Compressors, Do I Need Them?

Is there something wrong with me?

In almost every sound production forum you read about how good it is with compressors and how important they are. I feel very confused because, to be honest, I’ve never used a track compressor in my life. I’ve only used limiters for the final mix. And I do mostly dance music :blink:

You always read about how essential compressors are to get the right punch in your kick, how to make your mix sound loud and your bass to sound tight and fat etc.
You get the impression you have to use compressors on every other track or your music will suck.

Growing up with trackers, in FT2 you didn’t have fancy effects for you tracks. Instrument envelopes did and do my soundshaping to get tightness, automation makes my levels as I want them without any “automatic loudness” tools. As a bonus with automation your control the percieved loudness/volume which is most important, not the signal level as I suppose compressors do.
If I want any of my synths to sound a different way, I change their envelopes and other parameters to shape the sound.

But then I made a search in this forum about the topic and found a thread where someone said something like: “the less you have to use compressors the better”. Now that’s what I’m talking about!
I think they destroy the dynamics and makes my music sound flat, strained or overdriven/exaggerated, loosing punch and attacks loose their “power”. Probably because I don’t know how to use them.
I think what I get without compressor is the way I want it to sound.
I can see why you use it for live instruments and maybe vocals where you don’t have the same level of control over the performance.

On the other hand I found that limiters to be very useful for making the mix louder. But if not carefully used, they too destroy too much of the dynamics.

My question is really how many of you guys use compressors on a regular basis for your electronic music and why?

Well, for one thing it’s a really convenient thing to use on vocals (which can be an essential thing in dance music), the vocals can still be dynamic, but without great mic-technique it’s easy to get vocals which varies to much in volume. Compressors helps in this case.

I must admit that I don’t use compressor an awfully lot either, but I think it’s an essential tool when shaping and creating your own sound. It can change your impression of a mix from “mediocre” to “fantastic”, if used wisely, without really being able to point out what’s the difference.

you don’t NEED it.
you don’t NEED equalizers.
or NEED chocolate fudge.

compression’s just another tool. some use it wisely, some don’t, some not at all.
if you feel comfortable without using compression, then don’t. don’t let anyone ‘tell’
you what to do. listen only to them if you want to, and be happy that there are people
willing to teach you new things :)

BotB puts it very well. Right on.

Aside, half of this issue is training your ear to use the monitors you have to understand and judge dynamics. No good having an approach to using your tools if you’re not listening or have crap monitors/playback.

If you aspire to master using compressors in a non-ugly way know this: it IS possible, but not without great effort and sensitivity applied. Mix and master engineers apply their whole lives to mastering this, and it’s an ever-long ongoing process. Doing it all digitally is starting on the back foot too, but it’s not impossible to get a magic sound. Asking for advise and second opinions is the way to go.

Fast and very sensible replies.
Thanks a lot guys!

I’ll give the compressors a go when it’s time to master some tunes.

I only ever use them when changing my sound creatively. Never use them for the sake of it.

I’ve gone through phases where I’ll use them on every track - to control the dynamic range to an extent, but also to bring out transients (when you compress a signal heavily with a long attack time, you can make very flat, undynamic sounds punchy, spikey, snappy, etc.) - but other times I won’t really use them unless I have to.

A lot of sound engineers won’t use them on synths at all - or at least won’t use them to compress synths, but rather to add colouration from the amp circuitry.

I find desk overdrive more useful for electronic music than compression on the whole. It’s almost one of those things it’s very hard to do without… Limiting has a fairly similar effect, it’s just a little softer and subtler with overdrive. Gives you more presense.

Traditionally, compression was mainly used to control very dynamic recordings, while desk, tape and pre-amp overdrive were used all over the place, multiple times, to get the weight and presense you’d need to make big, punchy tunes.

It’s one thing that’s very hard to emulate well digitally, although Acustic Audio’s Nebula plug-ins can be overdriven, and they sound very good. (CPU hogs though.)

I have to agree with J Swift.
Today, for the first time I used a compressor thanks to Foo?s tutorial on how to use Blockfish.
I think of it more as a saturation/colouration process rather than pure compression or controlling dynamic range, at least with Blockfish.
I used it on a bass sound which I didn’t think had all that “meat” it could have. After tweaking for a while it started to beef up things a bit and it sounded kind of warmer. Then I tried it for another bassline which got a little more punch and different color. Sweet!
I can certainly find use for this kind of effect.
This is a new world opening up to me, thanks for all good advice.

Great, good to hear!

A lot of garden-variety compression is to do with transient management: but even then you can often avoid compressors entirely if your bass management is right. Peaky mixes can benefit from hunting out unnecessary bass and mud in the low end.

it s also a way to give a constant texture to your bassline, to “melt” sounds together, to have a feeling of better harmony of dynamics when used on master, it reduces the differences betwin your sounds treatments. Compression must be used carefully because as you said, it can also kill everything

I’d say get rid of them. Get rid of them all… come back when you’ve learned to live without them… THEN start using them :P

just me. i think compressors are pretty essential for drums. i can turn a boring amen rinse into an intense dynamically flattened AMEN RINSE! (high ratio, late attack, moderate-quick release, threshold to taste) or a bass drum, with a little eq and compression with a (delayed attack) to make it much punchier. if you’ve got yourself a decent pair of monitors, and make dance music as you say, i think you’ll start loving compressors :wub:

if you haven’t already, read a general compressor tutorial and experiment for a while. when i first used them, i just though “it makes it louder”, but they’re actually quite touchy and vastly variant when used properly. best luck!

Yeah, that’s what I’ve done so far.

I agree with mushen too. On the other hand, I also think the kind of material you are using have different needs for compressors.

as said, you don’t have to use them but sometimes they can be really handy…

at least you should try them, at first i was like ‘i don’t need em’ too but now…

i lol’ed irl. :D


In all honesty… well… That’s not bad advice.

Compressor were originally made to just calm dynamics down which the OP is doing with envelope flitering. However, there are of course a lot of “charcter” compressor you put of to add a bit of dirt or a specific sound (eg: I love PSP Oldtimer so much it should be illegal)

If you get your mix right with no compressors and then add some character compression and some for dynamics processing it’ll make your mix shine nicely.


I use compressors only for kick and bass, for those are the ones without the “power” in my songs. I never use them for anything at mid or high frequencies, then it sounds too plain and without dynamics… but bass, where the character of sound is less hearable, can be really strenghtened up by some mature compression ;)

I also have a question: Should I add compressors on vocals, and if so, then how much compression is the best?

well if you have sampled vocals maybe you wont need it cause they probably received some compression (and were mastered too) before they reached your studio. however if you record your own vocals, you’re probably gonna need compression. I always compress my vocals, they just sound better and louder. that being said, I dont have 5 different preamps and condensor mics to choose from, had I had those options maybe I wouldnt need to compress them.

compress it until it sounds good? :) there is no straight answer to this as all recordings are different.