Compression??

Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by billysurf, Sep 24, 2008.

  1. billysurf

    billysurf Member

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    Iam new to using compressors for recording guitars & bass, any info regarding settings for electric, acoustic guitars & bass would be greatly appreciated.
     
  2. drfrankencopter

    drfrankencopter Member

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    Settings from somebody else's compressor/application will do you no good.

    Your best bet is to figure it out for your self by spending a couple of hours playing with the compressor settings on some different (pre-recorded) sources.

    Start by reading this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audio_level_compression

    Then, realize that a combination of the threshold setting, and the ratio determine how much compression you're trying to apply, and the attack/release controls determine the timing. In other words, the attack determines how fast you reduce the volume in response to a signal that is over the threshold level, and the release determines how quickly you go back to the normal volume level when the input signal drops below the threshold.

    To get used to it, dial up a ratio of something like 4:1, and set the threshold at something like 20 dB below the peaks in your signal. Start with the attack/release knobs at 12:00. Start dialing the attack down...you should see the compression increasing (i.e. the gain reduction meter level increases)...at the same time you should hear the attack being removed from the sound source (a percussive source would be best for this test...a drum, or plucked guitar ). Basically, the higher you dial the attack knob, the more you are letting the attack of the original signal get through the compressor (this is nice for grafting a 'spike' onto the front of a percussive source).

    Release is a similar animal, but here you probably want to experiment with a source that is at a nominal volume level, with some definite transients in it (i.e. most of the source is below the compressor threshold, but a couple of transients are above to trigger the compressor). Here, what we're looking for is to see how well the compressor gets back to its nominal volume level without introducing 'pumping' into the signal. This setting depends on a combination of the source (e.g. bass, guitar, drum, voice...), and the song/arrangement. An arrangement with lots of space in it can get away with longer release times than a dense one. Another reason why it's best to learn to use your ears...

    Oh, and make-up gain just determines overall loudness.

    That should get you started....the challenge is that all the settings (except make up gain) are somewhat interactive.

    Cheers

    Kris
     
  3. JamminJeff

    JamminJeff Member

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    Live or recording ? (Not the same thing, usually).

    I finally stopped using a compressor for my live rig but I will probably go back to it, mainly for one side of a 2 amp set-up. It helped create a 2 guitar sound in a one guitar band by "clamping down" on the compressed signal in comparison to the other non compressed amp/side. This worked well with 2 of the same amps but now I running two completely different amp/speaker combinations which allows for a similar sound.

    Lot's of live rigs attemp this in a variety of ways. Some are just plain way over the top. A Bassman one one side and a Marshall on the other, etc. makes for an interesting blend.

    For recording, compression (in most cases) is used after the track is recorded, especially with rock guitar since it already has some natural compression.

    Regardless, compression is a Dynamic Processor, not an effect. It can be an effect and a very cool one, but it's usually not used that way.

    Look at compression as a tamer of a wild beast. If you use to much compression, like beating the wild spirit out of the beast you are trying to tame, all that will be left is a shell of its former self. Compression will narrow the original sound if overused.

    Judicious use of compression and limiting for that matter is a good way to approach it. Not all compressors are considered equal either. Compressor pedals for guitar are all over the place by the way. I prefer the ones that nicely add a "sheen" to the tone. Some are very neautral, only squeezing the frequencies intended. Attack and Release Rate and Ratio are key set points. Make up gain is also required due to the reduction of level cause by compression, usually past 4:1.

    Sustain is often a byproduct and a nice one if that is what you need. Having some additional sustain may allow you to reduce the gain, which is always overused.

    Use your ears.
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2008
  4. billysurf

    billysurf Member

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    Kris & JamminJeff, thank you both for the info, very very helpful. BB
     
  5. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    Many compressor manuals have a section where they suggest settings for certain instruments. You might want to look there first, no irony intended. Anyway...

    I'm going to toot the same damn horn I've been tooting for a few months now, but I can't help myself... I've become so sick of compression as a "sound" that I've been recording most tracks with no compression at all. The exceptions are bass and lead vocals. Here are a few things I do with compressors that have controls for the most common 4 parameters: Threshold, Ratio, Attack & Release:

    On bass I have a relatively slow attack so as not to cut off the attack of each note, ratio usually anywhere from 4:1 to 6:1, release dependent on the song – i.e. I want it to be fully recovered before the next note. I set the threshold for around -3 to -4 dB. attenuation. Maybe more, depending. This is mainly just to "shape" the waveform.

    On vocals I set the ratio usually around 3:1, fast attack, medium to slow release so it doesn't "pump" in an obvious way. Threshold higher so it only kicks in occasionally, with attenuation averaging only about -.5 to -2 dB. More attenuation than that is almost always something I wish I hadn't done. It also helps a LOT to have a singer with good mic technique!

    Both tracks also get further compression during mixing. The bass gets more aggressive treatment and the vocal again gets very, very light treatment. I like to use compression mainlly as a sound shaping tool, not as a substitute for riding the faders, and definitely not just as a way to cram in more bits before overs. Headroom is a GOOD thing!! JMO.
     
  6. billysurf

    billysurf Member

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    Thanks Michael, BB
     
  7. rob2001

    rob2001 Member

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    I can't say I'm sick of it but i've found better results using far less compression than I was a year ago. One place i'm still using lots of comp is the kick drum.

    The thing is, there are so many potential applications its very easy to over-do it. Even more so if you are home based and trying to compete with commercial releases. Truth is, I don't want my stuff to sound like whats on the radio. Everything sounds like a commercial!

    Even with lots of studying and reading up on compression, it's taken me a while to really even begin to understand how, and how not to use it. I'm still learning.

    I've studied a lot , there is a ton of great stuff on the net. Yet most of my grip on compression has come from experimenting and trial and error. What I used to think was little to no difference in tracks and compression are now huge differences. Listining to my old mixes confirms this!!
     
  8. 2leod

    2leod Re-Member Gold Supporting Member

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    I'm of the opinion that compression is, in general, a badly applied technique in the losing game of making stuff sound louder. I say it's a losing game because it comes at a price - you have to give up dynamic range and sharp attacks to gain an apparently louder recording, often picking up distortion and weird frequency pumping in the process. I speak from experience, because almost every single mistake in applying compression has ended up on my recordings.

    Read as much about the technique as you can - there is a lot more to it than can be covered in a few lines of a post. Bob Katz has some good thoughts on the subject and this YouTube video gives a good visual representation of what I'm referring to.

    The advice I can offer is to apply compression sparingly and more often rather than try to get it all done in one shot. Only use as much as you need coming in to avoid digital distortion (I'm assuming you're recording to disc) and if your signal is too compressed to begin with you are not going to be able to fix it later.
     
  9. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    That too, but not necessarily to tape. And during mixing, I use it wherever I feel it sounds better than the uncompressed track.

    But where I used to use a little on every track (rare exceptions) as a matter of course, now I don't.
     
  10. meterman

    meterman Member

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    Great stuff and right on time, I've been trying to figure out how to set my comp for some bass and vocal tracks. The Tweakhead site has some great info as well

    So, what are some of the best plugins for adding compression during mixing and mastering? I hear about the UAD-1 but its pricey, is it worth it or are there others just as good for less? Any experience with the Blockfish free plugin from Digital Fish Audio?

    The comp I'm using is an old Yamaha GC2020BII stereo comp/limiter, running as an insert on both channels of my RNP. Anybody know if the Yamaha is halfway decent?

    thanks!
     
  11. turdadactyl

    turdadactyl Member

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  12. billysurf

    billysurf Member

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    Thanks to all for the info. I have actually recorded and released one full "acoustic" CD with no compression at all and Iam now recording a full electric CD (guit, bass, drums.etc..) and have read in some recording mags how helpful compression can be, so Iam proceeding with caution. Thanks,billysurf
     
  13. TheJudge

    TheJudge Member

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    I am not a recording engineer, but I do have some information I would like to share with you.

    First, consider letting the music dictate what you should do and don't touch a knob until you know what you are trying to accomplish.

    Second, compression is simply a tool to accomplish a goal. There are no rules that require you to use it, but there are some styles of music that may require its use to accomplish the sound that the style dictates.

    As I understand it, historically, when using tape as the recording medium, compressors were a tool that allowed for a hotter signal (better signal to noise ratio) to be applied to tape to avoid excessive hiss from overpowering the music. Limiters were used to keep the signal from getting to hot.

    Today, when recording digitally, it is still important to get a hot signal so that your bit rate does not drop, but that does not always require a compressor.

    Some other uses for compressors are as follows:

    To help sounds with low relative volume from getting lost in a mix.
    To help even out or smooth out sounds that are too dynamic for a mix.
    To help bring instruments forward or make them more present in a mix.
    To make the attack of a sound sharper, punchier, or more distinct.
    To create more sustain for certain instruments/sounds.

    If your mix needs one of the above, you might consider using compression to accomplish your goal(s). I think some people get caught up in the gear and think they need to use a certain type or brand of compressor to give their music some sprinkle of magic dust. On the other hand, sound is subjective and each one of us hears differently, so a specific compressor may do something that appears to be really magical for some people.

    Some compressors will color your sound simply by running your signal through them. Other compressors are revered for their colorless sound.

    I hope this has helped in some way. Good luck with your music.
     
  14. Randaddy

    Randaddy Member

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    It's funny how we begin to be able to hear compression very easily after working with it for a while. I'm getting so that it bothers me to hear it on my vocals if there is even a little too much.

    But on electric guitars I love it! I play a lot of clean tones, and it sure helps to make the guitars sound professional. I hear them as more "jangle-y". I usually use ratios of around 3:1 to 5:1, and I adjust the threshold until it sounds great. That is usually around 2 to 5 dB of compression.
     
  15. TAVD

    TAVD Guitar Player Gold Supporting Member

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    1176, all buttons in, VU meter pinned is how I roll. ;)

    I don't own a compressor that doesn't have a colorful signature.
     
  16. Sunbreak Music

    Sunbreak Music Member

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    It's not necessary to record hot signals in digital anymore, and it can really damage the track.
     
  17. Randaddy

    Randaddy Member

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    :agree

    When recording at 24-bit, there is no problem with bit depth and it is safer to stay away from 0 dB.
     

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