Limiters are critical at the mixing and mastering stages. Whether it’s achieving loudness levels matched to modern top 40 music, compressing and enhancing the sound of individual tracks, or adding some saturation, drive, and grit to specific instruments, limiters come in handy in a variety of situations.
And, as with most things, you can find some competent free limiters that can outclass your DAW’s stock limiter any day of the week. To be honest, we’re kind of spoiled in this category of VST plugins, as you’re about to see…
So, let’s look at the best free limiter VST plugins.
Frontier Self-Adaptive Versatile Limiter by D16 Group
How is it that D16 Group’s Frontier Self-Adaptive Versatile Limiter is even free? We’ve said it before, but it’s worth shouting from the rooftops again – there is virtually no reason not to add Frontier to your VST plugin library.
And while limiters are often thought of as mastering plugins, you may find that Frontier works its way into your workflow in other ways as well. It’s perfect at home on single tracks, busses, or masters, and it can achieve different results depending on how you dial it in and what you need it for.
And just as advertised, Frontier is a versatile limiter. The simple control scheme set lets you apply the effect in both practical and creative ways. Whether you need to bring your mix up to loudness levels competitive with commercial releases, want to level individual instrument tracks, or even add a bit of saturation, grit, or drive to your mix, Frontier comes in handy.
The distortion and harmonic generation are controllable, though, so if you want to keep the compression clean, take advantage of soft clipping.
We also love the graphical user interface of Frontier, made to look like a real rackmount unit you’d install in your studio.
Frontier Self-Adaptive Versatile Limiter is available for Windows and Mac.
Download: D16 Group
Limiter №6 by vladg/sound
Limiter №6 is another favorite of ours. Even if we don’t really understand all the controls, what we do know is this plugin makes everything sound better, without endless tweaking! Of course, we also know just how versatile it is, given its five-module design.
Most recently, I’ve used Limiter №6 on acoustic guitars, and it instantly breathed life into relatively raw performances. It boosted the level, made the instrument sound clearer, and brought it up in the mix.
Regardless, the five modules include an RMS compressor, peak limiter, high-frequency limiter, clipper, and tune peak limiter. So, Limiter №6 could easily end up being your compression and limiting one stop shop. Given that it’s a free plugin, it’s amazing just how much you can do with it.
There are more than a few producers who think that Limiter №6 is one of the best free limiters available, and it’s not hard to see why. This much control generally isn’t available with other free limiters. Plus, their graphical user interface is very much like that of a real, hardware unit.
Give it a try for yourself and you will see just how amazing your tracks can sound with Limiter №6.
Download: Tokyo Dawn Records
Limiter by kiloHearts
kiloHearts’ Limiter lets you boost your signal without distorting or destroying transients. Whether it’s squeezing the last drop out of your track’s gain, or controlling loud peaks, this simple limiter will put you in a position of power with the loudness levels of your musical projects.
Limiter comes with an in gain knob (applied to the input signal before limiting), out gain knob (applied to the input signal after limiting), threshold knob, release knob, VU meter, settings panel (for preset management), enabled checkbox (for enabling / disabling the plugin), and a resize handle that lets you scale the UI to any size.
Limiter is a snapin, which is a plus for anyone using snapin hosts, as you can combine modular components. Its user interface takes after other kiloHearts plugins, and in this case, that’s a good thing. The flat vector design is instantly appealing and easy on the eyes.
Overall, Limiter is a no-nonsense limiter. It looks good, and it’s very easy to use. Dialing in your desired loudness should prove straightforward with this sound shaper.
If you’re in need of a few other standard effets like chorus, delay, and three-band EQ, be sure to check the kiloHearts for other free VST plugins.
ClipShifter by LVC-Audio
LVC-Audio’s ClipShifter is a wave-shaping plugin that works much like a clipping-style limiter. Whether you want to distort basses and drums (to give them some serious “pump”), or enhance busses and warm up mixes, ClipShifter can become your go-to.
While it can work as a static clipping effect, it can respond to transient qualities of the incoming signal as well. The clipping can be set to rise or fall as the audio level increases. You can adjust the speed with the Attack Time control as well as the Fast Release button.
You can allow the transients to come through while distorting the rest, or you can distort the bass thump while leaving the rest clean. ClipShifter can handle everything from hard-clipping distortion to subtle compression, and shades of grey in between. Experiment until you find exactly the setting your track needs!
In total, you get controls for Clip Shape (hard to soft) and harmonics (even and odd order), standard LVC-Audio metering including VU style, PPM style, and loudness meters, scalable waveform history view with click and drag editing, and undo / redo history, A / B comparison, and cross-platform preset management with import / export ability.
Additional features can be unlocked with the paid version – three-band crossover using fourth order LR filters, independent frequency clipping, mid / side processing, and oversampling with double processing at 2X, 4X, and 8X the incoming sample rate for reduced aliasing.
Overall, ClipShifter is quite easy to use, and it’s highly usable in a mix, even as a tone shaper. Check out the video below to see for yourself.
ClipShifter is available for Windows and Mac.
Unlimited by Sonic Anomaly
Sonic Anomaly’s Unlimited is surprisingly good for a loudness maximizer and limiter. It works on both stereo and 5.1 surround material.
It comes with RMS output meters as well as an ITU-R BS. 1770 compliant loudness meter. Unlimited was created to give you smooth, transparent limiting and compression, while avoiding distortion that’s typical with hard limiting and clipping. But it also aims to preserve the liveliness of a track.
Unlimited features a nice GUI, especially for a plugin that’s free. It has a smooth, metallic look, along with orange sliders and faders. It’s incredibly easy to use because of its balanced layout. Dialing in your perfect tones should prove easy with Unlimited.
There’s not a whole lot more to say about Unlimited, but check out the video, and give it a try for yourself to see what it can do for you. You can get it as a 32-bit or 64-bit VST for Windows.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
LoudMax may not look like much, but it’s a look-ahead brickwall loudness maximizer that promises a clean, transparent tone. It keeps the original character of your music, even with heavy compression, while giving you more control over the loudness of your tracks.
Designed with mastering in mind, LoudMax features controls for threshold, meters for input, output, and gain reduction, gain reduction meter with peak hold marker, link button (couples output slider with threshold slider), and ISP button (inter-sample peak detection) for true peak limiting.
LoudMax is available for Windows and Mac.
W1 Limiter by George Yohng
George Yohng’s W1 Limiter may well be a legacy plugin (it doesn’t seem as though it’s been updated in years), but for all those times we need no-nonsense limiting, we love to take advantage of it. Plus, it’s very simple and beginner friendly. The results are practically instantaneous, and easy to tweak.
The W1 Limiter only has a few basic controls – threshold, release, adaptive release, and ceiling. The plugin is supposedly in “Beta” mode, but it does what it’s supposed to do. It’s more than competent in practice!
For podcast loudness optimization, you generally don’t need anything fancier than this. I use other solutions for speech, but for intros, musical bumpers, and so on, I always use the W1 Limiter to dial in the ideal loudness level.
If your DAW already has a capable stock limiter, then you may not need this. But many stock limiters are a little limited (nice play on words there), and W1 Limiter is a step above many.
The W1 Limiter takes after Waves Audio’s L1 Limiter, and it comes with all the same controls besides. Not just that but the results you get are almost identical. Since the L1 Limiter (nowadays they have the L1 Ultramaximizer) costs a bit of money, it’s great to see that there are free equivalents that work just as well.
It’s not fancy, its design is basic, it doesn’t have a bunch of modules, there isn’t any extra tweaking you can do with the W1 Limiter. But overall, it’s a quality free plugin. Respect.
Download: George Yohng
easyLimiter by Saschart
Saschart’s easyLimiter was created to make the process of mastering easy. Saschart studied wave attenuation of high peaks, which create rattle, crackling, distortions, and other unwanted noise.
easyLimiter offers a clear and smooth sound, look ahead (peak detection), attack attenuation envelope, release attenuation envelope, stereo link, and left and right attenuation with memory storing. easyLimiter is also light on CPU usage.
Its graphical user interface is old school to say the least and is clearly a product of its time. Let’s just say they didn’t go easy on the gradients, drop shadows, and layer styles. That said, it doesn’t look terrible, and it’s clear a lot of time went into it too.
easyLimiter, amazingly, is available as a 32- and 64-bit VST, as well as a Mac AU or VST.
The video below compares easyLimiter to many of the other free limiters we looked at here, so if you want to get a sense of what each of the VSTs can do, and how they compare to each other, it’s worth a watch.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
Limited-Z by LVC-Audio
This is the second LVC-Audio plugin on this list, but what can we say? They know their way around mastering, and they have multiple products suitable for different purposes.
Their Limited-Z VST was created as an easy-to-use limiter with lookahead brickwall functionality. That makes it perfect for final mixing or mastering.
Combining several distinct limiting algorithms, Limited-Z can give you transparent limiting, even at high levels of compression. This plugin was based on their full-featured premium mastering limiter, Limited-MAX.
Limited-Z comes with Spectrum Analyzer view, waveform history view, user-changeable colors for all elements of the waveform history and spectrum analyzer, configurable default settings, ISP filtering and indicators, true peak output monitoring, and two new limiting modes.
You can extend the feature set with the paid version, which includes oversampling modes (minimal and linear phase, HQ and LQ modes, and selectable rates – 2x, 4x, 8x, 16x), continuous CIELING control from 0 dB to -1.5 dB, switchable waveform and VU metering modes with K-Metering and EBU, user configurable X / Y controls, and switchable secondary metering (reduce level, input level, and relative distortion level).
Limited-Z’s graphical user interface puts visualization first, controls second. Those who like to see visually how they are altering a signal will love this feature.
You can get Limited-Z for Windows and Mac.
What Is Limiting?
What is a limiter? Even if you know that it helps boosts levels and it can increase the loudness of your tracks, you may not know exactly what it is or how it works. I didn’t, even after years of experience in music production. So, here’s a succinct explanation that will help you understand the world of limiting a little better.
Obviously, the name itself says a lot already. A limiter limits. In this case, though, a limiter specifically limits the dynamic range of an audio signal. There are differences in volume across your mix – this is what is meant by “dynamic range.”
Limiting is a lot like compression, though less subtle. You could even call it ultra-compression or something else along those lines.
Limiters were originally used to safeguard your track against clipping. A limiter cuts everything below the threshold you set. And limiters are still used that way.
But more than ever, limiters are used at the mastering stage to boost the loudness of a final mix, so that its overall loudness is competitive with commercially available tracks. The so-called “loudness wars” are still alive and well, even as streaming services began normalizing audio.
When Should I Use A Limiter?
This guide obviously offers some clues as to where you might employ a limiter. But the two most common times / places to use a limiter is when you’re mixing or mastering your track (or both).
In mixing, limiters shine as a creative tool to boost the volume of a specific sound or track. This can even be done with entire groups of tracks! A limiter can also be used to tame tracks that are too dynamic or too dynamically unpredictable.
In mastering, limiters are used to boost the perceived volume of the entire mix. A limiter can cut peaks without changing the subtleties of the performance (transparent limiting). But if you want to pump things up a bunch, limiters are powerful enough to handle that type of application too.
And, as we’ve already seen, there are limiters, like Frontier, that let you add saturation or gain to your tracks too.
If you push a limiter too far, your track will seem to separate, “unstick,” and fall apart, though. And it’s probably unlistenable in that state anyway, so there would be no practical reason to go that far.
Top Free Limiter VST Plugins, Final Thoughts
You should be in good hands with any of the above free limiter VST plugins. These are all great limiters, and while they do vary in functionality and quality, they can all help you boost the loudness of your mixes, so they are ready for wider consumption.
Although limiting is nowhere near as sexy as something like reverb or auto-tune, it is an essential effect. So, be sure to outfit your VST library with the tools you need to make your mixes sound lush and huge.