how to use a compressor

How to use a Compressor in music production

A compressor is a tool that is used to reduce the dynamic range between the quietest and loudest parts of an audio signal. It operates by increasing the volume of the quiet parts and reducing the volume of the loud ones making the audio a bit more consistent in the process. Looking at the compressor can be overwhelming sometimes especially when you are new to music production as there are so many knobs and functions one might not be aware of. To help you grasp the basics of this tool, we have prepared a small guide on how to effectively use a compressor.


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The fundaments of the compressor

  • Threshold – Controls the level of which the compression is engaged so when a signal exceeds the threshold level it will be compressed.
  • Attack – The time it takes for the signal to be compressed after it exceeds the threshold level.
  • Release – Think of the release as the opposite of the attack. The release determines the time it takes for the signal to go from being compressed to non-compressed.
  • Ratio – The ratio is the amount of attenuation applied to the signal. For example, a ratio of 1:1 means there is no compression applied meanwhile a ratio of 2:1 (very light compression) means that the signal, for example, a signal exceeding the threshold by 8 dB will be attenuated down to 4 dB, etc. Ratios of 3:1 are considered as moderate compression, ratios of 5:1 as medium compression, and ratios of 8:1 and above as strong compression.
  • Output Gain – When compressing a signal, it reduces the volume of the signal. The output gain is there to adjust the overall gain of the signal that is compressed to match the desired volume.

When used with the right settings you will find that the sounds blend in nicely with the rest of your track. Compression is often overused or underused. The trick is to find the sweet spot in between, and this, of course, is depending on what you want to achieve with the sound.


Best Compressor Plugins

The different types can be used as a formula to choose which one to use on the individual channels, the type you choose will play a large role in the overall sound of the effect. These are some of the best compressor plugins on the market today (no specific order):


1. SSL G-Master Bus Compressor

The SSL G-Master Bus is a great choice for bus or mastering compression. This means the main mission of this compressor is to glue sounds together and that’s why it’s such a great compressor to put on, for example, your drum bus channel or your master channel.




2. CLA-2A Compressor/Limiter

This compressor has a very fast-acting attack and release-time, which makes the CLA-2A  a great choice to put on vocals, guitars or bass. This type is modeled after the legendary electro-optical tube compressor which is a favorite among mixing engineers around the world.



3. Fabfilter Pro C2

The compressor from Fabfilter is a perfect example of a compressor with no special character to its foundation. This compressor lets you decide right from the start what you want to achieve with your compression. Whether it’s on vocals, bass, guitars, drums or synths, all you have to do is to adjust the knobs accordingly to what you want to achieve.



4. Universal Audio Teletronix LA-2A 


The compressor from Universal Audio is one of the most used compressors in professional studios all over the world, whether it’s the hardware version or the software version from Universal Audio. This compressor is said to massage signals like no other compressor ever made. It’s great for signals that you might want to push a bit harder, like vocals, bass and guitars. This compressor has been around for over 50 years and is still one leader on the market.



5. PSP Vintage Warmer 2


The PSP Vintage Warmer 2 is a single- or multi-band compressor/limiter. This compressor adds a very warm analog character to the signal you’re putting it on and comes with a comprehensive library of presets. This plugin can both be used as brick-wall limiting as well as a soft knee compressor which makes this plugin a very appreciated tool for mixing engineers all over the world. As soon as you start turning the knobs in this one you’ll hear the saturation start to work which gives your signal the warm analog character it might be missing.





Compression is in some way or another essential in music production, the best advice we can give you is to just practice it over and over again and try different compressors to find which type of compression you’re looking for.



Next article: How To Make Your Basslines Cut Through The Mix

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