16 – Waves L2
The L2 is unique among our list. This ‘ultramaximizer’ (essentially a look-ahead stereo mastering limiter) is the only digital unit to make the cut. Compression is one of those areas where DSP-based units have traditionally been noticeably inferior to their analogue counterparts. Only very recently have plugins caught up with analogue technology when it comes to controlling the dynamics of a signal. So what makes the L2 special?
In the era of aggressive loudness, the appeal of the L2 is obvious: it makes tracks louder. Simple as that. As such, it’s become a go-to weapon in many mastering engineers’ arsenals. Under the covers the L2 works like any other limiter, by effectively reducing the peak signals in a mix so that everything can be amplified in order to increase the average loudness.
But how does it actually sound? Let’s just say you’re not buying the L2 for its character. When pushed hard it’ll happily destroy the dynamics of your track, introduce distortion and eventually create the most horrifically clipped, harsh sound you can imagine. But that doesn’t stop it being one of the most popular pieces of outboard among mastering engineers looking to squeeze that last fraction of a decibel out of a mix.
If you’ve ever compared your own mix with a chart hit and wondered how they’ve managed to push the mix that loud then you can all but guarantee that a maximiser like the L2 has played a pivotal role somewhere in the mastering chain.
The one major downside? It sounds virtually identical to the plugin on which it’s based. But that’s good news for the rest of us; if you’re not setting up a hardware-based mastering studio, the much cheaper plugin will probably do the job just as well.