Sunday, May 13, 2012

Kjaerhus Master Limiter - One knob, much fun!

Today I want to feature a VST Effects Plugin after featuring sound generators only in my recent posts. And as the first VST effects plugin, I want to feature a tool for which it would be an understatement to call it essential. It is the Master Limiter of the free Classic Series by the company Kjaerhus. It seems like Kjaerhus is no longer existant, which is a pitty, because all products by Kjaerhus were allways top notch. So let's have a minute of silence for a company which passed away long before it was time.

What does the Master Limiter? It limits, easy as that! ;) This means, it prevents the output signal from getting too loud and thus prevents clipping and distortion. It simply eliminates those ugly red peaks in the levelmeter. The Kjaerhus Master Limiter does a very great job here, because it doesn't cut everything above a certain level away in rude way, but in a quite soft way, so that most of the times you dont even recognize it. With other limiters I experienced most of the time, that it felt like the sound was bashed against a concrete ceiling. This may be intended by some folks some times, but most of the times it is not wanted.

But that's not all: Der Kjaerhus Master Limiter also has a builtin Compressor, which will pump up sounds, which would otherwise drown in the mix, to a good level. One can pump up the whole mix using the Master Limiter, so it gets more punch. The plugin is, as the name says, mainly intended for usage in the master channel of the DAWs mixer, but it also does a good job in single instruments channels. An unleashed monsterbass, for example, can be tamed by the Master Limiters, so it does not peak. And you can controll the overall level of that monsterbass, so other mixer channels get a chance to be heared. If you do a filter-o-rama with loads of cutoff/resonance craziness, it takes care of that the sound doesn't clip at extreme parts and that the ears and speakers of the audience stay intact. That's one side: The avoidance of too loud signals. But it also works in the opposite way: It happens, that this particular synthesizer sound, which has most of the time just the real punch, certainly drowns in the mix. If the dynamics of that synthesizer sound are not too essential, one simply puts a Kjaerhus Master Limiter on the mixer channel of the synthesizer, and voila: A good level all the time.

Great! A panacea for all sound problems, which turns everybody into an audio mastering genius, right? No, that's NOT true! The disadvantage of using an All-In-One compressor/limiter combination is, that the dynamics of the mix are going more or less down the drain. What is great for Techno, Dub, Dubstep and other rather loud music styles, is not that good for classical music, orchestral music and rather celestial music and flushes the dynamics completely down the toilet. It is therefore advisable to think twice, before one puts a Master Limiter with treshold turned up to the max on each and every mixer channel. That makes only sense if you want to blast your audience away. The compressor takes care of the punch and the limiter prevents the levelmeter from sticking in a always red state.

The operating of the Kjaerhus Master Limiter is grandiosely simple. There is JUST ONE KNOB, which defines the limiting treshold, at which limiting should kick in. Then there is a VU Meter which shows quite precisely how much work the limiter has to do eg. how much loudness was cut off. If this VU Meter is allways half or even fully lit, then one has done something awfully and fundamentally wrong with the mix. One should carefully check all mixer channels then, because something is MUCH TOO LOUD!!! From this point of view, the Kjaerhus Master Limiter is not just a tool to improve the final mix, but also teaches one to avoid limiting by clever mixing. Because limiting is in most cases the result of a bad mix.

Quality: Like with the previosly featured plugins, I can say only one thing for the stability and ressource hungryness: Everything fine here! No problems of any kind. I never experienced problems when using large numbers of instances of that plugin.

Conclusion: Absolutely indispensable! Most of the times it is enough to use the default preset of the Kjaerhus Master Limiter. That one knob has to be tweaked just occasionally. So to work with the Master Limiter, one has just to put it into the mixer channel, and that's it. The software is rocksolid and ressource friendly. If the Kjaerhus Master Limiter did not exist, it had to be invented.


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