Compression For Tone

[15:05] <mr_mark_dollin> The more open the attack on a compressor the more focus the sound has, and inversly so for the release - tighter release more focus.
[15:05] <mr_mark_dollin> But compromise must be made…
[15:06] <mr_mark_dollin> E.g. is that attack too snappy? Trade off some focus to tame the snap.
[15:06] <mr_mark_dollin> Equally so for excessive lowend - Trade off some focus and increase the release to soften the mud.
[15:07] hi mmd
[15:07] <mr_mark_dollin> Heya
[15:07] I never really messed with compression on the master channel until recently
[15:08] been using a low ratio with a slow attack but that’s about as far as I go since I am still learning how to wield a compressor
[15:08] <mr_mark_dollin> I’m not talking mastering btw
[15:08] <mr_mark_dollin> just channel sounds
[15:08] I’m fuckin’ AFRAID of them just about
[15:08] the only time I really use them on channels if if I am riding the fader
[15:09] I will put a compressor there but I don’t know too much about what I am doing
[15:09] or drums
[15:09] 5-ish ratio with a fast attack
[15:09] <mr_mark_dollin> You on PC?
[15:09] if you got any tips for compressing drums
[15:09] Nah, Mac
[15:09] <mr_mark_dollin> Damn, I could have given you some pointers.
[15:09] Using Logic’s built-in compressor
[15:09] <mr_mark_dollin> With ratio setting default to 4:1 - get the other settings right then lastly adjust the ratio
[15:10] <mr_mark_dollin> I can talk you thru some genral tips for drums if you like
[15:10] sure, I would actually like to hear them
[15:11] <mr_mark_dollin> Load up a drum sound, and make sure it is composite of kick snare and some other stuff
[15:11] <mr_mark_dollin> Before doing that make sure the general levels are evenish
[15:11] <mr_mark_dollin> Let me know when you’re ready to go
[15:12] Like make a drum loop?
[15:12] with one-shots?
[15:12] lemme open up renoise
[15:12] <mr_mark_dollin> That will do, but go for something clean and dynamic
[15:12] <mr_mark_dollin> not all crunched up
[15:12] What do you mean?
[15:13] I was about to lay something out with an 808 kit
[15:13] <mr_mark_dollin> Clean and hifi sounding, not lofi
[15:13] ok
[15:13] <mr_mark_dollin> Yeah 808 is great too
[15:13] <mr_mark_dollin> 808 is very clean
[15:13] one second
[15:13] <mr_mark_dollin> Route it so the comp applies to all sounds, kick snare hats etc
[15:13] <mr_mark_dollin> I use Groups for this
[15:15] <mr_mark_dollin> Which comp are you using?
[15:16] I will be using the Renoise comp
[15:16] I have them in a group
[15:16] <mr_mark_dollin> That’s good.
[15:17] <mr_mark_dollin> Set the ratio to 4:1, and turn the knee off.
[15:17] so use the bus compressor?
[15:17] <mr_mark_dollin> Yes.
[15:18] okay
[15:18] <mr_mark_dollin> Alright now bring the threshold down so that it is obviously cutting into the transients
[15:19] <mr_mark_dollin> So to your ears you can hear the comp ‘working’
[15:19] okay
[15:20] <mr_mark_dollin> Push up the Makeup just a touch so it feels at normal volume to you
[15:20] ok
[15:20] <mr_mark_dollin> Now
[15:20] <mr_mark_dollin> turn the comp on and off to notice the TONE difference
[15:21] <mr_mark_dollin> you should hear a difference in colour, not an obvious difference but one nonetheless
[15:21] <mr_mark_dollin> Let me know if you can hear it
[15:21] Definately
[15:21] <mr_mark_dollin> Great!
[15:21] <mr_mark_dollin> That’s the MAIN reason Comps are very useful in mixing
[15:21] <mr_mark_dollin> They are tools for Tone.
[15:22] <mr_mark_dollin> Not just dynamics.
[15:22] interesting
[15:22] <mr_mark_dollin> Pros know this. They go on about compression tone for weeks and not even considering using EQ.
[15:22] <mr_mark_dollin> Not to say EQ isn’t useful, especially shelf EQ, but that’s another matter.
[15:22] <mr_mark_dollin> All the guts of mixing is in compression.
[15:23] <mr_mark_dollin> Now,
[15:23] <mr_mark_dollin> Have your compressor working and put your attention to the Attack
[15:23] <mr_mark_dollin> Set it to 25ms
[15:24] ok
[15:24] <mr_mark_dollin> So that should leave 25ms of SNAP thru the action.
[15:24] <mr_mark_dollin> snap snap snap
[15:24] <mr_mark_dollin> Now, tighten it up slowly.
[15:24] <mr_mark_dollin> Notice what happens.
[15:24] <mr_mark_dollin> Listen to the tone as well.
[15:24] <mr_mark_dollin> Notice how the sound becomes duller?
[15:25] yes, it’s now cutting into the beginning of the transient
[15:25] never really worked with a compressor quite like this
[15:25] <mr_mark_dollin> So now open it back up again and listen to the tone
[15:25] <mr_mark_dollin> Overall effect should give some brightness back.
[15:27] I can still sort of hear it doing its thing with it on and off but not as much
[15:27] I have the threshold pretty high though
[15:27] <mr_mark_dollin> Exactly, you control how much you want depending on the sound
[15:27] where it was just cutting into the transients
[15:27] <mr_mark_dollin> Go deeper thresh for a more obvious effect
[15:28] <mr_mark_dollin> So having an open attack allows for both snap and brightness. It’s a balancing act between how much brightness you can preserve and how much you can control the snap factor.
[15:29] <mr_mark_dollin> Put the attack back at 25ms and
[15:29] <mr_mark_dollin> Now look at the Release.
[15:29] <mr_mark_dollin> Put it at 1ms.
[15:29] <mr_mark_dollin> That’s really quick.
[15:30] <mr_mark_dollin> Now pay attention to the low end of the tone… the boom boom boom
[15:30] I was about to say
[15:30] compression in general brings out the low tone on this 808 loop
[15:30] <mr_mark_dollin> That’s right because your release is fast.
[15:30] <mr_mark_dollin> Now open it up
[15:31] <mr_mark_dollin> And listen to the low tone change
[15:31] <mr_mark_dollin> Notice what happens.
[15:32] I think what I have is a nice attack and release setting
[15:33] <mr_mark_dollin> The more release you have the more it smooths out the low end, almost like it is turning the low end down
[15:33] <mr_mark_dollin> did you notice that sensation?
[15:34] Yes, with the longer release it’s all evened out, but the low end loses all of it’s “bite”
[15:34] <mr_mark_dollin> That’s right!
[15:34] <mr_mark_dollin> That bite it what I call Focus.
[15:34] <mr_mark_dollin> So you have to ask yourself, do you want smoothness or focus?
[15:35] <mr_mark_dollin> That’s the compromise.
[15:35] <mr_mark_dollin> And tweaking the thresh and ratio will help you fine tune that
[15:35] I might be dialing in drum compression settings like this for awhile now :-/
[15:35] <mr_mark_dollin> The overall idea is to make the sound more behaved and stronger in tone.
[15:36] <mr_mark_dollin> It’s a fundamental part of mixing.
[15:36] <mr_mark_dollin> Try the method on other sounds, different settings suit different sounds.
[15:37] <mr_mark_dollin> And now you can maybe see why some of us harp on about which compressor is the best
[15:37] <mr_mark_dollin> because different algorithms produce different tones.
[15:37] <mr_mark_dollin> If you were on PC I’d be telling you to get ThrillseekerLA and Density mkIII
[15:38] <mr_mark_dollin> They both have automatic ratio depending on how much compression you want.
[15:38] <mr_mark_dollin> ThrillseekerLA does automatic Makeup
[15:38] <mr_mark_dollin> And Density mkIII has a very nice automatic release setting
[15:39] Do you ever mess with compression on master channel?
[15:39] <mr_mark_dollin> Never.
[15:39] I know if you get it right on your other channels it won’t matter as much
[15:39] <mr_mark_dollin> That’s for mastering.
[15:39] <mr_mark_dollin> Mastering is a seperate process, seperate headspace.
[15:39] so you just don’t?
[15:39] <mr_mark_dollin> Never, my master chan is completely clean.
[15:39] <mr_mark_dollin> No autogain, no nothing but 0dB.
[15:41] <mr_mark_dollin> I’m at the stage with mastering that I’d rather leave it to analogue compression.
[15:41] <mr_mark_dollin> And high end gear.
[15:41] <mr_mark_dollin> Definitly not DSP.
[15:42] thanks for that, mmd
[15:42] <mr_mark_dollin> :)
[15:42] <mr_mark_dollin> no sweat
[15:43] That’s a good method, noone has told it to me like that before
[15:44] <mr_mark_dollin> My Ghost Debts song uses the method all the way through
[15:44] <mr_mark_dollin>
[15:45] another dumb question
[15:45] again about mastering though
[15:46] <mr_mark_dollin> Never a dumb question
[15:47] Do you use regular compression at all or should I spend time figuring out how to compress bands separately, like a multiband compressor
[15:47] of course I don’t know, I will be thinking about this a lot
[15:47] about the tonal change brought on by the compressor effect
[15:47] I imagine it does the same thing to the entire mix in a way
[15:48] <mr_mark_dollin> All I can say is if you’re reaching for Multiband anything you’re fixing a disaster
[15:48] lol, that’s very interesting
[15:48] <mr_mark_dollin> Best practice mastering involves a compressor and limiter at the core.
[15:48] I shy away from the compressor effect as it is
[15:49] <mr_mark_dollin> If the mix is coherent, tonally balanced, behaved and downright beautiful; then all you’re doing in mastering is unifying everything with global dynamic control.
[15:50] <mr_mark_dollin> And that control alters the tone favourably if done right.
[15:50] I remember reading something someone posted on a tumblr about how you should throw all the old ideas about mixing out of the window with electronic music and I was sort of there shaking my head
[15:50] I wish I could find it, if I do I will send it and maybe you will get a kick out of it
[15:50] <mr_mark_dollin> Oh sure there’s lots of schools of thought. My point of view leads to a certain style of sound. I’m pretty certain about what I like and why I like it.
[15:51] <mr_mark_dollin> It’s like politics. One political view point argues for the persecution of ethnic minorities. Just because it is a view point doesn’t mean it is humanely sound.
[15:51] I listen to a lot of very old dance music so old schools of thought with this stuff kind of appeal to me
[15:52] <mr_mark_dollin> I love a clear, organic and clean sound that at the same time has a solid body to it.
[15:52] <mr_mark_dollin> It approaches acoustic orchestral vitality.
[15:52] <mr_mark_dollin> Yet it sparkles and is slick in a modern sense.
[15:52] Yeah, last serious mix I did came out very thin
[15:52] So I think learning about compression is going to help me
[15:53] <mr_mark_dollin> Without comps things will be thin and lumpy
[15:53] <mr_mark_dollin> flabby, unfocused.
[15:53] <mr_mark_dollin> 5mins with a comp is easy. Easy compared to months of surgical EQ work which still doesn’t work.
[15:54] Things might be easier with dance music where synthesizers can be somewhat consistent
[15:54] I imagine
[15:56] <mr_mark_dollin> Some sounds just need a very gentle amount.
[15:56] <mr_mark_dollin> Other sounds you can be more savage with.
[15:56] hey now, things like pads do not have actual transients and are generally even in volume
[15:57] do you ever find yourself compressing those?
[15:57] <mr_mark_dollin> Even pads have little bumps and throbs in them.
[15:57] <mr_mark_dollin> I compress just about everything
[15:57] <mr_mark_dollin> There are other delicate sounds I won’t touch.
[15:58] I think I might have a little bit better idea of what I would be doing with compression now though.
[15:59] do you compress things while soloing them until you find the right tone?
[15:59] <mr_mark_dollin> I solo items first to do the surgery, then I readjust later relative to the mix
[15:59] with post-gain I imagine
[16:00] <mr_mark_dollin> Sometimes. Sometimes I’m tweaking attack values because some of my songs have very complicated layered percussion.
[16:00] <mr_mark_dollin> But usually just minor tweaks.
[16:01] I am certainly going to be approaching my next mix differently
[16:02] <mr_mark_dollin> And if you still need to reach for an EQ, try just using a shelf instead of going nuts with peaking curves etc
[16:02] <mr_mark_dollin> Often a low self cut of a small value, set somewhere in the mids is all you need.
[16:02] <mr_mark_dollin> Because let’s face it some of the input sounds we use are less than ideal
[16:02] <mr_mark_dollin> crappy samples
[16:03] <mr_mark_dollin> poorly programmed synths etc
[16:03] <mr_mark_dollin> EQ position relative to the comp is important too
[16:03] <mr_mark_dollin> Before and after EQ have different implications.
[16:03] I read snofield’s dance music manual
[16:04] he suggest comp before EQ
[16:04] <mr_mark_dollin> Generally speaking better to EQ before the Comp
[16:04] really
[16:04] <mr_mark_dollin> Yes because the comp will pull the dynamics back together again
[16:04] <mr_mark_dollin> unify the sound
[16:04] <mr_mark_dollin> EQ kills dynamics. It isn’t easy to notice this.
[16:05] <mr_mark_dollin> So Compressing after EQ corrects the warp/kink you’ve made in the sound.
[16:05] <mr_mark_dollin> There are exceptions of course.
[16:13] <mr_mark_dollin> It’s important to boldly experiement. No two situations are alike so cookie cutter solutions are duds.
[16:14] <mr_mark_dollin> That’s how you learn, through courageous experimentation.
[16:15] i will tell you one thing I figured out compressors are good for
[16:15] gated snares :-p
[16:15] I think I have got that down
[16:15] <mr_mark_dollin> It’s a classic sound.
[16:16] <mr_mark_dollin> Just about every snare in the 80s had that compression configuration :P

a gentle compression was the secret to david gilmours guitar… he rolled off the presence and kept the mid range up. between that and the pickups on his fender, he got that, “outer space psychedelic tone.”

thanks a whole load for that MMD. very educational stuff. will start trying out some compression this weekend.

I think I’m kind of starting to understand how a compressor can be used as a tool for mixing. Have you ever thought about writing an article for In:Depth on mix compression?

People always talk about compression as a dynamic effect and not a tonal effect, which really made me think about it differently. As in, when I think of it as a dynamic effect, I tend think of it being good for smoothing transients, and evening things out so you don’t have to ride the fader to turn things up or down. And that’s it.

Thinking of it as an effect that changes the tone of a channel, and the emphasis on setting the attack and decay makes me think of it differently and I haven’t seen anyone talk about compression in that particular way. I mean, it’s the same tool used in mostly the same way, but I’m a bit more apt to use it with this thought process and workflow. (Threshhold/Makeup-Gain->Attack/Release->Ratio)


Here is an example of compression as a tonal, dynamic, layering, and glueing effect…

This is the project file:

This is a download picture map:

the changes are way subtle… check out the eq… how does the compressor effect the sound when it is before the eq? how does it do it when its after the eq?

on other material, like a bass, or a lead… the changes might not be so subtle…


Thanks for the additions guys. Uuugh, I really just don’t have the time to do a thorough well designed article on In:Depth for this complicated issue. Rambling on IRC about was unstructured, off the cuff, and done while doing other things I need to be working on. Buy me some time?

IN every topic about compression there is always the eternal question wether to eq pro or post compression .
I am talking about busscompression

Mr dollinn , what makes you think that eq befor compressing is mores suitable ( als you said )?
Boosting lows and or cutting highs , changing whatever freq will have an impact on the compressor( this may or may not be what you want )
.Thats why most self contained mastering packages (softubes , ik stuf ) have the option to put the eq. post or pre comp.
Like I said it alll depends on the material , what mostly works for me is a soft compression setting on the master bus ,small ratio , …slow attack about 30 ms ( doesn’t kill the transients ) and fast release time .,followed by a passive pultec style eq …to bring in some bottom and to colout the overall sound oof the entire mix.
I tend to eq.every cjhannel separately

If a compressor can brighten and darken the tone for you, you may want to consider what was wrong with that compressor’s settings that made you want an EQ after it in the first place.

About pads, synth presets are made to convince you to buy the synth, so they always have this odd swirly and thumpy stuff going on in them that would disappear in a big mix or even ruin it. I put a maximizer on sounds like that to keep unpredictable stuff from getting through, or when I just want beeps or organ tone, I make patches from scratch.

MMD taught me quite a lot about getting a mix right, to a point that I know he has better ears than I do; he can pick out things in a/b comparisons that I’d never notice, and it’s not just different gear.

I don’t think a compressor is necessarily broken, if it brightens or darkens tone. I think its safe to say that, “a lot of these processors work in tandem.” A well made vst compressor can be transparent, or add a character depending on its design… For a lot of the compressors that are, “supposed to be modelling hardware,” than they should impart a character of some sorts. It may be more of a dirt, or a grime, “a vintage style distortion of sorts,” I do not think it negates the need for an eq… but imo, “one should still only eq what needs to be eq’d.”

There just are no rules to a great mix… There are ideas that seem to work time and time again, ( nyc compression, removing low freq from cymbals, and nice wide panning of certain elements, bass kick ld vocals center ), etc, etc… But there are no rigid formulas that will always create, “a banging mix, a hit song, a beautiful piece of music, etc, etc.” At days end, “is it art or science or both?” lol… Seems more artsy as science would seem to have theories that can be proven… music not so much.

@ chunter…

I’m just adding thoughts, I wasn’t claiming to be right or wrong, or claiming you are right or wrong, or anything like that.


I wasn’t kidding when I said that it’s hard to notice how EQ kills dynamics. I just know it from years of EQing everything to death and wondering why I wasn’t getting translation across systems. EQ carves into things un-dynamically, and unless you have a static sustained tone most musical sounds have varying dynamics (to different degrees). I can’t explain it scientifically, but EQ just warps and kinks stuff, especially if you’re using peaking cuts or boosts. For some input sounds they are so harsh or muddy you haven’t got an option - you’ve simple got to do some surgery to make the sound workable. But don’t butcher it - go gentle and go relative to the mix. 99% of time if I’m using EQ I’m using a very gentle low shelf, say -2dB cut rolling down from a tasty point in the mids. Then I let the compression squeeze it all together again so the dynamic action of the sound feels ‘natural’ again, but I end up with a brighter tone if I get my settings right. This isn’t a hard and fast rule to have EQ before the comp, but I do it most of the time because I want dynamics right more than anything else - that will earn translation. Sure, sometimes EQ just needs to be after the comp for whatever reason. Same debate can be had about whether LP filters should go before or after the comp: different cases call for different chains. I sure do usually like the sound of an LP sweep before the comp. Try it the options yourself.

All this aside: most of your mix problems can be fix by just getting the damn volume right. That’s you’re number one tool: volume. It’s all about the relationship of certain textures to others.

It depends , if you don’t want the kick or any other low freq materioal NOT to trigger the comp , it’s obvious to put it before the compressor , most compressor have ssidechain filters built in .
I don’t doubt your expertise , I just think that the relation equalizer /compressor never have a fixed postion …like ee…compr …or comp …eq…it all really depends .
Lots of people think compressing the masterbuss wil give it that magical ooompf …it does not .
Like you said , getting your levels right from the start ,and compressing individual channels ( whenever needed , not just for the sake of compression …loudnes ) will lead to better mixes instead of just slapping on a compressor because it is suppoesed to be …
on a sidenote , I am demoing this elysia alpha compressor ( coded by brainworx ) and it is just wonderfull

I never said I equalize because the compressor changed the coloration of the mix and eq to fix it .I am talking masterbuss here
I said I eq. (most of the times ) after the compr…because any changes in freq , will affect the behaviour of the compressor .and I dont want that
Example …you have pultec style eq…on the master buss , you want to boost a little bit of low …these added low freq’q will alter/trigger the compressor .

When putting a eq.on the masterbuss I never do it to fix the overall sound …( unwanted freq.are removed per channel ) , I eq. the bus mix just to make it sound more pleasant , tyhats why I use It verry verry gently

A Bump and thanks for mmd. Just went through the ‘tutorial’ on the first post. This is golden stuff.

Thanks KMaki. I’m still loving the use of Thrillseeker LA and Density mkIII - if anyone wants some more specific pointers on those please post here.

Hi, after this thread I was so overwhelmed with compression as a dynamics/tone shaping tool, that I went ahead and bought the Klanghelm DC8C -compressor, based on praise & price. As a compression-noob, I’m finding it to be a)very versatile b)great sounding to my ears c)hard to handle. I was wondering if you have any first hand experiences /tips on that specific beast…

Very informative post.
thanks for sharing :)

I’ve never used that particular compressor, but I am looking at it on the website right now, and it looks like a total beast. There is so much you can do with this compressor!

  1. The compressor has a wet/dry, so experiment with this behavior. You could for example: Use the native send device and send drums to S01. Drop you new DC8C on the send, and turn the ratio up to like 10. Then roll back on the wet dry till you’ve got, “50%.”

  2. The compressor also has an, “input gain.” Instead of bringing the threshold down, to get the compressor to react… You could also turn the gain up.

  3. The compressor has LP and HP filtering, with the proper settings you can use this as a d’esser. You can also automate those filter, and get wicked compression and filter sweeps on this like your bass… ( assuming it accepts Renoise’s automation. from the pattern editor. ) some of my plugins… PSP Mixgate come to mind, have a problem with the automation, for example, wont do anything if I try to automate open and close…

  4. This compressor also looks like it gives soft clipping saturation, and brickwall limiting.

I think this is a good compressor for bass, and drums. I’d have to test it for, “mastering quality limiting,” but I do not doubt its good there too…

Cool plugin!!


I haven’t used it. Looks interesting.