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The magic of Compression


TRIBE Promoter
I've heard it can make or break a track.
But how do you learn to use it properly?

My first compressor was a DBX 266xl and honestly I couldn't hear any audible difference with the thing.

I was told it would fatten the bass, and keep the levels even.
But I couldn't get it to do anything really...

My O1V digital mixer has built in compression, so I am going to try using it.

I've tried modest settings, but am no expert.

I know there is no easy answer to this question, I'm would just like to hear some other peoples experience with compression.



TRIBE Member
Compression is like an artform in itself.
There are many types you can apply in many situations to get many effects, or results. You kinda have to be more specific as something like final compression would be totally different than vocal compression. Just the way it's applied/when it's applied and how much can eneable the producer to acheive some really cool results.

In the anolog days many of the analog equipment had the capabilities to compress audio just by pushing the levels into the hot zone.. it would do it very well and keep the warmth at the same time. Nowadays in the digital world things are more exact, so knowing your compression techniques can give you similar results if applied properly.. although analog tube compressors are still a hot item nowadays because of the warmth they are said to retain.

Essentially single band compression is made up of a few different elements. attack, decay, ratio, threshhold, and gain. There are lots of other options that a compressor can have, but these are what do most of the 'compressing'. This is just off the top of my head so anyone else can feel free to jump in and add/correct stuff.

Threshold is where you want the compresion to be applied, if you want to kill some rogue spikes or transients in your final mix, you would bring the threshold down so that only those spikes are caught and compressed. So essentially anything above the threshhold will be compressed and anything below the threshold will be somewhat untouched.

Attack is how quickly the compression engages once the threshold is met.

Decay is how long it takes for the compression to disengage once the threshold is lost.

Ratio is considered like an 'amount' level, to add more increase the amount, but again this is only applied to peaks within the threshold range.

Different combinations of these options, mainly threshold and ratio can give you a million different results.. anything from a brick wall limiting effect to a slight boost in level on vocals.. compression is definitely a powerful tool.

Later on you can get into multi-band compression that's a bit more complicated but just essentially adds the ability to apply different compression to different frequency ranges, this is mostly used for final mastering.


TRIBE Member
The best way to learn about the actual effect of compression is to just play around with your compressor. Start at a 3:1 ratio on say a kick drum and slowly start working the threshold (point in dB at which compression kicks in) until you get to a point that sounds good, then adjust the attack and release, output gain to see what effect this has on the sound.

There's also things like limiting, gate, hard/soft knee to consider.. do some online research too, but listening/experimentation is probably the best method if the gear is at your disposal.


YAY!! for the new room.


TRIBE Member
I want an 01V. :(


..or an 03D, 02R, a Nord Lead, a j0m0x, an access virus, an Avalon compressor, a Lexicon M300 effects processor, an eMU E4XT..


TRIBE Member
Re: compression

Compression is one of those things that I think is very over rated. I think this is probably because of all the hype surrounding it in magazines and such. So people that don't really know what compression is tend to get the idea that compression alone will give them the professional sound they have been looking for all this time. People new to this bizzmizz think that by buying an expensive compressor it will make their kick-drums punch their heads in or that it will make their bases so fat they won't fit through the speakers. And often people go out an purchase a nice compressor and when they take it home they say that they can't hear ANY difference between the before and the after.

Compression is plain an simple. It compresses the signal about the specified threshold, by the specified ration, with the specified attack and release. What it does is it reduces the dynamics, that is the difference between the loudest and the quietest part of the instrument. Now, there are a bit more things you can do with compression than simply attenuating the dynamics of a track. If used right it can add that necessary kick to the basedrum, or that punch to the baseline. Some old analog compressors may also fatten up baselines by producing harmonics on the lower end, newer digital compressors usually don't have this "flaw."

Producing/audio engineering is all about being creative, not just with your instrument but also with your signal processing equipment. It is taking a phaser and using it in unusual and creative ways that nobody has used them before. Same goes for the compression. How you will get to know how this works is only if you experiment with it yourself. There are no presets to make a kickdrum punch, because every kickdrum has its own levels, its own frequencies, and its own characteristics. People often ask me how I get such a fat punching kickdrum in my tracks, and they expect me to let them in on some secret, magical compression settings such as, set the ratio to 4:1 and the treshold to -10, and the attack to 16ms. But what works for one kickdrum will most likely not work for the other.

Get some software compressors and experiment on your recorded material, and compare the before and after. If you pay close attention you will hear something.