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 Forum index » How-tos » Production - engineering/mixing
Mastering and Compression techniques
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Machinist1



Joined: Nov 18, 2006
Posts: 3
Location: Canada

PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2006 5:26 pm    Post subject: Mastering and Compression techniques
Subject description: want to know how to compress a master mix
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Hi and greetings, I am new to the world of mastering, but more so proper compression techniques and how to use a compressor correctly.
My eqing and mixing ability is good, I mean that I have good ears. been a musician most of my life and my tracks usually sound good right up to the final mastering process.

Just wanted to know more about compression really and general rules for EQING Kicks and bass lines, how much should you cut off in hertz, I know that -20db is a good place to start with kicks , but what about everything else?

Also, when your about to start compressing your final mix or a mixed cd lets say, are supposed to lower the levels of your original mix first, then raise the levels on your compressor, and then raise your master mixer level back up when your done making your compression settings, or the other way around? start of with your original mix with no compression as hot as you can get it with out clipping and then raise your compression input? output levels?

I am using a Sonalksis 315 for a compressor, if anyone uses this compressor, and has any good recommendations for basic settings for master compression, I would welcome your comments.

Cheers and thanks for your time,

Danny,

Canada
Editor's Note - I cancelled bold type face from your posts. You/We do not need it. Seraph
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decibelecho



Joined: Dec 06, 2006
Posts: 9
Location: MASS.

PostPosted: Wed Dec 06, 2006 12:26 pm    Post subject: i got this from keyboard magazine and it has helped me Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

To understand the 4 basic settings on almost every compressor, imagine a gnome inside that tuns down the volume when a loud peak hits, then turns it back up.
THRESHOLD: how loud the sound has to be before he decides to turn the volume down
ATTACK: how quickly he moves the volume knob once he's made that decision.
RATIO: how far he turns it down, as a function of the peaks inital loudness,
RELEASE how quickly he turns it back up once the peak has passed.

VOCALS:
THRESHOLD:3 to 6db less then the loudest peak
ATTACK:medium to medium-fast
RATIO: 2:1 to 4:1
RELEASE:medium

BASS:
T: 2 to 6 db less then loudest peak
A:Medium
R: 4:1
R: Medium to fast

DRUMS:
T: 4-8db less then loudest peak
A: Fast
R: 4:1 to 8:1
R: medium to medium fast

SOLO SYNTH, SAX, OR LEAD GUITAR
T 2 to 4db less then loudest peak
A: slow to medium
R:4:1
R: medium to fast


I hope this helps you as much as it did me
cheers
decibelecho
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Machinist1



Joined: Nov 18, 2006
Posts: 3
Location: Canada

PostPosted: Wed Dec 06, 2006 4:31 pm    Post subject: Cheers and thanks mate
Subject description: Compression tec
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Thank you for taking the time to brake this down for me, it did help on some level. I am familiar with the basic operations of a compressor but your explanation of how to compress different sounds was helpful, I'm just wondering how you came up with these numbers? I mean where did you get this info from? Cause from my point of view or what I've been told by engineers with 15 years experience and more is that there is no one way or setting to compress certain sounds, in other words, it's better to work by ear and not what people talk about on the many forums out there, mostly cause everyone has there own way of working and every instrument or sound is going to need a different amount of compression, depending on it's EQ and where you want it to fit in your track.

Either way, thank you again, just one question, I am still confused about knee, soft , hard, what ever, on my compressor Sonalksis 315, it just has a knee knob, I know some have a hard and soft setting, where should this be set roughly when doing master mix compression and if you have some numbers for mastering compression that may help as well.

Cheers m8,

Danny
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opg



Joined: Mar 29, 2004
Posts: 954
Location: Berkeley, CA, US
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 07, 2006 7:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I would assume that the mastering/compression process for an entire CD would be just as subjective as an individual song. Each CD is done a little differently. For example, classical music, metal, and rap are all done very differently, and if you played a track from each CD back to back to back, you would probably be adjusting the volume levels on your stereo. Don't forget that when a song is played on the radio that it undergoes more compression from the hardware at the radio station.

The only compression I do is on the computer, but to answer your question about what order things are done in, this is what sounds good to my ears:

1. I'll put just a limiter on the main output in my music software (Fruity Loops). I'll use compressors on individual instruments if necessary.

2. I'll open the WAV file up in WaveLab and normalize it, just in case. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. With that limiter I used, I shouldn't need to do this all the time. If I do go into WaveLab, all I do is normalize it. Again, I'm not sure this is even necessary.

3. I'll then take the song into T-Racks for mastering. In my limited experience with mastering, I am assuming that I am trying to give each separate song the same overall EQ/Compression feeling for a sense of continuity. I'll usually start with a preset and tweak it until I hear what I like. I will start by lowering the original volume, then loading the preset, tweaking it to my liking, then boosting the volume until it is as is close to 0 on the meter as possible. With the T-Racks multiband limiter along with the EQ and compression, this should be easy to obtain.

4. After I export it from T-Racks, I'll take one last look at the waveform in WaveLab. I'll normalize it, just to see what happens. I used to not boost the output volume in T-Racks after I got the settings to my liking and then normalize it in WaveLab, but now it's rare.

You might do this all very differently (especially if you are using hardware), and it would still be okay. Those engineers are right; you have to rely on your own ears are there is no one way.

There is one thing I would say is a common practice: Getting that sound level as close to 0 as possible without clipping (and a limiter helps with that). However, this may be different for classical music. Maybe not. I've never done classical music mastering before. Smile

I hope I made things more confusing for you! Laughing Laughing Laughing

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Machinist1



Joined: Nov 18, 2006
Posts: 3
Location: Canada

PostPosted: Thu Dec 07, 2006 3:06 pm    Post subject: Compression till your blue in the face
Subject description: Mastering
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Hey and thanks again for the quick reply. First of all I'll mention that normalizing your tracks is not a good practice, as it often hurts the quality of the finished product or can in many cases.

And you didn't answer my question about Knee settings and how this setting relates to all the others on a compressor. Also, I am looking for a good delay and a reverb , I have some good ones, but I want the best, at least as far as reverbs go, plugins of course. Any suggestions may help, I've looked around quite a bit, but still have not found one that sticks out from the rest.

Do you still use T-Racks? I used it once way back, but can't really remember it being that great, it did seem solid, but then again, I didn't really dive in too deep.

Cheers from Canada, thks again, how long have you been producing for?

D. Newton
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elektro80
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Joined: Mar 25, 2003
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 07, 2006 3:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

The hard/soft knee stuff is a bit fuzzy at times because the actual implementation can differ some.

Hard knee usually means that when the signal hits the threshold level the compression kicks in at full rev. The soft knee thingie is something like: The compression ratio starts at approx 1:1 at the threshold level and increases up to the compression ratio set over a range of say 5-8 dB.

I have no idea how your Sonalkis thingie works, but I guess you will find that in the manual.

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elektro80
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Joined: Mar 25, 2003
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 07, 2006 3:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

If you need more compressors and fun stuff, then I can recommend the UAD-1. http://www.uaudio.com/

The UAD-1 has some excellent reverbs too. And there is always the most magnificent Altiverb.

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Afro88



Joined: Jun 20, 2004
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 07, 2006 4:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Remember that if it sounds crap before mastering, it will sound crap after. I can't really give you any mastering tips as I don't tend to do much, I do know a great bit of advice for compression....

Essentially, the attack/release determines how the compressor will shape the sound when it kicks in, and the ratio/threshold determine how much the compressor will shape it. With that in mind, try this:

1) Turn attack and release to minimum. Turn ratio to maximum and threshold to the lowest setting (ie, -48 or whatever). Turn the gain up so you can still hear the sound.
2) Now adjust the attack setting to get the right hit or attack for the sound. The bigger the attack setting, the bigger the hit. Play with it until you find a setting you like.
3) Adjust the release setting. This determines how quickly the compressor lets go after the attack stage. This is where, if you're compressing a drums or a bassline, you can sort of give it a groovy feeling. Play with it until the sound seems to bounce and make your head nod (if that's your thing).
4) Now that we've sorted out how the compressor will shape the sound, we'll determine how much the compressor will shape it. Turn the gain down, the threshold to 0 and the ratio to something mid range (2:1 - 3:1)
5) Turn the threshold setting down a little bit past where you can just hear the compressor working. Now play with the ratio setting to suit how much compression you want. Remember that your aim is to control the dynamics more than anything, so a setting that controls them but isn't too obvious is best here.
6) Adjust your gain so that when you bypass the compressor, it sounds as loud as the bypassed signal. Now a/b and decide if your compression is a good or bad thing. Sometimes audio is just better off uncompressed, but this might give you some ideas on what you want the attack to sound like etc. so if that's the case, start again.

That whole idea is completely ripped off from a section in Mike Stavrou's book Mixing With Your Mind. But it works for me, so I hope you or someone else find it useful...
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kkissinger



Joined: Mar 28, 2006
Posts: 1274
Location: Kansas City, Mo USA
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 05, 2007 1:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I tend to use compression sparingly which works well for my approach which leans towards classical music.

I have read in many different places that the best EQ is the least EQ -- that is, it is desirable to tweak patches and/or microphone placement, or other factors and use little EQ.

By way of example, I was recording a friend's guitar and the recording was dull and, instead of a nice strummed sound the thing sounded thumpy. When my friend replaced his strings with new ones, the difference was magnificent! It sounded sweet -- and no amount of EQ would have been successful to correct the sound of those old (worn out) strings.

With automated mixing, you can use your EQ controls with the same flexibility as the faders -- in fact, you can think of EQ as faders that work on a particular part of the sound. If a base line sounds good save for a couple of weak notes, you can boost your bass EQ just on the couple of notes that need the boost.

Compression can help you to utilize headroom that would otherwise go to waste. What do I mean by this?

Well, say a track has a fairly consistent level however has a couple of loud peaks. Without compression, you would have to allow headroom for the peaks -- meaning the rest of the track may be under-recorded. A compressor will decrease the peaks. Thus, you won't need to carry as much headroom for the peaks and you can then raise the overall level of the recording.

The suggestions by decibelecho (earlier in this thread) are very close to settings that I use -- that is, I simply reduce the highest 4 to 6 db by a ratio or 2:1 to 4:1. At a 2:1 ratio over the top 6db, only the loudest signals are compressed.

At more extreme settings, a compressor can be used as a kind of "envelope generator" (see afro88's post). There is always a little delay between the onset of a peak and the compressor's response. Thus, if you compress heavily (say the top 20db with a large (10:1) ratio) the result is a sound with a pronounced attack. This can be effective on snare drums, or a electric bass, or any sound where you want a pronounced percussive "hit". Different compressors have different responses, and as such, the compressor becomes an "effect" in and of itself.

Another effect of compression is called "pumping". This occurs when the attack and decay are short and the peaks are loud. An example would be a sustained chord along with a kick drum. Whenever the drum kicks, the compressor reduces the peak -- which means that the chord's volume drops on each kick. "Pumping" can be done on purpose, of course, however undesirable pumping can divert attention from the music to the mix itself.

Sometimes people claim that compression reduces the treble in a mix. And, this is because treble signals use less power than bass signals. When a standard hardware compressor (i.e., full band) reduces the level, it reduces everything. Thus, if your compressor is reducing the overall level because of the bass drums, it is reducing the treble component along with it.

Cubase SX3 comes with a software multi-band compressor. Basically, it is like having separate compressors that each work on a specific frequency band. Thus, you could compress the bass peaks while retaining the treble.

The resources in a digital studio environment, such as Cubase SX3, are overwhelming and if one isn't careful, one can mangle a mix! So, I tend to do everything I can to get things balanced as best as possible without EQ and Compression, then use EQ, Compression, and/or effects as the "icing on the cake".
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bachus



Joined: Feb 29, 2004
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 05, 2007 4:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

kkissinger wrote:
I tend to use compression sparingly ...

Thanks, your post was very helpful. I last did serious mixing 35 years ago and it's just like starting over.

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phasercs101



Joined: Nov 11, 2006
Posts: 29
Location: Atlanta, GA

PostPosted: Mon Jan 15, 2007 3:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Here is a book that really helped me out...It's pretty intense from one of the world's greatest master engineers, Bob Katz. Mastering Audio: the art and the science. He has a really great view on Mastering. He is against heavy compression and really hot mixes like on the top 40 radio stations. He says look at the individual songs and then piece together the whole album and make it fit as one. A great read with a lot of great advice and some settings for compression, but he always says there is no real magic bullet.
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