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A compressor is nothing more than an automated level control that uses the input signal to determine the output level. They are used more in mixing than in recording, but it can be very useful under the right circumstances. I covered the description and the parameter controls and the basic setup of compressor and limiter in the audio mixing boot camp, so you might want to check that out first. In this video I'll show you how to use a compressor or limiter during recording. Many engineers use a compressor only to control peaks in the signal to prevent an overload.
So the compressor is set up as a limiter. That means that the ratio control is set to 10:1 or higher. Have the player begin playing the part to be going and be playing in the song and start to make adjustments while you listen. We'll work with the bass guitar during this movie but the same approach can be taken if you're compressing guitar, vocals, or any instrument while recording. Set the Attack control to its slowest setting and the Release control to its fastest. (music playing) Then set the Threshold control so the gain reduction is only a dB or two on normal peaks only.
(music playing) Decrease the attack time until the audio just begins to sound dull, then back it off a bit. (music playing) This means that it will catch more of the peaks and the amount of limiting will increase. Don't go beyond 5 or 6 dB because adding too much limiting at this point can change the sound. This can't be undone later so remember that less is more. (music playing) Finally, increase the release time so that it breaths with the pulse of the song, which should be somewhere around the midway point.
(music playing) A limiter with the release time set too fast can cause the sound to pump, which is usually an undesirable effect. (music playing) Sometimes the gain reduction might go a lot higher, like in the case of a vocalist that leans into the mic or hits a high loud note, that's okay as long as it only happens briefly. As prolonged extreme gain reduction colors the sound quite a bit, it makes the sound dull and lifeless. It's best not to use the limiter until you get very comfortable recording without it.
Experienced engineers know what an instrument or vocalist is supposed to sound like and what they're going for. So they may use a fair amount of limiting during recording. If you're watching this movie that's probably not you, so it's best you get some experience recording without it first. To sum it all up, a compressor is sometimes set up as a limiter for use during recording in order to control the peaks of an instrument or vocal. The amount of gain reduction needed is usually just a dB or two although very loud passages may require more. Finally, it's best not to use any compression or limiting while recording unless you have plenty of experience and know how things should sound without it.
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