The Compression Thread

In the spirit of other effect threads, I thought it would be fun to share thoughts on using compression. What’s your preferred compressor/compressor type for what purpose? Do you just use it at the mixing and mastering stage, or do you “play” with it on?

I’m especially curious to hear about people’s strategies towards using compression with electronic instruments and synthesizers because there’s a lot less written about that on the internet, compared to guitars. It’s hard for me to tell how pairing a guitar compressor pedal with my Eurorack system would sound based on youtube demos, for example. Even when there’s a keyboard synthesizer demo, I can’t always tell how similar that signal is to the signals I’d be sending. I read someone somewhere say they don’t believe in using compression on synthesizers because it’s already compressed (I guess by the 10vpp? or just less stray transients? not certain what they meant). If this was true I’m guessing compressors wouldn’t sound so good on everything : )

Right now my go to is patching a Cold Mac as a compressor, and then sending a feedback signal to get a bit of hair on it as well. I played with an Autodyne for about 15 minutes in a store once and was blown away, but otherwise don’t have much experience with hardware compressors, only really messed with compression in the box with stock plug ins and what not.

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Wrote a little article on it a few years back, mainly from a mastering angle:

http://hermetechmastering.com/compressors.html

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For general dynamics control I tend to use limiters rather than compressors. The controls are just much more intuitive to me.

I am a really big fan of the standard FL Studio compressor at its most extreme settings. It creates this grinding, sandy texture (I have a hard time describing it in technical terms). I often track the dynamics of the sound before compression to add it back in after as I’m not after a squashed dynamic, only that texture.
Sounds really good with granular imo

Synths I tend not to compress as much since they tend not to have much dynamics and the ones that are tend to be very deliberate. There are some exceptions like extreme resonances and feedback but overall, you have a lot of control just in the envelope when you modulate that VCA.
Totally interested in other perspectives on this though!

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Except for glue, as Gregg describes, my strategy toward compression with electronic music is not to use it much, because of the consistent RMS levels. It’s not like bass guitar (where players with finesse don’t need much anyway) or vocals.

That said, one of the things I like about modular sounds with low pass gates and velocity envelopes (or memory with Natural Gate) is the organic decay, so messing with dynamics is kind of the opposite of what I want.

I don’t like compression on guitars either and guitar pedal compressors I would never ever use for modular. You’re better off using a plugin like TDR Kotelnikov or Cytomic The Glue (or the UAD one), if you don’t have access to a GSSL variant or another stereo bus compressor.

For drums I generally prefer parallel not squashing, sometimes transparent limiting for rimshots, and the right mics are everything to capture transients and shell resonance. Compression is more about feel and glue than actually controlling dynamics.

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Hardware:
I have used the Oto Boum with slightly attenuated modular signals. It is the one box I would always bring when playing live, since you can dial in how much of the compression you want to add, get various flavours of distortion (I use it rather lightly) and have a nice low and hi cut which helps cleaning up.
Apart from that I also like the in your face compression of the Boss Sp X0X boxes but would not use it on a complete mix, but it is nice to bring out dirt and grit.
In the box, I really like a few plugins, recently I found that the Soundhack compand can do some nice things, the Soundhack spectral compand is also really great.

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Definitely interested to learn more. Is this like a side chain patch?

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I like the soundhack compand quite a bit, have been messing with it for the past couple months, the spectral compand looks cool too!

I too enjoy the characterful compression of the SP, and I’d say the DigDugDIY Purple Rain thingy seems to have a similar feels — it seems like it helps give those their squished lofi vibe, haven’t played with either of them though.

@oot and @Joseph I think what i really like about using it in the modular is the subtle sidechaining—not dramatically squashing dynamics but using the dynamics of one signal to “move” the whole mix a bit. I do wonder if what I’m doing with Cold Mac is more of a sort of limiter though, since I’m not attenuating the envelope follower signal at all… It’s not an infinite ratio though, I think it would just be the equivalent of a “very high” ratio. The mixing and mastering aspect of compression is really interesting (and your article is very useful @Gregg thank you for sharing!), but it seems like there’s a way to talk about it as part of a modular instrument, rather than only as post-processing (in this context, a guitar with a pedal board would also be a “modular instrument”). Maybe it’s too easy to overuse it though because it tends to be quite subtle… until it’s not.

@Gexex Yes, it’s the compression patch from the cold mac technical map with the output fed to a matrix mixer and then back in. I often do something along the lines of sending the Low output from Three Sisters to sidechain against a sort of rhythmic or bass-y part. Or I will sidechain the synthy bits against a sample or something that has a bit of a more chaotic signal.

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ableton’s compressor - great for clean utility compression duties
drum buss - in the box magic for drumz
goodhertz VULF - character for dayyyyys
sp-303 vinyl sim- a very niche effect that not many people know about :wink:
op-1 master compressor - hey it sounds pretty nice
OTO Boum - absolutely wonderful for breathing analog life and dirt into a mix

wow so many great tools!

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I like your thinking!

You can probably figure out the ratio of compression by using a test sine and raising your input by a certain amount, then checking the output.

Following this sort of procedure, which I’ve used to successfully test a GSSL

https://groupdiy.com/index.php?topic=944.180

In a DAW, you might prefer the sound of a dynamic equalizer, such as TDR nova or Pro Q 3. Another option is using DMG expurgate or similar gate as an expander. These tools can typically be used with external sidechain, such as one of your modular tracks.

The Make Noise discontinued but cheap module Dynamix can use audio cv for ducking and expansion. It’s quite cool, and I really like it as a VCA (or transistor low pass gate) as well because the low frequencies are attenuated less quickly, it has a nice oomph to it.

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For general “make the whole mix sound better” purposes, DDMF Magic Death Eye seems pretty much foolproof.

Sometimes I’ll use a compressor to bring up reverb/delay tails, or the noise floor :slight_smile:

For weird noisy lofi character: the compressor built into Plogue Chipcrusher.

To turn up the heat with saturation:: Supercharger GT

To squash the hell out of everything: RoughRider

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Shortly after I started out in modular, I was having issues with resonant bandpass filters ringing out (too) loudly, when hitting them with just the right resonant frequencies. I started using Mutable Streams as a stereo limiter, and that solved all my problems, and gave me a level of control I loved on my final mix. My emphasis is playing live and single-pass studio recording, so once I had a stereo compressor on my mix bus—it became an essential part of my workflow. At some point, I sold Streams for an Intellijel MSCL, and it’s been permanently on my mixbus since then. It’s an amazing tool for playing live—mostly to tame unruly resonances and feedback loops, but also to glue mixes together with light compression. It’s also effective for balancing parts of a patch—especially when I’m mixing field recordings and traditional synthesis. The only downside has been using it to record tracks for an album—it makes more sense to record uncompressed mixes, no matter how good some compression sounds—so you can add some consistency in the mastering process. No doubt obvious to everyone but me- haha.

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mostly over here chaining / side chaining ableton glue compressor on most tracks and getting all sorts of lovely transformations. I’d have a hard time seeing the value of a hardware compressor (outside of professional mastering perhaps) but I’d say that about a lot of things : ) : )

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Alesis 3630 for sidechain and focusrite platinum compounder for the “Huge” kicks

cheap and nasty but that’s not bad, or maybe is …

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ableton’s glue compressor is my favorite:

  • sounds good at pretty much all settings
  • very easy to dial in…I usually squash the hell out of stuff, dial in the a/r (usually v long for both), tamp back, bring in dry and dial in to taste
  • Its fun messing with the ceiling and clipping stuff to make stuff sound aggressive on occasion

In a similar way, I really love the sonnox oxford limiter. I lucked out that a license was authorized on my interface when I bought it from someone, but it also just generally sounds good most of the time, does true peak limiting, and the emphasis curve can really help with level setting/relative loudness when your mastering. Those two are my gotos, tho I do sometimes use abletons limiter coz it’s so easy and works fine

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Mixing/Bus Compression: I love opto compression for glue but i always wanted a more radical tool, when i stumbled upon the elysia mpressor i knew i was there. This is the only compressor that can act like an envelope in a synth voice. I use this to eat peaks or in extreme settings in parallel. It took a good 20years in my recording career to grasp the concept of a compressor and actually know what i‘m doing. Since now this is the case the mpressor is a marvelous companion but its concept needs understanding and adapting.

When i started in the 8ies the overeasy use of a hardware 1176 on voice was phenomenal. Then i had this big confusion when inthebox compressors didnt sound like i wanted and it took 20 years, the tools gotten better and i became more confident.
Remember, from the late 9ies until 2012 we had this loudness war going on in Broadcast-limiters like the hardware Jünger were the shit then. In flashy studios you‘d stack 2 in series :laughing:.
Luckily in 2012 we were introduced to the R128 norm of leveling. I took 3-4 years of adapting but as of now i‘m happy again like in the 8ies. Unless i did Musicmastering in the last 10years, i would not touch a limiter but for the bare boosting level to zero.

I have a hard time with stock ableton dynamic plugins-to me they sound thin (multiband limiter especially) and dont take me where i want to go. Probably just me😃

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Very easy to patch up a compressor on a modular too, started a thread on it on the MW forum about 11 years ago:

https://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=6417

You only need three modules (four if you include the Mult), either a filter, VCA, LPG or VCF (whichever sounds best, or TRY THEM ALL!!! I used a Wiard Borg filter here which is vactrol based and has a nice thwappy sound) as the gain reduction element, an Inverter, and some kind of Envelope Follower (I used a Serge VCS patched as such in this example, but you could use a “proper” Envelope Follower such as the one in an MS-20, or a Maths etc.) Depending on how you patch it, it’s FeedForward or FeedBack, and you can insert whatever else you like in the Side Chain for ultimate flexibility. :slight_smile: It can be very tweaky but can also sound amazing!

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Loving heavy compression and side chaining as stylistic element as used in Low’s ‘Double Negative’ (https://lowtheband.bandcamp.com/album/double-negative) or some Colin Stetson records. Big fan …

In the modular I tend to use side chaining on parts of the mix (e.g. long delays, either side chaining the delay input signal agains the delay mix out or percussive/kick elements agains the whole ‘voice’) to clean up a bit. Usually with on board tools — envelope followers, attenuverters, VCAs.

For more percussive elements I also compress/limit a copy of the signal and mix it back in with additional reverb. Nice effect. Sort of a ‘room mic’ thing …

As mentioned in the original post, I feel, often synths are very constant in dynamics and don’t need compression as such, but I like to use it as glue. It really works for bringing sound sources closer together, making them feel as ‘one’.

That said, I sometimes like to use the inversion of compression (also mentioned here already), expansion. Multing a voice trough an envelope follower and the resulting CV into a VCA (with offset/attenuation for more control). One of my favourite effects, actually …

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I like doing that in feedback loops (with a reverb in particular), with just enough of an offset into the VCA to act as a gain boost when needed. With the right settings it’ll keep the feedback going forever without clipping.

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I quite often compress delay sends to get them to fade out a specific way rather than in a linear fashion. It also works to get them to “mush” and not necessarily focus on the transient in the dry sound.

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Naive question: is that with the comp before or after the delay on the send bus?

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