Basics of compression

Posted by Giacomo on February 24, 2012
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Compressors are  a kind of dynamic processors that reduce the volume of loud sounds or amplify quiet sounds by diminishing an audio signal’s dynamic range.

Usually, by compression audio engineers mean downward compression, which reduces loud sounds over a certain threshold while quiet sounds remain unaffected.

The function of compression is  to make performances more consistent in dynamic range so that they “sit” in the mix of other instruments better and maintain consistent attention from the listener.

The following video will show you how to use a compressor to achieve this consistency, so you can hear the difference yourself!

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New York trick: Adding punch to your drums

Posted by Giacomo on February 16, 2012
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Learn how to better the rythm section in your mixes by applying smart compression techniques to

your tracks. In this videoblog brought to you by SAE Online you will learn about the infamous New York Trick.

The New York Trick is a form of upward compression, achieved by mixing an unprocessed ‘dry’ signal with a heavily compressed version of the same signal. Hence, it reduces the dynamic range by bringing up the softest sounds, adding sonic detail. It is most often used on stereo drum bus recording and mixdown, and on vocals in live concert mixes.

By careful setting of attack and release times on the compressor you may causes the signal to “pump” or “breathe” with the song, adding its own character to the sound.

To learn more about Drums recording for rock, check SAE Online’s VIP course by Dario Dendi, right here.

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How to Mix Vocals in Pro tools

Posted by Giacomo on February 13, 2012
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Straight from SAE Online’s library, here it is a free mini-course on mixing vocal in pro tools!

Pro Tools is the industry standard DAW for recording and mixing, which is why knowing how to use its more advanced capabilities is extremely useful for upcoming sound engineers. In this video, SAE Online´s learning advisor  Phillip Zumbrunnen will give you some tips on creating better background vocals, to create the harmony and power that will your mixes to the next level!

To find out more about SAE Online’s Mixdown techniques 101 course, just click here.

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Audio Compression Tutorial Made Easy By Producer Karen Kane

Posted by Giacomo on February 10, 2012
Tips and Tricks / 1 Comment

Using a compressor on a microphone or on a recorded track may seem to be a simple task, however, there’s a lot to learn about the theory of compression.


Understanding this theory and why compression is useful will help you in using these devices more effectively. Compressors are “dynamic range processors” or “variable gain amplifiers” (VGA’s). They affect the dynamic range of sound by varying the “gain” (volume) of that sound.

If the dynamic range of music is potentially near 120db (that’s loud!) and the dynamic range of recording devices and live sound systems are only near 75-90db, we need a way to control the dynamic range so that those loud levels do not cause distortion. The dynamic range has to be gain reduced to a level appropriate for recording or a live concert. This “gain reduction” could be accomplished by manually riding the fader up and down but our hands are not fast enough. A compressor automatically controls the volume of a sound, leaving our hands free for other things.

Compressors are used on vocals, bass, guitar, drums and almost anything that fluctuates widely. Very simply put, a compressor is an amplifier whose gain decreases as the input increases. It makes big changes into smaller changes.

Most compressors have 4 main controls: input level, output level, threshold and ratio. Some compressors also have attack time and release time controls.

Input level: is exactly that, the amount of input level. When you set it to “O”, you get the exact level that you are sending from your mic pre-amp or from an already recorded track.

Output level: the amount of output after compression.

Threshold: A set point at which the compressor begins to work. Incoming levels below your set threshold are unprocessed. Incoming levels above your set threshold are compressed according to the compression ratio. The threshold on a compressor is similar to an air conditioner thermostat. When the temperature exceeds a certain threshold, the air conditioner kicks in. When the temperature drops below threshold, the air conditioner shuts off. This is the same idea for the threshold of a compressor.

Ratio: is the ratio of the input signal to the output signal after compression.

Example: 4:1 ratio means if the input is 12db, the output level is only 3db. So level input (12db) divided by ratio (4) is the output level. A ratio of 2:1 would give a 12 db input an output level of 6 db and a ratio of 8:1 would give an output level of 1.5db. So the rule of thumb is, the higher the ratio, the more extreme the compression is going to be. Therefore, ratios from 2:1 up through 6:1 are considered “gentle” and ratios above 6:1 are considered “hard”. “Hard” compressing is called “limiting”. A limiter is merely a compressor with a very high ratio, very fast attack times, fast to medium release times and high thresholds. Limiters are great for live sound systems as a safety device when very high levels are introduced into the system. Any signal above the threshold is “clipped” off. They protect speakers from blowing. 8:1,10:1, 20:1, 100:1 are common limiting ratios.

Attack time: The speed with which the device affects the signal. The time it takes to react to a signal above the threshold.

Release time: The rate at which the device lets the signal decay. The time the compressor takes to return the signal to normal (the way it was before hitting the threshold).

Stereo compressors come in one box with 2 channels and can be used in 2 different ways. You can put 2 individual mics or tracks into it and each channel will have completely independent settings from each other. Obviously, a mono compressor just has one channel. The second way to use a stereo compressor is to put an entire stereo studio mix or the stereo output of a live soundboard into it. This is called using the compressor as a Left/Right Stereo Bus compressor. When you use it as a L/R Stereo Bus compressor, you have to link both sides electronically so the same amount of compression happens on both sides at the same time.

A “Frequency Selective Compressor “(De-esser) is a special compressor that reduces the level of a very narrow band of frequencies. It’s very useful when a singer has a strong, sharp, sibilant “S” to their voice. Typically in the 5-8k range. When 5-8k exceeds the threshold, it reduces strong, sibilant “S’s” without affecting the rest of the word.

There are 2 types of compressors: Tube and solid state. They have a wide range of quality and price ($200-$4000). Upper mid price and expensive compressors can compress a signal heavily and you can hardly tell it’s working. The sound remains much more natural than when an inexpensive compressor is compressing.

Tube compressors have such a great sound that sometimes a signal is put through it just to get the sound of the tubes while hardly compressing it at all.

Be careful not to overuse a compressor. When overused, it creates a very unnatural sound. The trick is to learn to use a compressor in a subtle manner.

Related Links
Karen Kane Website

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Drum Trigger VST Approach

Posted by Giacomo on February 10, 2012
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Mixing with software on your PC can be a whole heap of fun and too many hours can be lost with fine detailed tweaks well into the early mornings. One technique that can stretch your valuable time is fixing the drums in the mix. If you’ve ever had to work with real recorded drums but just don’t like the original source recording all is not lost!


Drum Trigger VST Approach

The scenario is that we are working in your favourite editor/sequencer such as Cubase SX, for example, and we have loaded up our individual audio tracks such as the kick drum track, the snare drum track, the hi-hats and whatever else was originally recorded.

Often a recording engineer may use up to 12 channels or more for the drum kit alone in order to capture the unique sonic qualities from various positions. In this instance however we are assuming we are perhaps re-mixing the tune or simply do not like, say, the snare and kick sound.

Changing Drum Sounds

I hear you say well why not use some drum e.q, or, what about some drum compression to improve the ‘punch’. Can’t we just process the drum sounds until we hear something we like. Naturally this approach can yield some interesting sounds and maybe something workable for our re-mix, although we are talking about obtaining a completely new drum sound for the kick drum and snare drum, yet still retaining the original drummer’s feel and performance. We are not concerned with programming a new performance using the drum editor, we like the way the drums were played but simply do not like the kick and snare sounds.

VST Drum Triggers To The Rescue

A VST drum trigger is a useful plug-in for this purpose and I’m going to work with a FREE VST drum trigger for this article in order that we can all benefit and have a go. The plug-in is known as KTDrumTrigger programmed by SmartElectronix. A VST drum trigger is essentially a tool, which for a given audio input will output a MIDI note. ‘KTDrumTrigger is a VST plugin with custom editor that triggers MIDI notes based on the sound level of the incoming audio stream in different frequency bands. It allows you to ‘detect’ occurrences of percussive sounds in an audio stream and send out a MIDI event whenever that happens.’ Perfect for our needs.

Screen shot of the KTDrumTrigger highlighting the importance of the MIDI note number setting

VST Configuration

Back in Cubase SX I inserted KTDrumTrigger into my kick drum channel using the effects option, so now KTDrumTrigger would listen to every hit of the kick drum and output a MIDI note providing I tweak the settings and set the threshold etc appropriately.

I then created a new blank MIDI track, and on this track I set the input to my VST Drum Trigger so it was listening to the plug-in and I set the output of this MIDI track to play one of my VST samplers, in this case Sample Tank loaded with their FREE Acoustic Drum kit samples.

Cubase MIDI channel inputs and outputs

Tweaking the VST Drum Trigger

After some tweaking of the Drum Trigger you’ll find you can get just the right amount of hits converted to MIDI note information. I had to play around to find the correct sound for a while as all percussive sounds in the MIDI are associated with a MIDI note number, I found the kick drum on MIDI note number 40.

Recording The Drum Trigger

Naturally you could stop here and simply play the VST Drum Trigger live each time, and have your kick drum sample of choice playing along with the track, or go one step further and actually stick the MIDI channel into record and record the VST Drum Trigger output. Doing this can really help out with some more creative possibilities as you can then get into some real detailed editing, like maybe shifting one of the beats to the left or right, correct some bad timing errors. Maybe even duplicate the track a couple of times, and assign further sounds to the MIDI information, thus layering your mix with some rich sounds.

Keeping the Drums Real

I was cautious to maintain the feel of a real drummer playing, so with careful blending of the other drum tracks into the mix, (lots of over-head) I was able to keep the ‘feel’ and sound of a drummer and yet have a great punchy sounding kit.

There are other methods to Drum Triggering and lots of plug-ins but hopefully this might just set your mind thinking a little.

Author: Hambly

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