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what he said… 🙂

Compressors can completely ruin the sound or massively improve it, but there is no such thing as a “preset” that just works best for everything.

Most seasoned engineers use a compressor to either smooth out a sound or to make it more punchy, but it completely depends on the compressor as to whether or not it is capable of producing the sound that is desired by the engineer.

Vocals are all different, some people eat the mic and others don’t.
The most common settings that can be made on a compressor are threshold, ratio, attack, release and gain (often referered to as makeup gain)

I will give a brief laymans description of what these setting do.

Threshold, think of “threshold of pain”…. just how loud do you want the vocalist to get before you want your compressor to automatically lower the volume of that vocal.

Ratio, the aggresiveness (20:1) or smoothness (3:1) that the compressor will alter the sound when the vocalist sings over the threshold.

Attack, how quickly the compressor will grab and lower the volume of a loud note or passage that is over the threshold.

Release, how long the compressor will hold the volume down after the threshold has been reached.

Gain, if a compressor is purposely used heavily, then the sound is almost always above the threshold, so most of the time notes are compressed (tamed). Since the compressor will spend most of it’s time compressing the sound, we actually loose volume at the fader, so, to get some of it back, the makeup gain rasies our window of compressed sound to the fader.

A good place to start for a vocal that is not “out of control” is 4:1 and the threshold will be determined buy the amount of level going into the compressor. If a vocalist is all over the place, then it is a good idea to radically increase the ratio to a much higher setting… maybe 10:1 and set the threshold (usually counter-clockwise) lower to smooth out the vocalist and keep them from being so uncontrollable.

When a compressor is used to help minimize the excessive dynamic range of some singers and many in-experienced singers, it is critical that these setting be correct, if they aren’t, the resulting sound will be worse,… nobody wants to hear a pumping compressor on a vocal.. well, I don’t. 🙂