Vocals: What compressor?

Discussion in 'Compressors / Limiters (analog)' started by CliqueUK, Aug 1, 2003.

  1. CliqueUK

    CliqueUK Guest

    I produce R&B tracks for an independent label here in the UK - since I can remember there's been a lot of respect for the US vocal sound (and US production in general) - a lot has to do with the quality/character of the artist, but I believe the mice/compressor has a lot to do with it too. So what compressor? I notice a lot of pal here are using 'The Really Nice Compressor (RNC)' and quite a few have been disappointed by their Avalon VT-747SP
    I use a TL Audio C1 as an input channel for my Neumann TL103

    The Really Nice Compressor (RNC)
    Avalon VT-747SP
    Avalon Vt-737sp
    Empirical Labs EL8 Distress or compressor
    - What are you using?
  2. Linwood

    Linwood Active Member

    Dec 9, 2001
    I use a Manley ELOP. Very happy with it.
  3. Usually my re-issue 1176, but also the Valley People 2-610, RNC, or DBX 160XT. What would be examples of the "American" sound you are interested in? David
  4. CliqueUK

    CliqueUK Guest

    American vocal sound? right now I'm thinking of artists like Next, or Jaheim (producer Kay gee) or Blackstreet/Guy (producer Teddy Riley) - these have the vocal sound I mean.
  5. sdevino

    sdevino Active Member

    Mar 31, 2002
    The Waves Rennaisance compressor plugin is one of the best sounding vocal compressors on the market..

    I also like the UA plugins.

    I do not use outboard compressors anymore since 24 bit ADC's make them completely unnecessary except as an effect.

  6. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Well-Known Member

    Jul 2, 2002
    77 Sunset Lane.
    To each his own but unlike Steve, I prefer to compress on the way into the DAW, even at 24 bit. IMO hardware comps still sound better than software counterparts. Also, if I do not compress on the way in I find myself having to do it "in the box", while I mix in order to get a good volume level. The more processing done at mix, the more ragged the sound is. If I can just put up a couple of verbs and maybe a bit of 2-bus compression, I think that sounds much better. The comps I use and would recommend for that "American Sound" are the Manley EL OP (or LA2a), UREI 1178 (or 1176) and Blackface LA4s ... I also have a Valley People Dynamite, for when I want that VCA compression sound. But as Steve pointed out, that's more done for effect rather than dynamic control..

    Nope never used it! Never heard it! I don't know nothin' about it.. It could be the best thing since sliced bacon! (really!) :D
  7. kellyd

    kellyd Guest

    Tube Tech CL1B, 1176, Distressor or ADL CL1000. Depends on the singer and the vibe. If the singer is even the Tube Tech sounds great though it's input can clip if the singer has huge dynamics.
    Sometimes I'll record with the 1176 then mixdown with the Tube Tech. The 1176 has the most presence and the Distressor can take the most abuse.. Sometimes you can get away with over 10db+ of gain reduction without any nasty artifacts.
  8. sdevino

    sdevino Active Member

    Mar 31, 2002
    Yeah, but for a beginner there is no reason to compress on the way in, and it is hard to correct mistakes.

    If a seasoned pro wants to compress for effect, that's a style choice. But a newbie ought to spend a bunch of time using plugin compressors until they understand them very well IMO.

  9. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Well-Known Member

    Jul 2, 2002
    77 Sunset Lane.
    I personally feel that compressing on the way in is something all recordists should learn at the beginning. I don't feel it is providence only for the seasoned pro. The trick is to use mild compression settings, so as you pointed out, you are not put in a position of having something you can't use at mix. I like a ratio of between 2 and 4 to 1, a fast attack and release and I only apply 2 to 4 dB of gain reduction. I have learned that if I use my legacy comps like this going in, I can use the cheap factory plugs in my recording software to finish up the job at mix and it sounds like I had all great comps throughout the whole project.In pop and rock music, so much of what we have all become accustomed to hearing, the sounds we associate with popular recordings, are reliant on the front end.. Mics, pres, compression. Rather than spend a lot of time, energy and money on plugs that will be obsolete in a few years or months and don’t sound as good, get some real (good) comps and learn to use them.

    The EL OP and the LA2a are great comps to start with because they are “one knob squeezers”, with only a reduction and a make up gain control. Not much to mess up there but they can yield the “sound” you have been searching for. Most records ever made, used these pieces.. LA2a’s, LA3s, LA4’s (the LA 4 is more complicated, more knobs to screw it up with but still a great piece). Also high on my list is the Manley EL OP, basically a LA2 style comp with improvements in the output stages, the UREI 1176 / 1178 and the DBX 160.
  10. wwittman

    wwittman Active Member

    Apr 28, 2003
    I have to agree with Kurt on this one.
    Beginners should learn to get a great sound going IN to whatever they are recording on.
    Treat ProTools like a tape machine and learn to make it sound good FIRST.
    That 'head', that ProTools encourages, of fixing everything AFTER the fact is not conducive to really good recording technique.
    And I have to agree that if you spend your money on really high quality outboard, it will never be obsolete.
    You can buy an entire HD system for what a Fairchild 670 compressor sells for, 40 years after it was made.
    Plug Ins are a last resort, or good for effects that don't exist in the hardware world.
    But the first thing I do when I get a session to mix is replace all the compressor and EQplug-inswith 'real' ones.
    The less processing you ask the machine to do, the better it always sounds.
    And for your own good, in the long term, you are much better off learning what a compressor really does by playing with one (and even making mistakes or misusing it) than with a software emulation of one, which has already decided what it "should" do.

    meanwhile, on vocals I like either a Fairchild or an API 525. Sometimes both.
    in some cases when i cannot get a Fairchild I have used an RCA Ba6a just for its amp sound.
  11. sdevino

    sdevino Active Member

    Mar 31, 2002
    OK lets move on to the 21st century guys. Here is my point:

    1. Compression used to be an important part of getting the level and sound you needed for tape.

    2. Compression is 100% unnecessary for tracking in 24 digital systems.

    3. When you track in a digital system you should be monitoring the output 2-bus. If compression is needed for the mix or for the sake of the performer, then a plugin (or external) compressor can be used while tracking. So you are getting the final high quality sound as you track anyway,

    Most people who do not record for a living have cannot possibly justify spending $3k on a "vintage" compressor just for the sake of getting an old school sound.

    If you are a pro and earn a living doing recording then please buy all the compressors you want but please realize that they are optional and only needed if they are a part of your recording style.

    I sold all mine because they were not getting used any longer. I track to a TDM mixer that is setup with compression, FX etc per a rough mix in the mixer. If you guys want to fill your room with eye candy FX and it fits your style then I am all for it. I want my studio to have the absolute minimum of hardware.

    Again printing compression is a style option. It is no longer necessary. Therefor I think a beginner is safer using a plugin because they can always change it later if they screw up.

    I am a very strong advocate of "the record it so it sounds great to begin with" camp (i.e. get as close to final sound as you can). My mixes use very few plugins. I compress where needed and I EQ very very little. Maybe thats why I can do 64 channel mixes on an HD2 system with DSP left over.

    Plugins are the future you might as well learn to use them and learn who makes the good stuff.

  12. Lindell

    Lindell Guest

    The best comps for vocals period is:
    Cranesong Trakker
    ADL 1600
  13. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Well-Known Member

    Jul 2, 2002
    77 Sunset Lane.
    Some very fine points and I can agree with much of it. I too prefer to see a minimum of gear in a studio these days. I like that clean uncluttered look. I also agree that the novice can misuse a compressor.. it's a steep learning curve. That's why I suggest a low ratio and a minimum of gain reduction.

    However, I have found that I can achieve better results by taking small bites out of the apple when it comes to compression. By compressing lightly going in and then again while I mix, I have found that I can get much more gain reduction without the unpleasant artifacts.. I think that much of what makes CDs these days sound over compressed is the approach of compressing in the box only at mix down. IMO part of the pop sound we have all become accustomed to is compression. As I said before if I use a EL-OP or a LA 4 when I track, I can get that "sound" of the higher end compressor rather than relying on the stock plugs that come with my audio software, which IMO do not sound anywhere as good. Also I can avoid purchasing software plugs or audio cards that will be useless and worthless in months or years. The hardware comps will always hold their value..

    I also use analog gates when I am recording rather than relying on the gates in my software which do not work as well as my Drawmer 404’s…
  14. Steve,
    I agree with your bottom line assessment that outboard compressors are not an absolute requirement for recording. I have done a couple of projects myself without hardware, and they turned out fine.
    However, I have noticed that the less processing I do the better my mixes sound. I love my hardware comps and do everything through them (gone full circle). I also think that style is an extraodinarily important aspect of the business, and a true pro will have as much style as technical proficiency. In fact, the technical knowledge required to get THE SOUND that is heard in one's head is the toughest job.
    Hey, I dig that you can get your SOUND with using software comps. That's pro. David
  15. sdevino

    sdevino Active Member

    Mar 31, 2002
    Good stuff everyone!

    So Kurt why do you use gates at all other than as an effect?

    Given that you can edit a perfect gate if needed.
    and.. I have never heard a hardware gate sound as good as even a basic plugin gate (including my Drawmer which I sold).

    ...just trying to incite a little discussion
  16. Doublehelix

    Doublehelix Well-Known Member

    Oct 7, 2001
    I have a couple of comments here:

    Kurt and wwittman make a strong push to compress the signal going to tape, without really explaining why this is a better way to go (other than the sound quality of the gear).

    Kurt does make the comment that the outboard gear he has sounds better in his opinion than hisplug-ins but I wonder what type ofplug-inshe is using, and if they are the highest quality ones that you can buy.

    I would contend that if you are comparing the top-of-the-line vintage outboard compressors to the bottom-of-the-lineplug-ins you are sure to see a *huge* difference, and it is probably not a fair comparison. I would also contend that a *GREAT* plug-in compressor(like a UA or Waves) would sound better than a stock Alesis 3630 or a Behringer Autocom.

    Now back to the "why" of it all...

    If you think that the outboard compression sounds better, isn't it also possible to add the outboard compression later to an unaltered pre-recorded original track? This is something that I am stuggling with right now.

    I have been recording the original track on one track, then play it back through the outboard gear and record it back onto another track. The problem I see here is the D/A then the A/D back into the DAW...not something that I want to do if I can avoid it.

    After reading another thread here on de-essing, I just went out and bought an dbx 263A de-esser. Should I use this pre- or post-recording? (As an insert while tracking?) The D/A and A/D concerns me here, and it seems to make more sense to use it pre-recording to avoid the conversions, but for a de-esser, that seems difficult. I want to be able to audition different settings, and this is easiest *post* recording.

    Now I also have the TC Helicon VoiceWorks, which has digital S/PDIF i/o. Here I won't have to worry about the conversions, and I am more apt to want to add the effects *post* recording.

    As I said, I am struggling with this very issue right now, and I am not sure of the best solution for my needs.
  17. Nate Tschetter

    Nate Tschetter Active Member

    Feb 28, 2001

    I use a compressor on the way in if its necessary. I've been known to use it when its unecessary too. Decompressing is harder than not compressing in the first place.

    As far as hardware vs. software, I chose both. They're tools, not rules.

    Hey, that rhymes!
  18. "I have been known to use it when it's unnecessary too." (Quote from Nate).


    I agree that a good sofware comp can sound better than the worst hardware comps. When I compare a Bomb Factory 1176 to my hardware 1176, or to my Valley People 2-610 or DBX 160xts (good comps) I find more pleasureable results from the hardware, however. I find the less processing I have to perform the better my stuff sounds.
    I would use the de-esser going to tape. David
  19. sserendipity

    sserendipity Active Member

    Jul 3, 2001
    I do both - I record a stereo track, compressing to tape as I go and leaving the signal untouched.

    This way I leave my option open, and am able to send a compressed signal to the vocalist's cans.

    Furthermore, and this doesn necessarily require compressing to tape: blending the compressed and uncompressed signal can give you sounds that are better than compression alone - it's different than just reducing the ratio and threshold.
  20. emedley

    emedley Guest

    I don't mind comping to tape. My rule is if you can't hear what the compressor is doing, you're monitoring too loud.

    However, I do like using, of all things, the Waves L1 to squash vocals. It reminds me of the old leveling amps. It's not subtle though... This is, of course, when tracking to pro tools...

    I suppose it does depend upon the music. I like 1176's. the Manley VoxBox is very good too. Now, with my two cents this thread is up to $9.54.

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