Compressors vs. Limiters: What is the Distinction?

Compressors and limiters may be robust to understand for newbie producers. And for good motive.

Not like delays and reverbs, modifications in dynamics are generally actually onerous to note.

However on this planet of dynamics, compressors and limiters play a central function. Though comparable, there are some key variations between them. And mastering them will deliver your mixes to the following degree. That’s what we’ll discover on this information!

Collectively we are going to take a look at:

  • What compressors and limiters are
  • What units them aside
  • Sensible instances to make use of one or the opposite
  • One of the best plugins that mix each!

So let’s dive in! 👇

What’s a Compressor?

Firstly, let’s take a look at what a compressor is.

The aim of a compressor is to scale back the sign’s dynamic vary.

Dynamic vary is the distinction between the loudest and the quietest a part of a sign:

the dynamic range of a signal
The dynamic vary of a sign

Some indicators may have a excessive dynamic vary. Others may have a low one.

Notice: dynamic vary also can consult with a full observe, not only a single sign.

Compressors are typically used on indicators with a excessive dynamic vary. The aim right here is to even out the general degree.

Consider a vocal efficiency.

The verse is perhaps quiet and intimate. After which the refrain hits and blows the roof off!

That is the place a compressor would step in:

compressing an audio signal
Compressing an audio sign

After compressing, the loud elements are quieter and vice-versa.

Parameters of a Compressor

Now that we all know what a compressor does, let’s see how it does it.

Each compressor may have at the least the 5 following parameters:

  • Threshold
  • Ratio
  • Assault time
  • Launch Time
  • Achieve

Some compressor plugins may even have settings comparable to “knee” or “lookahead”. However let’s cowl the 5 fundamental parameters first:

graph showing audio compression

The edge is the dB degree at which the compressor is activated.

A threshold of -15dB means something beneath that won’t be affected. When the sign goes past -15dB, the sign will likely be compressed:

Fruity Limiter used as a compressor
The blue line is the edge degree

The ratio units how a lot the sign is compressed.

The ratio is expressed as a relationship between enter and output:

  • 2:1 –> 2dB of improve in enter ends in an output improve of 1dB
  • 5:1 –> 5dB of improve in enter ends in an output improve of 1dB
  • and many others.

Whereas the edge is “when” you compress, the ratio is “how a lot”:

Adjusting the ratio in Fruity Limiter
A compression ratio of 1.9:1

Staying with the identical analogy, assault and launch set “how rapidly” you compress.

These are set in milliseconds. By adjusting the assault, you determine how rapidly your compressor reduces the enter.

Then again, the discharge time will dictate how rapidly the sound returns to its unique degree.

Lastly, the achieve will enhance the general degree post-compression.

This will likely even be known as “output” or “make-up achieve”. Principally, the aim is to “make up” for the amount misplaced by compression:

Adjusting the makeup gain in Fruity Compressor
Boosting the sign by 4dB post-compression

Compressors can be utilized subtly to easy out the peaks of a sound. Or they can be utilized extra aggressively to change the envelope of a sound.

Seeking to be taught extra about compression? Take a look at our guides on sidechain compression, multiband compression, and parallel compression!

What’s a Limiter?

Now that we all know what a compressor is, let’s take a look at limiters.

Limiters are similar to compressors in that they act on the dynamic vary.

The aim right here can also be to manage how excessive a sign’s degree can go. Nonetheless, as an alternative of lowering the extent, a limiter will “restrict” it.

Above this restrict known as the “ceiling”, the extent will likely be capped completely:

Adjusting the ceiling in Fruity Limiter
The inexperienced line is the “ceiling”, above which the sign can’t go

Regardless of how excessive the enter sign goes, the output will all the time be restricted to the ceiling degree.

By the way in which, should you’re on the lookout for a extra in-depth information on limiters, we’ve got you coated 😉

Parameters of a Limiter

By nature, limiters have fewer parameters than compressors. With limiters, there is no such thing as a ratio to regulate. Your essential parameters are:

  • Ceiling
  • Assault time
  • Launch time
  • Achieve

So, coming again to our preliminary query: what units compressors and limiters aside?

So What Units Compressors and Limiters Aside? 🤔

You’ve most likely guessed by now the distinction between compressors and limiters.

Limiters are merely compressors with an “infinity” ratio.

This infinity ratio is usually written as ∞:1. Because of this you would wish to extend the enter by “infinity” dB to have a rise in output of 1 dB.

Virtually, compressors with a ratio above 10:1 are sometimes thought-about limiters:

Limiting an audio signal
Limiting a sign

On this instance, I’m utilizing the next settings on a compressor:

  • Ratio: 30:1
  • Threshold: -30dB
  • Achieve: 10dB

Basically, with such a excessive ratio, my compressor is performing like a limiter.

Nonetheless, limiters have the benefit of clearly setting a dB ceiling.

Compressors and limiters even have completely different sonic traits. A limiter will are likely to have sooner assault and launch occasions. This ends in a extra clear sound when elevating the achieve.

However what additionally units compressors and limiters aside is their use instances.

When Do I Use One or the Different?

We’ve established that the ratio is the primary distinction between compressors and limiters.

When deciding between a compressor or a limiter, the important thing query is how a lot “ratio” you want. For instance:

  • If you should barely tame the peaks of a vocal, use a compressor.

Though there are not any strict guidelines, listed here are some normal pointers.


Should you work with vocals, you’ll actually want a compressor. That is to manage the dynamics of the efficiency. Vocal takes all the time have some quiet sections that you simply wish to enhance. They usually even have some loud ones that want taming!

a singer recording a vocal
Compressors are a should in any vocal chain


In most EDM genres, the bass is the inspiration of your observe. In case your bass is simply too weak, your observe falls aside.

For this reason it’s actually necessary to have a constant degree to your bass.

Relying in your EQ settings, some notes may play louder than others:

an audio signal with different levels

On this instance, I’m enjoying each observe on the identical velocity. Regardless of this, the degrees fluctuate wildly. Utilizing a compressor will assist even out the bass degree.

Bus Tracks

Compressors are additionally usually used on bus tracks.

Bus tracks are the place you collect a number of tracks that you simply wish to course of collectively. For instance, you may need a number of layers in your synth lead. Processing them as one with delay, reverb, and many others. will improve the cohesion.

The identical goes for compression. Use a glue compressor on a bus observe to “glue” sounds collectively.

Right here, you typically wish to go together with “comfortable” compression (2:1 or decrease).

Ableton Live's Gle Compressor
Ableton Dwell’s Glue Compressor

If you wish to dive deeper into glue compression, take a look at our video from Aden right here:

Combine Bus

Limiters alternatively are typically reserved for the combination bus. The aim right here is to extend the general degree of your observe. And also you wish to do that with out clipping or distortion!

Should you’re mastering your individual observe, then a limiter is a necessary a part of your Grasp FX chain.

Nonetheless, watch out to not overdo it. In case your limiter is working too onerous, the dynamics of your observe will likely be destroyed. It’s additionally an indication that one thing is fallacious together with your mixdown.

Undecided what combine bus processing is all about? Take a look at our newest article right here!

Case by case!

My motto with music is that “there are not any guidelines, solely pointers”.

Aristotle Onassis Quote: "The only rule is there are no rules."

Though much less widespread, listed here are another instances the place you may use limiting:

  • Vocals. Within the case of a vocal efficiency with a large dynamic vary, limiting can catch peaks of loud notes
  • Drums. When you’ve got a drum loop the place the snare is consistently banging 5 dB above the remaining, a limiter is perhaps useful.

Ultimately, all of it depends upon what you’re going for.

Genres comparable to lure or dubtsep are “in-your-face” genres, the place the whole lot is upfront. In these instances, utilizing a limiter on particular person tracks may be helpful. Genres comparable to Lofi or Jazz for instance don’t want such heavy compression.

Can Compressor Plugins Additionally Be Limiters?

As a result of compressors and limiters are so comparable, plugins can generally act as each. Let’s take a look at two examples from our favourite DAWs: FL Studio and Ableton Dwell.

Fruity Limiter

Should you’re utilizing FL Studio like I’m, Fruity Limiter is a superb place to begin. One in every of its greatest facets is that it does each compression and limiting:

the plugin Fruity Limiter

This implies you may all the time load it on a single observe or bus. You possibly can then determine later if you should compress or restrict the sound.

Should you’re new to limiting, the visible support is particularly useful. It exhibits you precisely how you might be impacting your sign:

Showing the gain redution in Fruity Limiter
Right here, the achieve discount is clearly seen.

Study extra right here

Ableton Dwell Compressor

Equally to Fruity Limiter, Ableton’s inventory plugin can act as each a compressor and a limiter:

Using Ableton Live Compressor as a limiter

Right here you may see that I’ve pushed the ratio to ∞:1. This primarily transforms the compressor right into a limiter.

One nice function right here is the automated make-up achieve.

By enabling “Make-up”, you robotically compensate the output quantity. This allows you to clearly hear the affect of the compression.

Study extra right here

That’s It For Now!

That’s a wrap for this one. Hope you loved this information and discovered some new tips to use to your music!

Did I miss out on something? Any subjects you’d like us to cowl? Drop me a line at [email protected]


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