How to Use Compressor in Your Mix Properly? After EQ, compression is the second most significant effect when you have to control sound.
It is more convoluted than other effects you will use in the mixing process. It also brings with it the most diverse opinions and emotions. From cleaning up the lower mids to adjusting the highs, there is plenty you can do to fix a bad mix. Compression is profoundly emotional, and you can use it in such a wide range of ways. Understanding it is the key to getting your mix just right.
It all comes down to cultivating an attitude of using compression as a tool, not as a crutch. Instead of slapping it on each and every track, since that is how you think it’s done, try asking yourself a simple question. What is the ultimate objective of using compression on a track?
Then, you can decide if it is right to use it on that track. With that said, how do you properly use compression in a mix? In this guide, we are going to take a look and attempt to answer that question for you.
What are EQ and Compression?
EQ enables you to put a spotlight on the frequencies of a track that you need to feature. Compression, on the other hand, is the way you can decrease the dynamic range between the most intense and calmest pieces of a sound sign.
Let’s start with EQ. This effect enables you to cut the frequencies that do nothing for the quality of the track. This is great for focusing on a unique tone in a vocal or instrument.
Compression is executed by enhancing the quieter sounds and decreasing the louder ones. Using the following controls, you can carefully craft a unique sound, which will produce a unique track. That will, in turn, give you an awesome mix:
- Threshold: Controls the volume of the signal before the compression is added.
- Ratio: Dictates how much compression is applied to the signal.
- Attack: How fast the compression begins.
- Release: How quickly the compression ends after the signal drops below the threshold.
- Knee: Sets how the compression interacts with signals once the threshold has been met and surpassed.
- Gain: Enables the already compressed sound to be boosted.
- Output: Gives you the ability to enhance or lessen the degree of the signal from the compressor.
Compression Explained: 4 Types of Audio Compressors and When To Use Them
- VCA: Also called a Voltage Controlled Amplifier, it uses circuitry that has been integrated into the system for more precision control. It doesn’t add as much color to your track and doesn’t have any problems with unwanted effects. It’s probably the most versatile type of compression.Use VCA compressors on your drums, percussions, reducing peaks, for adding consistency to your mix, or simply anytime as this is one of the most expanded and universal compressors out there. It would be a great starting point for beginners as it’s not very likely to ruin your mix using VCA.
- Opto: Also known as “Optical” is a compressor that uses circuits that are light sensitive. It is slower than other models.It makes your sound more transparent, smoothes audio signal in a gentle way and makes your sounds to be less obvious. You can create great tension for your main Drums. Other than that, you can also use the Opto Compressor for compressing your Vocals, Basses, Bass Guitars, but also in the Mastering.
- FET: This type of compressor uses the good old transistors that can imitate a valve tonal quality. This unit uses an increased signal to noise ratio. Great as a parallel compression to create Room for your main drums, but also useful for vocals, bass, etc.
- Valve (Tube): This type can work in any of the ways listed above, but it uses valves that give it a smoother sound. It’s also well known for its “Vintage” sound character. Great for any instruments where you would like to add some additional color to your mix.
For a more in-depth explanation about this topic, read the article here.
What Are the Best Vocal Compression Settings?
Here is a good setting for tonal compression:
- Ratio: 1:5:1
- Attack: 15ms – 30ms
- Release: 40ms
- Threshold: -24dB
- Gain (reduction): 2 – 3dB
- Knee: soft
- Gain (make-up): 2dB
The best vocal compression settings depend on the reason you are using the compression. If you are using it for tonal compression, that is a more delicate compression. This is where you opt to sheathe tone while adding just a little dynamic control, which will balance the levels.
Here is a good setting for dynamic compression:
- Ratio: 2:1
- Attack: 5ms
- Release: 20ms
- Threshold: -24dB
- Gain (reduction): 2 – 3dB
- Knee: hard
- Gain (make-up): 1dB
If, however, you are working with dynamic compression, then the settings change altogether. Dynamic compression is used to capture the higher peaks and decrease the volume level.
How Do You Properly Use Compression?
Understanding the reason why you use compression will allow you to easily use it the proper way when mixing down your tracks. Here are the main reasons to use compression:
Constraining the Peaks
In the event that you have a vocal with a mix of soft and hard moments, you can manipulate the more intense parts without clipping. Use the delicate settings on both the ratio and threshold and then add a little release and attack and voila! You have a killer mix.
This can be done by essentially using more sustain and squashing the sound. The use of this method enables the track to sound stronger and fatter while avoiding clipping altogether.
This is extraordinary for percussion. An extended attack and release will give you this compression effect.
Whenever you have a layered sound, some light compression can combine the layers together and make them sound more integrated.
Different uses would also be sidechain, buss, parallel compression, or mastering. However, these all use a combination of the four uses from above.
Should I Compress Before or After EQ?
That’s the question that pops up quite frequently. Each option, EQ before or EQ after the compression, creates an unmistakably unique sound, an alternate tonal quality, and nuance. Utilizing EQ before will deliver a warm, full tone while utilizing EQ after it creates a cleaner sound.
Where Should EQ Go in the Effects Chain?
The truth is that you can really play where you place the EQ to get some amazingly unique sounds. However, for a traditional sound, you will want to EQ before everything else. This is because, if you EQ after the other effects, you will be enhancing an already altered signal.
By doing it in the beginning, you will be able to play with the pure tones and then add effects to those. This will give you a better sounding mix in the end.
Do You Need to Compress Every Track?
Many producers are supporters of this. Although it may work for their individual sound, there is only one real answer. It depends. You have to listen to the sound carefully before deciding if it needs compression. You want to make the mix sound awesome by using as little compression as you can.
There do tend to be some tracks that it is almost a given that they will need compression. Things like bass, kick drum, or lead vocals usually need compression. Meanwhile, things like percussion or acoustic performance tend to be better without.
What Does Ratio Do On a Compressor?
Ratio is the control where you decide how much compression will be applied to any given signal that goes over the threshold. For each signal that goes over, it will get compressed by the designated ratio. If we have a higher ratio, the signal will be compressed more, resulting in a decreased signal.
Hopefully, with all the information we have discussed above, you feel more confident in your use of compression. There isn’t really one answer to how you use compression in a mix properly. However, there are definite guidelines that will help you achieve the best mix possible.
Many experts abide by the rule to learn the rules, and then you can break them. This is how many of the greatest advancements have been made in music, and now you are armed and ready to join those legends.
Based in Ampang, Malaysia. I go by M4-P. Started as a rapper/songwriter back in 2015 then quickly and gradually developed my skills to become a beatmaker, music producer, sound designer, and audio engineer. I currently work in a local underground record label called KOKADAIMON that has a number of very talented artists and producers.