The Myths of Compressors | #mixing #mixtechnique #audiogear

So, we all love compressors, right (or is it just me!?)?! Well, some people may not love them, but, it’s a fact that every sound designer, producer and mix engineer usem them a lot. But do we know how they really work?

024abdd0445750eec95ee1cdedb18406My answer was “yes, I do!. After all, I’ve studied a lot, read many books, worked with A LOT of different compressors……. I’m not an expert, but I know how it works”.

Well, ends up that I was wrong. And you’re probably too.

And I just realised this when I stumbled across this article, called “Demolishing The Myths of Compression“, at Attack Magazine website. It’s an awesome post by Gregory Scott (engineer, producer and owner of Kush Audio – yes, the one that produces that incredible Clariphonic plugin that I mentioned on my last post, “Plugins, plugins: my ‘go to’ list“), and if you use compressors, you must read it.

Gregory talks about the things we think we know about compression, and how we’re wrong. Concepts that have been around for years, that teachers and books perpetuate and we all think it’s true. But, in fact, it may not be the case.

So, here I bring you the 5 myths he talks about, and Gregory’s refutation about them. The hole explanation of reasons (the best part), you gotta read the article to understand.

I’m gonna be honest that numbers four and five I already knew, but they are still a myth for many people. The ones that really baffled me were numbers one and two! They changed the way I see the whole process.

Myth #1: Attack is the time it takes for a compressor to begin compression once a signal cross over the threshold

  • Attack is the length of time it takes a compressor to apply roughly two-thirds of the targeted amount of gain reduction.

Myth #2: Release is the the time it takes a compressor to release compression after the signal drops below threshold

  • Release is the time it takes a compressor to restore two-thirds of the reduced gain to the compressed signal.

Myth #3: A Compressor won’t release until the signal drops below the threshold

  • Any time the gain reduction meter is increasing (i.e., the comp is reducing the gain of the signal), the compressor is attacking.
  • Any time the gain reduction meter is decreasing (i.e., the comp is restoring the gain of the signal), the compressor is releasing.

Myth #4: Compression reduces dynamic range

  • Sometimes it’s true. But not always. Indeed sometimes it’s important that it’s not true.(…) if your attack is slow enough, the loudest bit of that transient will come screaming through before the detector tells the gain circuit ‘TURN IT DOWN! Then, if your threshold is low enough and your ratio is high enough, what does get pushed down gets pushed down so far that the resulting signal is much quieter than it would have been if you hadn’t compressed it at all.

Myth #5: compression makes sounds bigger

  • (…)pushing a sound into a compressor is like pushing an object into a stretched rubber band. The harder you push the object, the more the rubber band pushes back. Michael listens for the point where there’s a musical push-pull movement and the comp feels springy and flexible.

Not pushing enough results in too little resistance – no interesting movement. But push too far and the rubber band loses its elasticity and becomes stiff – the sound loses its life. What’s more, when you push too hard into a compressor the sound becomes small.

Well, Hope you enjoy the article! It sure helped me change the way I think about compression 🙂

Mauricio Ruiz –


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