Got this question from a reader:

My question is regarding the compression technique you seem quite fond of. This is where you set the threshold to such a low value that it is basically compressing EVERYTHING, but you keep the ratio really low just to even things out.

I was wondering, seeing as the compressor pretty much never goes above the threshold value does this mean that the release function is useless now?

If the release only acts when the volume reaches over the threshold – but it never does – surely this makes this function redundant, no?

That’s a GREAT question, Arman.

To be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure how useful the release function is in that particular instance.

I would imagine you’re probably right. The release doesn’t probably do to much to the sound in that scenario, since the signal really isn’t ever dropping below the threshold. (It MIGHT have something to do with how quickly the compressor “let’s go” of the signal as it goes from a loud section to a quieter section, but I’m not 100% sure about that.)

However, while release times can be helpful, I find myself spending MUCH more time getting the attack times right when using a compressor. Changing attack times can drastically affect the tone of the source, much more so than release times in my opinion.

Changing the attack time alone can make a kick drum go from sounding dull to sounding punchy and in-your-face.

Granted, this doesn’t apply as well if you’re doing a super low threshold and low ratio, but the principle still remains. Keep an eye on release times, but spend more of your time getting the attack time right, and you’ll be in good shape.

If compression leaves you a little bit stumped, and you’d like to learn more, check out:

Happy attacking! 🙂

10 Responses to “Compression: Attack vs Release”

  1. Gary Rosales

    you have to adjust release knob in order to get a nice groove from the instrument, a fast release set = a fast groove. this doesn’t mean that all the instruments will have the same release speed, each instrument must have an independant groove acording to the song. this is not too hard to notice. The mixer must hear how fast the sound is coming from the speakers and adjust that, release and attack knobs help a sound become more stable and reducing masking problems.

  2. LargerLife

    In my little experience with the release time, and how it affects the input, I think it is more important if the consistency of the signal is in question, eg. the vocal stays right in the place where it has to… especially with slow release time.

  3. Dan

    Get the understanding compression videos!! Trust me their def more than worth it. In half a day I went from being confused by compression, to being completely confident in my abilities.


    • Sad Panda

      Ya them and the UEQ vids were very useful. Got them about a year ago and my comprehension went from “totally confused” to “vaguely understanding”, which if you *know* me and my easily distracted-ness, that’s a ringing endorsement.

  4. Preshan

    Actually, the release time still does affect the signal even when the signal doesn’t drop below the compressor’s threshold. Simply, it’s because the release time doesn’t necessarily kick in whenever the audio falls below the threshold, but straight after a peak of gain reduction. Typically the material we pass through a compressor is dynamic, with lots of little peaks that all trigger the compressor dependent on the attack time. With a quick release time, the compression will follow more closely the envelope of the input signal. With a slow release time, the compressor will smooth things out and not follow the input waveform as closely.

    If that doesn’t make any sense, the gain reduction meter will be far more “bouncy” with a fast release and much smoother with a slow release, true even when the signal is always above the threshold.

    I’m not sure if this is varies with different compressors though – some may only “release” after the signal has dropped below threshold.



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