As I mentioned on Friday, DDMF – who develop audio plugins for desktop-based musicians – have added a further app to their range of iOS-based audio processors. In this case, it is their limiter processor called NoLimits. This is really designed as a ‘mastering’ limiter – to be used as the last processor on your stereo output bus of a DAW/sequencer project – and to provide a combination of (usually gentle) level taming along with (if required) raising the average level of the output to create a mix that, overall, is a little (or maybe even a lot) louder.
DDMF and developer Christian Siedschlag will be familiar to Music App Blog regulars as I hae reviewed their two other iOS AU plugins 6144 EQ and Envelope Reverb. Both of these are very capable audio processors in their own right but, given the desire from many iOS musicians to see the AU plugin format really take hold, the fact that both are also available as AU plugins only is also of considerable interest. Both are also ports from desktop equivalents.
6144 EQ is a AU-only format equaliser plugin whose inspiration was the highly regarded Neve 5033 hardware EQ processor. Envelope Reverb is perhaps less directly related to a specific bit of original hardware but it provides a very good algorithmic reverb effect. Both apps worked very smoothly for me when used within AU hosts such as Cubasis and AUM.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, there’s NoLimits
The latest addition – NoLimits – is priced at UK£9.99/US$9.99. It is a universal app, requires iOS9.0 or later, a suitable AU host and it a 36MB download. The design of the UI is very much in the ‘vintage analog hardware’ style and I expect that’s exactly the vibe DDMF are trying to suggest that NoLimits will create in terms of the processing offered.
With one exception, as far as I can tell, the iOS version is identical to the desktop version. That one exception is that the iOS version doesn’t include the ‘Advanced’ button that is found in the desktop plugin. The reason for that is not that the iOS version doesn’t do the ‘advanced’ features; it does, but these refer to the four additional rotary knobs along the bottom of the iOS AU display that are permanently shown. In the desktop version, the Advanced button simply toggles the display of these controls on/off.
Oh, and there is a second difference; the desktop version is priced at €34, so it is about three times the price of the iOS version… so I guess iOS users will not complain too much about the App Store pricing given that context :-)
At a simple level, a limiter can be thought of as a compressor but with a fixed, and high, compression ratio; essentially, audio that exceeds the set threshold is curtailed so that… well, it gets pretty much squashed. In practice, things can be somewhat more complicated/sophisticated than this but, even so, the control set for NoLimits is not going to keep too many folks awake at night trying to fathom it all out. That’s a good job but, if you do want a peep at the short manual, then you will need to download the desktop version I think as I could seem to find a way to access this from within the iOS version.
The two virtual VU meters show you the gain reduction (how much gain reduction the limiter is applying at any given moment) and the peak volume level after gain reduction. If you start by toggling off the AutoGain button, and then gradually reduce the Threshold knob setting (so it becomes more negative), you will start to see the GR VU spring into life; lower (more negative) Thresholds will mean the limiter kicks in at ever lower volume levels and you get more ‘squash’.
How far you push this is a matter of both taste and, in the end, sonics; go too far and you may well start to hear some audio artefacts and you would, eventually, just flatten the dynamics of your audio; not a vey musical thing to do. However, with NoLimits used as a final processor on my stereo output bus, with a couple of example mixes I was between 3 and 6 dB of gain reduction without any obvious signs of audio ‘damage’. I also didn’t really notice a great deal of ‘colouration’ by the plugin…. maybe things felt just a touch ‘warmer’ (more analog?) but this could simply be a bit of wishful thinking on my part. Subjectively though, I did like the sound….
So that’s the ‘gentle smoothing out’ part of the process…. You then simply engage the AutoGain button and, odds are, NoLimits will give you a goodly dollop of extra level and the Peak VU will spring into life (if it had not already; that depends upon how hot you mix in the first place). Louder might not always be better though so do make sure that, at that higher level, the Threshold control doesn’t need a further tweak to produce a more gentle result.
That may be all you need to do but, if you want to finesse the limiting process a little further, the four ‘advanced’ rotary knob controls give you some options. The Lookahead control allows you to let NoLimits peek forwards in time to see what’s coming in the audio signal so that it has more time to work out the best (most transparent) way to handle it. This does, of course, mean a little extra latency in playback but, for mixing purposes at least, a extra 1ms or two probably won’t be such as issue and, in principle at least, should produce a smoother end result.
The Attack and Release knobs, as with a compressor, will change how quickly the limiting is either applied as the threshold is exceeded, or removed as the signal drops below the threshold. Tweaking these is something to be done by (careful) ear. Too fast an Attack will squash your transients (for example, on drums) while too slow a release might lead to a rather flat dynamic. Set a faster release and you can get things to ‘pump’ which might make NoLimits a decent candidate to stick on a drum buss as well as a master buss if you like your drums deliberately overcooked. Finally, the Ceiling control allows you set the absolute peak level to give you a little bit of headroom on the safe side of 0dB and digital distortion.
Oh, and if you are rendering your mix through NoLimits, you also get a dither option…. which should help keep your bit reduction from adding too much digital nastiness to the finished audio file if you don’t have dithering provided by your AU host or another app in your signal chain.
NoLimits in use
I had no technical issues using the app, either in Cubasis or AUM (which happened to be the main places I did my own testing). As with a number of AU apps, the preset system is not (in this version at least) functional. That’s perhaps not such a big deal given the relative simplicity of the control set but, even so, a few ‘starter point’ presets might be helpful for those less experienced users.
Used in its main role – as a master bus limiter – I must admit I rather liked what NoLimits did to my example mixes. Maybe it was just the source materials I happened to be working with but, in comparison to the Limiter built into Cubasis, for example, I certainly preferred the results I got with NoLimits. It seemed smoother even when set to push the mix a little harder.
I also tried the app across my drum buss and, while that might not be it’s best use – and I’d prefer the additional flexibility of a compressor in that role – used to add just a bit of punch and level, it did a pretty good turn.
Based on all these DDMF iOS ports so far, I really hope that others might follow and the obvious candidate that would be on my personal wish list is their NYCompressor. A ’boutique’ style compressor as an AU plugin would be good to see….
I can imagine almost any iOS musician finding a home for NoLimits though. Whatever the audio context, stuck across your main stereo output just before your audio leaves your iPad or iPhone and appears in the wider world via your playback system, this is the kind of plugin (AU host permitting) that can be put to service in a whole range of contexts. Used gently, you can easily add a gentle sense of ‘glue’ to your sound, and perhaps also a few dBs of level, without the processing being at all obvious. And, if you really want to push harder….? Well, NoLimits seems to let you push pretty hard indeed before anything really obvious becomes apparent…. although, for some, really obvious might also be used in a creative fashion.
You will, I suspect, already have limiting options built into your iOS DAW/sequencer, and maybe also other 3rd party apps that can do a similar task. If that’s the case, then you couldn’t really describe NoLimits as an essential purchase. It is, however, very good at what it does so, for those prepared to indulge there dynamics toolkit and happy to pay for an extra option, it is most certainly worth the price of entry.
DDMF appear to be hitting a decent stride with the iOS music apps. If you haven’t checked out the original reviews of either 6144 EQ or Envelope Reverb then do so…. both a very good and well worth a look. Otherwise, check out the video of the desktop version of NoLimits embedded below…. then just hit the download button to find out more. Looks, and sounds, very good indeed.