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Time to start another little discussion on tracking with or without compression.

In the analog world the need for comression while tracking is fairly obvious. You need compression to help mask the tape hiss. As tape and analog improved compression became more of an effect.

Then when 16 bit digital came out there was the dual problem of the 96 dB signal/noise, and the need to avoid digital overs which create a non-coherent odd- order distortion. Using compressors as limiters helped tame the overs while at the same time made stuff seem louder.

So for the past 20 or 30 years people have tracked with compressors on anything that was truly dynamic such as kicks, snares, vox etc. Some of it was for level management and some of it was for effect.

With the introduction of 24 bit digitzers the available dynamic range increased 256x over 16 bit. This meant that one could track with enough headroom to not worry about overs and still have more signal/noise than any tape or 16 bit system ever had. SO this also meant that there is no longer a need to track using compression accept as an effect.

I elected about 18 months ago to stop tracking with any effects. I use compression and reverb plugins for the talent in their Cue mix so they can "perform to the FX" but I do not print it in the track. I have heard engineers comment that they just cannot get the "punchiness" of an analog compressor from a plugin . While I agree you cannot get the same sound I think engineers are just not aware of how to set a plugin compressor to sound like (dynamically anyway) an LA-2/LA-3 or any other opto coupled compressor. The key is to realize that the opto coupler used in these compressors has a VERY slow attack and an even slower release (they use luminescent back light which light up slowly and turn off slowly) as the light source. Thats why they have so much punch.

So I do not use anything on vocals or drums when I track. I get no overs by keeping 0VU= -14dBFS and tracking at about -14 to -10 dBFS. I also get better than 90 dB signal/noise at these levels and all the detail of 24 bit (you do not loose any bits by tracking lower). My vocalists and drummers really like the results.

I have nothing against using FX in the tracking process I just choose not too. My main point is that compressors and limiters are truly just for FX at this point.

Has anyone else tried this yet?
Is anyone having trouble getting any of this to work?

I will put together some examples of pieces tracked this way later for people to sample.


kent powell Fri, 07/05/2002 - 06:31

I rarely track with comps anymore, but it's mostly out of laziness. I do for vocals because I do want a little squeeze going in though I'll probably do more at mix time.

Some will probably take issue with you on the question of plug-in comps. I agree with your point, though. Dynamics processing is not the necessity it once was in tracking.

RecorderMan Fri, 07/05/2002 - 12:18

It really depends for me. Vocals? always so far (I've got a sweet modid 1176LN...or whatever else is better that the studio is using). Rooms....well rooms for me are usually a "shell" for the kit, and as such, I uasually comp&eq these to get what I want at the time of tracking. The rest? I usually don't compress. Really correct Instrument/location/mic& placement...along with balance against the rest serves me well untill I mix. But that's also because I haven't been at Studio 'A" of the Village for a while (that damn Rick Rubin has had it locked out for a l-o-n-g time).
I also shy from compression when I record because I know I'm going to do it when I mix, and that means when i do it i'm doing it once and right (with thebenefit of having all the tracks to know what gets compressed, how much, what kind, ect.)

anonymous Fri, 07/05/2002 - 20:34

I just went through a six month period where I compressed almost exclusively usingplug-ins but they have started creeping back in over the last month. I am still mostly doing low end stuff like kick and bass, and the OHs and vox go through- actually even ran a reggae guitar through the Valley People recently, but I am still minimizing my compression overall- 1-3 dB mostly.
I am glad to read that some of the big dogs are going uncompressed to tape. Cheers, Doc. Great thread.

audiokid Thu, 07/11/2002 - 17:46

Good thread Steve :tu:

I'm with you on this as well. Been doing no comp for tracking for a few years now and feel there is no need for them in PT. To me it just sounds better to track everything below red (ever!) raw... and keep the faders close to 0 db. I do almost all music with e-toys so I can set volumes easily thus keeping the faders in PT as close to 0db. My sound is warmer a more transparent. After tracks are ready for keepers I use a limiter to boost certain tracks I want in your face. It makes for killer acoustic tracks and other types of instruments that are similar. I find that by using a limiter to boost a track dramatically increases the bottom end and puts it in your face. In the end I use a comp for the final mix for things like vocals.

Guest Sun, 07/14/2002 - 08:34

When Julian was here he stated that he wasn't compressing on the way in anymore either.

I still uses light amounts of hardware comp when tracking vocals and a few other key tracks (like kick and snare) because I like the sound, the artist likes the sound, I'm not squeezing anything to death, and am not particularly frightened of committing to a "good" sound that makes the eventual mix process faster and easier down the line.

But I can certainly see the argument for using "nothing" as well. I guess we all have ways in which we are used to working. I've come to really like and "expect" the subtle touch that the opto/tube Millennia TCL2 adds to my vocal tracks, and I find it easier to get the kick sound I want while tracking through my Aphex Expressor. Could I get the same results if I waited until mixdown? Maybe. But why make my life more difficult if I'm getting what I like right from the start?

anonymous Mon, 07/15/2002 - 06:34

Agree with you on that L.Dog- if ya have a good sound track it.
I am also thinking that changing methods helps one to develop. Compress everything to tape? Do a couple of short projects doing no compression to tape. Compress nothing to tape? Try compressing while tracking. Inevitably the experiment will help when (or if) you go back to your old methods. Just a thought. Cheers, Doc.