Author Topic: Compression for absolute beginners!  (Read 3264 times)

Kyle F

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Compression for absolute beginners!
« on: May 05, 2015, 04:21:47 PM »
Compression for Beginners

Compression is an overlooked aspect regarding music production and misunderstood by most. To become a master at compression, years of practice is required, and a lot of experimenting. There are many different styles of compressors on the market, which software try to emulate. For this tutorial, we will breakdown the basics of a compressor, its functions, and its effect on a sound.
What Is A Compressor?
A compressor is a dynamic process which is used to control the dynamic range of a signal. The concept of a compressor is to make louder things quieter and quieter things louder. A compressor can be manipulated in creative ways, such as side chain compression.
Functions Of A Compressor
A compressor as we know allows us to control the dynamic range of an input signal. There are many functions on a compressor which allow use to shape the dynamics of our sound to create controlled dynamic characteristics. The functions of a compressor allow you to dictate how smooth you want the transients (peaks) in your sound to be or how snappy. Here are the functions of a compressor and how they affect sound.

Threshold - This is the function which indicates at what level the volume that the signal has to reach before the compressor takes any affect. The more extreme the threshold, the more extreme the effects of the compression will be. Experiment with it.
Attack – The attack function allows you to decide when you want the compression to take place in milliseconds. For example, you may want the compressor to take affect instantly, so the attack time would be set at its fastest. The slower the attack time, the longer in time it takes for the compressor to manipulate the audio signal.
Release – The release function is the function which decides how long you want the compression effect to last for. The faster the release time, the quicker the compression will finish, however the slower the release time, the longer the compression effect is held for.
Ratio – The ratio function of a compressor allows you to choose how much compression is applied to the audio signal. Compression works via ratio, so for example, if your compression is set at 4:1, this would mean that for every 1dB of sound above the threshold would be compressed by 4dB’s.

Different types of Compressors

Whether hardware or software based, there are different types of compressors which have their own characteristics and operate slightly different. Here are the different types of compressors

FET Compressors

FET compressors are based on valves conversion, and are known for colouring sounds. The FET compressors have an aggressive nature which is commonly used for making sounds feel “in your face”.  This style of compressor is ideal for drums are vocals. 

VCA Compressors

VCA stands for voltage controlled amplifier, and this style of compressor tends to sound less coloured due to its circuitry. The purpose of a VCA compressor is to keep a clean sound, but if pushed, will create distortion. This style of compressor is more suited to pads and background instruments.
Opto Compressor

An opto compressor is a compressor that’s circuitry consists of an electro optical attenuator. The character of an opto compressor is known to be very smooth and not too aggressive, but is recommended that less is more with this style of compressor. 

Example: 1   
Compressor used: Waves API 2500
Threshold: -8db, Attack: 0.3ms, Release: 200MS, Ratio: 2:1
This compression setting is light, and its purpose is to help to glue the drums together and give the drums some warmth.  This setting helps to control the dynamic range, yet keep the dynamics of the performance. The effect is very slight, and just about audible, but dynamically is being restrained.

Example: 2   
Compressor used: HornFatFet (FET)
Threshold: -25db, Attack: 0.5ms, Release: 50MS, Ratio: 5:1
This compression setting is an aggressive compression setting, and its purpose is to bring out the punchiness of the drums. This setting allows the drums to be more ‘forward’ sounding, which in a mix, would make the drums a stronger element of the mix. The drums sound more lively and energetic, and feel as if they have a more full sound. To get this sound, a slow attack and fast release time is used.

Example: 3 
Compressor used: Waves HComp
Threshold: -37db, Attack: 0.05ms, Release: 250MS, Ratio: 8:1
This compression setting is much heavier and is used to control transients to a more extreme extent. This setting would be ideal for mixing your drums further to the background, yet keeping them audible and strong. Due to the attack time being slower, the transients are smoothened out, resulting in a less aggressive texture. A long release time ensures that more of the audio is compressed as the sound progresses in time. This compression gives very little dynamic range, but keeps the levels constant throughout.

Example: 4 
Compressor used: Waves SSL Comp
Threshold: -15db, Attack: 3ms, Release: 600MS, Ratio: 4:1
This compression setting was a relatively light compression and is used simply to control the dynamics without having a major effect on the transients and affect the dynamic shape of the drum loop. As you8 can see the threshold is relatively high, this means that a smaller dynamic range of the audio file is affected.

Now that you understand the basics of compression, and have heard examples of compression being used and an overview of what settings can achieve what sound, it is time to open up your compressor and get experimenting. A download link with this drum loop will be available below, feel free to download it and use what you have learned and add your own twist to the loop and share it on the comments section below, where you can receive feedback and interact with others.

Compress to Impress.

Sonic Realms

Let me know what you think, If this is helpful leave a comment and I'll make more. ;) 8)
« Last Edit: May 05, 2015, 07:33:01 PM by Sam Curtis »