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thefridge
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#1
28th May 2007
Old 28th May 2007
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Question Learning compression

gday all,I wish to learn the gentle art of compression,have read the threads, bought the books("mixing with your mind" gave very coherent explanation of compression) ,and have now bought a pair of very cheap Boss RCL-10 units to play with- without too much success. Does the minimum setting mean fast, or slow? ie minimum attack means slow,or fast attack,thrshold release? I cant source a manual, so any help,experience etc gratefully received cheers!
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28th May 2007
Old 28th May 2007
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Couldn't find a manual either, but if I had to guess, minimum attack would be fast...?

Could be wrong. Cranked to its fastest attack and fastest release would yield the most obvious difference (not necessarily the best) in the sound as you adjust the threashold to have the comp react to the signal. You might be able to find out from that.

I forget where I read this, but when I was learning about compression, I took the following advice and it opened some understanding for me...

- Start with slowest attack, fastest release (easier to hear on something percussive like a snare or a whole kit)
- Set the ratio on the high side (10:1 would be on the high side, whereas 2:1 would be on the low side)
- Then bring the threashold down so that the signal starts to trigger the compression.


Note: with this type of experimentation, don't have the compressor always doing compression. Have the signal only "working" on the peaks (to varying degrees).

From there you should be able to "choke up" on the attack, making it faster and faster, listening as you go. With something like a snare you'll hear it darken up. When you hear that you may want to back off and make the attack a little slower. That would give you a sort of middle of the road kind of compression.

- Then back off the ratio a bit, maybe bring it down to between 2:1 and 4:1 or so.
- Lastly, you'd probably want to change the fast release to something a little less fast. Toooo fast a release can be kind of weird.


Of course that's just a little bit of help to get you to a bread and butter understanding of compression. There's so many ways you can alter tone and make music more (or less) impactful as you want. There *are* times where you may want to dig in and have the compressor always working, but if you're just getting going, save that for later.

Lastly, I will say that, while the advice you may read in a lot of books and interviews is awesome, I found that people were often referencing a very specific unit. In my naevite, I would read about the attack amounts and dial them up on my crappy 1992 Digital Performer compressor and wonder why I didn't hear the sound of what they were describing (which was like, an 1176 or Fairchild).

Anyway, I hope that's helpful.
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28th May 2007
Old 28th May 2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by proxy View Post
Couldn't find a manual either, but if I had to guess, minimum attack would be fast...?

Could be wrong. Cranked to its fastest attack and fastest release would yield the most obvious difference (not necessarily the best) in the sound as you adjust the threashold to have the comp react to the signal. You might be able to find out from that.

I forget where I read this, but when I was learning about compression, I took the following advice and it opened some understanding for me...

- Start with slowest attack, fastest release (easier to hear on something percussive like a snare or a whole kit)
- Set the ratio on the high side (10:1 would be on the high side, whereas 2:1 would be on the low side)
- Then bring the threashold down so that the signal starts to trigger the compression.


Note: with this type of experimentation, don't have the compressor always doing compression. Have the signal only "working" on the peaks (to varying degrees).

From there you should be able to "choke up" on the attack, making it faster and faster, listening as you go. With something like a snare you'll hear it darken up. When you hear that you may want to back off and make the attack a little slower. That would give you a sort of middle of the road kind of compression.

- Then back off the ratio a bit, maybe bring it down to between 2:1 and 4:1 or so.
- Lastly, you'd probably want to change the fast release to something a little less fast. Toooo fast a release can be kind of weird.


Of course that's just a little bit of help to get you to a bread and butter understanding of compression. There's so many ways you can alter tone and make music more (or less) impactful as you want. There *are* times where you may want to dig in and have the compressor always working, but if you're just getting going, save that for later.

Lastly, I will say that, while the advice you may read in a lot of books and interviews is awesome, I found that people were often referencing a very specific unit. In my naevite, I would read about the attack amounts and dial them up on my crappy 1992 Digital Performer compressor and wonder why I didn't hear the sound of what they were describing (which was like, an 1176 or Fairchild).

Anyway, I hope that's helpful.
thank you for that.
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28th May 2007
Old 28th May 2007
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Work with the compressors for a little while, on some familiar material. Listen carefully, then twist a knob, then listen carefully some more... etc. Really that's the best way to learn IMO. Reason being that every compressor out there has different implementation. Knobs do not always go minimum -> maximum, and everyone may have a different idea of what "minimum" is anyway. I have a lot of compressors, and several of them have controls that I think of as "backwards"... yet in each case I can see the reasoning behind the "backwards" design. For example a threshold knob- should it turn from lowest threshold to highest (makes numerical sense) or should it turn from "least compressed" to "most compressed" (makes intuitive sense)?

Understanding that you've already done a bunch of reading, here's another something, a basic FAQ page I started. Good luck!
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28th May 2007
Old 28th May 2007
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If you can download a manual for the Presonus Bluemax comp, it has a bunch of presets listed for different instruments, with attack and release times. But, like the other guy said, they may not work on your particular unit.
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28th May 2007
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Smile

very helpful, thanks all.The noise gates' settings(max/min attack release) ambiguity also clouds the issue, as I obviously don't want that operating (yet). I know these are very old units, but that need not be such a bad thing! Any clues on the stereo linking jacks on both of them?cheers
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28th May 2007
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What works well for me is to set my comp in its hardest setting. Ratio all the way to infinity. Then adjust threshold till you hear and see it clamping. Now adjust the two until you tickle the -1db most of the time and see harder compression on peaks, yet sounds uneffected (smooth) by ear. I adjust attack and release by what i'm useing it on. Fast for percussion, soft knee on vocals, auto for instruments, etc.
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30th May 2007
Old 30th May 2007
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My school of thought is that if you can hear the compression it's too much. but some Im sure disagree. I think beatles disks have too much but it does sound ok on those.

To recommend a setting for a comp without hearing the track or being familiar with nuances the compressor itself
is just plain silly

Also don't confuse tape compression for outboard though. Many engineers use outboard comp to emulate natural tape comp in the digital domain. I think that sounds crappy.

Listen to the last Dream Theater disk. God Awful. way too much compression
and waaaaaay too much maximizer. Just a squashed mess.

Compression and limiting can help with dynamics but can also hurt them if used improperly
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31st May 2007
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If you set the attack too fast, you are compressing the transients. The sound will usually get very boring. Espacially on drums. Think about all the money we spend to get fast and punchy preamps....

If your looking for gain control, it could be hepfull to use automation.

If youre looking for a compressor as a "sound changing device":

Think about parrallel compression. Route your signal to a second channel and compress this hard. Bring it in to the desired amount.
Why?
Channel one has this "magic" transients... maybe even push them with a transient designer... Be carefull, the transient designer is easy to overuse...
Channel 2 brings the compression sound

If the release is too fast, it will breathe, you hear the sound coming up.
(Could be a nice sound fx)
If the release is too slow, your always in gain reduction. Think of a snare.
Hit 1 is compressed an the comp is still in gain reduction while hit 2 appears.

A good idea for me is to set the release time, that comp is up to 90-100% when the next hit comes. The drums will breathe in time.

Lets say, the drummer plays 4/4 bum-cha-bumbum-cha.... Try to set the release to 1/4 or 1/8 (60s:bpm=1/4....for example 60s/ 120bpm= 500ms for 1/4, 250ms for a 1/8). Play with this times, mabe set it slightly faster.... Look for a "delay sheet", so you havent got to calculate all the time...

One thing about hardware compressor manuals and software compressors:
Software compressors attack time is normally faster, depending on its digital nature. I mean, that your hardware 1176 seting might not work on UAD-1 1176LN...

I hope this helps,
As always...just one opinion
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31st May 2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by allencollins View Post

Listen to the last Dream Theater disk. God Awful. way too much compression
and waaaaaay too much maximizer. Just a squashed mess.
Systematic Chaos?? Or 8v?

Both sound bad... so it really doesn't matter
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31st May 2007
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Start with simple experiments....

Attempt 5db of gain reduction on an instrument with 5:1 ratio.
Then try it with 10:1.
Notice how it sounds different.

Actually a synth primer can help with understanding attack and release.
Learn how ADSR's work on synths and it is easy to apply this to compression.
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1st June 2007
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Smile

tonight I will plug a slow simple kick, snare, and hh into the input, headphones into the desk, and make that thing mine! very exciting to learn something new at my age! Thanks heaps for all the posts, it will make a difference to my listening! cheers
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1st June 2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by allencollins View Post
Listen to the last Dream Theater disk. God Awful. way too much compression and waaaaaay too much maximizer. Just a squashed mess.
C'mon, You have to learn to listen to it. Get into it then it really kicks ass.

Btw. the new track The Dark Eternal Night kicks ass.

Michael
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2nd June 2007
Old 2nd June 2007
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i love this one plugin S(m)exoscope as it shows you the waveform post processing so can see what the effect of the compression had. this is incredibly valuable as you can see the gain changes and attack effects, etc.

there's pc & mac version but not mscintel
http://www.hitsquad.com/smm/programs/Smexoscope/?nl48
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2nd June 2007
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When listening and learning compressors and compression, I find a full drum track run thru the compressor as sample material is the best way to hear transients (drums) and washy sources (cymbals)

good luck, take your time because learning to listen has been a big plus for me.
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2nd June 2007
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I recommend the FMR RNC as the cheapest way to learn compression. It actually works as it says it does (rare in this segment) and it forces you to understand it entirely.

For instance, it will distort on bass signals with too fast a release, like many, but also on too fast an attack, which is unusual but makes sense if you think about it...other compressors have a hold capability on the attack to avoid that. It's transparent and doesn't add any mojo, which may make you wonder why people spend $4000 on a compressor. It's not for dynamics control they spend all that for...it's because high-end compressor circuits add tons of unique mojo.
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2nd June 2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by macleodgrant View Post
i love this one plugin S(m)exoscope as it shows you the waveform post processing so can see what the effect of the compression had. this is incredibly valuable as you can see the gain changes and attack effects, etc.

there's pc & mac version but not mscintel
S(m)exoscope for Windows 98/2000/ME/XP
Why would you want to *see* what you've done when you can listen? Doesn't that defeat the whole purpose of being and engineer as opposed to say... a video editor or something?

Maybe you're in the wrong field!
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2nd June 2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FossilTooth View Post
Why would you want to *see* what you've done when you can listen? Doesn't that defeat the whole purpose of being and engineer as opposed to say... a video editor or something?

Maybe you're in the wrong field!
I think it's remarkably useful to use visual aids in learning, and in general, to shift perspectives on a problem to understand it from many angles. Audio engineering is an extremely subtle art, and getting confirmation of an effect on a scope or via test tones is helpful to any of us at any skill level.

For instance, I was just studying the internal gain staging and EQ curves of a guitar amplifier by reamping test tones with it. Are you going to tell me that I should have just stuck with the guitar and my ears? The test tones made the behavior of the amp so truly clear that my understanding of it went up perhaps tenfold in ten minutes, even after playing guitar through it for a year.

I have a sneaking suspicion that that knowledge will come in handy.
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2nd June 2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FossilTooth View Post
Why would you want to *see* what you've done when you can listen? Doesn't that defeat the whole purpose of being and engineer as opposed to say... a video editor or something?

Maybe you're in the wrong field!
did you happen to read the title of the thread? 'Learning Compression'! sometimes seeing the effect helps you train your ears what to listen for, e.g. transients, average loudness, seeing the release of the compressor

you do know that people who make plugins and hardware do tests using various scopes and meter readers,etc so they can see the effect of the plugin or hardware on frequencies inside or outside of our hearing spectrum. hell, why do you think we have waveforms in the first place. how about this visual aid in soundtrack pro that uses colours to represent frequencies and you can cut out frequencies just using this thing - first though you need a correlation between what you're seeing and hearing before you can use a tool like that effectively.
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4th June 2007
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Smile

Eureka, I begin to understand. having a (identical?) pair of these rcl-10's to play with was my downfall. Of course the first one I tried to work with gave me no joy because it was faulty!! I swapped units, and hay presto it works! All the parameters give the expected outcome-as described, now comes the hard part- knowing when and where to use it (just like life) Much is made of the individual sound of a compressor, so what am I listening(looking) for in terms of tonal difference as this unit operates, on say a good drumkit in a big room (seems to squash the kick and snare together) versus say a nice acoustic guitar up close? what are the sounds,tones etc that I should be trying to enhance, or otherwise modify? sorry to be such a newb! Cheers,and thanks
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4th June 2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thefridge View Post
Eureka, I begin to understand. having a (identical?) pair of these rcl-10's to play with was my downfall. Of course the first one I tried to work with gave me no joy because it was faulty!! I swapped units, and hay presto it works! All the parameters give the expected outcome-as described, now comes the hard part- knowing when and where to use it (just like life) Much is made of the individual sound of a compressor, so what am I listening(looking) for in terms of tonal difference as this unit operates, on say a good drumkit in a big room (seems to squash the kick and snare together) versus say a nice acoustic guitar up close? what are the sounds,tones etc that I should be trying to enhance, or otherwise modify? sorry to be such a newb! Cheers,and thanks
While compressors are often advertised as "reducing dynamic range" that's not really what they are used for in practice generally. It's not as if they are used to make your verse volume match your chorus volume with no other effect on the sound...for that, you would use fader riding. Instead, compression is used to alter the envelope of a sound...i.e. give the sound more sustain, slower decay, slower attack (with less transient) or faster attack (with more transient "punch"). Ironically, setting a compressor with faster attack gives the sound a slower attack...this is because the compressor operates in a downward fashion, reducing the level of signal as it operates, only increasing it via make-up gain.

So what you're looking for is "fullness" of the sound, or "hugeness". You are looking to not "miss" notes that are lower in level during a phrase, without "squashing' the louder notes too much. You are looking to either add punch or take away transient annoyance. You get there by exaggerating the effect via a high ratio so you can hear it easily, then backing down the ratio till it's seamless.
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