackle longer-term dynamic variation separately from the transient peaks. What’s more, many mastering engineers don’t only use limiting to control the latter: there are cases where allowing transients to clip the input of an A-D converter can actually sound more natural than having a limiter do all the work.

Limitless reflects this approach and includes not one but three processing stages, all of them highly configurable. Two separate limiters are designed to work in tandem; the first is intended to allow transient events to pass through, but control dynamic variation with slower attack and release characteristics. The second then squishes the transients, in conjunction with the third of Limitless’s processing elements: a soft-clip stage preceding the limiter, which can mimic the characteristics of several different clipping options.

The limiting can be configured as a conventional full-bandwidth process, but Limitless also offers the option to have it operate independently in up to six frequency bands. This can help to achieve natural-sounding results with material that has loud peaks in specific frequency ranges, because you can ensure that other areas of the spectrum are not ducked along with the peaking frequencies.

Soft & GUI

There are times when the sheer range of options available in Compassion or Equilibrium can feel overwhelming, but that’s not the case here. Although Limitless is easily the most comprehensively featured limiter I’ve ever come across, DMG have managed to harness all of its power within a friendly and well thought-out user interface.

By default, Limitless opens in a fairly small window that presents only the main Threshold, Ceiling and Release time controls on the left, and the output meters on the right. However, the window can be freely resized, and clicking a small icon in the plug-in toolbar makes visible a list of additional parameters in the lower left and right panes. The large central section, meanwhile, is devoted to visualising the settings of the band crossovers and the effect of any limiting on the input signal.

Limitless’s ‘time view’ shows the input signal as a scrolling waveform display. The green sections show where the limiter is active, and the red lines indicate gain reduction taking place.

The default visualisation shows an FFT-style instantaneous plot of peak level across the frequency spectrum; when the limiter bands are applying gain reduction, the top part of the graph turns a lighter shade of blue. On this is superimposed a fairly conventional EQ-like interface which allows you to configure the band splitting. A simple click enables and disables the bands, while clicking and dragging adjusts the gain and centre frequency of each (though this behaviour can be customised). If you so choose, this frequency view can be replaced by a neat scrolling waveform display that can be sync’ed to song tempo, with limiter activity displayed in red and green above and below the programme audio.

These two basic alternatives complement each other nicely: the frequency view gives you a clear idea of how the energy within your mix is distributed across the spectrum, and how the limiter is behaving in each band, while the time view lets you pinpoint how much limiting is taking place at any given moment. And if your main concern is to hit a particular peak loudness value, another alternative visualisation supplements the numerical LUFS readout below the main output meters with a scrolling histogram. The behaviour of all of these displays is highly configurable, thanks to a range of global and instance-only preferences, accessed from the Setup button.

Don’t Cramp My Style

Limitless is not the first limiter I’ve used that offers different ‘styles’ of limiting, with names such as ‘punchy’, ‘transparent’, ‘aggressive’ and ‘smooth’. What is new, at least to me, is the extent to which the intrepid user can dive in and adjust the various parameters that make up a style. When you select one of Limitless’s preset styles, only four additional ‘expert’ parameters are visible in the expanded interface, but if you choose the ‘manual’ style, or copy one of the preset styles so that it can be edited as a manual style, you get the full list of Advanced controls. These include such factors as lookahead, knee, ‘weighting’ — which sets how gain reduction is distributed between different frequency bands — release ‘shape’ and finally Dynamics, which controls how much of the work should be done by the transient limiter and how much by the peak limiter.

With the additional ‘expert’ controls hidden, Limitless presents only the three basic sliders. Here, the main window is showing the integrated loudness display.

Engage Clipping on the right-hand side of the interface, and here, too, you’ll be presented with plenty of control over the process. Three different flavours of clipping are on offer; the two ’swell’ options are described as “simple waveshapers which mostly add third-harmonic distortion to increase perceived level”, while ‘knee’ offers hard converter-style clipping at one end of the spectrum and smoother soft clipping at the other. Reducing the Amount control from 100 percent lets you mix in some of the dry, unclipped signal, and there are also Drive and Trim controls.

No No, No No There’s No Limits

In practice, I found Limitless’s multi-level interface very well thought-out. Thanks to the simple default view, you can be up and limiting within seconds of installing it, and the results are good enough that I can imagine many users never needing to take things further. But when you do delve deeper, you quickly begin to get a feel for which styles of limiting suit different types of programme material; and when you go further still, you soon start to understand which controls are key in creating your own custom settings. Though you don’t have to use it, the multiband option can be really effective when you need more level with fewer side-effects. I’ve used similar features before in plug-ins like Waves’ L3, but what was really a revelation to me in Limitless was the clipping. I’m sure most of us have found that saturation or ‘analogue warmth’ plug-ins on the master bus can give a welcome increase in apparent loudness without bringing up the peak level, and you can achieve something of the sort here using the softer clipping options, but what surprised me was how hard you can push the clipping in ‘knee’ mode without audible side-effects.

When a plug-in sounds great and is absurdly comprehensive, yet easy to use, you have to dig pretty hard to find anything to complain about, and I haven’t even mentioned the many little touches that help to elevate Limitless above the herd. There is, for instance, an excellent PDF manual, while features like the built-in high-pass filter, optional inter-sample peak detection, constant-gain monitoring and very flexible dither noise shaping are all welcome if you need them and easy to ignore if you don’t. All in all, I can’t recommend Limitless highly enough. Not only is it immensely flexible and capable of a lot of very transparent gain reduction, it’s also more affordable than many alternatives, and surprisingly economical on CPU load. Limitless has already become my first-choice output limiter, and it’ll be interesting to see if anything else out there can top it.


There are already many excellent limiting plug-ins on the market, though I don’t know of any that are quite as configurable as Limitless. Alternatives worth investigating include Waves’ L3-16, FabFilter’s Pro-L, Sonnox’s Oxford Limiter, Slate Digital’s FG-X and IK Multimedia’s Stealth Limiter.


Dmg Compassion Vs Fabfilter Pro-c 3

  • Extremely configurable, yet easy to use and immediate.
  • Its three-stage multiband processing can achieve impressive levels of transparent gain reduction.
  • Excellent graphical feedback.
  • Sensibly priced and not too CPU-intensive.


Whether you want a good-sounding ‘set and forget’ limiter or a processor that allows you to dive in and fine-tune every last parameter, Limitless ticks all the boxes.


£149.99 (approx $212)
EQ & Compression Plug‑ins

DMG Audio's innovative plug‑ins combine friendly interfaces with an amazingly comprehensive feature set. Could they be the only EQ and compressor you'll ever need?

Dave Gamble's CV reads like a Who's Who of digital audio. His code has powered plug‑ins from the likes of Focusrite and Sonalksis, but for his latest plug‑ins, he's chosen to go it alone. EQuality and Compassion are, respectively, an equaliser and compressor, and are available in all the major plug‑in formats on Mac and PC. This includes VST3, which means that external side‑chaining is supported in Compassion.

The Universal Equaliser

Dave's goal in developing EQuality has been to create 'a great replacement for all your EQs”. In other words, it's designed to be of sufficiently high quality to be used as a master or bus EQ, yet with a low enough CPU load that you could also use it on every channel of a mix. A lofty goal, indeed!

Certainly, no‑one is likely to find EQuality lacking in the flexibility department. To its four fully parametric EQ bands are added low and high shelving equalisers (which can be switched to bell mode), plus one low-pass and two(!) high‑pass filters. The entire plug‑in can be run in one of five processing modes: the standard Digital, the superior Digital+, plus Minimum Phase, Analogue Phase and Linear Phase. Both conventional stereo and M/S operation are supported, and there are some unique bells and whistles too. The resonant frequency of the shelving equalisers can be separated from the turnover frequency, so that at high Q values you can position the resonant peak exactly as you want it. You can also freely adjust the amount of interaction between gain and Q values, to mimic the behaviour of some analogue designs whereby the bandwidth gets sharper as more boost or attentuation is applied.

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The attention to detail extends to the user interface, which boasts a number of clever features. As expected, you can drag the EQ points around with the mouse, and you can also Ctrl‑click and Shift‑click to bypass them and adjust their bandwidth respectively. Metering is also informative and highly configurable. EQuality's metering is highly configurable.Less usually, there's a Range slider that lets you scale the response of every band simultaneously, so you can retain the overall 'shape' of your EQ curve while experimenting to decide how drastic you want it to be. Another neat touch, which I've not seen before in an EQ plug‑in, is the horizontal frequency-shift slider, which allows an existing curve to be moved up or down the frequency spectrum.

The curve itself is drawn very clearly, and you can switch in a detailed spectrum analyser if you want to see the effects of your work in real time. Alternatively, if you prefer not to be distracted by visuals and instead concentrate on how it sounds, you can switch off the graphical display entirely and just use the rotary controls.

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My first-choice EQ plug‑in of late has been FabFilter's Pro‑Q, and in use, EQuality struck me as having a lot in common with that excellent equaliser. In both cases, much thought has gone into designing an interface that works well in a DAW environment, rather than mimicking some classic piece of analogue hardware; and in both cases, the results are a resounding success, although I don't think that EQuality's GUI quite approaches the slickness of FabFilter's offering. Here, all the EQ bands and their associated controls are always visible, which makes things a little busy by comparison, and because their respective colours don't quite match, I sometimes found myself losing track of which EQ 'blob' corresponded to which set of controls. Nevertheless, it's still a joy to use for the most part, and the Scale and Range sliders are great additions.

In sonic terms, meanwhile, I think it also bears out its maker's claims for it. The basic Digital mode is not quite as smooth as Pro‑Q's default mode, but is probably less CPU‑intensive, and definitely a step up from the EQs bundled with most DAWs. However, I found myself using it mainly in the other processing modes. Digital+ seems a little more focused than the basic mode, while Analogue Phase seems somehow 'softer' and kinder to the source material. On the master bus, I thought the extra CPU load of Linear Phase mode was well worth while, bringing a noticeable extra degree of clarity to the proceedings. I would certainly be very happy to use EQuality as my only EQ on a mix.

Sympathy For The Level

EQuality is undoubtedly one of the more comprehensive equaliser plug‑ins around, but Compassion makes it look positively Spartan. Dave Gamble has thrown the kitchen sink at this one, and followed it up with the dishwasher and tumble drier. So bristling is it with features, in fact, that even summarising them would take a lengthy couple of paragraphs.

In essence, Dave's aim has been to create a single compression 'engine' so flexible that it can be tweaked to behave like almost any hardware compressor, as well as doing a great deal that no hardware unit can. To take but a small example, many compressor plug‑ins let you adjust the extent to which the left and right side‑chain signals are summed, to control the degree of stereo linking, but Compassion goes several extra miles. To adjust the stereo linking, you move two dots around on an X‑Y graph, which allows you to set a separate L/R sum for each channel of the mix. You could even set one channel's side‑chain to be influenced only by the opposite channel's signal if you wished, an idea that raises particularly interesting possibilities in Mid/Side mode (which is, naturally, supported).

Likewise, side‑chain EQ is a common feature of dynamics plug‑ins, but not as implemented here. To mimic the behaviour of some analogue compressors, you can bleed noise into the side‑chain signal, either pre‑ or post‑EQ; you can also combine internal and external side‑chain signals. On top of that, there's a second pair of high- and low‑pass filters that sits in the signal path itself, and, optionally, the side‑chain path as well. You can even choose to have the compressor act only on the filtered signal, leaving the rest of the audio alone, enabling Compassion to be used as a dynamic equaliser or a sophisticated de‑esser.

The attack and release parameters, meanwhile, are almost absurdly configurable. You can specify a 'curve law' that modifies the 'shape' of the response to transients, decouple and reverse the order of the attack and release circuits, and introduce a Hold parameter to delay the onset of the release phase. There's also an adjustable auto‑release algorithm. Should the transients themselves be disobliging enough to escape the attention of the main compressor circuit, you can also engage a fully specified transient shaper and peak limiter, each of which has more parameters of its own than some dedicated plug‑ins do.

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The behaviour of the threshold and ratio parameters can be tuned in yet more different ways, some tailored towards the possibility of mimicking typical analogue circuits, others offering advanced dynamic control. A variable knee control is joined by a Bleed parameter, which can help create a Dbx‑style 'over easy' effect, plus a Hysteresis parameter that offsets the threshold values for the attack and release circuits. You can specify a Ceiling, or maximum amount of gain reduction, and a Ceiling Curve that governs whether this operates as a 'brick wall' or as a gradual limit. A complementary Depth parameter specifies a maximum amount of gain reduction that will be applied when Compassion is used as a gate or expander.

Here, Compassion is serving as a dynamic EQ on a drum bus, side‑chained from the vocal track.By now, I doubt that anyone will be surprised to learn that Compassion can be used as a gate or expander, but, once again, its versatility is impressive. It can, in fact, simultaneously perform conventional expansion or gating, upward expansion (which increases the dynamic range of signals above the threshold) and upward compression (which squashes and makes louder the audio below the threshold, while leaving peaks untouched). The main Ratio control, meanwhile, runs from 1:1 at the leftmost extreme, through infinity:1 (hard limiting) at about two o'clock and then into negative compression, where the gain range of the signal is inverted. This is something I've only seen before on a few compressors, perhaps most famously the Eventide Omnipressor, and although you wouldn't want to use it every day, it can make for some interesting special effects on percussive sources. If there's one thing that's missing, it's the ability to set a different threshold level for the expander from that used by the main compressor. This can be a useful feature where, for example, you want to compress signal peaks while reducing low‑level noise, but leave the central part of the dynamic range alone.

Of course, no‑one would want to manually set every single Compassion parameter every time they used it, so as well as supporting conventional preset saving and loading, Compassion also incorporates what DMG call 'mods”: the ability to store a chosen subset of parameters. For example, if you've hit upon the perfect combination of behind‑the‑scenes tweakage to recreate an 1176 in every detail, you could store those tweaks as a mod, then simply use the Attack, Release and Threshold controls to set up your virtual vintage compressor for a particular track.

On The Surface

If that massive array of subtleties all sounds a bit intimidating — and it certainly did to me — it's a relief to learn, on first loading up the plug‑in, that you don't have to concern yourself with any of it if you don't want to. The basic Compassion screen simply shows the most important, conventional compression controls, along with a very distinctive graphical display. This, again, is slightly reminiscent of the scrolling display in FabFilter's Pro‑C compressor: the input waveform scrolls from right to left, while above and below it the amount of gain reduction is illustrated by the thickness of a coloured band that is alternately green or red, depending on whether the compressor is in its attack or release phase. The threshold level is shown by a white line, and you can choose to view the input or side‑chain waveform superimposed on the output waveform if you wish. It takes a while to learn how to get the best from such a display, and personally, I found I needed to choose a slower 'logging speed' in order to comprehend what was going on. Fortunately, it's joined by a very configurable and much more conventional bar‑graph meter, and you can switch it off if you want. The many extra controls for detailed configuration are accessed in an optional panel below the main window, where they are organised into a number of panes.

Compassion also features a well‑specified transient shaper and peak limiter.Attempting to describe the sound of Compassion is a bit like nailing the proverbial jelly to the wall, because it's designed to have any sound you want it to have. Its flexibility is illustrated by the supplied mods, which turn it into everything from a FET design to an optical compressor to a vari‑mu valve circuit, and much more besides. Even without tweaking, it delivered a creditable performance across the mix bus, imparting a smooth and slightly dark tone to a rock track — and I'm sure that, with tweaking, it could be made to respond in a hundred other ways. On instrumental tracks and vocals, I was particularly impressed by the lack of unpleasant side‑effects, even with very fast attack and release times. If you're simply after transparent dynamic control, Compassion will do that with aplomb; if you want something more characterful, all the tools are there, though figuring out how best to use them for yourself takes time. (Of course, unlike some dedicated emulations of specific pieces of analogue hardware, it won't reproduce the additional non‑linearities associated with transformers or valve output stages.)

The sheer flexibility of Compassion also means that it shines in problem‑solving roles where other compressors simply wouldn't work. For example, I was mixing a multitrack recording of a band that I'd made live, where drum spill on the vocal mic was proving a big problem. The drums sounded fine until I faded up the vocal, whereupon they acquired a nasty, trashy ring at 2kHz. I was able to deal with this to some extent by using Compassion as a dynamic equaliser on the drum bus, side‑chained from the vocal track. The vocal was fed into Compassion's side‑chain, where it was filtered; I then set up the main Compassion EQ to isolate the 2kHz region and only compress that. The result was that when automation lifted the vocal fader, and with it the 2kHz drum spill, the same frequency range was compressed on the drum bus itself: the results were far from perfect, but did seem to keep the overall tone of the drums a little more consistent.

Although it's very different in look and feel, the philosophy behind Compassion reminds me a little of McDSP's long‑established Compressor Bank plug‑in bundle. That, too, aims to use a single algorithm both to provide versatile dynamic control and to recreate the idiosyncrasies of hardware compressors. Compassion ups the ante even further in the features stakes, however, and is also more widely available than Compressor Bank, which is Mac‑only and doesn't support VST.

Quality‑wise, then, I would have no qualms at all about using Compassion as my only compressor, the more so since it can handle gating, expansion, dynamic EQ and transient shaping as well! On my system, however, I found that its impressive feature set brought with it a rather higher CPU load than most generic dynamics plug‑ins, so I gravitated towards using it only in the most important or challenging mix roles.

Overall, both EQuality and Compassion are up there with the best plug‑ins of their type I've tried, and as such are priced pretty keenly. If you like the idea of having one EQ or compressor to 'rule them all', rather than a number of different plug‑ins for different purposes, they fit the bill admirably.


  • EQuality is a nice‑sounding and very flexible EQ that can operate in CPU‑light Digital mode and a variety of others, including Linear Phase.
  • Compassion is extraordinarily powerful: quite possibly the most versatile dynamics plug‑in yet created!


  • Compassion's power brings with it a relatively high CPU load.


If EQuality and Compassion can't do what you want, you have a problem no EQ or compressor can solve!

Fabfilter Pro Q 3 Free


EQuality £99.99; Compassion £149.99. Prices include VAT.
EQuality £99.99; Compassion £149.99.

Test Spec

  • Dell XPS laptop with 2GHz CPU and 4GB RAM, running Windows 7 Home Premium.
  • Tested with Steinberg Cubase 6.