I’m assuming you already understand (or have some idea) what compression is and does but maybe not how to go about setting parameters effectively and knowing where to start and how to avoid chasing your own tail.  Think of compression like cracking a safe.  There are 4 basic knobs and the key to great compression sound is knowing the order in which you adjust them.  When you get the sequence right, you’ll hear more clearly the effect of each parameter, arriving at a truer and more musical setting.  A compressors combination lock has four tumblers and adjusting them in a special order prevents you from going back to a control you’ve already adjusted.  Like cracking any combination lock, when a tumbler falls into place you do not need to return to it.
  1. So, start by putting the Attack to anywhere, the Release to minimum (or fast), and Ratio to maximum (20:1/infinity).  Next, drive the audio into the unit, either by lowering the Threshold or increasing the Input, then listen while you adjust only the Attack time.  Listen for things like the “size” of the hit and listen to the “thickness” of the Attack until it sounds “tasty”.  You might want it thin, you might want it thick, just think aesthetics.  And because the Ratio is so high and the Release fast, you’ll be able to hear the effect of the Attack time much clearer than if they were on any other setting.
  2. Once the Attack is adjusted move on to the Release.  The trick is to get that speed to become a musical component of the sound.  Certainly don’t think, “I only want it fast because I want to compress the crap out of this” – don’t do that.  In fact, make it as slow as you can so that the compression envelope “bounces back” to reinforce or establish the groove of the music.  Make the rush of the Release a musical component that pushes you into the next beat without pre-empting the beat.  Let the sound hit you while the pressure is still rising instead of letting the compressor finish it’s swing – dead air – lifeless moment… no good.  Allow the compressor to push the sound towards you until the music makes it’s next statement!
  3. The next step is to take the Ratio and lower it as much as you can without losing the effects you created with your attack and release settings. Don’t think about the ratio in terms of numbers – just think about the “size” and “firmness” of the sound.
  4. The last thing you do is adjust the Threshold.  It’s important to turn the Threshold knob so that it’s not compressing all the time.  The right setting will see the dynamic movement coming to rest at special moments, otherwise you get a flatter more lifeless sound.

If you follow these steps and use your ears, you’ll have what engineers like to call an “expensive sound.”

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