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While I joined this forum in Oct 08 I had been a diligent reader for over a year before that and I know that questions regarding compression are almost as ubiquitous as which microphone should I buy or drum mic placement questions. I have read nearly every posting there is including the sticky with TheRealShotgun's excellent response, a slew of online articles and feel that I have a decent theorectical understanding of the controls involved. I have experimented myself with somewhat disappointing results.

What I was hoping is that one or two of the more experienced audio engineers might post some 10 sec wav. files of raw and compressed examples, like say a snare, a bass line, perhaps a vocal. Perhaps even some examples of over-compressed files. The problem I seem to be having is not knowing exactly what it is I should be listening for. I was hoping to help train my ear.

I hope that this does not come off as rude or snobbish but if you don't have ten years plus experience and are not really an engineer full time I would rather you did not reply. I know that this is a time consuming request requiring more than simply typing a quick reply and if necessary I would be glad to pay for this I really just need some help here. The two professional engineers I would trust in this are not very local and both (Thank God) are very busy. When I was working with both of them and when they have crtiqued some of my work I was told I had a very good ear but that is mostly in balance mixing and EQ which I have a strong background in from doing live sound. Thanks in advance to anyone who has the time to respond.


anonymous Fri, 12/26/2008 - 15:20

OK, so I'm just an ameteur at this, so maybe you won't even read this reply, but I think that what I have to say will be said by the real engineers here anyway, so here goes...

What are you trying to compress? What kind of compressor(s) are you using? Why are you trying to compress, or what are you trying to achieve with compression? These all need to be answered first.

It seems that you aren't asking one specific question, like, "How do I compress a bass drum for a hardcore mix?" But, being a little more specific, at least about the problems you are having, will help. I'll say what you'vre already heard: compression basically levels out bad playing and presses out dynamics. What is there to not understand about that? It just takes practice; like your mother always said: practice makes prefect. Rome wasn't built in a day. Need I go on? :lol: I went from using a lot of compression, even analog compression during tracking, to using minimal compression. I'll compress a bass and kick drum rather aggressively, even during mixing, especially on bass since I'm such a poor bass player. 8) Compression is only going to flatten things out: it isn't going to be a magic button that makes everything sound better.

So, if I have to give some advice, I'd say loop the loudest section of the audio that has the most peaks, and adjust your threshold and ratio together, then choose attack and delay times, then choose how much you want to boost your output. And when compressing instruments it usually seems to be best to compress a dry signal, for reasons you probably already know about. Well, if you read this whole reply by an ameteur then I hope it helped you a bit or that at least you can be a bit more specific in your problem so a better diagnosis can be given by a real engineer. Thanks and God bless.

Space Fri, 12/26/2008 - 15:34

"I hope that this does not come off as rude or snobbish but if you don't have ten years plus experience and are not really an engineer full time I would rather you did not reply."

Well how could it come off as rude or snobbish :) I hope this doesn't come off as rude or snobbish, but if over compression is what you want, listen to pretty much anything done by someone who thinks compression is a requirement. Like myspace or utube,

'Nother example would be your local top 40 radio station.

Hear the difference?

natural Fri, 12/26/2008 - 21:09

Well, NCdan is on the right track.
Like with all these tools, they can be used somewhat transparently to make things sound more...well...for lack of a better word...Natural.
Eq-can correct anomalies of the recording process,
Reverb - can restore liveliness to a dry recording
Compression - can even out the dynamics of a performance.
These tools can be used to create completely unnatural sounds. In which case the sky and your creative muse is the limit.
Now, SPACE has brought up the subject of limiting, which is not quite the same thing. (although some people interchange those terms)

So lets concentrate on the first option.
Before we had compressors, we had to use the fader on the console. You might want to work this way for awhile to get the feeling of mixing that way. It will help to visualize what you want out of your compressor.
Vocals are good to practice with, as they are usually the most dynamic.
With your hand on the fader, you'll see that some of the time the vocal is fine and you don't need to move the fader at all. (No compression is needed.- It's below the threshold)
But perhaps at the chorus the singer starts to belt away and you can see that they are quickly going to overpower the music, so you pull the fader down quite a bit so that their loud parts are only a little louder than the part that was below the threshold.
So now, go and adjust the compressor so that it only starts to kick in when the vocals get to the chorus. In this, more natural approach, we don't want to 'hear' the compressor. We just want the vocal to sit in with the music without jumping way out in front, or getting buried by the music.
After you get the feel of that, you can start to move on to more subtle or aggressive approaches.
Hope this helps.

RemyRAD Sat, 12/27/2008 - 02:50

Its 5: 45 a.m. and instead of sleep? I'd rather talk about limiting & compression as it relates to sleep.

While a lot of folks don't like the sound of limiting & compression. I grew up with top 40 radio. So, most of my rock-and-roll mixes sound like over compressed top 40 radio. Why do I do this? Because it's cool sounding with rock-and-roll. Not cool sounding with operatic & orchestral material. Although I do perceive that the "compression" on numerous web sites is more that of data compression artifacts than dynamic range compression artifacts. But hey, data compression does make things sound screwy. Especially when you've already compressed it and they recompressed it. So, the well explained examples of what you want to hear is still rather awkward, as you are dealing with file sharing programs that can accommodate uncompressed .wav files. Not public social sites.

Suffice it to say that there is as much variety in the use of dynamics processing as there are different microphones out there. This is where us "Professional Folk" have had decades to play with these things. It's like any other musical instrument, practice, practice, practice. Of course, we're not all millionaires living off of royalties. And that normally means, we'll have a limited amount of resources in the variety of units we all have & can afford. We pros have been a little luckier because Time has taught us what we wanted to purchase. It's one thing to read about them. Quite different listening to them. As a matter of fact, we don't always use them to smooth things or even things out. At times, quite the contrary. With a slow attack time & no "look ahead", peaks can get through and be accentuated as opposed to attenuated. I love that kind of talk. And you'll also get to know the difference between the sound of a peak detector & RMS/average/optical type detectors. And that's usually my first decision in the process. With the DBX auto RMS type units, you may not get much control over attack & release? Whereas, with peak detection, you won't find any automatic settings. You've got to know how to manipulate the attack & release times in order to obtain the results you want. There is no other way to know without screwing with it first.

And really, nobody's being funny, rude or snobby about manual gain riding. That's really old school. And I'm from that school. It's quite a challenge to be audibly clairvoyant. But for instance, I never record a rock/jazz/pop vocalist without some kind of dynamics control going to tape/disc, when possible. Well, except for that time I was in Wellington New Zealand during an operatic recording. We finished in four days instead of five. I find myself at a little pub in the suburbs, the next evening, with a jazz band and a lovely female vocalist. I only had eight channels of API preamps (2-3124m's), no EQ, no compressors, no limiters, a PCM 60 & a DAT machine. I had to ride her good and I'm not that kind of girl. I still love that recording. Now, if I could just remember where I put that? I haven't listened to it actually in a couple of years. But that doesn't change anything!

In another instance, I usually put a 1176 on electric bass. But in a recent mix down of multiple live tracks for a client, I found some songs to sound a lot better without the limiter on the bass guitar but pushing the Neve 3115 preamp/EQ up to its fringe where everything got huge. But on other songs? Back to the limiter with lower gain staging for a completely different character of sound. But that huge sound I got without the limiter would not have been possible with a Beringer nor Mackie. So not all is fair in love & war. Nevermore quote the Raven.

Warrior Princess. Ooops? Where's my ShamWow?
Ms. Remy Ann David

jg49 Sat, 12/27/2008 - 05:38

In reply:
I read all replies. As to what I am trying to accomplish, I am presently mixing down a Beatles-Mania live recording from Worcester, Mass. I am trying to get the bass and drums tracks to "sit" better in the mix, I am not certain that compression is the answer. I never thought compression was a magic button. The recording I do is mostly live stuff but I also record song demos ranging from folk to country rock to hard rock, though I am not certain that, that really matters. The compressor I am presently using is the plug-in supplied with Cubase, though I do have access to outboard compressors (I just haven't borrowed them because I can't seem to use well what I have.) Compression is simply a tool in the box of which I have little experience with.
If you want to point me to some particular Youtube or Myspace recordings as bad examples please do so, as far as my understanding all top 40 radio is compressed by the radio stations as well as in mastering before release, and possibly during the mixdown process, I was hoping for more isolated examples. Again for ear training. I will use an analogy as I am a guitarist, manual vibrato is the delicate movement of a string during sustained notes, done correctly it enriches the tone, done to an extreme it becomes a rapid series of "bends" which only pull the note sharp in an undesirable annoying amount. When teaching a student the difference I could talk all day and he would likely never understand but demonstrating the difference he at least has a reference point.
I am definitely old school and riding fader controls is my first approach to the vocal situation you described. The advent of automation has greatly facilitated the ability to do this no longer requiring six hands to simultaneously move faders during mixdown. Your suggestion was helpful though.
Re: Remy
I guess I did not really consider the difficulties of the file sharing process when I made my request. Most of the material I am working with is rock rather than classical, I understand the idea of practice, practice, practice. An example being the lyrical bends that Duanne Allman made seem so effortless. I have been practicing these for over fifteen years, note for note and still can not get to his plateau, but it has greatly improved. It has been the ability to reference my bends against his though that has helped and I guess that was what I was hoping for by having some examples. I was hoping to try and take the raw examples and render them as closely as possible against the compressed ones to better understand the use of the device. This may be unrealistic, I am not certain.

MadMax Sat, 12/27/2008 - 06:40

OK, a bit of a rant is in order... sorry, but the forum title is Pro Recording and if you're a pro, you can handle the heat... or get out of kitchen.

I just find it odd that someone who's done live as much as you claim, that you still have little to no idea what and how to compress different instruments.

Compressors and gates are a staple in live that's right up there with... a microphone.

I strap comps on vox, bass, snare, guts... whatever it takes. Same with gates.

Granted, some of the settings for live can be a bit counter intuitive for mixing a recording, but they're still doing the same thing.

Here's a little DIY exercise that everyone should do...

Create a bunch of duplicate tracks, or do multiple passes and start with a high threshold, light ratio with quick attack and release settings...

Then incrementally go through the different settings, bouncing or outputting the tracks.

Do this with all the instruments you can get an isolated track of. Then do it with a final 2-bus mix.

Should take you several hours to do, but I guarantee you that you'll come out better in the long run, because you'll KNOW what the compressor is doing instead of just doing what someone tells you.

anonymous Sat, 12/27/2008 - 19:39

I am trying to get the bass and drums tracks to "sit" better in the mix, I am not certain that compression is the answer.

OK, so now I have a slightly better idea how to answer with the little experience I have. :D Bass drums and bass guitars generally love compression. BUT, the first and most important thing is the EQ. I'll go out on a limb here and assume that you can find sweet spots for getting a bass and bass drum to cut through a mix? Both of them love low pass filters. That's your first step. You could always just EQ if you're doing live work. So, if the guitar(s) and keyboard are getting the mids and treble, you don't want to boost those frequencies for the bass and drums. In fact, you probably want to cut some of those frequencies, which is why I mentioned a low pass filter. I like searching for a particular sub frequency the bass likes, preferably a bit higher up in the subs, and then giving a light boost there until I get the sound I'm looking for, and then I will usually find a low mid frequency to boost (300?) to give the bass a nice throaty sound. Bass drum goes in the subs. If you do a gentle high pass on the bass right above where you gave a slight boost on a sub frequency, you'll avoid overpowering or fighting with the kick drum. If it's actualy attack you're having trouble with, you can try sneaking on stage and replacing that stupid felt beater with a plastic or wooden beater. Or supergluing a pick to the bass player's finger when he isn't looking.

Honestly, I find that compression used for it's original purpose doesn't help to bring a part more up front -- it just evens out bad playing. Good luck with that and God bless.

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