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Compress going in?

Discussion in 'Recording' started by mmallett, Apr 4, 2003.

  1. mmallett

    mmallett Guest

    Clarification needed...

    In the digital domain, do I need to put any compression on acoustic guitar, or even vocals for that matter, when tracking, or can I simply wait till mixdown?

  2. audiowkstation

    audiowkstation Active Member

    Make your solo instruments (channels) sound like the real thing. If it takes some compression to make them fit the 2-bus, use it. Say away from master 2 mix compression if you can. The mastering stage is best for that. Compressing certain track(s) is/are needed. Often times, a bass line has so much dynamics that global compression of the bass track is a good idea to hear all the notes, phrasing and finger work. Use your ears. Make the solo tracks proper before the mixdown...then find a way to fit and mix them into the realm.

    Ps, I always record raw and do anything else to the channel tracks prior to the mix.

    Post recording efx..prior to mix is the way to go. You cannot undo an improper efx recording.
  3. mmallett

    mmallett Guest

    Thanks for the reply.

    You have clarified 90 percent of my question. The remaining point is this:

    A lot of guys using analog have compressed as they lay down their tracks to get a bit more level, and contain the peaks.

    My question then is, is this necessary in the digital domain OR can I leave processing (ie. compression) until after tracking (I do not EQ since this can be done after; I always try to get a great sound through mic positioning)? My understanding is there is more headroom in the digital domain. Also, I am concerned about not being able to undo any processing.

    Or do I need to compress vocal peaks before laying it down, or what have you....?
  4. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    I have had success by using an EL OP type compressor, compressing 2 or 3dB off the top going to the hard disc. The other day I tracked drums into DAW and I was very surprised that I needed to compress the kick drum just a bit in order to get it's average level high enough to hear well without having to turn all the other tracks waaay down. I don't know, it may have something to do with the drummer but I don't think so... This recording into DAW is a completely different beast than working on 2" or ADATs! Kurt
  5. mmallett

    mmallett Guest


    Thanks for your reply. Yes, this is a strange domain!

    I can see perhaps drums needing some compression to, as you say, average out the sound a bit. But really, do vocals or picking/strumming acoustic need any, or can (whatever is needed) be added later with just as much sonic integrity?
  6. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    I have found that by using just a few dB of compression as I mentioned, (I'm using a Manley, a pair of LA 4's or a 1178), that nice sound that these legacy pieces have is imparted to the track. If I then need a bit more at mix, I can use the stock plugs in Cubase and it still sounds as if it all came from the Manley or the Urei's.. Even when I used to work on 2" I would take a couple dB off of guitars, bass and vocals going to tape. It sounds better to me to take a little off going in and then a little more at mix if needed. To my ears there are less compression artifacts that way. Kurt
  7. mmallett

    mmallett Guest

    Thanks Kurt!
  8. Doug Milton

    Doug Milton Active Member

    You may also find that using a very low threshold and low ratio (1.2/1 or 1.3/1) with long release times will allow you to gently squeeze the vocal or acoustic guitar without squashing them or accumulating unwanted artifacts. Mostly it will give you a feeling of smoothness….
  9. TheSoundman

    TheSoundman Active Member

    This may be an excellent opportunity to discuss the correct use of compression. We all recognize it as a powerfull tool for live sound and recording events, but how many of us know just how to use it? I certainly don't claim to be an expert, but I do know that any automatic gain control takes away some of the responsability of a qualified human mixing engineer.

    Compressors can be a powerfull tool to "rein in" otherwise hard to control audio signals. On the other hand, they can "squash" dynamics that would otherwise be considered part of the creative process. Other than technical details regarding the correct way to use these tools, how about some input regarding when, how and why to use these tools from a creative standpoint?
  10. mmallett

    mmallett Guest

    I'll try that out Doug. For my style of music, which is new country/folk, I don't want to lose the dynamics of the music. My recordings may not be as loud as others overall, but we try to maintain the open dynamics of the tunes.

    The question, as The Soundman posed is a good one though... why would I want to do this in the first place? And the follow-up to that is, if in a program such as Nuendo, processing like compression can be added after, is there any reason why I would add a touch of compression on the way in?
  11. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    Real world dynamics exceed what any recording system is capable of capturing. Therefore we need to compress a bit going in. By using low ratios, quick to medium releases and only compressing a couple of dBs off the top this is accomplished without sacrificing “apparent” dynamic range. I think you will find that almost all quality recordings have employed some degree of compression in tracking except of course some orchestral or symphonic works. I am a fan of your genre’ , Alison Krauss being a current favorite and I would venture to say that some compression has been used in her recordings with great success.

    Because more processing at the mix stage in DAW requires more CPU power, therefore degrading the signal quality. With DAW when all faders are set to 0, with no EQ, compression or effects engaged, the best quality is attained. Once you start making adjustments, math is required and an additional load is presented to the CPU. In theory, this degrades the sound. So as you can see, if you can do it in analog on the way in, the potential for higher sound quality is increased. Additionally, many would argue that quality compression such as I mentioned in my previous post is of a higher caliber than anything that can be done in a DAW, including external card such as the UAD and TC Powercore assisted DAWs. Kurt
  12. Doug Milton

    Doug Milton Active Member

    Don’t know if this works for you, but I like to think of mixing as a 3-D box. Panning is my width (hard left to hard right and places in between), EQ is my height (low to high frequencies), and depth of field is done with two tools; compression makes things closer to the listener perspective and reverb moves things away from the listener. I want my box to be as large as possible.

    Excluding electronic music (club, hip hop, etc. where most of the sounds are sampler or keyboard sources) I like things to sound the way they look. Sitting in front of a set of speakers, you should be able to close your eyes and “see” a band in front of you. I want my mix to sound like you’re in the front row facing a huge stage. The singer should be up front with the drummer behind him or her, with guitars and keys on the sides. There should definitely be some depth to the mix. I hear a lot of mixes where the kick is disproportionately louder than the rest of the kit and I always ask drummers if they play with their kick 4 feet closer to the front of the stage than the rest of the kit. If not, why’s it sound like that? Similarly, a lot of metal will have the drums very up front in the mix with tons of goop on the vocals. Have you ever seen a singer stand at the back of the stage and try to sing over the band? Then why’s it sound like that. Aaarrrggghhh!

    So back to compression…. Even if you put a little verb on the vocals, you still want the singer to have “presence” in the mix. Doesn’t mean you squash him, just that vocals should have a feeling of being closer to the listener than the rest of the band. Compression moves things forward, reverb moves them back in the depth of field. You have probably never seen a band all stand at the front of the stage in a long row, so don’t over compress and move everybody forward.

    Hope that makes sense…
  13. Bobby Yarrow

    Bobby Yarrow Guest

    If I had Kurt's compressors, I'd compress a little bit on the way in, and I'd use them for post-effects compression too. Given the choice between budget compressors and higher-quality plugins, I use outboard compressors only when I actually need them, and with the extremely low noise of digital, that's pretty rare. I'd rather live with the vague degradation that's logically required when you tape at lower levels than print my sub-par compressors over all my tracks. And I guess that, with the state of the technology, if I was buying something from the manley line, a compressor wouldn't be on the top of my list.
  14. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    The compressors I have are a hang over from when I had my 2" and large format console. I became a compressor pig! I had a whole rack of outboard comps, LA2, LA3's plus what I have now. I still have a rack of reverbs left over PCM 60, 70 & 80 plus an Eventide. I never use those except sometimes I punch up a little PCM 60 on a vocal in the monitor board when I track vocals. But I still use the comps as "front end" when I track just because they sound sooo cool! I don't use them at mix because I feel the degradation of the conversion isn't worth it. I just use the stock compression in Cubase. It works fine, especially if I have put some vintage comp on the track when I recorded. ... Kurt
  15. plexi

    plexi Guest

    When it comes to recording vocals for pop/rock,I always try to compress as much I can get away with, 4-6 dB when tracking and at least as much when mixing. In a rock vocal, dynamics aren`t what you`re after,as they will drown in the wall of guitars, the thunder of the drums etc.... :)

  16. mmallett

    mmallett Guest

    This is excellent stuff guys. The 3D box makes tremendous sense, a great analogy. FINALLY, my question has been answered, and quite eloquently at that.

    What do you guys know about the Behringer (is that a swear word on this forum?) Tube Composer? It is from their Vintage Series; I am trying it out right now.
  17. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    Momieeee! He said the "Beeh" word! Momieeee ! Keep it away from the foam sound treatments! Last thing I heard about some Beh%*#$@r gear was that it spontaneously combusted in an equipment rack! Kurt

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