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Adding dynamic processing to your recording rig is a great way to control the extreme peaks of a performance, and also add attitude and excitement to a vocal, electric guitar, or drum performance.
Compressors are designed to control the dynamics of a performance, particularly vocals which typically have a wide dynamic range throughout a song. They can also be used in parallel to allow a blend between the natural and compressed signal, which can add life to guitars, vocals, or the entire mix. A compressor does more than just reduce signal. Often times, just running signal through an outboard compressor can add warmth and vibe to the recording, and no compression is necessary to achieve that sound. Compressors like the Fairchild 660 have multiple tubes, transformers, capacitors, and wire that signal run though. Every step of the circuit adds loads of analog warmth, and sometimes a great choice rather than boosting EQ. When looking into compressors, look at both Optical and Discrete options. Optical compressors such as the LA-2A have a fixed ratio, typically 3:1, and fixed attack and release times. You then have the option to adjust the threshold level to when you want the compressor to engage, and a make up gain to add back and signal that was lost with the compression. A discrete compressor has more control, allowing you to adjust the input and output independently, as well as the attack and release controls.
Some dynamic processors also provide the ability to gate a signal. With a gate, you can allow the main source to come through, then cut out all the extra bleed coming into the microphone. This is great on a full drum kit, where multiple microphones are used to capture the whole kit, but bleed from each drum is coming into every microphone. With the threshold control, you can allow just the transient of a snare drum to open the gate, then adjust the the release and range options to allow the full length of the sound to pass through.
With so many options available, it can be tricky to decide which dynamic processor will work best for you. Our Vintage King sales reps are highly trained with everything we carry, and can surely help find the right choice for you recording studio.