Compression Plugins [Analyzing Mixing Effects]

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Compression Plugins [Analyzing Mixing Effects]

Hey, guys.

This is Eric Tarr for

I’ve been going through a series of videos
where I’m looking at techniques that you can

use to analyze your audio plug-ins or your
effects processors.

In my first video, I looked at categories
of plug-ins that you could call spectral processors

and how you can use a frequency sweep or other
types of test signals to understand how those

processors are going to work.

Then I moved on to my next video to looking
at saturation and distortion plug-ins, how

you can visualize the harmonic content that’s
going to be created by those processors.

Now in this video, I’m going to move on to
dynamics processors, and look specifically

at compressors.

So in this video, I hope to demonstrate the
basic functionality of how a compressor works,

and also do a side-by-side comparison of popular
types of compressors, so you can see their

similarities and differences.

If you need a quick crash course on what a
compressor is and how it works, check out

some of my other videos, or also some of the
things that I’ve written about in the past

to get up to speed on what a compressor actually

So, let’s jump into the session so I can show
you what’s going on here.

We’re going to be using two test signals in
this demonstration, and I synthesized them

specifically to be useful for analyzing a
compressor dynamics processor.

So here is my first test signal.

It’s a four second long signal.

There’s one second of silence at the beginning,
and one second of silence at the end.

Then what I’ve done is I went in here and
I synthesized a step signal.

So right at time second one, the amplitude
is going to increase, and it’s going to have

a constant amplitude for one second.

Then, at the end of that one second, what
I’ve done is I’ve changed the amplitude.

I’ve stepped the amplitude down to a different
amplitude – a lower amplitude.

I’ve done this specifically so I can set the
threshold of my compressor in here so that

it’s going to kick in when the amplitude changes
here at time second one, and set my threshold

so that this part of the signal is above the
threshold, and this part of the signal is

below the threshold.

Then I can look at the attack characteristics
here at the beginning when it first goes above

the threshold, then I can look at the release
characteristics here when the signal’s amplitude

goes below the threshold.

I’ve done a similar kind of thing over here
with this other test signal, where what I’ve

done is I’ve made another four second signal
with one second of silence at the beginning

and one at the end, but instead of using a
stepped signal that we can’t really listen

to, I decided to use a 1kHz tone.

So it actually has – it oscillates, it has
a frequency, we can perceive it, and we can

go through our processor and we can look at
what it’s going to do.

So it has one constant amplitude for the first
second here, and then a lower amplitude, but

still the same frequency when I start the

So, for demonstration purposes, when I’m using
this step kind of signal, I’m going to mute

the output, because it’s not really helpful
to listen to.

All it’s going to generate is just clicks
and pops here whenever the amplitude transitions,

but I’ll try to remember to bring the signal
in so we can listen to it when I have the

1kHz tone over here.

So, let’s go ahead and print some signals.

I’ve got these sound files – or these test
signals – loaded in on this track up here

at the top called “input.”

I’m going to send these signals through various
compressors that I’ve got inserted over here.

Then I’ve bussed the output from the input
track over here to the output track, where

I made the input of this the buss.

So I can record this signal and visualize
what happens to it after it gets processed

by this compressor.

So for instance, if I just dial up some attack
time here of 300 milliseconds and then a release

of one second, I’ve got it setup here as a
ratio of 100:1, or in limiting mode.

You’ll see that I’ve got the threshold set
over here so that part of the signal goes

above, and part of the signal goes below.

So go ahead and print this and you can see
how it looks.

Let me get this out of the way.

Alright, so I’ve taken my stair step input
signal, I’ve printed through the compressor,

and you can see with an attack time of 300
milliseconds and a release time of one second

what this kind of signal is going to look
like after it gets compressed.

So, we have some time at the beginning where
the amplitude is not changed, but then we

have this smooth ramp that happens based on
this attack time that I set.

So it doesn’t transition linearly, and it
also has a constant time at the beginning,

it has a smooth transition there, until it
reaches its final limiting stage.

So I’ve also got these grid lines here.

Hopefully you can see this in the video on

These grid lines are every 10 milliseconds,
so there’s 10 divisions here between time

second one and time second two.

That should give you a better idea about seeing
when the attack time and release times actually


So now when the signal drops below the threshold,
I’ve got the release set here at one second.

You can see the transition that happens where
this part of the signal is actually being

reduced in amplitude until it reaches it’s
final steady state level.

So, I can manipulate some of these things
– parameters – and see what happens.

So keep in mind here, I’ll first manipulate
the release time, and watch, if I lengthen

it, what ends up occurring, and then if I
shorten it.

So I can go ahead and print this one again
quickly and move it to four seconds which

is the maximum.

Watch the transition now.

Okay, so the transition takes a longer period
of time.

I can shorten it up.

You can see that the release time now is much
shorter at the beginning relative to this

one second of signal.

Let me go back to one second here.

Should be 1,000 milliseconds.


Now let’s look at the attack time.

I have it set at the maximum right now.

Let’s shorten that one down to around 100

Let’s see what that one ends up looking like.

Shorten it a little bit more down to a few


You can see that the attack now is going very
quickly to settle on the steady state level.

I can zoom in and I can see the transition
that’s occurring very, very quickly here.

Why don’t I crank the attack all the way down
to it’s fastest setting and have a look at



So even at 10 microseconds, you can see the
transition that ends up happening.

Why don’t I experiment with some of these
things over on the sine wave so we can actually

listen to them as well?

So I’ll back this one off and we can listen
to the sine wave and what it’s going to sound


[sine wave]


So you can see the transition that occurs
over here.

This time, why don’t I speed up the attack,
and look at the different ratios here.

So, I’ll start out at limiting.

[sine wave]

Now, watch what happens when I back off the

You’ll see that this level, instead of being
at the actual threshold of my compressor,

it’s going to move up a little bit more.

So how about 10:1 to begin with.

[sine wave]

Still a lot of compression taking place.

But I get into this range of 3:1…

[sine wave]

…and down to one and a half.

[sine wave plays]


The compression becomes less dramatic.

There’s less gain reduction that’s occurring.

The different attack and release times stay
constant, but you can see how much gain reduction

is going to take place at one point five versus


What I’d like to do next is move on and show
you different types of popular compressors,

and give you a side-by-side comparison, and
show you how they’re going to work.

So I’ll go ahead and make this stock plug-in
inactive and bring up my first one.

This is a plug-in from Softube and Native

This is a dbx 160 style compressor.

Here you have a threshold, and then you also
have the compression ratio, but here you don’t

have the attack and release times.

Those things are hidden and happening behind
the scenes for you.

You can’t really set them.

So if you want to understand the attack and
release times of this compressor, well, you

can use a test signal to get a better idea
about how they’re going to work.

So why don’t I send the sound wave signal
through it first and have an idea about what

it’s going to do?[sine wave plays]


So with this type of compressor, you’re stuck
with whatever the attack and release times

are, or how it’s going to sound, but you can
manipulate compression ratios, so I’ll back

that off a little bit and see how that’s going
to work.

[sine wave plays]


Similar to how the ratio setting was changing
with the other plug-in, the main parameter

that you can adjust here along with the ratio
is the threshold.

So you can lower it, you can raise it up so
that you can change what part of the signal

is going to be compressed versus not compressed.

Alright, so let me go ahead and move on from
the dbx 160 and show you the LA2A style compressor.

So, here’s one from Waves.

It’s the CLA-2A.

I’ve already dialed in the peak reduction
and make-up gain for this one here, and then

I can manipulate compression and limiting
settings, but we don’t have attack and release,

so we can visualize what this is going to
do and listen to it as well.

Let me select this.

[sine wave plays]

So, the LA-2A is known for having a little
bit longer attack time.

If I zoom in here, you can see my signal and
how it’s going to transition from the original

level down to its compressed level, then look
at the release time.

LA-2A is known for having a long release,
and that’s being demonstrated here by the

fact that it takes at least a full second
for it to transition, if not more, back to

its release level.

So that’s your LA-2A style compressor.

A little bit different than a dbx.

Certainly a longer release time here, and
the attack time is a little bit different

as well.

So, we disable this one, and bring up an 1176

So this is the FET compressor from Softube.

I setup the input – now, in this case, there
is no threshold setting that you can set,

so I’m just working right now with the input
so that this part – the first part of my

signal is above the threshold, and this part
is below.

Then I can manipulate ratio, attack, and release.

So I’ll start out really fast attack and release
and look how this one is going to do.

[sine wave plays]

So, right at the beginning, it’s going to
grab that transient very, very quickly.

Very fast attack time.

If this is 1/1,000th of a second, then you
can see that right off the bat, it’s going

to grab that transient very quickly.

I can also back off this attack time and you
can see what it’s going to do.

[sine wave plays]

Just a little bit slower.

It’s always – with an 1176 – going to
be pretty quick on the attack time, so even

if I go to the slowest setting on the attack,
you can see…

[sine wave plays]

It’s still only a few cycles before the compressor
really grabs on to it.

You can also lengthen the release.

Slow that down.

[sine wave plays]

You can see that the release can be very,
very long.

See how the transition is occurring for over
one second right here?

Even around a ratio of 8.

[sine wave plays]

It’s still taking a very long time to recover.

So, it can change dramatically how it’s going
to sound.

Now, I’m going to bump up the ratio here to
maybe 12:1 and increase the attack here.

One thing about the FET compressor to know,
or an 1176 style, is typically, when you manipulate

the ratio, it’s also used to manipulate the

So, if you have a button 1176 where you have
a different ratio that you press by a button,

those things can manipulate what the threshold
level is.

[sine wave plays]

So even though I’m here at a level of 12:1,
you can see what’s going to happen here with

the transition from uncompressed to compressed.

Alright, the last one I’ll demonstrate, if
this is the 1176, is another popular one.

I think it’s – it’s not based off one specific
compressor, but maybe a combination of several

types of compressors.

This is the FG-401 from Slate Digital.

It has a cool thing that happens with the

You can dial in the threshold, attack, and

All of these things ahead of time.

And I can listen to the signal after it goes
through this type of processor.

So, here we go.

[sine wave]

So this is pretty fast attack for the signal
here at the beginning.

Just a few cycles before we start to transition.

This is on a medium attack time for this compressor.

I can even speed it up and look at how fast
it can go.

And slow it down.

Look at the release time.

It’s happening currently very quickly.

[sine wave]

See how much longer it’s going to take here.

The one thing I noticed that’s kind of unique
about this particular plug-in compared to

some of the other ones that I was doing is
that with this transformer button engaged,

it actually starts to create some kind of
these ripples here in the signal.

If I zoom in on it, you can see there’s maybe
some ripples that start to occur in the signal.

I’ll have to do some investigating to see
exactly what’s going on there.

But, if I turn this transformer off, what
ends up happening is it’s much more smooth.

Much more like the stock plug-in.

[sine wave plays]


Not as many ripples or anything like that
going on here as the signal starts to settle


So, without further investigations, it’s kind
of difficult to say what exactly is going


Nonetheless, you can visually see that there’s
some different things that are happening to

the signal when you engage that transformer

I hope that this video gave you some better
ideas about how a compressor works, how you

can visualize what it’s going to do to a signal,
and then also, side-by-side, what’s the difference

between an 1176 versus an LA-2A?

Is the long release time of the LA-2A, what
does that actually look like when you send

a test signal through it that has a constant
amplitude?So, until next time.

Take care guys, and stay tuned for more videos
coming up here in the near future!

Compression Plugins [Analyzing Mixing Effects]

Learn compression:
Frequency ear training:
The Pro Audio Files:

An analysis of different types of compressor plugins including CLA-2A, VC 160, FET and FG-401.

About The Pro Audio Files

Tutorials on mixing, mastering and producing music in Pro Tools with plugins from Waves, FabFilter, SoundToys, Softube, Sonnox, PSP, Slate Digital and more. Learn how to mix using EQ, compression and effects like reverb, delay, saturation and distortion on vocals, drums, guitar, bass and more.

Compression Plugins [Analyzing Mixing Effects]

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