If at all and when and how do you use compression?

I'm curious to see who out there actually uses it. You can answer with referring to either recording or mixing.

I have already asked if you use compression to master your mixes when you are finished. I am more interested in the processes of recording and mixing in this question.


  • Ryan

4 Answers 4


I often use compression in post-production, both in subtle and radical ways:

  • Subtle: A metal hit that has a great tonality but the intial attack is too intense for my application. A slight amount of compression will tame the transient and make the sound more appropriate.
  • Radical: A small leafy fire I recorded has great character and low-end wafts but the crackle was overpowering everything else. Push it through an L2 and voila, a completely different track that could work as either an intense chemical burn or a vast forest fire.
  • @birdhousesound What do you think of the Renn Axe?
    – Utopia
    Jul 20, 2010 at 5:50
  • I don't use that one although I've experimented with it a little bit. Fiddling with the presets didn't bring about the sound I was looking for right away, so I moved to the tools that I know I can get results from quickly. Jul 20, 2010 at 6:08
  • @birdhousesound Ah, okay. I'm sort of looking for an equivalent to the L2. Any suggestions?
    – Utopia
    Jul 20, 2010 at 6:20
  • Hmm…well, L1 is tried-and-true, but part of a Waves package that you may not have. Impact is interesting, and the Digi Comp/Limiter 3 has some useful presets. Jul 20, 2010 at 6:25
  • @Ryan While I don't use it myself, I've heard really good things come out of McDSP's ML4000. While it's more comparable to the L3 with it's multiband capabilities, it does come bundled with the ML1 which is just the limiter. Jul 20, 2010 at 13:03

There are basically three ways I'll use compression in my mixes

I do mostly television mixes; and, as I've mentioned in another post, dialogue has to sit in a specific range within the mix. I will get the overall track very close with just volume automation, then use some gentle compression to smooth it out and get it to sit in the correct range. I'll use a bit more if it's an element like narration, where we never show the owner of the voice, just to establish it as something outside of the context of the image itself.

Occassionally, I'll use compression to help lift a single element to the front of the mix. I usually do this when I like the overall dynamics and balance of the mix but feel that something needs just a little more presence. Again here, it's just a very gentle compression to add a little weight to that element.

And lastly, I use a limiter on the master output bus. In television, nothing is supposed to peak above -10db full scale. I try to control that in the mix, but there's only so much time. So, I use that limiter only to catch any transients that escaped my attention. I set it to catch those transients and have little to no affect on the rest of the mix. It may be changing now with the full digital switchover here in the U.S., but it used to be a systems issue for television broadcast equipment. They couldn't handle a signal that was hotter than that, and it would cause all kinds of problems. Of course, this is something I've heard and never bothered to get confirmation on. All I know is programs often get kicked back by the networks if you have anything peaking over -10dB. As far as I understand it, many other countries have the same rule (we sell a lot of our programming overseas as well).

  • +1 on using compression on the dialog and VO in TV mixes for the reasons @Shaun stated above. -1 on limiting on the master output bus only as it opens up an opportunity for the MDE (DME, Mix Minus, whatever you want to call it) to not match the Full Mix. As one of my regular gigs is international reversioning, this is near and dear to my heart. I advocate limiting on the stem side so that when played back @ unity they can recreate your MDE. Jul 20, 2010 at 13:15
  • That's interesting. As I said, we sell a lot overseas as well, which means I'm always producing a mix minus for every one of our programs. I've never had any issues with our mix-minus matching our full mixes. Jul 20, 2010 at 14:33
  • I should have also said that I like the idea of limiting at the stem/vca level. It does sound more elegant, and I've certainly got the processing power to handle it. ;) Jul 20, 2010 at 16:00
  • It's not a regular occurrence, simply something I thought I should interject. I've heard mixes that clearly relied heavily on far more than an L1 at the Master Output stage. It may sound good and pass QC, but it only makes more work (and busted budgets) for someone else down the chain. Jul 20, 2010 at 16:11

When recording VO or ADR I like to see between 1 to 3dB of compression and no more. I'll set the limiter to prevent the signal clipping in case the talent really rips on a line and I wasn't able to predict it. That way if the producer or director falls in love with the take it might be a lot more compressed than than I'd like it, but it won't be clipped beyond usability.

  • @AdamAxbey Thanks for replying. When you set a limiter, is it a brick wall and set at like -.2 dBfs?
    – Utopia
    Jul 20, 2010 at 20:41
  • @Ryan I'm usually a bit more conservative than that. And I'm setting it at my preamp, which is analogue and doesn't measure in dBfs. If the session is rushed to start I'll leave the limiter at about -6 dB on the preamp, making sure that the the talent's "gimme a level" voice isn't touching the limiter at that setting and barely touching the compressor. I'll then set the make up gain coming out out of the compressor so I'm hitting Pro Tools with peaks at about -10dB, so that when they really open up, I still have room left, even if my limiter setting is out to lunch.
    – AdamAxbey
    Jul 21, 2010 at 2:12
  • @AdamAxbey Wow, cool. What type of limiter is it? You got a tube pre or solid state? What's your favorite?
    – Utopia
    Jul 21, 2010 at 22:37

For me, not consistently...supremely dependent when I do so pre-mix. Usually it's to lift the content in the release or decay of a sound, like a nice resonant overtone or amazing slapback or reverb, or to even out a sound that warbles or pumps for some reason when recorded (air movement or what have you).

Even when I do liberally use compression, usually just for music tracking, I never compress the signal when recording, only in post.

  • @NoiseJockey wow. Exactly what I do. Maybe I'm not so bad at this sound gig after all.
    – Utopia
    Jul 20, 2010 at 4:47
  • Probably better than me, dude. :-) Jul 20, 2010 at 19:58

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