Once the signal drops below the threshold, the release setting tells the compressor how quickly to turn off the compression.
If you set the release too fast, there can be some unnatural “pumping and breathing” in the signal.
If you set it too slowly, the compressor never really returns to “zero” between transients. In other words, the signal will go back above the threshold before the compressor had time to turn all the way off.
Easy Way to Set the Release Time
This may not be the most technical — or even “proper” — way to set the release, and I’m sure there are better approaches to setting the release time, but this seems to work for me.
To be honest, the attack setting is generally much more important than the release setting. Get the attack right first, then just make sure the release isn’t hurting you.
I usually leave the release time at the default setting — nothing super fast (1ms or faster) and nothing super slow (100ms or longer). From there, I’ll dial it up or back to suit the rhythm of the song.
For example, if I’m compressing a snare drum, I want the release time to be shorter than the time between snare hits. That’s probably going to be pretty fast. With a guitar or bass, it can probably be a little slower.
Just make sure you don’t have any “pumping” in the compressor, and you’ll be in good shape.
How do you set the release when you mix?