catch and releaseLast week we took a look at fast attack times and slow attack times when using a compressor. Today I’ll give you a few tips for setting the release time.

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?

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9 Responses to “Compression: How to Set Release Times”

  1. Richard Melhuish

    Such great writing! Anyway I have two compressors both of which have the same nomenclature in Seconds .15 sec to 3 seconds. One is a ART Pro VLAii and the other a focusrite Plug in. If I understand correctly the shortest I can set is .125 sec or 125 ms…..according to you my shortest release time is “super slow”

  2. Smart US

    can you advise compressor setting for death metal music – fast picking, double kick and fast snare?

  3. bryan

    Actually, setting the proper release time is critically important for controlling the gain reduction of the vocals and getting natural-sounding level control. There is no way to “get the attack right first”, as attack and release settings are two sides of the same coin. For instance, if your release time is long, it “hides” the attack setting to some degree. On the other hand, that phenomenon is a very useful tool for getting smooth vocals, as the attack phase of compression can often sound unnatural, especially on software compressors, and especially if you are using high compression ratio. My point is, setting the release time is an art, and is the hardest part of using a compressor, so it shouldn’t be looked at as an afterthought.

  4. Youdontknowshit

    What? Aside from this being one of the most useless posts I’ve ever read, 100ms release time is “super slow”? Dude, 100ms is often the fastest release available on a bus compressor.

  5. Raphael Cassis

    Hello Joe,

    I usually keep the eye on the gain reduction bar, and I set the release time on the slowest point that the reduction still turning to zero… This way give me sure that the next transient will be free to punch… But I will search more carefully for “pumpings”…

    It’s difficult for to explain things in english, I hope I’ve made my self clear 🙂

    Thanks man…

  6. Simone Salvatore

    Ciao Joe, 
    if I put a compressor on the 2buss I always try (if the compressor allows me) to listen if setting the release in time with the song could give me some interesting effects: i.e. for a song that has 120 BPM I would try to listen what happens setting the release at  250 ms (1/8 note).
    It could works more or less and – of course – it depends each and every time from the song 🙂

    With voices I tend to set the release as fast as possible: there is not much “material” that could be distorted from a fast release.
    With bass or kick I always try to listen what the compressor does: most of the time I like also the punch that a little distortion adds… but it depends from the style of the song.


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