I work in Ableton and use exclusively the stock plugins. I find them decent enough for what I do and while I know there are much better out there, it’s one of many rabbit holes I have yet to go down in my meandering path of music production. I’m happy to keep it that way - easier on the wallet and CPU!
One exception though may be cropping up in the realm of mastering. In the music I do for myself and with my band, I generally haven’t worried much about either mixing or mastering. I push out roughs of material being worked on to listen to, but either leave it at that or in the case of my band, have a professional do the mixing.
But I’ve had a few opportunities for creating music for licensing come up recently and in this scenario it’ll be my responsibility to mix and master. Beyond what I lack in terms of skills and knowledge in this department, I’m wondering what I can expect in terms of overall improvement if I invest in a 3rd party plugin limiter. I use Live’s limiter to get things to a competitive loudness level and I suppose it does a decent job. I generally keep the ceiling at -0.3 dB and raise the gain until I’m just starting to see peaks up to maybe -4dB in terms of gain reduction. But sometimes even with a light hand, I hear distortion and degradation of the mix quality.
So…long-winded as usual…but what are your suggestions for 3rd party limiter plugins? What do you like and why? Will I notice sonic improvement as an obvious thing, or will I still flounder with a limited skill set? Will I get noticeably louder mixes before the brick wall shitstorm kicks in?
IMHO I wouldn’t spend money looking for any kind of plugins and try to do all the work by yourself. Create a good mix getting as maximum a level between - 6 dB … - 3 dB and then send your stereo file to a professional in order to have a proper mastered track. You said you are going to licence your own music, I think that deserves good quality for the final sound.
I sent just one track to www.deepwidemastering.com and I was happy with the result. Maybe it’s a diferent style but this is my only track I mastered with him:
Hehe, surprising how much you can achieve using Live’s limiter actually. Feels like cheating but it seems to work really well on all sorts…particulary after a compressor with mild settings. Now mostly using Uhe’s Presswerk which works wonders.
I’m consistently impressed with how well the “Intelligent Release Control III” on Ozone 6 behaves.
It comes at a massive latency penalty, adding more than 150ms latency over IRC I, but for getting an extra dB of GR without distorting it is certainly worth it. The Transient Emphasis feature also helps to keep things sounding dynamic yet full.
Sadly, it isn’t exactly inexpensive, though you can find it reduced now that Ozone 7 is out. Having your EP mastered by a pro would probably cost you less.
Ozone 7 is a nice package for entering mastering territory (latency is really no issue in the mastering process by the way), but I would go for standalone plugins instead. Ozone 7 advanced has a very cool codec preview, where you can listen to the encoded version. Its terrific how bad things can sound when encoded with 128 KBit/s and how high the true peaks can come (like +3 db over the original after encoding)
My first tipp to enhance the live plugins would be the Fabfilter Mastering suite. The Pro-Q2 is simply the best Equalizer out there and a BIG improvement over the live one, also the Pro-MB is very easy to work with. Unfortunately they only deliver the first version of the pro-c with the bundle and not the excellent new Pro-C 2. The fabfilter Limiter is also good, but my go to limiter is still the waves L2, which they sometimes have for sale.
To thicken things up a bit, the waves renaissance compressor does the job really well, or if you have an uad apollo, the fairchild 670 is really nice for that job.
Get an analyzer that can check for LUFS and True Peaks, the Toneboosters TB Ebu Loudness does that even in the free demo version.
So all you need for the master chain is
an EQ with linear phase mode
a multiband compressor
a sum compressor with ratios of 1.5 to 2.0
an analyzer for lufs and true peaks
I would strongly recommend to master not too loud. Go for -18 LUFS for the rough mix and -12 Lufs for the mastered mix. When you put your mix on streaming services like itunes or spotfy, they use an automatic gainreduction anyway that is around -16 lufs. The loudness war is over, just ask Bob Kats.
I tend to use a chain of compressors and limiters set up with different ratios to get good control over dynamics. Waves L2 to catch spurious peaks, then a slower mix bus compressor for glue with but with mix control (parallel comp) and finally ozone 5 as a final limiter stage.
Some updates since 2016
waves L2 is getting old, Fabfilter Pro L2 is way surpassing it. you can listen to the artifacts seperately, measure lufs and optimize the attac and release with different algorithms.
brainworks digital eq v3 is great for optimizing the m/s relation
and some new special ki sauce comes from zynaptiq: unfilter can improve the bass and heights a lot. and when you add 5 to 10 percent of intensity, you gain much perceived loudness. but these ki tools arent cheap.
oh yeah and my new superweapon for mastering is a pair of fostex 909 headphones. they sound so clear and detailed and are surpassing the neutral standard sennheiser hd600 by far. really worth the money to analyse smallest imperfections in the mix.
and for comparing your mix with a professional one, the hofa iq analyzer helps to get the frequency distribution right. it can compare two mixes and show the frequency differences in the mid and side section.