Compressors (Part 2)

Over the weekend, I did the two morning services at Ferndale, and this time, did not take any compressors with, mostly because it would be too much work, but also because I wanted to see how much of a difference it really makes. I also wanted to write this post and hopefully engage a discussion about compression itself from a listening point of view, as opposed to a technical point of view.
Firstly a little bit of education… when you listen to a song, on the radio or on a CD, there are many parts of it that are compressed, and in-fact they are compressed several times. Take this average work-flow of pop music production for example:

  1. Recording – light compression used often to prevent overloading of A/D converters
  2. Mixing – compression used on individual tracks, and
  3. Mixing – compression used on groups/busses, and sometimes
  4. Mixing – light compression used on the final mix
  5. Mastering – compression and/or limiting used to make the song louder
  6. Broadcasting – multi-band limiting used on the transmitter to protect it from over-modulation

As you can see it is possible that the vocal you are listening to when you listen to most music has been heavily compressed. So how does this apply to what we hear in a live scenario. Lets take the lead vocal as an example:

  1. If the vocalist is using a wireless mic, all wireless mics compress the signal to protect the transmitter from over-modulation
  2. the lead vocal is generally compressed and/or de-essed individually and then
  3. buss/group compression of all vocals
  4. main mix compression
  5. loudspeakers/amps will have a limiter which prevents damage, but this should only engage when the system is pushed to its absolute maximum

So it is similar in a live environment.
Maybe you have never heard compression before..? ok here are some audio examples:
Un-Compressed Vocal
Compressed Vocal (3dB of gain reduction on the peaks)
Compressed Vocal (6dB of gain reduction on the peaks)
Compressed Vocal (12dB of gain reduction on the peaks)
(Thanks to Joe Gilder at Home Studio Corner for the raw recording)
I want to ask… what are your thoughts? is compression good or bad… from your point of view as an engineer, a listener or a musician, what are the pro’s and con’s of it?

3 thoughts on “Compressors (Part 2)”

  1. Compression is probably absolutely essential in for any good listening experience – live or recorded. But when it becomes too obvious (think over-compressed pop songs!) then it crosses the line into something else.

    1. Agreed, the problem is, one person’s overcompressed is another persons ‘killer’ sound…
      Compare Y-fm’s broadcast to 94.7 for example
      Who decides what is too obvious..?

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