In the last article I talked about why you should use slow attack times on your compressor. Slow attack times let the transients through, which keeps the music dynamic.

Slow attack times are especially important when you’re doing buss compression.

Of course, there are times to use fast attack times, too. Whenever the transients of a given signal are too loud or need to be “tamed” a bit, you should try using a faster attack time.

The best way to do this is to set your ratio and threshold where you want them, then slowly dial back the attack knob. As the attack time shortens, the underlying audio will slowly become more and more “dull.”

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it might be just the thing you’re looking for for a particular track.

A few examples

Here are a few examples of when it makes sense to use a fast attack time:

  • Too much “thump” in the bass – Perhaps your bass player digs in really hard when he plays bass, so all his notes have a really loud transient, but it’s hard to hear the sustain. Or perhaps you can’t get a good overall bass level in your mix without the transients overtaking the mix. Use a faster attack time to clamp down on these transients before they get out of control.
  • Snare drum cuts through the mix too much – Sometimes you just can’t get the snare drum to sit in the mix. You turn it up, it cuts through too much. you turn it down, you can’t hear it.  A faster attack will let you turn it up without it chopping your ears off at the beginning of each hit.
  • Lead vocals – Sometimes a slow attack on vocals can make it sound a bit odd. If you’ve ever listened to a talk radio show where every phrase the announcer says has too much “punch” at the beginning? Yeah, that’s probably due to over-compression and a slow attack time.

When do YOU use a fast attack time?

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6 Responses to “Compression: When You Should Use Fast Attack Times”

  1. Braed

    I produce hard dance electronic stuff, and honestly, i rarely use anything over 100ms, and that’s only to match the transients / rhythm (so i don’t cut a punch in half or for sidechain compressing a reverb). Otherwise, i use around 10ms or less to completely cut the transient and boost the overall gain. A slow attack often gives that horrible ‘plosive’ effect that you described as being like a talkshow.
    One thing i don’t quite understand is the threshold. Why would you ever put the threshold under the lowest point of audio? That’s just going to compress everything… How does that even work? Won’t that just effectively reduce the gain by whatever the Ratio is set to?
    Please clear that up for me!! 😀

  2. Joe Gilder

    Good point. Although you could use a combination of compressor with slow attack time + a De-esser to handle the sibilance.

  3. Production Advice

    Nice little compression triple, Joe ! 

    Short attack times are another thing that can work well with “classic” hardware compressors and their plugin emulations. Sometimes they don’t sound nearly as restricted as the “vanilla” digital varieties, and can have really interesting results.


  4. Aaron Howard

    Invariably stick to the fast attack with vocals, and I’ve definitely used the trick of speeding up the attack time on bass to smooth it out, and give the foundation a little more consistency.

    I also find that bussing a sidechain compressor from the kick to the bass can make things sound cleaner and… well… better and of course in those circumstances the attack can’t be long or it defeats the purpose. 

    These articles are fantastic, Joe. I learn from you all the time, but I would have learned a lot of stuff faster if you had been around / I had know about you a couple years back.



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