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Now that we know the strategy behind recording with compression, let's take a look at some hands-on examples, both outside and inside the box. Let's start by recording a bass guitar through a hardware compressor. When recording through a hardware compressor, the audio signal flow is going to travel from the bass into a preamp with an instrument level input, then from the output of the preamp into the hardware compressor's input, and from the compressor's output into the DAW interface's line-level input.
Using the studio's patch bay, I'll route the output of the preamp into the input of the LA-2A compressor. The output of the LA-2A is then patched into our DAW input. When using multiple pieces of equipment in the signal chain, it is important to watch the levels of each one of your gain stages and be sure you aren't clipping at any point in the chain. It's very easy to add too much gain at one processor, thus clipping the output of that unit while hiding that clipped signal from your DAW's metering by attenuating the next unit's input or output in the signal shape.
To avoid this, you can bypass the compressor if it has a bypass or insert button, or make sure it's not adding any gain to the signal chain. In the LA-2A here, because it doesn't have a bypass, I am going to pay attention to the compressor's input and output metering to ensure proper gain staging. Now I will set up the gain on my preamp to get a nice clean unclipped signal coming into my DAW. Once that's set up, I can then move over to my compressor and adjust the controls to achieve the desired amount of gain reduction.
Then I'll adjust the output gain of the compressor to get about the same level signal going into my DAW as I had using only the preamp. Now that it's all set up, let's record a take. The bass track will be recorded with compression; therefore, its waveform will exhibit a reduced dynamic range in comparison to an uncompressed-based waveform. (music playing) In most DAWs you can record through a compressor by routing the signal through an auxiliary track before recording it to an audio track.
Here, the input of the aux track receives the signal from the base and the output of the aux track feeds an internal bus, which is then routed into a separate audio track that records the signal. In this setup, any plug-in that's placed on the aux track will affect what is recorded to disk. In contrast, any plug-in that's placed on the audio track is simply monitored in real time and not recorded. So now that you know how to record through a hardware or software compressor, experiment with this technique the next time you're recording a very dynamic performer to tame their input signal.
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