Compressor Vs Limiter: A Comprehensive Guide to Differentiating and Using Them in Audio

What's the difference between Compressor Vs Limiter? Plus in this article you will know the right time to use them.

by Derrick Reeves | Updated: November 7, 2021

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Compressor vs. Limiter: Compressors and limiters are both audio effects that are used to reduce the dynamic range of an audio signal.

Compressors make quiet sounds louder, while limiting is used to keep loud passages from getting too loud and causing distortion.

The two devices work in a similar way; however, they do have significant differences when it comes to their usage in various situations.

This article will cover the basics of compressors and limiters as well as how each device works with a few examples so that you can decide which one is best for your specific needs! 

Difference Between Compressor And Limiter

Difference Between Compressor And Limiter 

- Compressor: A compressor is a device that reduces the dynamic range of an audio signal.  

- Limiter: The limiter does this by cutting off any peaks that exceed its threshold. This can be very helpful in preventing distortion from clipping and overdrive during mastering for digital music production, but it also has a downside when you don't want to hear your quieter sounds being cut out too. 

Compressing can help give recordings more punch by bringing up higher levels without affecting lower ones so much; if you're recording vocals or drums then they may sound better with compression applied because it'll make them sound louder - whereas limiting will just bring down all of the highs until they can't get any louder. 

The main difference between limiters and compressors is that limiters allow no volume above their preset level; while compressors are designed not only to control peaks but to raise the average volume.

Fact, Limiters are compressors with a fast attack rate and ratio that is higher than that of a compressor 

Compression is an effect that can help even out extreme levels in your music, so if you have some really loud sounds and then all of the sudden there's something quieter - say like drums following a guitar solo - compression will bring up those quiet sounds without affecting the ones that are already very loud.

Limiting will just cut off anything above its threshold level, which means it'll be able to keep things balanced but not as dynamic." 

We will analyze each type more closely to understand their differences 

Compressors 

- Compressors reduce the dynamic range by lowering the level of loud signal peaks, so they're often used to deal with sounds that have a wide volume range. The compressor will work on just about any audio source from guitars and basses to vocals or drums!  

A compressor works by looking for peaks in volume within certain frequency ranges (bass frequencies below 50Hz, midrange frequencies from 500 Hz to 2000 Hz).

It takes these peaks and makes them lower in volume. So if you're listening to something at a really loud level, the compressor will bring it down so that your ears can handle it without damage.

Compressors Feature

Compression is great for evening out volumes of different instruments with one another and preventing any sudden peaks from happening." 

Compressors are best suited for situations where there's already some type of consistency across all types or signals being processed. 

When using compression correctly, you should notice that there is less variation between the softest parts of your recording and its loudest ones; this means that songs don't jump out at listeners as much during playback but they'll still sound clear instead of muffled.

It also helps control "pumping" effects where louder signals cause quieter signals to be amplified in volume. 

Compressors are classified as "linear" or "brick wall", depending on how they handle the peaks that exceed a threshold; linear compressors will gradually reduce any signal which exceeds the threshold, whereas brick wall ones will either completely block it out at once or only allow some of its sounds through. 

Limiter 

Limiting is most commonly used for mastering purposes where you want every sound in an entire song - even quiet ones like background noise - to be at consistent and identical levels.

A limiter can also do a great job of evening-out tracks without much variation in dynamics as it works by reducing very high peak volumes down into more manageable volumes. 

Limiting is best for controlling overall loudness levels without affecting dynamics, and can also help with digital clipping from causing distortion when you overdrive your audio too much.

If you're producing music from start to finish this could come into play more than if you just mix recordings together.  

A limiter works by looking for an absolute maximum threshold set within its settings (usually -0db).

If the input reaches this setting before reaching zero then output is limited to approximately 0 db. It prevents the user's equipment or speakers from being overdriven and distorts sound quality. 

When to Use a Compressor Or Limiter? 

To increase the volume of your track or vocals, Compressor lowering and raising an audio signal's dynamic range, usually with a threshold value set somewhere between -20 dBfs (0%) and 0dBfs (-40%).

Compressing live recordings will allow you to bring up quieter signals while also making louder sounds more even in dynamics.

Make sure that when using compression on existing tracks not newly recorded for this project that they are all at relatively equal levels so as not to introduce new discrepancies into them after processing has been applied. 

When to Use a Compressor Or Limiter 

A good way to think about it would be like this: When we play our instruments, there are random moments where all notes stop or become muffled because they're being hit too hard when played quickly (this happens most often at higher pitches).

Compressing these signals essentially smoothes out volume fluctuations so what's left is only clean passages instead of rough ones. The resulting tone sounds fuller than if those same riffs were not compressed! 

Even when you plan to use a compressor as a limiter, there might be times when a limiter would be a better option.

The limiter will sound cleaner because it completely removes the unwanted signal above the threshold, rather than just squeezing it down.

Both limiters and compressors can still reduce the output in this scenario, but the limiter can do so with greater efficiency.

In this case, it might have been better to use a limiter but when it comes down to it, it depends on how you want to shape your overall project.

Even so, one should always know what options are available. Whatever, both limiters and compressors are fantastic tools that we have at our disposal in order to achieve that elusive perfect mix. 

FAQ

Should you put a limiter on vocals? 

No. Be sure to work with singers on breath support and any other vocal problems they have, but always be mindful of how much is enough. 

A limiter should not hurt the dynamics of an instrument or vocal sound; it restricts the volume by adjusting the signal's limit when certain pre-defined criteria are met at the same time as instructing a compressor to compress that exceed this level (often signals beginning at -6 dB).  

Use compression for distorted guitar sounds, vocals, bass guitars - anything that needs regular volume adjustment due to its waveform envelope.

Limiters should only be used on instruments such as drums in very special cases because since drums are generally played percussively their sloping waveforms don't require a frequent volume. 

Using a limiter on a vocal track that is too dynamic would be inappropriate.

You would sound unnatural with the high ratio of a limiter. You can easily control the volume of a vocal using a compressor due to its lower ratio. 

However in some cases it can be used for Rap voices 

Should you put a limiter on vocals 

What does a compressor do for live sound? 

A compressor is a device that smooths out loud peaks and turns down softer sounds. 

Compressors are often used to prevent damage from "spikes" or sudden increases of volume within an audio track by turning these louder sections into a more reasonable volume for listeners' ears. 

Should you put a limiter on every track? 

Limiting is a very powerful tool for improving the sound of your mixes, but it's not something that should be applied carelessly.

If you limit all of your tracks on every song then listeners might have trouble hearing where one instrument transitions into another due to the destructive processing almost completely obscuring sounds with soft transients and delicate spectrum peaks.

Generally speaking, if you want to keep your mix competitive with commercial releases then apply to limit sparingly. Otherwise, feel free to use more than one limiter on individual tracks and apply more aggressive ratios as needed. 

Conclusion

The compressor and limiter are valuable tools for shaping audio. They can be used to make a sound louder, or more even in volume.

It is important to know the difference between these two effects so that you don't over-compress your signal during production.

A helpful way to remember this distinction is that compressors reduce dynamic range whereas limiters increase it.

We would love to hear from you about all of the latest updates on our blog posts as well as answer any questions related to compression and limiting techniques. Thank you and follow us for new posts. 

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