Best sound for learning compression.

I’ve been faffing about with my home studio for about 6 months now, purely for my own pleasure and a de-stress from a very busy work life. I did go down the “All the gear and no idea” route so I have a powerful system, tons of plugins and samplers and all that stuff. I know there are good arguments against this approach but I only want to have fun getting my own bad songs down so I just fancied having everything I might need up front.

Been making reasonable progress with the little spare time I have and I’m getting the hang of tracking and some rudimentary mixing. But, compression baby!
This is the thing I’m having the most trouble with. I’m sure having 56 year old ears doesn’t help but I just cannot make headway here. Watched all the videos and read the articles but the subtleties of compression are pretty much lost to me.

What one, basic sound, instrument or loop would you recommend to work with that will highlight the effects of compression most markedly?

I can just hear it on my kicks and I can squash my guitars audio down with it but not enough to understand it really. Perhaps I genuinely am missing a chunk of frequencies in my range or something, I really struggle to notice what it’s actually doing.

Steinberg lounge is the place to go with this.

  • there is not that “one sound”, just like there ia not that “one compressor”.
  • Standard full Band compression is mostly not really about missing frequency range.

Vocals can often have a large dynamic range (from quiet breaths to loud plosives) and compression ‘tames’ that.

Sometimes, if you don’t trust your ears, analyzing the before and after waveform (make a copy of the part so it’s easy to see) can make the effects of compression obvious.

I’m trying to think of a video I saw (one of Steinberg’s, or Jeff Gibbons?) where the effect of compression was made visibly clear.

Ideally, compression is not a process that you want to dramatically change the sound. Unless you are going for a specific effect, it is just used to limit the dynamic range so that an instrument sits better in the mix without disappearing and poking out. So you don’t really want it to alter the instrument in noticeable ways.

Ofcourse, you can make a sound punchier with slower attacks etc. And pump to the tempo with release times.

It might be easier to hear the effect in the context of the mix rather than in isolation. With compression you may be able to lower the fader a bit and still hear your instrument clearly and consistently.

Sorry I haven’t replied sooner, had no studio time.
I just tried an example after reading these replies. I recorded a completely dry guitar part, D7 and G9 high up the neck, the D7 I hit the root and then a stab on the high strings to produce a chime, on the waveform the chime is clearly louder, as was my intention.
I tried three different compressors, a stock cubase one, waves rcomp and fabfilter C2, for the life of me I cannot tame the chimes, they continue to cut through too loudly.

I can of course apply some of the madder presets and that does lower them but at the expense of crushing everything down to a sludge, just tweaking the usual settings doesn’t even it out at all to my ears (headphones). Using a default setting and then playing with thresholds, ratios, attacks and decays seems to make no difference whatsoever.
I think my hearing is fine, I can certainly hear large differences when I tweak the same part with FF Q3.

ieaston, when you talk about comparing the before and after waveforms will I have to render or bounce the track down to visibly see this? Applying any of the compressors as inserts doesn’t change the waveform in the editor.

With compression, you are not really hearing any specific frequencies, rather you are dealing with dynamic range/progression of the song and conforming it to your target range. If you want to hear any differences, then bypass the compressor while soloing the track and you will hear obvious differences if your ratio, attack and release parameters are set right. I will recommend starting with a pretty modest ratio like 4:1, a fast attack time, and medium release time (on a kick track) and then lower your threshold up to -24db and then watch your meter’s for a -2.5db gain reduction. Bypass your compressor and compare the levels. Add some make-up gain of 2db and compare the results. You would see your kick tighten a bit, and depending on the sample, you can hear it pulsating sort of. You hear and see compression at the same time. So it’s both with the ears and eyes. You must see your track compressing, before you hear it. Don’t overdo compression. You only want some modest gain reduction.

when you talk about comparing the before and after waveforms will I have to render or bounce the track down to visibly see this?

Yes, rendering will allow you to see how the compression has altered the waveform. I can’t find the exact video I was talking about, but the video shows importing the compressed file, with make-up gain (after rendering), so the peaks are about the same level:

I just noticed this in Dom’s video for Cubase 11:

“Fantastic” :smiley:

For me I use compression in three main ways…

  1. The most ‘obvious way’, to even out the volume of things. Especially bass guitars, kick and snare drums. But vocals too, including spoken. The danger here is that if you go too far, you lose all the dynamics.

  2. To ‘sculpt’ a sound, which means to boost or otherwise each or any of the four main parts to a sound; Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release. Matt Weiss did a good video on this, and all he used to demonstrate it was a short piece of white noise!

  3. The third way is using a sidechain. This is to make space for a high priority sound by making the lower priority sound that has same frequencies, ‘duck’ out of the way when the more important sound is happening. This effect is used in a deliberately OTT way in EDM to make a continuous bass ‘pad’ sound kind of pulse in and out around the kick. I don’t tend to do EDM stuff, so I try to be subtle with this, and the other two effects or compression.

  4. Others?? Dunno - I’m not that advanced yet! :wink:

I am particularly keen to try out the new CB11 EQ that has 8 bands, any, some or all of which can be turned into a frequency-based compressor, each with sidechain-ability.