The No.1 Website for Pro Audio
 Search This Thread  Search This Forum  Search Reviews  Search Gear Database  Search Gear for sale  Search Gearslutz Go Advanced
COMPRESSION IS FOR KIDS!!!! Dynamic Microphones
Old 26th August 2006
Bruce Swedien's Avatar

Thread Starter
Compressors are for KIDS!!!

djui5 sez--------------->Mixing without compression is like partying without alcohol.
Revolution 06'

"I thought we were in this business to make great SOUNDING records, not easy ones"
XSergeantD 06'

"Money is not the issue. money is NEVER the issue, it is merely a forum within which fear finds the illusion of credibility. a driven human being is, among many other things, unstoppable."
Ubik 06'

Brucie sez-------------------->NO!!! NO!!! NO!!! Mixing WITH compression is like partying without alcohol.

Compressors are for KIDS!!! Get REAL!!!!

Bruce Swedien

Old 26th August 2006
Bruce Swedien's Avatar

Thread Starter


Let's get this out in the open once and for all. Here is how I feel about compression...
Compression is for KIDS!!!! I think a little discussion is in order....

The compressor or limiter.

Before the introduction of the automatic gain control, or compressor, the only way the music dynamics could be controlled was by "riding" the gain, or volume control. Fortunately for us, the introduction of the compressor was not long after the introduction of electronic recording.

Most compressors are threshold sensitive, which means that signals below a certain volume level are not affected by the device. This threshold level is set by the user. Signals above this threshold level are reduced in gain. This gain reduction level is also set by the user and is expressed as a Ratio. Compression ratio is expressed in DB's. It means that a certain change in input level will result in a certain change in output level. Response time is pretty obvious and I think you probably already know enough of the basics about compressor/limiters to get you through a session.There has from time to time been a trend to use compression on the mix buss of a mix, but to my ear this use of the device will cause a dulling effect of the sonic image. This use of the device will also allow transient peaks to cause attenuation of the whole signal including low-level high-frequency sounds. If the sound sources on your multi-track are properly recorded in the first place they will not need much limiting or compression.

Experiment with all the new signal processors. There is no such thing as wasted time spent messing around with new effects. The main thing is to learn what will work to enhance the sonic image of the music you are involved with.Developing your own musical ideas is what creating a unique "Sonic Personality" is all about. Don't let the technology control you. Try to remember that just because all these new 'toys' are there doesn't mean you have to use them. If they make sense in the music and add to the musical 'sense' of what you are working on then they belong there.

One last little thing about peripheral processors...I always try to think of how a record that I am doing will sound ten years from now. Will a processing device of today make it sound hopelessly dated in the future. I realize that that is hard to judge and I have no crystal ball to listen to. Think of it like this, it would be like doing a recording ten years ago and using one to many wah-wah pedals on the guitar parts. Don't put one to many processors on the music just because the effects are in the control room. By keeping the musical 'sense' of a piece of music uppermost in our minds, the music that we record today will sound just as good years from now as it does to us today.

So...... to sum up......

Good transient response is especially important when recording acoustic instruments. This is one case where it’s extremely important for one to have equipment that is able to capture as much of the initial transient as possible, and all it’s accompanying delicate details.

In the music that I am normally involved in, I have always felt that good transient content is one of the very most important components of the recorded image.

I would even go so far as to say that transient response has at it’s core a direct relationship to the emotional impact of a recording. Particularily in the main genre’s of music that I record.... namely R & B and ‘Pop’ recordings.

The faithful recording and reproduction of sound source transients makes the strong rhythmic elements in R & B and ‘Pop’ recordings much more dramatic.

These are the elements that are so important, such as the ‘Kick’ or bass drum, the ‘Snare’ drum, hand-claps, percussion...etc.

I think that well recorded transients give R & B and ‘Pop’ recordings a feeling of tremendous energy.

To me, the excessive use of compression and limiting diminish the drama of sound source transients in recorded music. Along that same line of thinking,

I should also point out that I have never been(and probably never will be) a big fan of dynamics compression anywhere during the recording process.

To me, when R & B and ‘Pop’ recordings are over-compressed and over-limited, they lack the extemely fundamental qualities of both primitive energy and smooth high-frequencies.

The reason that over-compressed and over-limited recordings lose high end energy, is that much of the sound energy in a recording is concentrated in the lower frequencies.

These low-end signals will negatively influence a wide-band compressor’s operation, causing higher frequencies to be attenuated during peaks in level, making the music sound dull and lifeless.

Personally, I love transients and what they do to dramatize music. Let them live! If a recording is over-compressed, it will always be over-compressed. In other words, it will sound dull and lifeless forever!


Old 26th August 2006
Lives for gear
lawrence_o's Avatar

I'm sorry Bruce to disagree with ya but what you say might be theoretically true.
However, it's the sound that counts and if I can make a kick e.g. really get out of my speaker to literally kick me in the family jewels when really comressed hard, then I say Halleluah. Let the compressor kick in!

Also, I once recorded a dude on a simple SM58 through a focusrite red compressor using 10:1! It sounded bloody cool on that dude. So what's the problem?

All the best either way
Old 26th August 2006
Gear Addict

This is the best thread ever.
Thank you Bruce for helping save music.
Old 26th August 2006
Gear maniac

Very Intriguing:

I have a very good friend that has engineer many CDs and he has always said to me that the young and the restless, reach for the compressor the season for the EQ?? Interesting perspective that really sums up some of what you are saying.

As a follow up question to this compression dilemma that we all find ourselves into is how to capture an instruments transients, yet making a commercially viable product?? I am talking about punch, character, width, depth and vibe???? Espeically the world that I tend to find my self where the client is judging your mixes against the flavor of the week/loud (ULTRA COMPRESSED) CD. Any words of advice are much appreciated.

Old 26th August 2006
Lives for Jesus
stevep's Avatar
Thumbs up

I agree !!!!! heh

Ride the fader ! especially when tracking vocals

and i don't remember stereo bus compressing getting big until the Loudness wars started

Old 26th August 2006
Registered User

I like what you are saying. It makes complete sense. But to play the devils advocate here for a sec, what do you think about the the Lord-Alge approach? The last record I engineered was mixed by CLA. I was shocked how much compression he used! I'm talking in the ball park of -20db on some tracks. Vocals had multiple compressors on them. But... I loved the end result. The mix has lots of sizzle and is very punchy. I've always been a purist when it comes to compression. I always tried to use as little as possible. But when I met CLA he basically said, "who cares how much compression you use??!?! Do you like what you hear?"

I guess what I'm getting at is, if you really know how to use compression, it can be a totally different approach (technique). If you don't really know how to use it, it can kill your mix! Don't get me wrong, obviously you know your stuff. I just want to point out that heavy compression can be a different path.
Old 26th August 2006
Bruce Swedien's Avatar

Thread Starter
I LOVE to be disagreed with!!!

Originally Posted by lawrence_o View Post
I'm sorry Bruce to disagree with ya but what you say might be theoretically true.
However, it's the sound that counts and if I can make a kick e.g. really get out of my speaker to literally kick me in the family jewels when really comressed hard, then I say Halleluah. Let the compressor kick in!

Also, I once recorded a dude on a simple SM58 through a focusrite red compressor using 10:1! It sounded bloody cool on that dude. So what's the problem?

All the best either way

I LOVE to be disagreed with!!!!

Which brings me to the: So-called rules.....

I must tell you at this point that the before-mentioned facts, like many other so-called 'rules in the art of recording sound, are to be understood and kept in mind, but not necessarily regarded as gospel. I do, in fact, frequently break those rules when I am looking for a certain 'sound' or 'sonic image'.

I should, at this point, along this same line of thinking, tell you another thing about the evolution of my 'sonic personality' that I regard as exceedingly important..

I will always sacrifice a technical value for a production value....

In other words, to me there is no technical rule, axiom, or creed, that is so sacred as to make itself more important than a musical value, or production value, in the recording of modern music. If I were looking for a very 'breathy', sensuous, vocal recording 'sonic image', for instance, I would place the singer as close as is physically possible to the microphone, thereby eliminating almost all early reflections. I would even use no windscreen, if possible....

You can hear this technique in action for yourself, as I used it on Michael Jackson’s lead vocal on the song "Earth Song" on Michael’s “History” album.

I recorded Michael's lead vocal on "Earth Song", with one of my Neumann M-49 tube mikes. I used no windscreen. I placed him as close as he could possibly get to this incredible old mike. "Earth Song" is a piece of music that has many different effects and reverbs as part of it’s sonic image. Since right now we are discussing mainly a vocal sound, I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that I came up with a very unusual Lexicon 224XL “Inverse Room” type lead vocal effect, for my mix of “Earth Song”. As an additional point of interest, there is a TC Electronics M5000, highly modified, “Wooden Hall” reverb on the drums.

Bruce Swedien

Old 26th August 2006
Gear Head
dolo72's Avatar

Just another thumbs up for the no compression camp.

and I make Hip Hop.

Thanks Bruce for saying it like it is and recording/mixing the same way.

Old 26th August 2006
Lives for gear

Hi Bruce,
thank you for spending some time here. it's very much appreciated.
what would you say to the sound of the old Al Green records where compression and distortion of the equipment (NOT using outboard compression, per se) is what gives those records their sonic identity? Those records have the primal energy and breath you speak of, but are clearly anything but hi-fidelity.

Also, for those of us unfortunate enough to have to work in the digital domain, can creative compression be used as a tool to "slow the initial transients down" much like a good tube mic?

thanks again,
david lawrence
(sometimes guilty of squish)
Old 27th August 2006
Lives for gear
BradM's Avatar
Regarding slowing the transients down in digital mixes... I've personally found that just running the mix through a piece of outboard gear with transformers in it does just that. Make yourself a simple box with 1:1 transformers. Something with some large proportion of steel in the contruction will give you more saturation and coloration. Just try running your mixes through it. You essentially could control the amount of "color" just by adjusting the master fader level. A thought...

Old 27th August 2006

But I have to admit that after reading this thread, I´ll try someday to record/mix without any compression.
Old 27th August 2006
Lives for gear
Greg Wells's Avatar
Thank you Bruce

Reading your posts is the most inspiring thing I've come across in months.. years. Thanks for kicking the bar so high into the air that the rest of us can't even agree what part of the sky to point the telescope! Forgive the lame metaphor.

A question - I often work with singers that have no mic technique; perhaps I'm just scared, but I can't imagine riding the fader recording one these vocals, or trusting anyone else to do it. I wouldn't be able to listen objectively to the vocal take as it went down if I was concentrating on being the "compressor". Can you please quickly comment on this? I've always been aware that the compression is compromising the audio quality, especially transients, but could see no other way around it.

Thank you so much,
Old 27th August 2006
Lives for gear
beechstudio's Avatar

First of all.........let me say welcome to the forum Bruce! It is indeed an honor to have you here! heh

I agree with you to an extent on the compression deal. However, in my opinion, I think it really depends on the material being recorded/mixed as to whether or not compression is used and/or needed. A lot of the heavier genre of music today, (which is mainly what I record), is just totally powerful, and needs the slam of compression. I don't think I could record a Hardcore band without it and have it be competitive. There's nothing wrong with your method as it obviously has been very very successful for you! (Love your work by the way!)
Old 27th August 2006
Just Another Old Guy
Harvey Gerst's Avatar
If you read what Bruce has said, he just states that many of us use compression as a crutch, rather than a tool to maximize a musical statement. If it's right for the job, use it.

And it helps to know the rules before you break them.
Old 27th August 2006
Lives for gear
logicll's Avatar

[QUOTE]So...... to sum up......

Good transient response is especially important when recording acoustic instruments. This is one case where it’s extremely important for one to have equipment that is able to capture as much of the initial transient as possible, and all it’s accompanying delicate details.

In the music that I am normally involved in, I have always felt that good transient content is one of the very most important components of the recorded image.[ /QUOTE]

Actually transient response is an issue with A/D converters too (one more reason tape (analog) sounds more natural than digital.

Interesting to bring this point up applying to compression. So that’s why we need converters with the best IR filters and low thermal noise…hmm “transient response”…my word of the day
Old 27th August 2006
Gear maniac
Ricky's Avatar

Cheers Bruce Luv your workthumbsup
Thanks for your thoughts on the over use of compression that seems to be the trend in modern contempory recordings. I could not agree with you more about the importance of capturing transients and using them as a essential dynamic element of the music rather than a nasty that needs to be destoyed. I will get slammed for agreeing with you about the use of mixbuss compression especially when it seems that if you dont strap a high end slutty compressor across your mix then you are doing something wrong. Compression has become an effect that is as over used as the flanger or chorus through various trends along the recording timeline. Leave multiband or broadband compression to the mastering engineers if it is required. Transients and dynamics are breath and heartbeat of music " I dont know about you but I dont want my heartbeat or breathing choked while I am trying to whisper and shout my point to the world". Ride the wild fader, its a hell of a ride.
Old 27th August 2006
Lives for gear

I actually read what Bruce Swedien is talking about a little different. I think there's a distinct difference between what "sounds good" in a universal sense and what "sounds good" in a fashion or trend sense. If what is percieved to sound cool today and sound good today is because of fashion trend (heavy compression etc) or excessive use of reverb ala mid 80's rock genre - yeah man you might really regret that in the future by "dating" your music.

I think a great example of being on the conservative side in this regard is AC/DC Back in Black. 25 years after the recording it still sounds relevant and in no way does the recording date the music. Yet albums that came out 5 years later in the same genre that followed certain excessive effect trends sound very dated "ie too 80's" some of which borderling on "cheesy".

It's interesting to note the serious arguements Pink Floyd had amongst themselves when recording DSOTM. At issue was one camp wanting a really dry album while the other camp wanted a really wet album. They couldn't agree so they compromised and chose a conservative path. And again, that album is not dated whatsoever and never sounds like "old news".

Anyhow, sorry for all the hot airheh but I think the idea is to be conscious of whether we think something sounds good because the effect is in vogue or if it in fact is pleasing to the ear regardless of what techniques are currently in fashion.
Old 27th August 2006
Lives for gear
Rep's Avatar

Bravo ......
Old 27th August 2006
Jai guru deva om
warhead's Avatar

Hi Bruce, it's a real pleasure to have heavy hitters such as yourself around to explain the whys and hows of what you do.

On compression, are we just talking about tracking vocals here? Because without compression I'm afraid a lot of the effect of Ringo Starr's drum sound would be GONE. I'm trying to hear "You Won't See Me" without that giant sucking sound.

What about "When The Levee Breaks" by Zep? I just can't hear it without it...they were able to bring a lot to the surface with it.

Old 27th August 2006
Gear nut
Empire 21 Music's Avatar

I can see if you're in total control of the project, from recording to mix, where compression (for the most part) can be avoided - but c'mon - It's gotta get used and abused at some point. More times than not - I am using 2 compressors lightly on a LV to tame but not to squash.

And I try to use EQ over Comps to control dynamics when I can
Old 27th August 2006
Lives for gear
Saudade's Avatar

Ok here comes a total noob to the rescue!

To me as a listener, expertly compressed mixes (like the Alges') are definitely more impressive at the first listen. However the downside of this "impact" is that it somehow tires my ears very easily.

Mixes with much of transients and dynamics preserved may not be so impressive at the first listens (and on radio), but they make much more long lasting pleasurable listening. The fact there are various elements sticking out dynamically in such mixes sustains interests in the ears (the brain rather?) longer.

Perhaps it might be described like the difference between looking at a glossy photoprint versus an oil painting of a human portrait. Or quickies versus tantric coupling heh

( Mr Swedien!)
Old 27th August 2006
Gear addict

I am writing this reply from the standpoint of someone who is relatively new to audio engineering and mean this reply with all due respect, but........

I do know what records I like to listen to. And like many others (millions of others in fact) I love the sound of modern rock and production. Most of these records are have the snot squished right out of them and it's fine.

Listen to some of the newer productions like Green Day and even though the sound is crushed to hell it still makes you want to turn up the volume knob louder and louder.

Nothing sounds "real" by any means in a production like that but the effect is that all of the elements sound "huge'. The guitars and drums sound monsterous.The dynamics give a strong sense of energy to the songs because of how compressed they are!

If it wasn't compressed like it is I don't think that it would have the same impact.

I took an audio program and the engineer that owned the studio and ran that program had nearly identical standpoint in regards to the use of dynamic processing in audio production. For many months on a daily basis he conveyed the same message as you are doing here on Gearslutz.

But this message still doesn't make sense. If it sounds's good. What is so wrong with that?
Old 27th August 2006
Lives for gear
mac black's Avatar
Oh dear .... I love the sound of a compressed snare/kick/vocals (with some limiting on the latter).
I still ride those parts if needed but there is a character to each compressor (which i like to use as a sonic modifier rather then only a compressor).
I thought thriller was very punchy and History also ... how do you get such punchy sounds without compression ? Punchy source only? Does BG adds alittle extra punch in mastering ?

Im enjoying all your posts


Old 27th August 2006
Lives for gear
zboy2854's Avatar

First, I have to say it's hard to argue with the man who made Thriller sound the way it sounds, which even today still sounds better and louder (yes, louder!) than most other recordings today. That said...

To those newbies who may be reading these threads and may take some of what you (Bruce) post as unbending gospel, I think it's important to note that there is compression taking place by the use of analog tape, as well as the healthy doses of compression often used in mastering.

Further, I find that in many cases, not using compression on certain tracks leads to the phenomenon where the audio sounds great when monitored at louder volumes, but falls apart or sounds lifeless when monitored softly. I've always found that using compression can alleviate this condition.

Also, as you mentioned, the need for compression can be lessened by how the source audio is recorded. But there are often many situations where one is given material to mix that has been poorly recorded, and for which compression is the proper or only remedy to bring excitement or impact to the tracks.

Personally, I believe that if one is using compression and the end result is lifeless and dull recordings, they are simply using compression improperly or too much of it.
Old 27th August 2006
Gear addict
Mike Derrick's Avatar

Yes Great thread.

I also have a question.

Using compression: would a slow attack time allow the initial transients to remain intact?
Old 27th August 2006
Gear addict

I tend to think of the current trend towards over compression as very similar to the use of reverb during the 80s. The main problem is that any listener can go "gosh theres alot of echo on that".. but the average person can't recognise that the dynamic range has been severly reduced. Because of this it's probably going to last alot longer, the average punter isn't realy going to disagree with it, cause they won't even know it's happening!

using volume automation to replace the role of compression is great in theory. Obviously it takes more time.. but you can definately get a much more transparent sound with it. But sometimes you don't want your compression to be transparent.. what are your thoughts on using compressors not despite their colouration of the sound.. but because of it?
Old 27th August 2006
Lives for gear
T_R_S's Avatar
Originally Posted by stevep View Post

Ride the fader ! especially when tracking vocals
But is that not what a compressor does for you?
I remember designing a compressor back in tech school days and I always thought a compressor was a automatic voltage controlled amplifier.
In theory a really good compressor you should not 'hear' it should work as if there is a magic hand on the fader.
At some point you need to compress the dynamic range as well. Until a CD can do 150db of dynamic range, a compressor at some point is a nessecary evil.
Old 27th August 2006
Gear Addict
For sure, compressing tracks as you mix can be a real slippery slope.

'Well, of course that bass part needs to be smoothed out a bit...hmm, now the kick sounds a little dull alongside it, let's dial in a smidgen...wait a minute, now the snare needs a bit more pop, funny, I didn't notice that before.'

Before you know it...hey, where'd my mix go?

Mixing in-the-box with plugins, it's an easy trap to fall into.

I compressed in a burning ring of fire
The sound went down as the knobs went higher...
Old 27th August 2006
Gear Maniac

I guess it shows us all that there's not one way of doing things. A CLA or TLA will squash it to death and Mr Swedien will keep it uncompressed. They're both valid statements as there is no arguing that they are all masters of their trade. (Anyone?)
My personal feeling is that Mr Swedien's mixes stand the test of time and still sound fresh after all these years. They just jump out of the speakers in clubs compared to other squashed stuff. In a trend of overcompressed stuff it's very refreshing to see one of the masters show us that it's possible to have it another way. Gotta listen to all those great records again. On the other hand I guess when the drummer is wicked and you've got a singer like MJ you probably don't feel the need to tighten things up.

A bit off topic but I just wanted to thanks to Mr Swedien for the best piece of advice I ever got. A few years back he said in some video that he always starts off teaching students by taking them to listen to an orchestra. Since I try to go 2 or 3 times a year to the opera and it's truly a cleansing and humbling experience. Puts the Hi's and Lo's straight. stereo image. dynamics. acoustics.

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Similar Threads
Thread Starter / Forum
DP40oz / So much gear, so little time
Zeppelin4Life / So much gear, so little time
loudist / Gear free zone - shoot the breeze
steveH / Work In Progress / Advice Requested / Show and Tell / Artist Showcase / Mix-Offs

Forum Jump
Forum Jump