Saturday, December 29, 2018

Normalizer vs Maximizer vs Limiter: what's the difference? (With free Vst Plugin)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!

Today we are going to expand our knowledge about Limiters by clarifying a fundamental difference: the difference between a limiter and a maximizer.
Sometimes in mastering suites or in the plugin bundles that comes with a Daw these two concepts are exchangable, like they mean the same thing, but it's not exaclty like that, and today we are going to see why.

We have already covered what a Limiter is: it is a tool that takes a track at mixing volume (usually around -12db) and that sets a ceiling that cannot be surpassed, then with the gain control we can gradually rise the volume until it sounds on par with the commercial tracks (this is if we are using the limiter for Mastering, but we can use it also to tame certain single tracks in a mix).

A Maximizer instead is not only a limiter but it includes also one: it is a tool used to get the most volume out of our recording by applying 2 different processes to our track: a Limiter and a Normalizer.

A Normalizer is a processor that takes the loudest peak of our signal and boosts the whole track until this peak reaches the set ceiling, but the maximizer first applies a Limiter that levels down the loudest parts (according to the a selected threshold) and THEN applies a Normalizer, thus first reducing the dynamic range of the track and then rising the overall volume.
The reduced headroom creates more space in which we can pump up our track.

While a Limiter as we have said can be used also on single tracks during the mixing phase, a maximizer is used almost exclusively during mastering, therefore it often features dithering and other tools made to finalize the track: unless you are using it for mastering, you might want to turn these extra features off.

Which one to use? It depends on the type of music: if the music is very uncompressed and presents a lot of headroom, a maximizer can help in reducing the excessive dynamic range, but if the song is already quite compressed (e.g. edm) the dynamic range can be already little, and a maximizer can end up in creating distortion artifacts and messing with the low end, by producing a "pump" effect that is rarely desired.

My final suggestion is to use a Limiter as a general rule, and to switch to a Maximizer only if the mix sounds still weak and too many loud peaks that eats up too much headroom, but be always very careful in leaving enough dynamic range in your song, or it will become ear fatiguing and less enjoyable.

Today there are many maximizers available for download, both  free and paid, but a free example of limiter is the LoudMax by Thomas Mundt, that can be downloaded HERE.
Let me know what do you think about it!

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  1. Ended up using only LoudMax as a limiter for general use - so simple to use.

  2. Actually it's pretty good, many producers use it!