How does a compressor work? (audio engineering)

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I’ve been making music since 2009 and I’ve never had a proper listening equipment until end of 2022, so that’s a long road of never knowing how to properly master my songs (construction is nice to me but mastering was impossible)
I need to know compression which is what I’m always criticized, though even that one meme comparing a compressor to your mother to explain how it works doesn’t get inside my brain
and i feel like my ears can’t pick frequencies well to equalise anything, my biggest issue in mastering

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6 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

A compressor is designed to reduce the dynamic range of an audio track. If you have a recording that has some really quiet parts and some really loud parts a compressor can lower the volume of the loud parts to make the volume more uniform across the recording. A compressor has two main controls, the threshold and the ratio. The threshold controls when compressor starts to kick in. The ratio controls how much the audio is compressed. So when you set the threshold you basically saying I want everything above this volume level to have it’s volume lowered and when you set the ratio you’re telling the compressor how much you want it lowered. Compressors will usually have controls for attack and release as well. Attack controls how fast the compressor kicks in once it is triggered and release controls how long it remains active once it is no longer triggered. There are a lot of cool and interesting ways to use a compressor but the main function is to reduce dynamic range.

Also, a limiter is basically a compressor with the ratio set to the maximum.

Anonymous 0 Comments

In music production, compression is used in both the mixing and mastering stages, but for very different purposes and applied differently at each stage.

During mixing, compression is applied to individual tracks or groups of tracks to control dynamics, enhance certain elements, and ensure that each part of the mix fits together cohesively. It helps manage the dynamic range of instruments and vocals so that they sit well within the mix.

In mastering, compression is applied to the final stereo mix to achieve overall loudness and consistency across the entire track or album. The goal is to ensure the final product sounds balanced and polished on various playback systems.

Mastering compression is usually more subtle and aims to enhance the overall sound rather than dramatically alter it. This process often involves multiband compression to control different frequency ranges separately. Engineers use gentle compression settings to avoid over-compressing, which can lead to a loss of dynamics and an overly squashed sound. Limiting is also used in mastering to increase the track’s loudness without introducing distortion.

Anonymous 0 Comments

A compressor is like an automatic volume control. Imagine someone sitting there, turning the volume knob down every time the sound gets too loud and then back up when it gets quieter. It’s all about evening out the dynamics so that everything sits more nicely in the mix. The trick is to set up the attack, release, threshold, and ratio to handle the peaks and valleys in the sound without making it too noticeable. Practice and good monitoring are key, though. Good luck, dude!

Anonymous 0 Comments

One thing the above comments don’t mention is that compression doesn’t just work to control volume; it also changes the sound, as a side effect of the volume control. It can make things sound punchy, or thicker, or squashed. For example, snare drums completely change their sound when compressed – that’s a big part of a studio drum sound and why it sounds different than acoustic drums live in a room. There’s a compressor called a Distressor that was used on just about every rock snare drum recorded in the 90s because it has a distinct, aggressive yet controlled sound. So while compression is used for volume control, it’s also used as an effect to thicken or make the sound punchier. How much depends on how you set the threshold, ratio, and other controls.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Here’s a basic way to think about it… Imagine if you had a song that was quiet during the verses and very loud during the chorus. In order to hear the verses better, you crank up the volume. But when the chorus comes on it’s way too loud. So you run it through a compressor which reduces the volume of the chorus, so it is now only as loud as the verses. Now the listener can crank up the volume and the chorus and the verses all play at the same volume. Pretty slick, right? Compression can make it easier to hear the quiet parts of a song without distorting the sound of the loud parts.

Except…many engineers want to people to be able to play their songs loud (loud songs blasting out of your speakers get more attention) but they go too far and squash down everything so much the sound gets muddy.

Anonymous 0 Comments

thanks everyone for the comments I’ll keep trying