A compressor and a limiter are critical components of audio production, but while they function quite similarly, they are far from being interchangeable. Read more to learn about the differences between the two.
|The ratio used for a compressor is always lower||The ratio used for a limiter is always higher|
|Ratio: Typically 5:1 or lower||Ratio: Typically 10:1 or higher|
|Mainly used to level out sound variations||Mainly used to prevent digital distortion|
|Commonly used during the early stages of audio production||Commonly used during the final stages of audio production|
|Filters unwanted sound signals from instruments and busses||Useful in making sure that the signal levels are consistent throughout all the track|
A compressor is an electronic device mainly used to process and control the dynamic range of audio signals.
A limiter, as the name implies, is a device that limits audio signals to a particular threshold to prevent overload, which can cause sound distortion, or “clipping.”
Compressor vs Limiter
The two are closely-related features that work under a specific threshold, which is selected and set by users. But while they are equally-important safety nets used by audio engineers, there is still a major difference between a compressor and a limiter.
In audio production, ratio is used to set and control audio signals. Normally, the ratio used for a compressor is 5:1 or lower. In this particular ratio setting, “5” represents the number of dB that should go over the threshold before the audio output rises to “1” dB. Simply put, for every 5 dB of audio signal that goes beyond the threshold, only 1 dB passes through the compressor.
The ratio used for limiters, on the other hand, is always higher. Typically set at around 10:1 or more, a limiter ratio is used to prevent digital distortion by leveling out audio signals regardless of input signal changes. By setting the maximum ratio, a limiter can block unwanted sound that goes over the threshold.
Technically, a compressor offers dynamic control by leveling out sound variations, while a limiter prevents digital distortion, also known as digital clipping. To simplify, if a compressor is like a sandpaper that polishes sound, a limiter can be compared to a brick wall that blocks unwanted signals.
During the early stages of audio production, a compressor filters unwanted sound signals from instruments and busses to prevent distortion. Mainly used for polishing vocal consonants and sharp sounds from snares and guitars, a compressor also gives users maximum control over where a particular instrument sits on the track. However, audio compression is not always applicable to all types of music. For instance, while hardcore music may need track-by-track compression, slow, ambient music may not need compression at all.
A limiter, by comparison, is more frequently used during the final stages of music production. Unlike a compressor, a limiter is not used to even out sound variations. Instead, it is used to make sure that the signal levels are consistent throughout all the tracks.