This is the era of loud. A brickwall limiter is pretty much required to make a mix “dense” enough (loud) to compete with that of what the big boys are cranking out. So today I’m taking a look at the free Aradaz Maximizer to see how it compares with the very popular Waves L2 brickwall limiter.
The Arazad Maximizer is written by RecordingReview.com member Aradaz who also wrote the Free VST Guitar Plugin – Aradaz Amp 2 White. After the success with the guitar amp plugin I figured I’d give the Maximizer a try. I must say that I’m very glad I did.
Let’s Talk About Brickwall Limiters
For newbies, a brickwall limiter is a bit different than that of a conventional compressor or limiter in that they are designed to be super, super fast and highly transparent. While many compressors are designed to add color and “vibe” to a track, a brickwall limiter is only there to knock the peaks off the music and then automatically boosts the level of the mix to the threshold you set. Most compressors arne’t infinitely fast and therefore will let some of the signal past a specific point. The modern brickwall limiters are designed so that absolutely nothing goes past the threshold. Basically, brickwall limiters allow you to boost the RMS volume of a track to as loud of levels as you please. The cost is a mix can be distorted beyond belief if you overuse it.
A lot of beginners in audio recording land are not sure how to get their mixes loud. While there is a lot that goes into getting a mix loud, these days it’s very difficult to do it without placing a brickwall limiter at the end of the chain. I typically place a Waves L2 across the last insert on a mix and when the mix is getting close to being finished, I start the smashing. There is debate as to whether a person should use a brickwall limiter during mixing, but I’m of the opinion that brickwall limiters do damage and having the option to accommodate problems that get brought to the surface via brickwall limiters is a great way to reduce that damage.
The Aradaz Maximizer 5
The Aradaz is a free VST plugin. The controls for these brickwall limiters are fairly straightforward. You have a threshold, which is most important. You have an output which allows you to turn down the output if you so desire. (Some people believe that hitting 0.0dB sounds bad on some converters and then only output their mixes at -0.1dB.) Aradaz Maximizer 5 also has a “Character” knob. When I used the Aradaz subtly in the mix, I really couldn’t hear too much of a a difference. When I distorted the mix all to hell, the difference was HUGE. With the character set to 0.0, the thing was distorting like crazy. It’s distortion was much more obvious that the Waves L2. With the character turned all the way up, the distortion went away and the low end seemed to get bigger in a good way. If I really wanted distortion on a mix, I would have mixed it that way, so I just keep the character all the way up.
So how does the Aradaz Maximizer 5 stack up against the widely acclaimed Waves L2? First of all, it needs to be said that in a normal mix, I don’t limit THAT aggressively. I’ve never cranked a brickwall mixer to “Nuke” for the interesting color like I’ve done many times with compressors on individual tracks. A brickwall limiter is a utility that replaces peak normalization for me and gets me a few extra dB in the process. (There is ZERO use for RMS normalization for me.) So with that said, the differences between Aradaz Maximizer 5 and the Waves L2 are fairly subtle.
Listen for yourself.:
The Raw Mix – No Limiting
Mix After Limiting With Waves L2
Mix After Limiting With Aradaz Maximizer 5
In order to bring out this subtlety I did two things. After including the initial settings which I thought were appropriate for the mix, I then set the brickwall limiters to distort on purpose by setting the threshold to a setting that was just ridiculous. This makes it much more obvious as to what each plug in is really doing to the mix.
Distorted Mix – Waves L2
Distorted Mix – Aradaz Maximizer 5
I also took the initial master of each brickwall limiter and flipped the phase on one. This cancels out any thing that is common or the same in both tracks and only leaves the difference. It was good to know that neither compressor added any coloration at all when the threshold was not exceeded. This is good. It mean that each plugin is transparent until the actual limiting takes place. So when we listen to these, we need to make sure that we are are listening closely to the way the peaks are handled.
Phase Cancelled Difference Between The Two
As you can see, there is quite a bit of difference between the two tracks. What does this really mean? Oh, I don’t know. I’m of the opinion that if I really have to flip the phase of the tracks to hear a difference, the difference isn’t excruciating.
I’m very pleased with the Aradaz Maximizer. I would have been impressed if, at the price of free, it had came close to the Waves L2. I think it’s better. By much? Not really. This is a subtle process anyway as far as I’m concerned. It is better enough that I will be using it instead of the Waves L2 even though I paid for the Waves L2 back in the day.