How to Use a Compressor Like an EQ

In this video I’m going to be discussing how to use a compressor, not just to compress, but to equalize your recording.  So, essentially I’ll be showing you how to turn the act of compressing audio, into a way that shapes the sound of your recordings, similar to how an equalizer shapes the sound of your recordings.

I really think this is going to give you guys more tools to work with, and perhaps a greater understanding of how multifaceted a compressor can be, because they really can do a lot.

So, I’ll be showing you the importance of attack and release times, and getting into the details as to how they have a huge impact on the high frequencies of your recordings and ultimately your mix and master.

So let’s get started, but before we do, if you find this video, or maybe another Sage Audio video helpful, you can subscribe or click the link for notifications, that way you stay updated on our latest tutorials and mix techniques.  Also if you’re working on, or just finished a mix, and you’d like to hear what it would sound like mastered, submit it to us at SageAudio.com and we’ll send you a free mastered sample of your mix.

What we have here are four separate tracks, two acoustic, two vocal tracks.  The two acoustic tracks are identical, the same goes for the two vocal tracks, they’re the same recording just duplicated.  What is different however, are the settings of the compressors on their relative signal chains.

One acoustic has an attack of 20ms, and a release time of 20ms.  The other has a very fast attack of .01ms, that’s 10 microseconds, so an absurdly fast attack time, and a release time of 100ms.   The same goes for the vocal tracks.

So, these times are incredibly important, because, as I’m about to show you – the shorter the attack time, the quicker a compressor will begin to attenuate a signal – the quicker this compressor attenuates a signal, the more high pitch, shorter wavelength frequencies it’s going to compress. What this means, is that a compressor with a fast attack time, will turn down high frequencies, changing the sonic characteristic, or the frequency spectrum of your recording.  

So, let’s take a listen to the tracks being compressed at slower attack times – while doing so, pay attention to the high frequencies, because we’re about to compare it to the other tracks, with faster attack times.

Now let’s take a listen to the other tracks, again paying attention to higher frequencies.  

If you’re having a little trouble noticing a huge difference, go back, maybe with some headphones, and see if you can’t notice a difference in the high end.  To me the tracks with quicker attack, longer release times have a smoother, more rounded sound to them – whereas the tracks with longer attack, shorter release times are more detailed.  

In technical terms the transients, or the detailed aspects of an audio recording, are being compressed and attenuated in the recordings with a quicker attack time – which will result in an output that has an attenuated higher frequency range.   

Almost as important as the attack time is the release time – I’m sure you noticed the difference in the compressor release settings as well, so let me briefly explain that. The longer the release time is on a compressor, the longer the compressor will hold onto the signal.  The longer it does this, the longer it attenuates the more detail oriented, transient aspects of your recording. Again these transients are typically situated in the higher end of the frequency spectrum, meaning that the compressor is in a way turning down higher frequencies.

One thing to keep in mind is that when you have quicker attack, longer release time settings, the compressor will compress more.  Perhaps you noticed the greater output level setting on the compressors with short attack, and longer release times – this was to compensate for the greater attenuate of the signal, due to these settings, so that we could get a proper AB comparison between the two.  

That being said just be careful when using shorter attack, longer release settings, by making sure to keep an eye on your gain reduction meter. You don’t want to compress to much, if its not the sound that you’re going for.  

So try this on your own, work with different attack and release times with this in mind, and see if you notice how it affects the sound of your recordings.  Maybe even go as far as to find out if the mixes you like are characterized by these settings, and try to match the stylistic aspect of those mixes. All in all, knowing what these settings are really doing, is going to give you a leg up, when it comes to mixing.

So I hope this has been helpful or insightful for you, if it has consider subscribing or clicking the link for notifications so you can keep up with our videos.  And if you have a mix that your working on or one that you’ve completed, please send it to us at SageAudio.com, we’d love to hear it, and to send you a free mastered sample of your work.