Thread: What does good compression sound like?

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  1. #1
    Plays in Winger cover band Enjoys scratching self too much
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    Default What does good compression sound like?

    Okay... before you continue rolling eyes, please follow along another paragraph, and let me explain what the topic means...

    I know that the question at hand is sooo subjective, asking it would reflect stupidity. Beauty is in t he eye of the beholder. However, we could argue that there are certain guidelines or common convergences in how beauty is defied. If you had Joss Stone and my sister singing side by side, I guess 99.8% of the world population would coincide on which one sounds 'beautiful' and which one does not (I love my sister, but that has nothing to do with the topic at had, so let's move on... but I love you sis!)

    Okay... read the second paragraph too. So... let's talk about compression. Why? 'Cause I'm having problems with it. Which kind? The stupid kind. I NEED to know how to pick a good software compressor. Why software? Because it's what I can integrate at my way of working right now. Do I already have some? Of course, but how do I know if they're any good?? So far, after a few years of banging my head over with them, I can say that I can clearly hear what the compressor is doing... I understand all if the controls on it, and I hear how they affect the input material... but how do I know if they're doing it WELL??. I guess that going back to the original premise (Beauty is in the eye of the beholder), the answer would be "Do you like what you hear"? Sure... maybe I do... and how do I know if I'm approaching the ugly girl in the hall while everyone else is silently laughing?

    Let's draw a parallel line to distortion. Being an electric guitar player, I am very familiar with distortion. However, when I started out, ANYTHING that made a guitar go 'fiiizzzzzz' was good in my book, and I would jump on top of it. It took me several years (and serendipity moments) to realize there was GOOD distortion, and... nasty one (the turning point was borrowing a NICE TUBE amp from a friend for an emergency gig). Now, I know what to listen to when going over different types of distortion. Again, this is tied to the initial premise... it's the distortion I like... but when presented to others "that know", they arrive to the same conclusions I do. Therefore, beauty is created.

    So, going back to compressors. For the life of me, I don't know yet what a "beautiful" compressor sounds like. Right, I can hear how they sound, but I don't know if it's sounding good. I have a decent list of compression plugins available (which I'll omit for now), which I've built mainly on reputation alone (mainly by referring to the opinions of others). However, I want to sit down and listen to them, and learn to determine which ones are capable of delivering, and which ones are prime candidates for the chopping block. I know this will tend to trigger all sorts of personal arguments, but unlike GS, I believe we could try to remain grounded on the issue. To give you an example, I had frequently leveraged the BF76 Comp on my drum bus... a unit most people here seem to scoff at.

    So, what would I need to listen to when comparing compressors? Do I need to listen for things they'd do? Do I need to listen to things they should NOT do? I know what also most people think of plugins, but in my case, that is not going to change tomorrow (nor next week... very likely not next month), so let's just accept things the way they are.

    Any guidelines? If this thread has been a waste of bytes, just let me know and I'll kick myself out the door... thank you!
    Last edited by Toonman; May 18th, 2011 at 08:08 PM.
  2. #2
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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    and how do I know if I'm approaching the ugly girl in the hall while everyone else is silently laughing?
    To reply with another Hollywood stereotype, the COOL guy doesn't give a shit what the others think!

    Seriously, when it comes to plugin compressors, the differences are there, but the character is seldom as fundamentally different as is the case with hardware - meaning, I could probably emulate at least a half dozen third-party compressors (with fancier GUIs), using the standard Logic or Digirack counterparts.

    Second, there are several very competent plugin compressors for around 30-50 bucks. Some are even free. It's not like you're out two grand per channel, plus, there are almost always demo grace periods. Plenty of time to get to know 'er first.

    I personally have TWO full-band compressor plugins on my machine other than the standard Logic one (which is probably at least one too many!): The PSP MixPressor and the Sonalksis 315. The former smashes the snot out of the signal about as well as anything I've seen in plugin form, and the latter does "transparency" (for lack of a better term) in a very convincing way.


    otek
    Last edited by otek; May 18th, 2011 at 08:50 PM.
    "Tube color is not the 'thing'. Why would the most linear amplifying device have a color?" - Jonte Knif
  3. #3
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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    For me "good compression" would be invisible compression.

    Attack and release set improperly can cause extra distortion (not the good kind )

    set properly , you might never know there was any compression.
    ( now we can all gang up on me, how there is no proper or improper setting, which is true)
  4. #4
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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    when it comes to plugin compressors, the differences are there, but the character is seldom as fundamentally different as is the case with hardware

    otek
    An exception to this rule may be the waves api 2500 plugin.

    With it's half a dozen (+) compressor archetype settings. You can literally close your eyes. Press the tone and knee buttons and hear it manipulate and shape the audio. In small but noticeable ways.

    But without doing a shootout with the waves 2500 vs the lunchbox 2500. I say say just how "true to life" the plugin is to the real deal.

    The BF76 plug does sound good on drums. A lot of people use it. Waves does offer the CLA classic compressors bundle. Which has an 1176 plugin (among others) and from what my ears can tell. The CLA 76 kicks the tar out of the BF76, and switches from blackey to bluey to boot.
  5. #5
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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    The CLA 76 kicks the tar out of the BF76, and switches from blackey to bluey to boot.
    I think my point got lost in translation. To be more clear, regarding your above statement, how do you determine that?? Lets say I had the waves 1176 (which I don't)... how would I compare it against the BF76, and say "yep... this sounds better"... what IS 'better'?? That's what I'm going for...

    Feel free to list your favorite plugins, but remember that the point of this thread is to try to put in words what makes a good compressor sound 'good' (whatever that is). Archtop pointed out clearly "it should not introduce distortion", and "it should be transparent" (which I guess means it should not change the tone of the input signal in a detrimental way).

    Thanks for the guidelines! Keep 'em coming! I can provide a list of what I have available, in case anyone is curious. So far, it seems most people try to have a fast compressor (a la 1176), a slower one (a la LA 2A), and some limiter.

    As for hardware... yes, I know... we will maybe have that conversation... uummm... later...
  6. #6
    Plays in Winger cover band Enjoys scratching self too much
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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    To reply with another Hollywood stereotype, the COOL guy doesn't give a shit what the others think!
    Duly noted.

    Second, there are several very competent plugin compressors for around 30-50 bucks. Some are even free. It's not like you're out two grand per channel, plus, there are almost always demo grace periods. Plenty of time to get to know 'er first.
    And that's my point exactly... I can demo all plugins I want, but how do I know that what they're doing, they're doing it well?? Is it as simple as saying "Yep, that sounds good"?? How do I know if that's actually "good"?? Or maybe let me reverse the question... can anyone recommend me a terrible plugin compressor, and explain why they find it terrible? Maybe knowing what a terrible compressor sounds like, I can then pick others and compare (by contrast).

    Thanks Otek!
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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    You are essentially asking how to acquire a taste.

    I don't know of a good way of doing that without, well, tasting stuff - and analyzing your impressions and emotions upon doing so.

    Your question does, however, remind me of a fictional character who probably wrestled a lot of similar conundrums.






    otek
  8. #8
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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    Good compression is relative to the context of the song and the source.

    Archtop was right about transparency being good. But there is the rare occasion where distortion is your friend. Like when compressing the drum room. The "Fast & Faster" speed settings on a compressor that's providing more than 10db of reduction will yield an "exploding snare" effect. Without a mess of samples, gated reverbs, or white noise generators.

    What are you trying to compress, and what is the desired effect?
  9. #9
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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    Nathan I'm not saying it doesn't or can't happen.

    But rarely have I had a mass amount of compression on drums give me exploding anything, 'cept maybe fatique.
  10. #10
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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    If you know how to set it up right, you can get a very powerful sound out of it. The trick in my opinion is compressing the whole kit (and/or the kit/room mics) together, rather than the individual drums.

    otek
    "Tube color is not the 'thing'. Why would the most linear amplifying device have a color?" - Jonte Knif
  11. #11
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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    An exception to this rule may be the waves api 2500 plugin.
    The hardware BLOWS the Waves plug AWAY!
    I have both - the low end improvement I can get out of the API 2500 is truly amazing!

    Waves is not even close with sound ... but it sure looks cool!
    "If you don't care, either you are an effete snob or they are worthless pieces of crap (genre withstanding)". - Comte de St Germain

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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    The hardware BLOWS the Waves plug AWAY!
    Sounds like what I've come to expect with the "emulation" plugins.


    otek
    "Tube color is not the 'thing'. Why would the most linear amplifying device have a color?" - Jonte Knif
  13. #13
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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    two people walk into the room.
    How can we, here, describe to you, or "tell you", which one is more beautiful?

    ultimately it comes back to who YOU find more attractive.



    The problem with plug-in compressors is that you want a judgment on who is more beautiful, but you are limiting the field to fat people over 75, with warts.
  14. #14
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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    ...but you are limiting the field to fat people over 75, with warts.
    You're talking about me, right?






    Cheers,
    Tim
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  15. #15
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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    the turning point was borrowing a NICE TUBE amp from a friend for an emergency gig
    Why not try to rent a good HW compressor?
    When in doubt, mumble!

    EVERYTHING SOUNDS LIKE SHIT IF YA LISTEN LONG AND HARD ENOUGH.
  16. #16
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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    Plug ins will always lack stuff. Even one hardware compressor (which is the same model) can sound different to another.


    I would download a demo of the Softube FET compressor modelled after the 1176 and compair it to the waves CLA 1176. You should notice quite a difference between the 2, specially on the FETs low end. If there is that much difference between 2 of the "considered" top plug ins in native use, then you can imagine how different both might sound compaired to the real deal.


    But they are both useful, sometimes the CLA stuff is better if you don't want the effect the FET has on the low end, I have started using both. If anything its more flavours- its just not THE flavour of the original, just an aproximation of its characteristics.

    I prefer the FET compressor on many things and have been told its closer to the real deal. It has not however been a significant factor to me in my choice of using it.

    But in a mix a lot of the times the arguement is not as relevant as many other things. Making sure you don't get lost in specifics saves much head banging. If you get pushed into reaching a deadline, you wont care what 1176 to pick so much as finding one to get the job done quickly.
    SD

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    "If yer still fucking around with it after 90 seconds, then you're gonna be fucking around with it for at least another 90 minutes... and things are not necessarily gonna be getting much better".
  17. #17
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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    Tough question.

    The way it's applied is the crucial bit.

    More crucial than the box / plug you're using.

    I would concentrate on getting hold of a decent plug and diving in.

    As has been said there are so many ways that compression can sound good - but it's really easy to hear when someone doesn't get it...

    Two things really stick out: everything sounds small or things pump excessively / off-beat or both.

    A slightly better question might be what does bad compression sound like?
    Cheers,

    Paulie.
  18. #18
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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    Don't do all too fast A/B comparisons, our hearing is very slow for fine details and will most likely only react to loudness then.
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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    I generally find A/B comparisons confusing at best, and directly misguiding at worst. Sometimes, we're kind of stuck with them.

    But the best way for me is to simply USE the plugin, or piece of gear, for a time. If I find myself after a while reaching for other tools - that's not a good sign.


    otek
    "Tube color is not the 'thing'. Why would the most linear amplifying device have a color?" - Jonte Knif
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    Default Re: What does good compression sound like?

    Hey guys, long time lurker, but this I decided to weigh-in on this one, because I think I understand the question. (forgive me toonman if I'm way off base).
    I believe this question, although specifically addressing the sound of compression, is essentially the same question guys with varying degrees of less experience always want to ask guys with a lot of studio experience.

    If I was a fly on the wall of a veteran studio guy and I saw him setting up a M/S pattern for "Overheads" on a drum track for an 80's style ballad. I might say:
    "Why did you go with that particular pattern?"
    And he would say: eeeeewww, a talking fly

    but the problem really might be that I'm looking for a specific formula like:
    80'srockballad+drumsXreverb= MidSideoverheadmics

    but the real answer, I'm sure would be:
    "because that's gonna give me the right sound for this specific song".

    And that's the frustrating part of asking this question, because I already knew the answer. Through my trial and mucho error, I can mess around with compression or mic placement and hear the difference in sound depending on how I change things, but veteran-studio-man (insert theme music here) through his experience can predict how it will affect the overall song.

    He can pull from vast past experiences and say: I remember 6 years ago, I recorded a song that I did "this thing" to the compressor and it worked really well and I believe it will work well here. You might be able to share some level of the knowledge you gained, but you can't really pass along the experience if I wasn't there.
    So, I guess part of the question is inanswerable, or I guess the answer I don't want to hear is: keep making errors 'till you find the right answer for that particular instance, and remember what you learn along the way, so others can bugg you later about what formula you followed.

    As to the other part of the question: plug-in compressors, I do not think they're totally useless, I downloaded some a few years ago. "reaComp" was pretty versitile and perhaps free, (but it might only work with Reaper, which is what I was using at the time).

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