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Compressors And Limiters Tips And Tricks

Compressors And Limiters Topics

Using compressors and limiters in tandem

One of the best ways to boost your volume levels is to marry up compression and limiting plug-ins. This deadly duo can really heat up your audio when driven hard, get it right and you should retain a lot of the sounds original dynamic punch as well.

Start off by inserting your favourite compressor on the channel you want to treat. At this stage your really only looking to level the peaks of your audio, the more transparent you can be here the better. This way you will achieve a better result when the volume is boosted in the limiting stage. Pay close attention to your attack and decay settings, these are crucial to allowing your sounds dynamics through.

Now strap a limiter across the channel directly after the compressor. As your sound should now have a nice uniform dynamic signature the limiter should not have to perform huge gain reduction before it starts to boost the volume of your audio. Even a reduction of 4-6db should yield impressive results here.

This technique is especially effective after a side chain compressor, performing intense ducking on a sound. A limiter placed directly after this sort of compression set up may reduce some of the intense gain reduction taking place but the sounds volume will be clawed back and wayward peaks reigned in. You will find that even with pretty hard limiting you still get the impression that the ducking is taking place, so the pumping feel remains even with the increase in volume.  Often cascading compressors can impart even further boosts in loudness. For instance a compressor at the start of an effects chain to level out the dynamics can work well but once four or five other processors are added new unpredictable peaks can be added, a second compressor later in the chain can rectify this.


Preserving dynamics with parallel processing

One of the most serious challenges when processing sounds with lots of heavy dynamics processing is retaining the sounds original character and punch. Often when applying intense compression, limiting or even saturation dynamics can be lost and although loud, your sounds can end up noisy and unrecognisable. Although this can work on occasion in a project you certainly wouldn’t want to go down this route with every sound you use.

One way around this problem is to add a healthy amount of the original untreated sound back into the mix. Often you don’t have to introduce much of this dry signal to hear a your dynamics and definition returning. As a lot of the time you will be using these processors as inserts, it can be easier to create a new audio channel to carry your untreated audio and run it in parallel with the processed version.

These two separate streams can then be fed into a group and mixed as you see fit. In doing this you should get the best of both worlds with the average level of your audio increased and the original transients still present. It may be time consuming but performing this routing with any heavily processed sound in your projects can give you much more precise control over your final mix.

This technique doesn’t have to be restricted to a wet and dry signal being mixed, two different forms of processing can also be merged in this way. For instance a heavily compressed and limited signal could be mixed with the same sound processed with a transient designer. While the compressed signal supplies the volume the second channel looks after the need to introduce hard hitting dynamics. This configuration would give you further command over the dynamics and levels in your mix.


Power tip 1 - Gating and filters

To keep things clear when super heating your sounds try using noise gates and high pass filters to remove and noise and unwanted low end frequencies from selected sounds in the mix. In doing this you should find that the critical instruments become clearer, as they are not fighting for space. This can be applied to any mix but is especially important when heavily processing your sounds.


Power tip 2 - Transient design

Transient designers or envelope shapers can be absolute god sends in some mix situations. Drums and percussion are instruments that absolutely love this treatment and if your trying to claw back some dynamic response after smashing a drum group to hell with a limiter then reach for one of these plug-ins and it could very well solve your problems. These plug-ins are also great for attenuating transients making them hugely adaptable.


Power tip 3 - Limiting your effects

When applying limiting and compression to most sounds the effects are pretty predictable, but insert a brick wall limiter it directly after a reverb plugin and you maybe in for some noisy results. The limiting will not only increased the perceived volume of the original sound and the contained reverb signal but also the decaying tail generated as well, so you may want to place reverbs and delays after such limiters.