Elephant is an excellent brickwall limiter, staying in line with the design and workflow of all Voxengo VSTs. The interface is utilitarian and ergonomic, if not sexy. It features a real-time wavform graph as a visual aid on your sound's transients, adjustable metering, and the statistics one would need in mastering applications or when reference levels for sonic consistency are important, along with end-of-chain functions DC filtering and dithering.
There are lots of good Mastering Limiters out there that are free, cheap, or are DAW defaults, as are there general dynamics processors with brickwall functionality that work great in the same capacity, such as Cytomic's The Glue when peak limiting is engaged.
So why Elephant? It comes into it's own if you put the time in to learn it's algorithms and settings in order to get that extra "three percent" or so. With conservative gain reduction levels, say, a few dB on a buss, playing with the settings is really placebo-ville to me, and I don't necessarily detect a difference between varied capable plugins. Hitting it hard, though, is when being careful with the controls, learning the sound of the different algos and settings, can make the difference between Elephant and other limiters, whether it's the ability to push your sound a little bit louder without noticeable degradation than would be otherwise, or to impact it in an audible, musical fashion. When you go heavy,
It's a flexible pluggie, great on flattening the tops of vocal tracks, drums, anything with overbearing dynamics that need to be whipped back in line. I like using Elephant in a track chain with the threshhold pulled low when designing synth sounds or browsing presets, or trying out different drum sounds in a sequence, both a safety limiter for my ears/speakers, and to more comfortably monitor with consistent levels.
"El Uni" mode works as soft-knee, providing the most transparent gain reduction, and can be extra smooth when release is engaged and is set to match the music. Whereas "clipping" mode is aggressive, but, with oversampling engaged, akin to running red into a fancy hardware converter more so than harsh DAW clipping (within reason). Try it on snare tops. I like clipping mode when the music is already grungy such as drum sequences with already-heavily processed and abused samples.
If you would have *fun* tweaking out controls, and it's worth it to you to put the time and money in to get your sound only a few degrees better, I recommend Elephant as a premium Brickwall Limiter.
I tried several other maximizers and I can say Voxengo Elephant is clearly superior, it offers several ways to process audio depending on the material you are working on.
Elephant's sound is very clean, very professional and very stable.
I highly recommend this plugin. If you are accustomed to freeware maximizers and you think they have a good sound quality, then you MUST try Elephant! You'll hear the difference.
You will be able to go louder and still get a clean sound.
As for the CPU usage, it depends on the settings you set, you can use a light, yet clean settings to maintain CPU usage low and when rendering you can turn on all Elephant's features for a better mastering.
The documentation is very good, it covers all aspects of it, including explanations to help user to choose the best shape and speed values depending on the sound material.
I also think the price is more than fair considering the ammount of features Elephant offers, other similar plugins can cost as much as $600 not to mention hardware units.
Voxengo have been accumulating quite a good reputation for their effects plugins. They offer handy demo versions and are active in supporting the products in forums such as KvR. About the only negative thing I can say is that the sheer range of effects can be a little daunting. Some of the effects do seem a bit esoteric and leave you wondering just where you would use them in a mix.
I tend to prefer 'plug-n-mix' style effects rather than hundreds of (mis)tweakable parameters. Elephant has a simple control surface and a bunch of handy, and well named presets to get you going. Applied to an old project, I could hear the claims were true right away. Elelphant limits with very few artifacts (such as volume pumping etc). The EQ of my mix remained uncoloured but could take on anything from subtle limiting to 'boy thats too much' loudness. A mid-ground preset on dance style material produced a much louder sounding mix without any loss of clarity and 'punch'. lower settings used on an ambient style track were more subtle but still gave a very nice boost to the mix.
At a mere $69 (and available with other Voxengo plugins as bundle deals) it seems very good value. It does what it says on the tin with little fuss but a lot of quality. Stability has been excellent under Nuendo and Wavelab with no hangs or unwanted noises.