Secret Sauce Secret Mixter
Home » Forums » DIY » Compression: per track or multi-band?

Compression: per track or multi-band?

permalink   Thu, Oct 25, 2007 @ 5:26 PM
How do you guys use compression? I generally apply multi-band compression as the last production stage (mastering) but I’m starting to believe that it’s more effective using it in a per-instrument basis. Or maybe both types should be used?
Any thoughts?
permalink   Thu, Oct 25, 2007 @ 6:20 PM
the pros and semi-pros I know use both a lot.

for instruments it can be used to change the sound of say, a kick, but more often it is used to tranparently level off the peaks and valleys in a performance. I mean they work really hard at apply the compression on the individual track so that the tonal quality of the instrument does not change.

Then on the final mix a multi-band is used in tweaks to liven things up.

of course there’s a lot more to it but that’s my $0.02
permalink   Thu, Oct 25, 2007 @ 8:38 PM
There never are general rules ;-)

All jokes aside though, the use of any effect depends on exactly what you need/want to get done. In some mixes I want a bit more even distribution between frequencies. In those cases a multi-band is fantastic. In other mixes I want to create a specific character, which includes the differences in how much happens in certain frequency ranges at different times in the song. In those cases a multi-band destroys what I have carefully crafted before, and a single band does not.

The same thinking goes for individual tracks as well as final mixes.

The tool is just a tool - it does certain stuff to the audio.

Multi-band vs single band compression is a bit like arguing delay vs. reverb. They do different things, and thus it depends entirely on what you are trying to achieve, which tool is the better one.

[lowers voice] my own top secret and hugely complicated method for deciding which one to use, often involves trying both - if using the multi-band makes the track or final mix jump out and sound much better, then I use it, otherwise and in case of doubt,the single band wins. My second experience is to resist the temptation to apply compression to the final stereo output too early in the mixing process while I’m still assembling the mix and play with individual track levels. Now I try to make it sound as nice without compression as reasonably achieved, and then let compression give me the last 10% of sonic goodness. On some of my mixes, I was able to avoid compression at the mastering stage and just use limiting (a slightly less complex version of compression).
permalink   Fri, Oct 26, 2007 @ 12:16 PM
I appreciate this being brought up, simply because other than getting track-happy, this is one of my biggest holes knowledge-wise; I’m used to using a compressor in an analog signal chain, but my few attempts to utilize it digitally have thus far been trying out the “dynamics..” menu in Wavelab lite, which would always seem to crappify my track further rather than enhancing it, with a few graphically edited custom curves being the exception. I recently downloaded some free vst plug-ins as well as wavosaur (wavelab chokes on most non-native plug-ins), perhaps I’ll find the answer after some experimentation, but I’m a slow learner, I’m still way behind many here when it comes to decent mastering…(note to self: Meh.)
permalink   Fri, Oct 26, 2007 @ 1:27 PM
it’s also worth mentioning that most software compressors are kind of meh and the ones that come with hosts (ableton, acid, etc.) are even less exciting.

It wasn’t until I spent nearly $1,000 on the Waves Gold package that things exploded. Don’t let them tell you there isn’t a ‘magic bullet’ because there really is no comparison between the top end (oxford, waves, etc.) and everybody else. it’s chess vs. checkers.

If you take away nothing else from this site and you can’t afford it in one shot, then look into a financing plan (many retail sites offer this) where you end up paying like $40/month for the rest of you life… but you will NOT regret it. Never.

This class of plugin won’t make a shitty mix sound good, but it will make a good mix sound like it was, well, dipped in gold.

permalink   s.c.mixer Fri, Oct 26, 2007 @ 5:01 PM
$1000? Hum… I’m not a pro to afford that in a plugin package! :)
A compressor is no more than a math function, I think… But if you say that those top ones do magic, I’ll believe you.
permalink   spinmeister Fri, Oct 26, 2007 @ 5:31 PM
Quote: s . c . m i x e rA compressor is no more than a math function, I think…

yep, but they don’t all use the same math functions. Superior math is exactly what makes better one’s sound better.
permalink   duckett Fri, Oct 26, 2007 @ 8:35 PM
Thanks for the feedback; I remember reading another post where you had mentioned the Waves Gold- as far as any gear investment? Since the most expensive piece of gear I’ve got is my XV-5050 rack module, (and of course the ‘puter itself) I’m considering maybe some sort of DAW/monitor/mic package, if I can pick and choose the components, and finance as well. Well, maybe no DAW b/c they seem to introduce the latest, greatest next-gen toy immediately after I’ve commited to something… But seriously, I have yet to get a decent pair of monitors as well- I’m not claiming my great genius is being obscured by shitty gear, just that I would like to eliminate as many excuses for sub-par results. I know from live-instrument analog recording and mixing that there can be a HUGE difference in quality between consoles, compressors, etc. It’s exactly that “magic bullet” effect that creates such a wide gulf in pricing. Sometimes mystique is just that, mystique, but often it’s the results, the “…ooooh!” factor, that has one out of 10 pieces of gear priced two and a half times as much as the other 9.
…So, I’m going to strive for “bronzed baby shoes” as I navigate the tangled labyrinth of DIY remixery education… Thanks again for taking the earplugs out long enough to help me make them less necessary… :sheepish grin:
permalink   cinematrik Mon, Oct 29, 2007 @ 10:38 AM
Yeah I would 2nd what vic is saying here…while I believe that with enough time and creativity you can make anything sound great, having some world class compression plugs is pretty essential to being able to make good mixes in a normal time frame. And you don’t have to opt for the full waves bundles (the ssl and api bundles are nice as well), there are some other great compression plugs. A dark horse plug that you don’t hear about often but a lot of people swear by is the metric halo channel strip. It’s a compressor/eq/gate in one plug and I think it costs about $300 now. It’s a great plug, especially if all you have is the built-in stuff. He mentioned the Sonnox plugs, those are great, and I couldn’t live without my UAD1 card that is amazing. The base card is $400 and you’ll definitely want to add the 1176LN or opt for one of the more expensive bundles. I can’t do a mix without the precision limiter either. I’ve also heard good things about the sonalksis plugs, the only compressor of theirs i have is the tbk3 which is really rude and great at smashing stuff with lots of character. Not something you want on the mix, but hey it works great on drums and other stuff…

Re: multiband compression. It’s real easy to go too far with one on the master fader - I use it very sparingly just to add a bit more transparent taming on some peaks. Unless you’ve got a great listening environment I find that it’s real easy to think it sounds great only to listen on something else and find it fatiguing or muddy. I think they can be very useful, but if I have to use a lot of multiband on the mix to make it sound good I know there’s problems with the underlying mix.

My .5 cent :-)
permalink   Fri, Oct 26, 2007 @ 5:07 PM
I’m still using the good-old-cool-edit-pro (now audition). You have no multi band compressor there (*), but the “dynamics processing” effect is very powerful.
So, a simple way to achieve the same idea is: split the track in 3 or 4 frequency bands, apply a simple compressor to each one, and mix back — the “poor man multi-band compressor system” ;)

(*) Audition 2 includes a multi-band compressor plugin.
permalink   spinmeister Fri, Oct 26, 2007 @ 5:40 PM
Quote: s . c . m i x e r
So, a simple way to achieve the same idea is: split the track in 3 or 4 frequency bands, apply a simple compressor to each one, and mix back — the “poor man multi-band compressor system” ;)

kinda … the trick lies in the boundary areas where the audio signal is partly in two adjacent frequency bands - I’ve never had the patience to try it, but intuitively my guess would be that hard splitting and recombining would lead to some rather unpleasant results.

With enough time one can probably work around that - but saving time is exactly the crux of a lot of the more advanced tools. If I had unlimited time and patience, …sigh :-)
permalink   Sat, Oct 27, 2007 @ 3:23 AM
I’m still a beginner at all this, but for what it’s worth (and only addressed to those who know even less than me):
Compression seems to be one of the hardest things to get right and one of the easiest things to screw up (bitter experience), so my advice to a novice would be -
Try to get everything sounding right without compression first. Then err on the side of too little until you know what you’re doing.
Don’t fall into the “I’ve spent … minutes/hours working on this so it must be better” trap - keep checking back to see if you haven’t just made it sound worse.
And different mixes need different approaches, there’s no final rule except using your ears.
permalink   Sat, Oct 27, 2007 @ 3:42 PM
Good thread.

Unfortunately I don’t own any compression plug ins so I can’t offer any advice. But I am after that polished sound too and I wish there was a way to achieve it by ear.

There is just so much more depth in a sound that’s compressed right. The high and low ends sound so much more defined.

I’d sure like to know what the $1000.00 compressor does. That would be some useful knowledge. : )
permalink   spinmeister Sat, Oct 27, 2007 @ 7:18 PM
Quote: teru
Unfortunately I don’t own any compression plug ins …

there’s a bunch of free compression plugins listed at KVR Audio, and maybe with the VST Enabler for Audacity, you could get some to work?
permalink   teru Sat, Oct 27, 2007 @ 7:40 PM
Thanks. : )