Exploring the mysteries of compression!

Profile picture for user ThirdBird
Submitted by ThirdBird on Thu, 05/15/2008 - 09:07

I saw this question asked in the sticky thread, but I believe it got overlooked...

If I want to explore more with a purpose of learning, is there any preferred "order to turn the knobs?" Yes, I know this sounds like I am just looking for instant-gratification settings, but I am really not. I am just wondering if you guys do things such as set the ratio really high, then set the threshold, and then turn back the ratio...and so on. Or is just kind of aimlessly play around until something sounds good?

I think I have a basic but by no means good hold on compression. I have spent some time just playing with knobs in a basic software compressor (Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, Output Gain).

By this time I am rambling a bit, but I do know that playing with the knobs would be more fruitful if I had a goal/desired effect for compressing something. I am still working on that too, but that is a whole other can of worms.

Any thoughts on the wonderful mysteries of compression?

I'm much the same. I know enough of how to tweak it, I'm getting better.
Some of the guys here could probably set a compressor in a heartbeat. And going on a hunch, the big boy's toys probably have more knobs.

Myself, I play the clip, adjust the thresh to how much I want to chop off**, then adjust the ratio, attack, release etc. Then play it repeatedly, watching the meter to see how much comes off, to hear how it affects the sound. And then I keep playing it through.

**this depends - crushing the bulk of emphatic notes, or squashing consistent peaks, or mindlessly destroying all semblance of dynamics are different.

I choose ratio, attack, and release that I think will be in the ballpark, then adjust the threshold to get the amount of gain reduction I want, then adjust the makeup gain. Then tweak one of the first three settings if necessary and readjust threshold and makeup gain to fit. I really find it helpful to take a short, crucial section and loop it while I'm doing this so I can focus on the small changes in the setting.

I was probably ten years into my 'recording career' before I ever got CLOSE to having a handle on the use and abuse of compression.

I dont think I'm a whole lot further on at this stage, but I DO know when something 'needs' compression as opposed to something I might WANT compression on.

In selecting a STARTING POINT for the compressor settings, its always helpful to understand the aspects of the sound you're compressing, what type of sound needs 'fast' attack or release, or what needs slower times, what the effect of the compression is going to do to the whole mix, whether I should compress several things as a whole rather than individual and different rates........these choices are definately something you learn over time and sitting in front of your mixer/computer and simply messing around with this device is the only way you'll ever really 'get it'......

Although some never do.

"Although some never do."
Someone mentioned my name??

I think I picked up after not too long that compressors should be set properly or not at all, and that volume envelopes can be used as a substitute a fair amount of the time. Like a syllable that runs away...

ThirdBird wrote: Care to expand on the concept of a volume envelope?

My guess is that he means that riding your faders correctly can often be used instead of compression - or maybe that people sometime use compression as a substitute for riding the volume.

Dave's comments ring very true for me. I've worked live sound for a long time and recorded seriously for a few years. I feel like I have a limited set of ways I can use compression effectively. Bass, kick, snare, acoustic guitars I can pretty much always help. Vocal I'm not as confident with. Sometimes I make 'em better, sometimes the bypass switch is my friend. It's a long process.

To be quite honest, not only do I understand compression/limiting, I use it extensively. Not only compressing/limiting while recording a track and/or but not necessarily including, compression/limiting the stereo bus,.

But what is really good to know regarding compression and/or limiting is whether your equipment or software allows for the choice of RMS sensing or, PEAK sensing. Those two selections will present you with 2 vastly different sounding dynamics processing function perceptions. The flavor between those two different varieties, be it hardware or software are significant.

Peeking at my Roots Means, I'm Square
Ms. Remy Ann David