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Compression - The Basics
Macker
PostPosted: 19 May 2007 - 23:12:57 (008)  Reply with quote
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After seeing so many topics on here, and various other forums about compression - it's about time we had a topic to inform people about compression and why it's used.

Compression can mean quite a few different things, but within the audio world it's almost certainly regarding one of 2 topics:

1) Data Compression - Although this is important (especially with regards to digital audio formats), this isn't the compression that is going to be discussed in this topic, we'll save that for another time.

2) Audio compression - The act of automatically controlling the amplitude of a signal via a compressor/limiter.

Audio compression is something that a lot of people seem to be focusing on lately, and if used correctly it can make a track sound a lot more professional - however it is not the answer to everything. If your recording of an instrument (be it guitar, vocals or pubic hair violin) is poor at the source, then no amount of compression or EQ can fix it, it really is as simple as that. Get your recordings right first time.

Compression can also be overdone, and often is - even by mastering engineers that are paid thuosands to master #1 hit singles. Today, producers & engineers all seem to be waging a "loudness war" which is fine, if you own a tiny 2 watt sub-standard audio system, as it might just get a couple of extra decibels out of it before the speakers blow up and scatter themselves about the room - but in terms of audio quality, it removes all of the dynamics of the track, drums lose their punch and everything sinks into a mushy-mess.

The way to use compression is to use it sparingly, or as a creative tool. I presonally very rarely use compression as a creative tool, for example if i want a punchy kick drum, i'll find a punchy kick sample - rather than using a compressor to make any old kick sound punchy. Lacks creativity? I don't think so.

To use compression in a mixing sense is the most common use, it is used to tame unruly audio signals and make any background noises stand out more. This is often where people fall down on compression, and hopefully this topic will shed some light on what everything on a compressor does.

threshold

The threshold is best thought of as a cut-off point. Any audio that passes over the threshold will be compressed, and any audio that falls below the threshold wont be compressed. It really is that simple.

ratio

The ratio controls how much compression is applied to any audio that rises above the threshold. For example, you have a ratio of 4:1, this means that for every 4 decibels that go over the threshold, only 1 will come out after compression. The ratio is what often causes people to over compress, I've always been taught that a ratio of 2:1 is light compression and a ratio of 4:1 is heavy compression, and anything more than 10:1 is classed as limiting and this "rule of thumb" has always served me well when applying compression.

Knee

The knee is the curve of the compressors attack. A hard knee will have no curve at all, whereas a soft knee will have a gentle curve.

attack

The attack does exactly the same job as it would on a synth. It controls how quickly the compression takes place after the signal has crossed the threshold. A fast compression can sometimes sound un-natural, depending on the audio source you're using it on, however it can also be necessary to use fast compression on audio that has a fast attack & decay time, such as a snare drum or even a piano. A slow attack (coupled with a high ratio) is often used to create a punchy sound, as the compressor takes a little while to kick in after the initial sound has crossed the threshold.

release

Again, does the same job as it would on a synth. This controls how long it takes for the compression to stop after the compressor has reached its "peak". A medium to long release time can sound more natural, but again it all depends on the audio you're compressing.

make up/output gain

The whole idea of compression is to make quiet parts sound louder, so if you're compressing a signal and making all the loud parts a little quieter, your whole signal will be quieter - so the make up gain is there to add on what the compression took off, thus making everything sound louder.

drive

Now, i've only added this because some compressors choose to use a "drive" type compressor (for lack of better words). Basically, this type operates by having a fixed threshold, and the input gain or sometimes drive is used to push any peaks over this threshold. it's a bit of a tricky one as different manufacturers use different settings, but play around and you should get some idea of what's going on.

A picture speaks a thousand words:



I could go into more detail about what compression settings to use for what sources, but I wont - simply because there are no compression settings that you can strictly apply to audio, because all audio is different. The whole point of this topic is to teach the very basics of what the compressor does, and to let you go and play around with it.

Please please please don't over compress your tracks. If not for me, then for the sake of good music, please don't!


Last edited by Macker on 21 August 2010 - 21:01:40 (917); edited 4 times in total

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Macker Goodbye trance.nu. You shall be missed
CosTeLLo
PostPosted: 19 May 2007 - 23:21:30 (014)  Reply with quote
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+1

oh, and

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AzaraT
PostPosted: 19 May 2007 - 23:37:30 (026)  Reply with quote
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Nice one, should be a sticky happy

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imtryinmybest
PostPosted: 19 May 2007 - 23:44:10 (030)  Reply with quote
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nice
loved the pubic hair compression puh

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ConfuZion
PostPosted: 20 May 2007 - 00:54:42 (079)  Reply with quote
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Thanks Macker. Sticky it!

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spliph
PostPosted: 20 May 2007 - 02:38:01 (151)  Reply with quote
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you're a t.nu hero thumbsup

i had so many questions re compression.. i think you helped figure out the mystery!
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spliph oh yeah
Macker
PostPosted: 20 May 2007 - 10:48:54 (492)  Reply with quote
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well i'm glad you find it useful. grin2

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Macker Goodbye trance.nu. You shall be missed
DA_BOY
PostPosted: 20 May 2007 - 11:46:18 (532)  Reply with quote
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very well explained
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CROangel
PostPosted: 21 May 2007 - 23:43:35 (030)  Reply with quote
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Great job. happy
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Creative
PostPosted: 07 January 2008 - 02:49:06 (159)  Reply with quote
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wow, the best guide i've ever read about this happy
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FJ_trance
PostPosted: 07 January 2008 - 03:01:56 (168)  Reply with quote
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I finally get that ratio thing now. Thanks mate!
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Macker
PostPosted: 08 February 2008 - 01:26:09 (101)  Reply with quote
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thumbsup glad it's helped you understand! happy

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Macker Goodbye trance.nu. You shall be missed
autodial
PostPosted: 22 February 2009 - 23:28:49 (020)  Reply with quote
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Macker, you are the best. Thanks for this lesson. I've had a problem with compression lately and I really hope what I learned helps me out. I've been over-compressing and I don't realize it because my ears adjust to my own sound, and then I don't realize until the next day that it sounds all tight and in a box or something like that. Thank you happy
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autodial YOU DUN GOOF'D.
Creative
PostPosted: 14 March 2009 - 13:09:48 (590)  Reply with quote
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now, i've read alot of compression tutorials, and since this one is the best, it would be really great if anyone could explain not WHAT is compression, but why do we use it, when do we use it, what effect does compression of a sound have on other sounds, how to use it to give warmth or power, etc

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JohanP
PostPosted: 24 March 2009 - 18:27:58 (811)  Reply with quote
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Creative wrote:
now, i've read alot of compression tutorials, and since this one is the best, it would be really great if anyone could explain not WHAT is compression, but why do we use it, when do we use it, what effect does compression of a sound have on other sounds, how to use it to give warmth or power, etc


Well, I think Macker already told when and how you can use compression - it depends on the sound and it differs how you want it to sound. Some sounds you want to be lightly compressed, others sounds better when they're harder compressed.

Overall compression is used to fatten and tighten up the sound a bit. The contrast between the highest and lowest volume point gets smaller.

Nice tutorial by the way, Macker! thumbsup

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