by Claudio

Mar 01, 2024

An introduction on how to use compressors for mixing.
Compression is one of the most discussed and misunderstood subjects, especially when used for mixing and mastering.

Compression Basics

Compression is the act of reducing the level of the sound whenever that level goes beyond a certain point (called threshold). This reduces the difference between the loudest and quietest parts of the sound, allowing the overall level to be raised. Typically, compression is used on vocals to ensure the words can be understood clearly. It’s also used on all instruments to increase consistency between the quiet and loud parts.

Attack

is how fast the compressor reacts to the sound, in other words, how much time it takes for the compressor to start turning the sound down.

Release

time is how long it will take the compressor to recover to the normal level.

Ratio

is how much the compressor pushes the sound down. i.e., a 2:1 ratio means a signal exceeding the threshold by 2dBs will be pushed down to 1dB. A ratio of 4:1 means that if the level exceeds the threshold by 4 dBs then the sound will be down to 1 dBs, and so on.

Threshold

sets the level at which the compression effect starts engaging. Only when a level passes above the threshold will the sound be compressed.

Compression For Enhancement

Different compressors have different sounds. You can choose different compressors based on their character and tone.
Transparent compressors such as Maselec MLA-2 or GML 8900 are very clean and, even when they compress a lot, the sound doesn’t change in tone. They are ideal for classical music, acoustic guitar, strings, and piano.
Colourful compressors such as Universal Audio 1176, LA-2A, or some tube type compressors can introduce a pleasant distortion (as they add higher harmonics) resulting in the sound becoming more “colourful” and personal.

Which Compressor Do We Like To Use?

Here are a few of our go-to

Empirical Labs Distressor

The most used compressor in Doctor Mix. A Swiss army knife of compressors. It is incredibly versatile, combining an analogue compressor circuit with digital controls. It is great for 1176 style compression, as it can be very fast, but can also be very slow, good for anything. Vocal, Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Drums, and Snare.

Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor

Iconic Dual-Stage Dynamics Processor. Esteemed for its versatility and distinctive sonic character. It features both optical and discrete compression sections for a wide range of textures. The transformer-switching technology allows for altering the output’s tonal character by choosing between Nickel, Iron, and Steel transformer types, offering unique compression flavors. Ideal for mastering with its precise control and unparalleled sound shaping capabilities. Dive into the king of modern analogue compressors here.

Neve 33609 JD

Good for strings, pads, pianos, or something rich in harmonics. Warm and gentle. Not completely transparent, but it behaves like one yet delivering a bit of beauty in the sound. Check our detailed review here.

Thermionic Culture Phoenix Mastering Plus

The Phoenix Mastering Plus delivers a full, incredible, and classy sound. The low end sounds nice, warm, and compact. Works best when it’s in a moderate setting. Great for strings, orchestra, and any programmed material requiring a solid low end and great texture.

SSL G-Series Bus Compressor

One of the most used compressors on the planet, being in the centre section of the much-used SSL G Series consoles. Punchy, snappy, present, aggressive, spanky sound, and is one of the most colourful compressors we have. Typically used on program material, but also fantastic for Drums. Check our detailed review here.


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How Audio Compression Works