Dynamics 101: Compressor Application Notes

Introduction: Rick Naqvi is one of the best people I know to teach on the care and feeding of compressors and limiters, which makes sense, as he works for Presonus, which makes excellent compressors and limiters. He has given us permission to include it here on the ChurchSoundGuy blog. So as to avoid being overwhelming, it will be posted in several installments. You can find them all here.

Thus far, he has covered the basic theory of compression and gates, and the various ways to connect dynamics processors. But all the theory in the world is not meaningful until we can apply the theory. Here are some basic settings for compressors for various applications:

Compressor Application Notes

Vocals

SOFT
- Easy compression. A low ratio setting for ballads allowing a wider dynamic range. Good for ‘live’ use. This setting lets the vocal sit ‘in the track’.

Threshold

Ratio

Attack

Release

-8.2dB

1.8:1

.002ms

38mS


MEDIUM
- More limiting than 1 for a narrower dynamic range. It moves the vocal more up front in the mix.

Threshold

Ratio

Attack

Release

-3.3dB

2.8:1

.002ms

38mS


SCREAMER
- For loud vocals. Fairly hard compression for a vocalist who is ‘on’ and ‘off’ the microphone a lot. It puts the voice ‘in your face’.

Threshold

Ratio

Attack

Release

-1.1dB

3.8:1

.002ms

38mS



Percussion:

SNARE/KICK
- Allows the first transient through and compresses the rest of the signal giving a hard snap up front with a longer release.

Threshold

Ratio

Attack

Release

-2.1dB

3.5:1

78mS

300mS


L/R (Stereo) OVERHEAD
- A low ratio and threshold gives a ‘fat’ contour to even out the sound from overhead drum mics. Low end is increased and the overall sound is more present and less ambient. More ‘boom’ less ‘room’.

Threshold

Ratio

Attack

Release

-13.7dB

1.3:1

27mS

128mS




Fretted

ELECTRIC BASS
- A fast attack and slow release to tighten up the electric bass and give you control for more consistent level.

Threshold

Ratio

Attack

Release

-4.4dB

2.6:1

47.5mS

189mS


ACOUSTIC GUITAR
- This setting accentuates the attack of the acoustic guitar and helps maintain an even signal level keeping the acoustic guitar from disappearing in the track.

Threshold

Ratio

Attack

Release

-6.3dB

3.4:1

188mS

400mS


ELECTRIC GUITAR
- A setting for ‘crunch’ electric rhythm guitar. A slow attack helps get the electric rhythm guitar up close and personal and gives punch to your crunch.

Threshold

Ratio

Attack

Release

0.1dB

2.4:1

26mS

194mS



Keyboards

PIANO
- A special setting for an even level. Designed to help even up the top and bottom of an acoustic piano. Helps the left hand be heard with the right hand.

Threshold

Ratio

Attack

Release

10.8dB

1.9:1

108mS

112mS


SYNTH
- Fast attack and release for synthesizer horn stabs and for bass lines played on a synthesizer.

Threshold

Ratio

Attack

Release

11.9dB

1.8:1

.002mS

85mS


ORCHESTRAL
- Use this setting for string ‘pads’ and other types of synthesized orchestra parts. It will decrease the overall dynamic range for easier placement in the mix.

Threshold

Ratio

Attack

Release

3.3dB

2.5:1

1.8mS

50mS



Stereo

STEREO LIMITER
- Just as the name implies. A hard limiter setting (brick wall) ideal for controlling level to the 2 track mixdown deck or stereo output.

Threshold

Ratio

Attack

Release

5.5dB

7.1:1

.001mS

98mS


CONTOUR
- A contoured setting for use on the stereo output to fatten up the mix.

Threshold

Ratio

Attack

Release

-13.4dB

1.2:1

.002mS

182mS



Effects

SQUEEZE
- Dynamic compression for solo work, especially electric guitar. It gives you that glassy ‘tele/strat’ sound. A true classic.

Threshold

Ratio

Attack

Release

-4.6dB

2.4:1

7.2mS

93mS


PUMP
- Make the Blue Max ‘pump up the prime’. A setting for making the compressor pump in a
desirable way. This effect is good for snare drum to increase the length of the transient by bringing the signal up after the initial spike. Very contemporary.

Threshold

Ratio

Attack

Release

0dB

1.9:1

1mS

.001mS


Editor’s note: These are the settings on PreSonus’s very competent Blue Max compressor: it used pre-set settings for various applications. These specifications are from those settings. Many entry-level compressors aren’t this precise; you’ll need to use these as approximations and experiment. Or you can use a compressor with presets. Note that the Blue Max has been replaced by the PreSonus COMP16, and its presets are based on these numbers from Blue Max. The COMP16 sells for $129.95, and it sounds wonderful!
_______________________________________
David McLain | Compression Guy | CCI SOLUTIONS
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