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Compression Explained For EDM|Trap|House|Dance

Compression is something that can make or break your track.

Today there is access to thousands and thousands of different type of compressors. Hundreds and hundreds of guides on how to use them, but they are still being abused and a lot of people use them incorrectly. I believe this has to do with the fact that when you start out producing you hear about compression and see {insert your favourite producer here} use a certain type of compressor, with a certain type of setting, for a certain type of sound, and you carry that on to your mix. Without thinking about, why did he use that setting or why did he use that type of compressor (I did this mistake when I first started out).

Old school engineers had access to only a limited amount of compressors, so they had to learn them inside out. And that is what we are going to go through in this tutorial.

So first of all what is a compressor?

Compression is a process of lowering the dynamic range between the loudest and quietest part of an audio signal. This means you boost the quieter signals and attenuate the louder signals.

Settings On A Compressor

THRESHOLD: is how loud the signal has to be before compression is applied.

Ratio: determines the difference in signal level between the audio entering the compressor to the signal level that leaves the compressor. For example, if the ratio were to be set at 4:1, the input signal has to cross 4 db, and it will only be reduced by 1dB at the output of the compressor.

Attack: is how quickly the compressor starts to work.

Release: is how soon after the signal dips below the threshold the compressor stops.

KNEE: sets how the compressor reacts to signals once the threshold is passed. Hard Knee settings mean it clamps the signal straight away, and Soft Knee means the compression kicks in more gentle as the signal goes further than the threshold.

Make-Up Gain: allows you to boost the compressed signal.

allows you to boost or attenuate the level of the signal output from the compressor.

OUTPUT:allows you to boost or attenuate the level of the signal output from the compressor.

Compression types

Compressors come in different types that have different characteristics. Certain types of compressors sound better for different situations and tasks.

VCA Compressors

Voltage Controlled Amplifier compressors have an integrated circuit which has a very precise control. VCA Compressors are the fastest compressors out there that also have the highest possible amount of gain reduction and they very transparent. They do distort heavily when you pushed hard and often remove high frequency detail during compression. Its unusual to use this type of compressor in EDM since it lacks giving color but very useful if you want to achieve a pumping effect because of its fast reaction. The most famous VCA compressor is the dBx160. As well most DAW's stock compressors are VCA.


Opto stands for optical. The famous Teletronix LA-2A is an optical compressor. Many producers swear by it on vocals, bass and mix bus compression. The LA-2A is a leveling amplifier. This means that its working almost all the time, not only when the treshold is reached. Most Opto use a soft knee compression. This helps to create more natural, transparent sound when compressing. This means it is not ideal for short transients.

Fun Fact: I had the honor of using a real LA-2A and its pretty cool. Cause there is a light bulb that reacts to the incoming audio. So the bulb would glow brighter or dimmer depending on the intensity of the incoming signal.

FET Compression

Means field effect transistor compressors. They provide fast attack and release, this makes them very useful for drum hits. Its a very good starting point for compressing kicks and snares to beef them up and it gives them a nice punch. They tend to sound much better when you drive them hard. They also sound good on bass and vocals. The 1176 is a FET compressor and the distortion on it sounds rich and warm. A cool trick I have seen while studying music production was to use the 1176 on the mix bus, without it compressing just for its color and warmth. RVOX from waves sounds similar to a 1176.

Variable Mu(Tube Compressors)

Variable Mu are also known as Tube compressors. These type of compressors commonly do not have a ratio control. With tube compressors the ratio increases depending on the amount of signal that is exceeding the treshold. This means the louder a transient is, the harder it is going to be compressed. Variable Mu have attack and release controls, but it is still not recommend to use with audio signals that have fast transients. Even with the fastest attack settings. UAD have a emulation of the Fairchild 680 which is a very popular compressor and waves calls there emulation puigchild 670. Variable Mu however offers a smooth compression. Tube compressors are good to tame aggressive sounds and smoothen them. Also very useful to use on the stereo buss to smoothen and tighten up the mix.

Each compressor has its strength and weakness, but at the end of the day it is up to you how you use them. I hope this helped you understand what a compressors is and does and give you an in depth view on the different flavours that you can use on your mix and I hope after reading this you will stop to add compressors on every channel.

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