Help me out w/compressors

Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by jw71, Oct 21, 2005.


  1. jw71

    jw71 Member

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    I have just recently started recording. I am using a Fostex vr160 (I think that's the model number) that I just bought new. It's the 16 track digital recorder. I want to learn more about an external compressor, because my band's tracks sound pretty good after EQ'ing, but they just seem to "take up too much space", or maybe too much bandwidth. I'm not even sure what that really means, but I know I have heard better results that are more defined.
    Anyway, I have been told that a compressor before the recorder would help tighten the tracks up some. Can anybody tell me a little more about this?
    Any suggestions about how to buy one, what model, or how much they are?
    I really am trying to teach myself how to record great sounding tracks. I have a little bit of background in sound, as I spent 6 years in the military in signals intelligence, listening to signals through headphones, and I have a basic understanding of how sound waves work together.

    So, any suggestions or advice?:dude
     
  2. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    Here is an online article that explains the basics pretty well.

    I thought it would be nice to sneak that in before everyone starts just listing the compressors they own. :)

    If you only compress once, I feel light compression over the final stereo mix is the best place to put it. Compressing vocals and individual instruments to tape is trickier and takes some experimentation.
     
  3. Antero

    Antero Member

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    Compression is a tool-to-solve-problems. Many people do not understand this, and they use it as if it was as necessary as a mic.

    These people make records with boring sonics.

    Compression pulls down the peaks in the signals, bringing them down to a level closer to 0, and then boosts the whole. Things get louder and more forward, the mix gains volume (which makes it "sound better"*). Overuse kills dynamics and makes parts sound boring. HEINOUS overuse, like you see in radio stations and major label radio rock/pop, just shreds the sonics, making the record fatiguing and lifeless.

    Compression perhaps most useful on vocals, because the human voice has a crazy dynamic range and vocals are generally the center of the song.

    It's like vodka. Be CAREFUL with that stuff!

    ----
    *The ear likes louder signals. This is just psychoacoustics. Don't overgain, don't overcompress - if the signal's a little low, but it's clean and strong, your audience can use the damn volume knob.
     
  4. Red Ant

    Red Ant Member

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    VERY well put. The only thing I'd like to add is with some vintage compressors you want to use them for their color more than for the actual compression - things like Fairchild 660, LA-2A, LA-3A etc - will color the singal even if set on VERY minimal settings, and sometimes that can be useful.
     
  5. Greggy

    Greggy Member

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    In my home studio environment, I rarely use compression when tracking. One exception is acoustic guitar and clean electric guitar tracks where the dynamic range is large. Even then, I use it more as a limiter to avoid peaks and clipping than as a compressor. Like Michael, however, I always use compression across the stereo bus when mixing down and/or mastering.
     
  6. Antero

    Antero Member

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    Good point. I don't get to hang around many vintage compressors. :(
     
  7. justicetones

    justicetones Member

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    All very well put by Antero and Red Ant. I find much of today's music overcompressed due to the level wars that labels buy into to compete with one another. I think most of that damage is also done in overcompressing individual instruments in the tracking or mixing phase. That said I still think that there are some records out there with a hot level that still sound good.

    I rarely compress when tracking and the exceptions to that are as Red Ant described in to color the sound. If I compress heavily it is usually for an effect (usually on something that appears as a special part). That said a very very light compression in 2-3 stages of a mix sounds much more musical and dynamic that one time compression in great amounts. As MichaelK said compression to tape or "in the recording process is tricky and once you make a mistake there is no easy way if at all to undo it.

    Compression across the stereo buss in mixing and mastering is a different story. Like the others I always use it there. Sometimes more than others depending on the program material.

    I have faith in my fellow members that are not addicted to compression:)
     
  8. Red Ant

    Red Ant Member

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    LOL I"m good friends with many of them. I own a pair of Tube-Tech CL-1Bs, and while they arent "vintage", they "sound vintage". In fact they are, bar none, my favorite compressors on earth. Not cheap though :(
     
  9. justicetones

    justicetones Member

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    originally posted by Red Ant.
    Tube Tech stuff is great. I agree. And definately not cheap.

    I love the mic pre's too
     
  10. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    Ditto, +1, me too and all that. Especially for vocals. You can find them online for about $1500, new about $1700.

    I think Daking is my favorite for many instruments. It's rare to find a compressor that doesn't crush the transients, and both of the above handle transients beautifully.
     
  11. LSchefman

    LSchefman Supporting Member

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    I always lightly compress vocals when tracking. It's hard to recapture a great vocal performance, so I like to control the dynamics a little.
     
  12. justicetones

    justicetones Member

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    Agreed I usually will lightly compress a vocal in tracking as well provided I have a decent compressor on hand.
     
  13. Antero

    Antero Member

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    Truth, definitely. I think the reliance on overcompression is also partly a result of the big label's reliance on insanely bad music to bring in income. Rather than searching for talent, they look for something that sounds the same and can slip into the buying habits of a sleeping public with ease. Overcompression grabs the ear, even though it ruins the sound, and makes it easy to enforce a common sonic texture.

    Thing is, though, if you've got an actual quality song, less compression will grab the ear more effectively. The Smashing Pumpkins, for example - Siva. That song has a huge dynamic range, with massive dropoffs in the middle, near silences that make you twist up the volume so you can get kicked in the face when the riff hits again.
     
  14. justicetones

    justicetones Member

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    Antero,

    Well put. Talent and dynamics. Two things missing in most music today. Ok just for the few in that might misread this.

    I think there is also some exceptional talent out there. It is just not the first thing your hear on the radio sometimes unfortunatley.
     
  15. Antero

    Antero Member

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    Amen! Tons of it.

    But does it find its way on to Clear Channel playlists? No!:mad:
     

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