Compressors without threshold knobs. Love em'? Hate em'?

Discussion in 'Compressors / Limiters (analog)' started by Mises, Feb 4, 2007.

  1. Mises

    Mises Guest

    Compressors without threshold knobs ("fixed threshold").


    Personally, they piss me off. I don't "get it". First, why would any manufacturer be so lazy as to omit one knob; whats their motivation? Secondly, why would any consumer of said gear want to use it this way on purpose?

    What, if any, is the advantage of this design?
  2. AlTheBear

    AlTheBear Guest

    I assume you are talking about something similar to the Universal Audio 1176 or Manley's leveling amps, because you really haven't said what product you're talking about. In the case of the 1176 and leveling amp there are only Input/Output knobs, and in the case of the 1176, buttons for a set ratio. I personally don't mind the lack of a set threshold knob. A lot of times it's just not necessary. I just set the input pot to a level where i'm getting adequate reduction and the output pot basically functions as make-up gain. I wouldn't use these for every application but for some things it really just makes the difference in fattening up a bass or kick drum.
  3. Mises

    Mises Guest

    Well, many units on the market dont use thresholds and I think its the same annoyance regardless of the particular unit. I guess though plenty of people get along well enough without it. Whats that french phrase: Chacun à son goût. (to each his own).

    For example, the Toft Audio rack mount units use the fixed threshold idea also.
  4. AudioGaff

    AudioGaff Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2001
    Silicon Valley
    Where is ever been stated that a compressor has to have a sepatate knob for threshold? It is not a questions of begin lazy. It is a design choice made be each designer. As long as the compressor does it's job and sounds great, it makes little difference to me. By not having a separate threshold, the designer builds in some specific control and limitation of how the product with perform and sound. Again, that is a design choice.

    If you have to have a threshold knob on your compressors, there certainly are great deal of compresors that do have them to choose from. It is foolish to assume that having more knobs or parameters on a product means that it is going to make it sound better.
  5. Mises

    Mises Guest

    I don't like the idea because it throws off my meticulous gain staging which I am anal retentive about. I use Bob Katz's K-14 metering set-up and I have every gain knob in my entire signal chain set at a elaborately predetermined fixed level which all coincides with the "ideal" average level and a certain SPL level at my speakers at -14 dbFS, so that it doesnt overload the converters on my D/A. I'm not ne of those people who likes to tweak it every single time I record. I set it once, the perfect way... then rarely touch it, because its "perfect".

    Hence, when I go to use a compressor without a threshold knob, it screws up my nifty little system up because I then have to riase the input gain on said compressor in order to to effectively lower the threshold. Thats screwing with the gain knob which I dont like to do. Yeah, I can readjust with the make-up gain knob... but.... ahh... its just not the same.

    Anyway. Like I said, to each his own. Everyone has their own quirky way of doing things.
  6. kooz

    kooz Active Member

    Apr 10, 2002
    not the beach
    if it is indeed perfect, as you've said, there should be no need to touch it at all, ever. I guess this just proves that, try as we do, nothing can ever be 100% perfect.
  7. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    You know Mises...about 2 years ago on this very forum, I ranted and raved about the same thing.

    Then....something happened and I no longer rant about it.

    I bought a Langevin DVC which has just such a beast - a limiter with no threshold.

    I too use K-14 as a basis of metering, however, don't feel as though the K-14 system should *limit* (no pun intended) you in your use of compressors and or limiters. In fact, the K-14 system is designed more to get you paying attention to the **sound** of your system than what the meter itself is doing. (Turn off your meters...use the's liberating!)

    When you know what "LOUD" is on your system and you exceed that, then you will know you have pushed it too far. Also, when you get accustomed to how that particular piece of dynamic range controlling hardware works, you will be able to set it with your eyes closed.

    That's the reason why a lot of manufacturers don't put specific numbers (decibel ranges on EQ or thresholds, exact ratios...etc). Most of the engineers don't really pay attention to the numbers, they go by the sound. Turning the input knob to the right (waaaaayyy to the right) and the output knob to the left will get a VERY saturated, thick sound (assuming the use of some kind of tube or iron transformer) with a lot of compression. Doing the opposite will result in you using the device as a line amplifier (with some coloration inserted by the device itself.)

    Most of us work within the middle of those black-and-whites.

    Seriously - try using a device without a threshold knob, turning off your meters and just listening to what you're getting. I swear, it's an eye-opening experience!!!

    Cheers -

  8. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    I must say...I went back and re-read this..........YIKES...

    I can't possibly imagine getting audio SO tweaked that you never have to touch a knob again and having one device throw all of that out of whack. The ONLY possible way I could conceive this is if you were ALWAYS recording yourself and only yourself doing mundane, monotonous voice-overs.

    Music changes. If you are unwilling to adapt to it because of messing up your gain-staging, something is wrong.

    First, when I do my gain staging for K-14, I do it ONLY at the preamp (that is to say Hi-Fi preamp that I use in the mastering suite, not mic-preamp) the output of the DAW to the DA converter remains constant. Only the volume on the aforementioned preamp alters the ultimate amplitude of the system.

    If I'm recording a classical guitar in one session and then a trumpet in the next, I need to adjust my settings (compressor/limiter, mic pre gain, I'd say EQ, but I never use EQ while recording, etc....)

    How you could not ever adjust these simply baffles me.

    I'm not trying to argumenative or a butt...but please explain.
  9. Kev

    Kev Well-Known Member

    Nov 13, 2001
    not everyone who uses a Compressor or a Limiter is recording

    some people use them to protect their transmitter output,
    stay legal
    and not put audio artifacts into their vision signals
    these may be purpose built or purpose set to suit the transmitter

    or could be for a simple microwave link
    or pod casting ... or internet radio service

    or the pub PA system were the owner doesn't want people touching what they don't know about
  10. bpatram

    bpatram Guest

  11. Kev

    Kev Well-Known Member

    Nov 13, 2001
    There may be application notes that describe component changes ... perhaps even dip switches ... so that these settings could be changed

    some do ... some don't

    the LA2 was a broadcast compressor , I think ... Levelling Amplifier
  12. Mises

    Mises Guest

    Oh, no, no. Your quite right. What I meant, though I didnt elaborate... was that I try to keep most of my gain knobs fixed and I've got little flourescent paint marks I made just in case anyone touches them (which of course, they always do despite me telling them otherwise), so I can reset it back to the little marks.

    I do however have to "trim" the gain for obvious reasons (singers singing at different levels, plus my playing with the EQ, etc...)

    When I do adjust the gain, I try to do it only in one of two places. Some people have a habit of just randomly readjusting every knob in the whole signal chain. I kind of used to do that myself... its sloppy.... and I eventually became anal retentative along the way and decided to never touch knobs on the mixing board because I have everything marked off.... which pisses off the people who I work with, because thats what mixing boards are for.. right?? ... to play with the faders. So this pisses them off immensely that they cant touch anything.

    So generally, I try not to touch knobs or faders on my mixing board or on any of my outboard equipment (if possible).

    I try to confine any "trimming" (of gain) I do to exclusively one of two places only:

    (1) I'll trim the preamps if necessary, or
    (2) I might trim the last fader/gain knob in the signal chain before it goes into my converters and then into my DAW, which is usually the my bus [subgroup] faders.

    So its like I'll trim the very first fader in the signal chain, or the very last fader in the signal chain.... but I wont touch any volume level in between because I have them all marked to exact position which works with my metering.
  13. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Member

    Sep 26, 2005
    Mises, I think I should introduce you to aqualung666 since your comments, technique and expertise are about as flawed and ridiculous as aqualung666.

    You are setting all your knobs according to somebody else's recipe?? Well bravo! So you really don't want to use your brain at all or your ears?? You're there man! Just like Beavis and Butthead. It's a guide, a suggestion, not a Bible nor a recipe for good recordings. Your ears are the recipe. The equipment, your containers.

    You're probably mistaking a lack of threshold control because it's labeled "input"? Well that's your threshold and so gain staging through a compressor/limiter shouldn't be thought of in the same way as gain staging through your console. It's only going to screw up your gain staging if you are a complete idiot and cannot interpret what you are hearing or seeing.

    Recording is an art and part science not a science and part art. It's like if you are a good musician, you can play any kind of music. If you are a lousy musician, you play one kind of music, bad.

    Gain staging is sort of like learning how not to burn water on your stove.
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  14. Mises

    Mises Guest

    I mix "in the box", so thats where I add whatever creativity I have (not that I have much creativity, because I'm a bit more the science type than the art type).

    Tracking, I have a fixed method, and I personally think its a good idea because it produces uniform results each time. I rarely "listen" during tracking; I just track. The extent of my listening is knowing what is, and is not a useable take.

    When it comes to mixing down I'm a bit more flexible, and thats when I'll actually "listen".

    The tracking process to me is just repetitive automation, and I don't really consider that particular phase to be part of the "creative process". I do same recipe each time. Don't know if thats good or bad.... just the way I do it.

    Admittedly, I dont go by the 'old school' methodology, which seems to emphasize creativity in the whole process, from start to finish. To me, creativity only comes once its "in the box".
  15. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Member

    Sep 26, 2005
    Well I'm sorry to tell you this but listening starts with tracking. I know this is quite a shock to you because you are scientific? But you sound more like a broadcaster that way, slam bam' thankya' ma'am. If the meters move, you're good and you are. But it really needs to sound right before you hit the record button, for music recording. For that you must listen first. I suppose if you have your equalizers off and your microphone gain set properly, you're probably all right?

    You can tell me your beginner concepts and I will tell you my multi-award nominated suggestions. I don't care if you do it ITB or on the desk. The whole process of music recording is supposed to be creative, throughout the process. Not just on part of it. If you're not creative, why bother recording music?? Your creativity only comes while mixing?? I'm also the scientific type but I am also the creative type and you're not really making sense. So you are asking what?? What?

    Ms. Remy Ann David
  16. blaumph2cool

    blaumph2cool Active Member

    May 2, 2005
    Portland, OR
    You down with O-C-D? Yeah you know me...
  17. Mises

    Mises Guest

    Your baiting me, aren't you. :wink:

    Okay. Counter question. What if any, is the gripe against using Kat's metering system. Its not like it interferes with the creative process. Apples and oranges. Its just a way of setting equipment up in order to "optimize" some things. It doesnt hamper creative freedom.

    The point though isn't that Bob Katz say's to do it.... its because what he is saying is technically right, which makes it a good idea to do. Being an electrical engineer.... what he say's simply makes sense to me from a technical standpoint, hence I see no reason to disregard it.

    I think he has a good idea and people want to adopt his idea not because Katz has aquired some level of notoriety like Steve Albini where many people feel the need to emulate him. Oooh. Steve Albini does this, or Steve Albini does that.... godda' do it the Steve Albini way.

    In Katz's case, unlike with Albini, his idea is purely a technical one, and not merely an unsubstantiated subjective opinion, and though its not the only idea out there, its a good idea and an attempt to set a standardized way of doing things (and its also a way to fight the war on overcompression).
  18. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    There is nothing wrong with using BK's metering systems. Again, as I said, I use it as a guide as well.

    However....the ONLY impact on volume knobs that it should have is on your amplifier's gain knob (or preamp, or powered monitors, whichever you use.)

    You see...what you're suggesting that you do is what most of us CRINGE about. It sounds as though you merely throw up a mic or two or 17 and record whatever's there and if there's a problem with the sound, your philosphy would be...."Oh well, I'll fix it in the mix."

    Yes, we have a problem with that! Part of being a good engineer is knowing how to fix things DURING TRACKING. Instead of using an EQ for example, it's knowing which mic and pre to use and how to use it (positioning, etc.).

    This requires that you LISTEN while you track and make adjustments accordingly. The thing is...your mix should stand up as it is immediately after tracking. Mixing it should only make it better and give you the opportunity to apply necessary effects. It certainly should NOT be the phase in which you correct your sound or slap on 50 effects to get it right.

    I cringe at the thought when people say..."Oh, well it doesn't sound quite right, but what I'll do is put on X and Y effect while mixing and we'll get it sounding right."



    If it doesn't sound right going in, no amount of effects will fix that. Instead you'll have a WRONG sounding part that has obviously been modified with effects. (EQ and fake saturation are the most obvious and easy to spot. Fake reverb is right up there, but occassionally necessary.)

    If you have even a mild assortment of mics and pres, an equalizer should RARELY be used during mixing.

    As for the gain staging and the Katz system, again, I'm game. BUT, again, this should only affect your amplifier's gain knob. If you are using it to maintain ALL of your gain knobs in the same place, I suggest you re-look at Bob's suggestions (or go hit him up on Gear Slutz). This is NOT his intent with the K System. Not even close.

    Cheers -

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