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Dynamic processors are an engineers secret weapon, they not only offer control of extreme peaks of a performance, they also add analog warmth and vibe to anything you run through it.
There are a few different style compressors to be aware of. Optical compressors, such as the LA-2A, are often described as “smooth” and “warm”, and usually a go to compressor when tracking vocals. They have fixed attack and release controls, as well as a fixed ratio, typically 3:1. They are typically equipped with two controls, threshold and make-up gain. The threshold control allows you to adjust the point of when the compressor will engage. The makeup or output dial is to add back the gain that was lost in the compressor's gain reduction. Optical compressors come in solid state, and tube versions.
Discrete compressors, such as the 1176, provide a few more control functions, and are often referred to as “aggressive”, but they can be used subtly to achieve a warm, smooth sound. They have independent controls of attack and release to dial in to the rhythm of the song. The input control adjusts the level being sent into the compressor, and the output control is to add additional gain that was lost from the gain reduction. Discrete compressors also come in solid state and tube options.
Limiters can be used on a source to set a “brick wall” that signal cannot pass. This is ideal when a drum bus has extreme transients, and continues to overload the bus. Or on a mix bus that is being pushed to the limit. A limiter is a great way to make sure that a mix will not blow up any speakers you play them through.
Compressors come in all shapes and sizes, from mono units, to eight channels, and more. When deciding on the best compressor for your rig, make sure you think about how many channels you would want to compress at one time. In a smaller studio set up, a single channel or dual channel might work for everything in your recording or mix.
Some compressors can be used in a side chain configuration, which can allow you to trigger the compressor or limiter from an external audio signal. This can be used to “duck” the bass whenever a kick drum is hit to make more room for the attack, or “duck” delays and reverbs every time the vocalist sings.
With so many options available, it can be overwhelming figuring out what compressor or limiter will work best for your setup. Our sales team at Vintage King is highly trained in all the models we carry, and will be glad to help find the right fit for your studio.