SH Spotlight I was asked "Why do recordings need compression/limiting during recording, mastering?"

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Steve Hoffman, Dec 13, 2016.

  1. AnalogJ

    AnalogJ CMO (Chief Musical Officer)

    Salem, MA
    As Steve posted, the room, the walls have a way of doing their own compression, that is, they're reinforcing certain frequencies. Without the walls, say outside, you'd have a hard time hearing certain frequencies and the sound wouldn't be balanced (without amplification).
    bleachershane likes this.
  2. WhoDaresWins

    WhoDaresWins Forum Resident

    Is there any reason why new released music is overly compressed with low DR? I was just wondering as there has to be a reason for this trend.
  3. videoman

    videoman Forum Resident

    Lake Tahoe, NV
    I think for two reasons, primarily. (Others may offer other reasons.)

    1) The result of a creeping-up of trying to make recordings sound successively more 'in your face" than the last. This has become the fashion for how recorded music 'should' sound over the last couple of decades.

    2) So that the music translates better over very small speaker systems on computers, tablets and smartphones.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2016
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  4. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    Around 20 db max.
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  5. WhoDaresWins

    WhoDaresWins Forum Resident

    I was thinking the same as #2- more consumers of music are listening through new technology in which audio quality is not a priority.
    Blank Frank likes this.
  6. videoman

    videoman Forum Resident

    Lake Tahoe, NV
    that's a bit of a different topic. And I would argue that most consumers NEVER have listened through technology where audio quality was a priority. Going to back through transistor AM radios and crappy car stereos and boom boxes and on and on. Most consumers prefer convenience over quality. And the mastering engineers have always had at least one ear tuned to this factor and have often mastered accordingly.
  7. TonyCzar

    TonyCzar Forum Resident

    PhIladelphia, PA
    Remastering "Tiny Bubbles", no doubt.

    (Srsly, a million thanks for this lesson.)
  8. videoman

    videoman Forum Resident

    Lake Tahoe, NV
    Really appreciate this thread, Steve. Not only is it a good explanation of things, but a necessary one as "compression" seems to have become such a dirty word---especially among many members here---that people run in fear at the mere mention of it. It's great for people to understand the good and necessary components of it as well.
    Grant likes this.
  9. Thanks a lot, this is just the kind of thread that I love.
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  10. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    Too many to name, nor do I want to relive it, sorry. No one TOLD me to not use a compressor, I wanted to hear "the real sound" for the first time! Bob and other guys who remix vintage stuff have fallen in that trap as well. Unsimmered remixes, especially oldies, just don't sound right. Some guys who remix our favorite music have never learned the simmer trick. I WILL NOT listen to their work, life is too short.
  11. Michael P

    Michael P Forum Resident

    Parma, Ohio
    The first thing I thought of is that "pumping" sound over compression creates. Another dead giveaway is when a soft passage brings up the noise floor (increase of tape hiss on analog mastered recordings). Then there is that "boxy" sound where the band sounds like they've been crammed into a small room. Lots of 60's singles were purposely mixed this way to sound good on AM radio, which added even more limiting and compression. On a home sound system these records sound crappy. A prime example are most of the early Raspberries singles which unfortunately were the same mixes found on their LP's.

    My apologies if someone else mentioned some of this already, I've yet to read through the 3 pages of replies.
    Tensilversaxes likes this.
  12. videoman

    videoman Forum Resident

    Lake Tahoe, NV
    Not sure if we're thinking about the same thing, but that "pumping" sound you hear on a lot of modern pop/dance records created by over-compression is an effect done purposely during the recording/mixing process.

    I think what most people here refer to when talking about "too much compression" is when the entire recording is compressed so that there are no longer any quiet passages.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2016
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  13. tonewheeltom

    tonewheeltom Forum Resident

    Vineland, NJ
    About 15 years ago, I had listened to the Raspberries on the way to a gig. I asked my two band mates, why do their songs sound like that, almost like Jimi Hendrix's first two albums? They both said, "compressors". That's how I understood.
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  14. Doug Sclar

    Doug Sclar Forum Legend

    The OC
    I came up with a very similar analogy years ago, but it go no traction here. I think it's a good one.

    I made a whole lot of live recordings without compression and though they have their moments, with great dynamics, they are not the easiest things to listen to. They're almost like novelty recordings. They have great dynamics, which many here apparently would love, but they aren't at all smooth sounding, and don't sound like any records I have ever heard.

    That's both a good thing and a bad thing, depending on what you are going for. In many ways they sound much more lifelike and realistic than most live recordings I've heard, but they also have other issues.

    The funny thing is that I listened to these after I made them and never thought they were all that good, mainly because they sounded so unusual. Decades later, they don't sound nearly as bad as I once thought. They are amazing in some ways just to hear the dynamics, but every time I listen, I wish there was a bit of compression.

    Of course I didn't make these recordings, thinking I was going for something unusual. I was doing my best to try to recreate what was on the stage. I didn't use compression for two reasons. First, I didn't have any. Secondly, I didn't know any better.

    Ironically, I used DBX 157 for some of these and that gave them a much more dynamic medium, so I knew I was trying to achieve that, but I didn't realize how important compression was in live recording. If I could go back, I might have still used the DBX, (this was in the pre digital era) because the dynamics on these recordings were kind of amazing to hear, but I'd have used compression on certain things, specifically instruments where the distance between the mic and the source were not constant.

    Those types of dynamics are not at all natural. If you're in the audience and the singer moves an inch closer to you, you'll not notice much difference. Same if he sings a tad louder at times. However, from the perspective of the microphone, a small move or change like that can result in a big fluctuation in level. Unless you have a singer who knows how to work the mic to compensate for these fluctuations, you will end up with an uneven recording.

    Btw, I should mention one other things about these recordings. Since some of them used DBX and I kept the tape levels conservative, there is no tape saturation, which of course is a form of compression. That makes a huge difference. Most have no idea how much tape saturation alters the sound of recordings, but I learned this lesson by recording without it. Of course modern digital recordings don't have that saturation either.

    I should also add that I also made a lot of live recordings without the DBX and they don't have the same types of issues. I attribute that to the tape saturation which is not too much different than adding overall compression to the mix. Of course they still have the same types of micro dynamic issues such as when a singer uses poor mic technique, or a horn player wanders around the mic.

    Finally, I want to make one other point. I fully believe that compressors originally were designed to compress without having any other side effects. I don't think they were supposed to change the sound other than to compress it. However, as it turns out, just going through the circuitry of some of the old vintage compressors did change the sound, regardless of the amount of compression.

    I struggled with this at first when I started working in the studios. I hated the fact that every thing I ran through a compressor seemed to lose a bit of it's purity. I eventually discovered that this was half the charm of using these vintage processors. I think it was one of those happy accidents that was not necessarily planned, but that vintage sound was a big reason that many records have that warmth many love. That sound I originally dismissed turned out to be the sound of records, and I eventually saw the error in my thinking.
  15. mando_dan

    mando_dan Forum Resident

    Beverly, MA
    What's so intrinsically awful about digital compression? Seems like it can be used very surgically if necessary with complete control of attack, thresholds, ratios, etc. Unfortunately, like any tool at the audio engineer's disposal, it can and will be abused... Is it's chronic abuse the reason for your dislike or a deeper dislike of the digital domain? Asking seriously with no offense meant if my text comes across that way.
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  16. sberger

    sberger Grumpy(but grateful) geezer

    Got it. Thanks.
    TonyCzar likes this.
  17. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    Digital compression?

    It has no sound, it has no charm, it just kills the life in the music, misused or not. I've had to use it many, many times and have never liked it, even when I use it conservatively.

    Engineers I know that record in the digital domain do so using an analog compressor in the chain, without fail, 100% of the time.

    Analog compression is like a tasteful photo of a beautiful couple making love. Digital compression is like [a graphic pornographic close-up photographed with a cell phone camera*].

    Over and out.

    *moderator edit - You should have seen what he *wanted* to say! :)
  18. mando_dan

    mando_dan Forum Resident

    Beverly, MA
    Got it. Thanks for the prompt reply!

  19. Question: Since Barry Diament's recordings for his label don't use digital compression, is his use of space, the room, mic placement acting as a form of natural compression?
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  20. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    Yes. Far miked, just like 1926.
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  21. Doug Sclar

    Doug Sclar Forum Legend

    The OC
    If you keep distance between the mics and the sound source than your need for compression will be minimized. It's close mic'd recordings that need compression the most. I own several of Barry's recordings and they do not use close microphones.
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  22. audiomixer

    audiomixer As Bald As The Beatles

    Boy, is this the truth! I was raised on analog compressors and felt like it was never a fight. Much more control. When the rooms went digital and they yanked out all of the "old equipment", I was forced to use the digital workstation's plug-in compressors. They were as subtle as a stinky fart someone let out in a room full of people.
    Dave likes this.
  23. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    Yes, odorless, colorless, slashing dynamic waveforms with no mercy using a digital knife. Impossible to use when creating art.
  24. CrazyCatz

    CrazyCatz Great shot kid. Don't get cocky!

    Nice looking piece of Kit(not that I've any idea what is, other than taking stab in dark..some kind Limiter/Compression Deck) just off to Google.. Also is That you In Photo jamming..


    Nice Article Steve, Thanks

    Edit: Only info I could find in relation > RCA BA6B TUBE COMPRESSOR ??
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2016
  25. CatFelixThe

    CatFelixThe Well-Known Member

    Never heard it explained better in all my time with MTSU's RIM department. Ahhhh, memories.

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