how to set up compressor

How To Set Up Audio Compressor? #2

Welcome to the second part of the audio-tutorials about compression!

If you’ve missed part one, be sure to check it out HERE.

In part one I’ve explained what the common functions of compressors are:

  • Threshold
  • Ratio
  • Attack time
  • Release time
  • Make-up gain

Now, we’re gonna look at settings, and we’re going to look at different techniques like New York Drum Compression and Side-chain compression.

How are compressors generally used?

Normally, they’re used as inserts on your multi-track recording. Meaning that, it will just affect one sound of your whole mix.

Take an example where we have a band-recording and we want to dynamically control the kick drum, snare drum, baseline and a vocal. They all need to have different settings. So we insert them on each respectives channel.

But compressors can also be used on the output of a group-track – controlling the dynamics of the whole group of drums perhaps. They’re also used during mastering on the whole mix.

“What is the best compressor setting for my compressor?”

Compressor needs to be set according to the sound that you want to achieve on that moment, for that mix, on that project. It’s really hard to say like : ‘if you compress it like that it will be good’. It’s really depending on the mix that you already have and the mix that you put it in. So it’s hard to say.

I’ve got a couple of guidelines that you can work with, but it’s a starting point. It’s not a success-guaranteed formula or whatever. The basic idea is that you set the compressor different for sustained sounds as for transient sounds.
Here’s a little list of instruments and elements and corresponding settings:

Vocals

  • Set threshold to get +/- 4 to 7 dB gain reduction
  • Ratio 2:1 up to 4:1
  • Fast/Medium Attack
  • Fast/Medium Release

Loud vocals

  • Set threshold to get up to 12 – 15 dB gain reduction (on peaks)
  • Fast/Medium Attack
  • Medium Release
  • Ratio 4:1 up to 8:1

Drums (Drums – group)

  • Set threshold to achieve 4 to 8 dB gain reduction
  • Fast Attack
  • Fast/Medium Release
  • Ratio 2:1 up to 4:1

Acoustic guitar

  • Set threshold to achieve up to 5dB gain reduction
  • Fast Attack
  • Medium Release
  • Ratio 2:1 up to 4:1

Electric guitar

  • Compress more
  • Fast Attack
  • Fast/Medium Release
  • Ratio 2:1 up to 10:1

Bass

  • Set threshold to get 3 to 7 dB gain
  • Medium Attack
  • Fast/Medium Release
  • Ratio 2:1 up to 6:1

Mixes

  • Set threshold to get 2 to 4 dB gain
  • Fast/Medium Attack
  • Fast/Medium Release
  • Ratio 2:1 up to 4:1

Always keep in mind that these are guidelines and maybe you have to tweak a little bit of the settings to get the sound that you’re looking for.

Knee – setting

One function that I haven’t mentioned earlier is the knee – setting that certain compressors have. The knee – setting allows you to choose between soft knee¬†and hard knee. Sometimes they have a slider for in between soft- and hard-knee. The difference between them is that soft knee actually applies an increasing ratio, which works a little bit before the threshold. It gently applies the compression.

When you have a compressor with a hard – knee function, it means that whenever you reach the threshold it really applies the ratio the way that you’ve set it, instead of the soft-knee which gently applies it and smoothes out the effect of compression taking place.

The hard-knee definitely will be more noticeable of an effect and when it takes place you can really hear to compressor start to work, as opposed to soft knee where it gently increases the amount of compression.

A nice compression trick is the New York drum technique

(New York drum compression or New York repression, or parallel compression, or whatever you call it…)

The New York drum technique uses a compressorand a dry signal at the same time. Here we combine the original drum-track with the heavily compressed drums, to actually give it more ‘body’.

One thing i haven’t covered yet is a so-called ‘side-chain’ or key-input

Key-input is used to control a compressor with a different signal. The basic idea is that we have a music track and we have a voice-over track. The thing is, what we want is when the voice-over speaks is that we want the music to get softer, because we don’t want it to interrupt with the voice. What we use, is that we use a compressor with the vocal – sent to the key-input on that compressor.

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