Maximizers and limiters both allow you to turn your track or mix up without clipping, but is there anything which sets them apart? Are they two different names for the same thing? Let’s compare the maximizer vs limiter to get to the bottom of this.
Maximizer vs Limiter
What is a Limiter
A limiter is essentially just a compressor with an extreme ratio setting. As I discussed in article on the compressor ratio explained, the ratio determines to what degree audio which exceeds the compressor’s ratio is attenuated.
At lower ratios like 2:1 or 4:1, this gently brings down the peaks which exceed the threshold. This provides a bit of glue and cohesion in most tracks as the peaks are closer to the average loudness of the track.
Alternatively, if we crank the ratio to essentially infinity, then any signal which exceeds the threshold is effectively uniformly brought down to the same output. This makes the threshold essentially act as the “limit” to which audio cannot pass given that infinite ratio.
This is the principle of limiting.
It enforces an infinite ratio which allows you to turn up the gain for that track while simultaneously preventing clipping. This is useful for trying to get more volume out of a finished mix in the mastering stage.
While cranking the gain can result in distortion via too much gain reduction being applied by the limiter, strictly speaking the limiter will still keep the signal from clipping.
Some limiters like the FabFilter Pro-L pictured above offer compressor-like controls of attack and release, whereas others are more scaled back, just focusing on a gain nob and ceiling setting to prevent clipping.
What is a Maximizer
A maximizer is basically just a limiter with more bells and whistles, but more than that its intended purpose is more on doing what it says, or maximizing the volume, typically of a master.
For instance, Ozone’s Maximizer features soft clipping, accounts for transient preservation, and has an integrated attack and release setting called “character”.
Basically you can manipulate these settings to get more LUFS out of your final master at the expense of dynamics and (to some extent) sound quality, or you can preserve these features of your mix to sacrifice a couple LUFS.
It used to operate with a threshold to ceiling relationship in previous iterations, but the latest version of their maximizer has swapped these for an input gain dial to turn up the volume and an “Output Level” for your ceiling.
Maximizer Vs Limiter – So They’re the Same?
So what’s the final verdict in the maximizer vs limiter debate?
Essentially maximizers and limiters are the same thing with varying levels of settings. Maximizers are basically limiters which have been run through the marketing machine to take advantage of everyone’s desire to have louder mixes.
There was a point when they first began being marketed as the sexy way to get more dBs out of your masters when they had a bit more individuality to them over limiters.
Now it’s gotten to the point where, similar to dynamic EQ and multiband compression, the two are interchangeable depending on the plugin.
In other words, some limiters have features which were once more associated with maximizers and vice versa.
We can make the distinction that the intended purpose of each effect varies slightly in that maximizers are exclusively for getting more volume out of your master, but the limiter can be used just as effectively in many cases.
Anyone who tells you differently is probably trying to sell you a maximizer.