Audio Compression Tips for Mixing

Compressing guitar in the mix

For acoustic and clean electric guitars, I use Sony wave hammer Guitar presets. The compression settings are:

Threshold: -20dB
Ratio: 5.0 is to 1
Attack time: 15ms
Release time: 15ms

The threshold is lower in volume compared to the vocals, the primary reason is that guitars need to sound a bit lower than vocals in the mix or else it will dominate the vocals. Compressing at -20dB ensures that any strong level above it will be suppressed five times to control the volume and not being too loud. Guitar sounds are not sharp transients in nature unlike vocals, kick and snare. It will have a sustaining and delaying sound. So a medium set attack and release time is good.

In addition, this article illustrates some compression techniques on guitar solo.

Compressing bass guitar the mix

Bass guitar sounds needs to be compressed to provide a steady beat backbone to the song. This is very important in modern rock and pop tracks. And because of this, I use Sony wave hammer Bass guitar presets with the following settings:

Threshold= -20dB
Ratio: 6 is to 1
Attack time: 40ms
Release time: 80ms

The main concept of creating a big bass sound is slow attack and fast release. This is because since bass are not super fast transient it needs to develop it’s level first then set compressor to attack the signal and release it immediately, the effect is a loud sounding bass. Compression settings is a bit higher than guitar and vocals, because bass needs to be more uniform in sound to provide a steady beat. You can also read this additional resource.

Compressing kick drum in the mix

I do not compress kick drum in the mix because I want to sound real, alive and not compressed. Compressing kick drums in my experience, takes away its deep bass sound so I do not like idea of compressing it.

You can read this kick drum tutorial on EQ settings and compression tips.

Compressing snare drums

Snare drums needs compression, so to compress snare I use these settings :

Attack: 20ms
Release: 40ms
Threshold: -12dB
Compression ratio: 5:1

Snare needs to sound natural even though it is sharp transient in nature I prefer to compress snare with a slower attack time and faster release. This will give a full snare and powerful sound. Compressing with too fast attack time can flatten a sound and will make to sound dull.

You can read the following snare drum related compression tips here.

Content last updated on October 21, 2012