Do you want to know the ideal compressor settings for vocals? Then read this article till the end.
In all the audio effects, a compressor is the most confusing thing for us. As a recording engineer, I spent a lot of time understanding various audio effects.
Fortunately, with time I improved myself in applying right kind of audio effects in right places.
And most importantly, the right effect settings.
Applying effect presets is not the end of your work. The problem is, every song is different. The genres, singing styles, melody, rhythm there are many criteria impact a lot in the mixing process.
And of course, if you have a track recorded outside your studio, you must aware be aware that the song is recorded in other environment and gears.
What Is A Compressor?
When we record a sound clip, in terms of intensity, we get an unbalanced sound clip. Some areas of that sound clip may have a high level of intensity and some areas have a low-intensity level.
The levels of intensity solely depend on the sound source. In vocals, the intensity is more unbalanced then other instruments.
The work of a compressor is to compress the higher intensity areas of the sound clip and make them more near to the lower ones so that we could get a smooth and balanced sound.
Sounds easy. Right?
But actually, it’s not an easy task to use a compressor in the right way. However, if you take time to learn compressors and if your ears are sharp, applying compressor would be easier for you with time.
In this article, you will learn about the components of a compressor and also how to set it up in the right way to get a perfect vocal.
Compressor And Limiter are different
Many of us confused between compressor and limiter. We treat them as the same effect and use them in a wrong way. As a result, we end up with an unbalanced crappy mix.
What is a Limiter and how it is different from a Compressor
A limiter is also a compressor but it is used to prevent audio levels from going higher than a specified point. It has a very high compression ratio (20:1 to infinity:1).
When we apply a limiter in an audio track and set the level to a certain point, whenever the audio signal goes beyond that level, it immediately compresses down the level to the level we set up.
The main goal of using a limiter is to avoid clippings.
On the other hand, in a compressor, we have been provided with a compression ratio adjustment knob and a knee adjustment switch. By adjusting these 2 things we can control that how the compression work on the audio signal.
The compressor has the ability to compress down the peaks softly and make the clip more dynamic.
As a result, we get a balanced audio which is not possible with a Limiter.
Components Of A Compressor Effect
Before we get into the compressor settings for vocals, let us get some knowledge of its core components which can help you to understand how compressor effect works.
Attack time of a compressor decides the contents of the audio signal. The faster attack time it has, the sound goes smoother and less aggressive. We should set up the attack time fast for vocals and slow for a rhythm like drums.
The reason is simple. We don’t want to subside the punch in kick and snare so we set the attack time slow for drums etc. But vocals are not like drums. They have smooth punch then drums. So you should set attack time fast for vocals.
However, for some genres like Hip-hop, we need more aggressive vocals. I this situation we can set attack time fast to emphasize the consonants of vocals.
Release time works on the tail end of the sound. In the case of vocals, it shapes the tail ends of words and phrases. The faster release time the more prominent tail ends. The slower release time the less prominent tail ends.
There are two options you can use according to the genre of your vocals.
1. Set it as fast as possible
Setting up release time fast will bring up low-ends details like the tail ends of phrases and breathing. This setting is perfect for Rock or Pop genres because it makes the sound more aggressive and passionate
2. Slow Release time
Slow release time will make the sound more natural and less processed then the 1st option. You can slow down the release time with folk, jazz, and acoustic genres as they demand a soft and mellow voice.
For Rhythmic Items
It depends. Like in kick drums you want to make the tail ends of kicks more prominent then you should choose 1st option. On the other hand, if you have a lot of symbal in the beats, you can play with the release time to get more smooth symbal.
Threshold is the most important component of a compressor. setting up threshold is tricky. However, once you understand the work of Threshold, it will be very easy to set.
Threshold is used to set the amount of compressing effect on the track. It is directly proportional to the input signal. When the input signal increases in the compressor, Threshold becomes more aggressive and when the input signal decreases it becomes less aggressive.
You have to adjust the input signal and Threshold together to get the compressor work in the right way and with the right amount.
The ratio has to be adjusted with the Threshold to get the perfect compression in the audio signal. Compression ratio is a quite confusing thing. It specifies the amount of attenuation to be applied to the signal.
You can see some numbers on compression ratio knob, ie; 1:1, 2:1, 4:1 etc. A ratio of 1:1 is the lowest and it represents no attenuation. 2:1 ratio indicates that a signal exceeding the threshold by 2 dB will be attenuated down to 1 dB above the threshold and vice versa.
Knee decides how compressor transitions between the compressed non-compressed states of an audio signal. Generally, compressor plugins have two option for Knee – Soft Knee and Hard Knee.
With soft knee compressor attacks on the audio signal softly and with hard knee it attacks hardly.
Compressor Settings For Vocals
In this section, we will go for all the setting of compressor plugin one by one to get the perfect vocal output.
Whats the attack time of compressor plugin for Vocals?
There are 2 types of attack time you can use for various vocal genres.
Faster Attack Time – Faster attack time is used to make a vocal smoother and less aggressive. It pulls the consonants down and pushes the vocal to the background. Fast attack time is perfect for slow genre vocals. You can set it to 1ms to 10 ms for slow and soft vocals.
Slow Attack Time – Slow attack time emphasizes the consonants of vocal and make it brighter, add articulation and clarity in the vocals. When we set up the attack time above 500ms you can feel the vocal is like spitting out the words.
Ideal Attack time setting – The ideal attack time for standard vocal formats is 10ms to 100ms.
Release Time of Compressor plugins for Vocals
Fast Release Time – If you set up the release time very fast then you feel that the breathing and tail ends of vocal become more prominent and aggressive because fast release time increases the dynamics of low volume areas.
Slow Release Time – If you need more natural vocals and only want your compressor to apply subtly on the tail ends then you must start with slow release time and gradually decrease it to adjust the tail end dynamics as your need.
Ideal Release time for Vocals – However, there are no set rules for any of the compression parameters for vocals, you can start between 500ms to 600ms and gradually decrease the time to get it perfect.
How To Adjust Threshold and Ratio of Compressor for Vocals?
First set up the ratio 3:1 or 2:1. Now without soloing the vocal slowly turn down the Threshold knob to adjust the amount of compression on the vocal. If the vocal’s volume drops down then adjust the makeup gain (input). By bypassing and applying the compressor, get the input gain same as without the compressor.
Adjust these 3 parameters (Threshold, Ratio and makeup gain) you can hear every word in the vocal clarity. If even after decreasing the Threshold down very low, you can’t hear all the words clearly, adjust the ratio by turning it up.
Soft Knee or Hard Knee?
Generally, the Soft knee is used to compress the vocals effectively. If you use hard knee in vocals, you can hear the annoying effect of compressor clamp down on a vocal when it hits the threshold.
If your compressor has independent control knob on Knee parameter, then you have to adjust it manually by listening to the vocal.
Well, here are compression settings and tips which I use to compress vocals. IF you have any setting or technique for finding the perfect vocal compression, add your comment and share that trick to other music producers.
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Gautam Roy is a recording engineer and a blogger from India. He loves music, writing and travelling. He is also an active investor and a successful entrepreneur.