Academy Dashboard Forum Production Mixing Learn how to listen to compression! What do those attack and release knobs do?

  • This topic has 4 replies, 5 voices, and was last updated 3 years ago by Brad White.
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    Sam Mennen

      Learn How to Listen to Compressors; What do those attack and release knobs do?

      I noticed thats there has been a few posts where people have trouble determining how to use a compressor, which compressors to use, how to set attack and release. I've even met/ seen some establish mixers struggle to use the attack and release on compressors. The problem is I think is that people don't take the time to learn how a compressor works and they don't learn what it is they should be listening for when adjusting parameters.

      Many years ago there was an article by Michael Stavrou in Audio Technology called "Cracking Compressors" in which Stav sets a process to learn how to listen to each function of a compressor. He also wrote a book titled "Mixing with your mind" but I checked on Amazon and its going for the reasonable price of...... $200!!!? What!?

      Anyway, heres a brief summary of his process. It sure helped me out when I started and pretty quickly you'll be able to change any parameter on the fly and know instantly how you want to set your comps.

      Temporary settings:
      - Attack to anywhere
      - Release to minimum
      - Ratio to maximum
      - Threshold to sensitive

      Step1: Attack
      - Adjust the attack. Listen to how attack effects the size of the sound (Easiest heard with percussive sounds) Fast attack = skinny, Slow attack = thick.
      - Because the ratio is so high you can hear the effects of the attack much clearer.
      Step2: Release
      - Adjust the release. Release effects the dynamic movement.
      - Feel how it glides or bounces back, It should start to swing with the beat.
      - I feel this is the hardest to get right and effects vary significantly from source material.
      Fast release = snap (Most of the time), Slow attack = choking sound or increase sustain.
      Step3: Ratio
      - Adjust the ratio. Ratio pretty much effects the size of the sound, think of it like an aperture in a camera. The lower the ratio, the bigger the aperture size, the higher the ratio the smaller the aperture size. When you play around with higher ratios you can learn how limiters can really mess up your sound (Don't be fulled by auto-gain!)
      - Higher ratio = firmer and smaller
      - Lower ratio = softer and bigger
      Step4: Threshold
      - Adjust threshold to taste, ideally you don't want it to be consistently compressing all the time. If the threshold is set too low you'll get a flatter sound lacking energy or liveliness. It will sound like the sound is muffled underneath a pillow. Threshold should be used to create dynamic movement.
      -Extra: Knee
      - Original article doesn't cover knee but pretty much as short/ hard knee smacks it into compression where a softer knee sucks it in. Be careful with really soft knees as they can sound quite rubbery, ideally you want to use a softer knee when you want more transparency, don't abuse it, you're better using a hard knee for that.

      Keep in mind that the attack and release aren't wholly dependent on the threshold (at least in the way a lot of people seem to think). Attack is the length of time it takes for the compressor to apply two-thirds of of the targeted gain reduction. Release takes effect as soon as the gain reduction is being reduced before it lowers below the threshold. Theres a lot of misconception about attack and release and I hear a lot of people that seem to think release occurs after the signal get below the threshold.

      I hope this post helps some of you out. If every compressor had a delta function perhaps more people would be more aware what their compressors are actually doing. Have fun squashing the shit out of your mixes!

      Here's the website of the dude that came up with this method though it looks like it hasn't been updated for a decade or so;

      • This topic was modified 3 years ago by Sam Mennen.
      • This topic was modified 3 years ago by Sam Mennen.
      • This topic was modified 3 years ago by Sam Mennen.

        Hey Sam, thanks for this, I found it super insightful- already getting a better drum sound!

        • This reply was modified 3 years ago by markandrewdellitIII.
        Kevin Ma

          Thanks, Sam.

          Robert Hilliard
            • Great info!! Thanks
            Brad White

              I found this site just recently and appears to be up to date. Better prices on his book too. The site looks legitimate, you can contact the author.



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