Last week I posted the video Intro to EQ. This week we’re moving right along into the world of compression.

Compression can be a difficult concept to understand. I know because it took me a long time to get a handle on it. Hopefully this video will help clear some things up.

What thoughts to you have on compression? Leave a comment.

50 Responses to “Intro to Compression [Video]”

  1. Jim Wallace

    I am currently using an ART PRO VLA2 compressor ( I use a stand alone- unit…not computer based recording)…do you think I would hear a big difference if I were to upgrade and if so what would you suggest if I had a budget of about $1400 or so. Thank you, Jim

  2. John

    Wow is this supposed to be for beginners?? I have no idea what that was about at all πŸ™

  3. ny33

    Great video, clear explanation, thanks man !

    Question, do you advise to put compression on instruments, vocals and the entire track or just one or the other ?

  4. Johnccummings

    very cool, so nice of you gifted mf,s (lol) to share some shit to the commons. Very helpful man. thanx and pease.

  5. Studwell76

    man…this video was good. but uh…so yeah where can I get this track! lol

  6. Jon Solitro

    Good video. Compression is still one of those areas of recording that I don’t quite get. This video helped a little, but I think it more gave me ways to practice using compression. I think I just need to use it a lot and get familiar with it in a hands on way.

  7. Sonovox

    Hi, useful video, but just wanted to point out that you aren’t describing the Compression Ratio properly (at 3:00 in the vid). You state that at, say a Compression Ratio of 3:1, for every decibel above the Threshold, the compressor turns down the level by 3dB. Well of course, the compressor still lets the output level rise above the Threshold, but only by 1/3dB in the 3:1 case (Hint: Follow the line on the ‘graph’!). So, 3:1 allows the output to rise by only 1dB for every 3dB of input level above threshold, 4:1 allows the output to rise by only 1dB for every 4dB of input level above threshold, and so on. Hope that helps. Keep up the good work.

      • Toninho

        Actually, Sonovox is correct. You did say it incorrectly, and repeated it with the example that followed (the 12 dB …).
        For the readers/listeners that may be confused by this, here is an example. If the signal goes 12 dB above the Threshold, and the Ratio is set at 2:1 it will only go up by 6dB above the Threshold (reduced by 6dB, or cut in half). If the Ratio is 3:1 it will only go up 4dB above the Threshold (reduced by 8dB, only one third of the 12dB). If the Ratio is 12:1 it will only go up 1dB above the Threshold (reduced by 11dB, or one twelveth of the 12 dB is allowed to go past the threshold).
        This may have been what you meant to say, but it came out backwards; it happens to me at times. I am thinking one thing (at 100 miles a secand) and the words are chasing my thoughts and they come out wrong. This may have been one of those incidents.
        Also a note to the readers, each compressor has a personality, so they react and effect the sound differently. Some may sound good on one type of sound while making other types of sounds/instruments sound worse then without them.
        FYI: Most of my compression is within 1.6:1 and 3:1 and generally with soft knee. I do mostly accoustic instruments. If I want higher compression I use 2 or 3 different compressors in line to achieve both the compression and sound I want.
        I hope this helps.

  8. david

    Hy guys.

    I read a great post on one forum that hellped me (a long time ago, so I don’t remember on which one) about compressing things, so here it is:
    (sorry, my english spelling isn’t so great, it’s not my 1. language)

    1. set both “attack” to minimum possible,
    2. set “release” to minimum possible,
    3. set “ratio” to maximum possible (20:1 or above),
    4. set “treshold” to the point where compressor starts working.

    – ATTACK –

    Try to ignore the awfull “pumping” distorting effect, and start to adjust “attack” slowly and concentrate on the actuall attack of a sound.

    (fast “release” lets us better hear the attack of a sound)

    Are you noticing how “attack” affects the “size of a sound?

    Let’s say you’re trying to compress a snare drum. As you’re setting the “attack” from the fastest possible to slower setting, one could say that a drummers bat is getting larger/thicker.
    So, try to concentrate on it’s size/thickness and choose a spot where you like the sound.

    (practissing this will enable you to amplify your awearness of the “attack” controll)

    – RELEASE –

    Try to think about the groove of a song. How the “release” time should be set depends on the song itself, so there’s no real rule to follow here.
    Should you adjust the “release” time to be in the tempo of a song, let’s say, a quarter note, depends if that would make the “release” time musical.
    What does that mean?
    One should ask himself, if I’m compressing something in a fast song, should I set the “release” time faster than on a ballad song?
    If it sounds musical, the answer would be obvious! (assuming that that’s the sound you’re looking for).
    What ever the reason may be for setting the “release” time the way you’re setting it, try to see if that setting is supporting the groove of a song or is it just making something sound a certain way.
    Does it fit?
    Try setting the “release” time as slow as possible to a level when it’s supporting the groove of the music/song.
    Ask yourself: “how slow can I set the “release” time, and still be able to keep some range of controll”?

    Remember, there are no rules! Just guidelines!

    – RATIO –

    At this point, “ratio” is set to it’s max setting, so it will sound overcompressed!
    Our next goal is to lower the “ratio” as much as possible but still retain the effect we created with the “attack” and “release” parameters.
    So, think about the “ratio” as a telescop lenses – the higher the “ratio”, “smaller” the sound (though better controled)
    Lower “ratio” (e.g. 2:1, with the same output voltage) seems like a bigger picture than the original, so, the smaller the “ratio”, “bigger” the sound, but with the risk of getting things out of control πŸ™‚ …
    So the idea would be, bigger, but controled sound!
    So, start lowering the “ratio” untill you reach a point where you can’t hear the effect that you created (thickness of a stick hitting the drum, groove that you created with the “release” time), you can rise the “ratio” a bit, all the time being focussed on the size of a sound!
    As you rize the “ratio”, the sound becomes more “tight” (and smaller!), and as you lower the “ratio”, the sound becomes “softer” (and bigger)…

    You could think like this, how “tight” as opposed to how “big” I want this to sound.

    – TRESHOLD –

    Last thing we need to adjust is the “treshold” setting.
    It’s probbably a good thing to set the “treshold” so the compressor doesn’t compress all the time!
    The “right” position (if there is such a thing) would be when dinamic movements don’t last all the time, but to stop in some moments, or we would get “flat” and “lifeless” sound.
    Letting the dinamic movements (made by the compressor!!!) to stop in certain quieter moments, we’re letting that moment to achive a “bigger” 1:1 “presence”, preventing the sound to get “in the face” with unwanted noise!
    Those small, quiet moments are small enough and shouldn’t be “squashed” with the compressor because of it’s high “ratio”.


    A lot of sound engeneerers neglect the fact that ratios are multiplicative, and not aditive!!!
    That means, if you compress the mix in a ratio 10:1, and then a mastering engeneerer compresses it 10:1, effectively you’re not getting a compression of 20:1, but 100:1 !!!Ouch!!!

    Ye be warned!!! That goes for all compressions!

    If you’re compressing vocals while tracking 10:1, and later in mix 4:1, you haven’t achived 14:1 compression but 40:1!!!

    So next time when you compress your mix, also keep in mind the limitter on the radio stations and it’s “ratio” and ask yourself:”how small a sound can I expect to hear when they play my song”? πŸ™‚

    Experimentation is the key, so, experiment and listen to details.

    Hope this helps. πŸ™‚

  9. Sandy

    Hi Joe,

    I’m an untrained Sound Engineer so self taught mainly in live environments however this lesson and the EQ was so useful. It just broke down the basics and clarified some of the parts I never really understood – the Ratio for example.

    I’m currently training up some young guys on their sound knowledge and this is without a doubt a great starting point.

    Good stuff, keep up the good work.

  10. beatspinazz

    jus a quick one….could u please reveal how or where or which books u read all this excellent info?

  11. Mark

    This was a great video on compression. I’ve been working with my home studio for about four years now. Compression has always been one of those rather confusing items. But you broke it down VERY nicely! A lot of questions were answered in your video. Keep up the GREAT work!

  12. Roy

    Hi Joe!. I’ve just purchased a Tascam DP-02 8 track digital porta- studio. (package) came with MXL 990 mic and M-studio AV 40 monitors. I must say i’m new to recording at home so forgive me for my ingnorance or lack of knowledge! My first question would have to be: how in gods name (lol) do i run this machine with a pa system?. I have a pro crate series. Second question is the porta-studio came with 2 compressors and effects would you use external compressors to improve effects?
    P.S I think what yr doing is great, and i for one appreciate what yr doing, ty πŸ™‚

  13. jimmyjam

    another good video,i applied your eq teachings to my latest song(first time touching eq)and i can tell how the vocals actually sound clearer,i used the low pass filter and adjusted with my ear,,cant wait to try out the compression ideas,,,thatnks

  14. Carl

    First time visit. I’ve been behind the PT8 for about a year now. There is much to learn. I stumbled across your Intro to Compression Video and I’m grateful there is a video out there on compression. I’m a visual learner. I appreciate the video tremendously and very well put together, simple and to the point. Good work. I will be visiting all your website often or more than most as you too are a Protools user. Thanx again. Carl

  15. Chad Wilson

    Great job Joe. I am sharing your videos with my volunteer staff at the church I am at. Way to put it in simple terms! Like a Nathan Adam class…

  16. Troy Burton

    Is it better to comp when laying down the track or when playing it back?Good video. thanks

    • Joe Gilder

      Hi Troy. There are no hard and fast rules. I like to compress a little bit with an outboard (hardware) compressor while recording. I do most compression with plug-ins during mixdown.

  17. Adam S

    Another great video Joe, thanks!

    I have similar questions as the ones I asked on the Intro to EQ video.

    1. Do you generally decide to apply compression to a track (be it vocal, guitar, bass) on a case-by-case basis? And how do you decide — would you solo each track and listen back, or listen to the mix and make a decision based on that? Or actually visually study the waveform?

    2. And when do you apply compression to the master track? Would you apply compression to the master track even if you applied compression to one (or more) of the individual tracks?

    3. Compression and drum kits: Would it ever make sense to compress an isolated sound in the kit, hi-hats for example, as opposed to applying compression to the entire kit?

    Thanks again!


    • Joe Gilder

      Hey Adam. I’ll see if I can give you some quick answers.

      1. I don’t apply compression unless the track needs it. For example, I rarely compress acoustic guitar, because it doesn’t sound natural to me. And I’ll solo the track and listen to compression, but I don’t do it a whole lot. You need to make sure the compression sounds good IN THE MIX. Just because something sounds good solo’d doesn’t guarantee that it will sound good in the mix. Make all of your decisions in the context of a mix. And I wouldn’t make decisions based on the way the waveform looks, use your ears.

      2. I do apply compression to the master track. It’s completely different from compressing individual tracks. For example, I’ll compress the vocals, but then I’ll compress the entire mix a little bit, too. They are two completely different things. Just try it out and you can see why sometimes compressing the mix can “glue” things together.

      3. Drum kits: Same rule as #1, just compress what you think needs it. Experiment. I will typically compress kick, snare, and overheads.

      Hopefully that helps.

  18. About2Flip

    Again Great Video!!! But what does KNEE do? I have been searching for almost a year now.

    • Guy

      I’m not completely sure but i thought it smoothened up the curve of the line on the graph

  19. KeyOfGrey

    Very nice tutorial Joe! At about 7:30, the EQ and compression sort of sounds like the production style of Switchfoot…for some reason that popped out to me lol Very cool!



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