Difference between a compressor and a limiter
Controlling the dynamic range of individual sounds, groups, and entire productions is necessary for music production, for many reasons. For commercial purposes, a reduction of dynamic range is applied in order to achieve a balanced mix on every listening device. Louder parts are decreased in volume when they cross a certain ceiling. Quieter parts become more audible and the overall range is eventually spaced out. You probably heard of a compressor and a limiter but what do they do? What is the difference between a compressor & a limiter? We answer all these frequently asked questions down below.
‘An electrical device which reduces the dynamic range of a sound signal.’ A regular compressor is a dynamic range reduction tool. Different features are included: threshold, attack, release, makeup, ratio, and knee. Before a compressor will start compressing the incoming signal, you need to set a certain threshold. This is a ceiling from which the compressor will start reducing the gain. Depending on how loud the incoming signal enters the compressor, you can set your threshold. The attack will decide when compression starts to work. If the attack is set at a really short setting, compression will start straight away, but if the attack is set at a longer setting compression will start later. You can decide if you want to compress the transient or the body of the signal. Makeup is a simple gain knob to make up for the loss in volume through gain reduction. The ratio lets you decide how much gain reduction will be applied. It will range from 1:1 to ∞:1. A 4:1 ratio is industry-standard at which 4 dB comes into the compressor and only 1dB will come out. The ∞:1 ratio will be working as a limiter. Last but not least, a compressor has the function to control the knee. This controls how quick compression will be applied after reaching the threshold. Hard knee will apply gain reduction immediately after passing the threshold and soft knee will apply gain reduction gradually after passing the threshold.
A limiter has the most extreme settings of a compressor. Its ratio is ∞:1 which means it doesn’t matter how loud the incoming signal enters the compressor, only 1 dB will come out. A hard knee is included, which starts right away when the signal passes the threshold. The threshold functions as a ceiling that cuts off everything that passes it. This extreme form of compression can be used on sounds to add harmonic frequency content or to squeeze the dynamic range to its minimum. Normally, a limiter is used at the end of a mastering chain, to achieve a certain loudness for your track.
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