Fabilter Pro-L and PSP Xenon Joint Review
So I know what you are thinking: “What are you playing at writing a joint product review?”. Well I think this is the only truthful way to set out my thoughts on the two limiters that I instantly reach for on a mastering project. They are both FANTASTIC plug-ins and either one would service you really well on any master. However they both have some features that lend themselves to some genres/mixes more than others.
There are tons of limiters out there. It seems that making a hard limiter is just a license to print money, the novice mixing/mastering engineer often views the limiter as the way the pros get volume. First off this urban myth is quite frankly just not true, almost any big time mastering engineer will tell you: “A hard limiter is a great tool to get extra volume out of your masters but pushed too hard and it will ruin your mix”. What most in-experienced mastering engineers do is hear a commercial release and push the limiter until it is at an almost comparable level, at which point it is doing so much gain reduction that the mix has just turned to a square wave mush of noise rather than music. I am not going to go into detail about how to get masters loud, but there are tutorials on their way for that. However what I will say is that a mastering engineer will VERY RARELY use more than 3dB of gain reduction on a limiter.
So why is the PSP Xenon and FabFilter Pro-L right at the top of their class? Well quite frankly they are both very controllable in-depth limiters that offer far more flexibility in tone and transparency than both the standard Waves L3 and Sonnox Limiter. The sound ultimately benefits from this (any new mastering engineers i’d strongly recommend you read the operational manuals rather than trying to guess with them). In my opinion the Sonnox limiter is just a little “too coloured” especially when used in-conjunction with their Inflator plug-in (which is another staple of my mastering procedure) and the L3 sounds brittle and thin in comparison.
So even though I audition both these limiters on each master I do, I have noticed a few trends on when I tend to use them. The PSP Xenon generally gets the nod when I have the need for a little bit more “warmth” to the master which lends itself well to acoustic music, Jazz, Blues or classic rock. The Fabfilter Pro-L has commonly found its home on Metal, Dance music, Hip-Hop or other general applications where I want transparency whilst wanting to drive the signal harder (even to slight pumping levels sometimes).
Two major sonic positives that these limiters both share over most of their competitors is the ability to limit each side of a stereo signal individually (or equally somewhere in between if desired) and the auto-output riding so that you can easily A/B the signal pre-post limiting to check for negative dynamic differences.
Another big plus point that both these limiters have in common is that they both feature K-System metering. This system was designed by Bob Katz a world renowned mastering engineer (and author of the highly recommend Mastering: The Art and The Science) to help standardise overall volume levels in music and stop the growing trend of just trying to make the music “loud” and thus losing dynamic content.
More info on this can be found here:
to avoid waffling too much I am going to list a few key pros of the sound of each limiter in comparison to each other to try and help you decide on which limiter would be the best for your needs:
- Sounds warmer and more analogue
- Seems to add slightly more volume to masters with less driving
- Its levelling control allows you to easily retain dynamics between loud and quiet passages
- Slightly more control of how the signal is affected with the preset transient algorithms
- Sounds more transparent
- Handles being driven harder better
- Its release meter and Inter Sample Peak detection visualises what the limiter is doing
- X4 oversampling compared to Xenons X2
To conclude these two limiters really are head and shoulders above any other limiters I have tried and I really cannot separate these two. So much so that they each get used on roughly 50% of my masters and will ultimately get the same plug-in rating. My recommendation is to trial both or better still if you are serious about mastering buy both of them.
PSP Xenon Plug-in Rating [9/10]
Xenon is available here:
PRICE – USD 249.00 (currently £156.32)
FabFilter Pro-L Plug-in Rating [9/10]
Pro-L is available here:
PRICE – £149