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Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

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Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Mon Nov 13, 2017 2:32 pm

...please.

Plugin reviews, specs etc say things like "Oh this plugin models the opto circuitry of the LA2A" or 'Being based on an FET...the blah blah" and "It's a VCA compressor". But what do these circuit types actually mean for the way it performs?

Should we be thinking about different compressors for different instruments for example?
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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby desmond » Mon Nov 13, 2017 3:29 pm

A lot of this kind of thing comes with experience - you first need to be able to hear compression, and understand it's variables and their relationships (attack, decay, threshold, ratio etc).

Then you start understanding how various technologies sound - why does an LA-2A sound like it does, and why does it not sound like an 1176? What types of signal would those boxes be more suitable for? And what types of things do each not work very well for?

You can get a lot of info from reading, etc SOS interviews, where people talk about what gear they used on what, and you can build up some kind of understanding as to what people typically use, but really, you need to use those things yourself and develop your own preferences as your tastes and music will be different to others.

There are also plenty of articles online about compression, and various compressor technologies, and you can go as deep as you want here. Universal Audio had some great stuff in their online archive, as they talked about modelling various compressors.

Logic's "Compressor" plugin is one example of a compressor plugin that has basically all the common compressor types in one plugin, with a standard layout, and this is good to understanding each, and because you can flip between types with the same settings, to hear the differences - there are other compressor plugins out there that can do this as well.

I'm sure others will link to some good online articles that go into each compressor type, together with example models, character descriptions and strengths and weaknesses...

As for me - I like 1176-types for drums, or aggressive compression, I'm not particularly an LA-2A fan in general but I do love the LA-3 for bass stuff, I like the classic dbx compressors if I want a hard compression character. On things like pianos I like things like the Neve 33609 on, or possibly Fairchild, but it depends on what I'm going for. Vocals I generally like a softish character, I really like the Waves RenVox/RenComp for something smooth and quick, but if it's more of a rock thing, then 1176's, or an 1176/LA2A chain can work well. Buss compression is another story... Other people will have their own personal list of favourite tools...

So yes, different compressors do very much have different vibes going for them, and suit different instruments and tastes - it's all part of this lovely music-making tapestry we weave..!
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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Mon Nov 13, 2017 3:43 pm

- you first need to be able to hear compression, and understand it's variables and their relationships (attack, decay, threshold, ratio etc).

Yes, I understand all this and can happily set up my compressors and tweak to my heart's content.

What I don't understand is what does an Opto circuit do/sound like, what does a VCA circuit sound like/do, what does a FET circuit sound like/do?

What can an 1176/LA2A/dbx160/SSL Buss etc emulation do that I can't programme into eg Logic's platinum digital compressor? If anything?
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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby jollyon » Mon Nov 13, 2017 3:50 pm

Nice Post Dr Longjohns. Made me feel like getting my mix nerd on. My thought is:
I reach for different compressors for different outcomes:

VCA (SSL / DBX 160 style): fast attack and release times, clean, low distortion
- Good for preserving transients & complex harmonics

Opto (Tube Tech CL1B / LA2A style): slower because they work with light, warm, musical
- Good for smoothing & enlivening

FET: (1176 style) punchy, colourful & fast
- Good for more aggressive, faster, dynamic material

Variable-mu (Fairchild style)
- Good for rich, warm, musicality, smoothing rather than preserving dynamics

Also worth considering is peak vs RMS. Some like the logic platinum compressor allow either style.

You could choose compression by the instrument but it depends on the individual instrument, how it was played & how it was recorded.
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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby job » Mon Nov 13, 2017 5:53 pm

Dr Huge Longjohns wrote:What can an 1176/LA2A/dbx160/SSL Buss etc emulation do that I can't programme into eg Logic's platinum digital compressor? If anything?

They can reproduce the textures, colours, harmonics and distortion of their hardware counterparts. How could we dial in the character of an LA2A into a digital compressor? All those valves, transistors and whatever else there is distorting the signal and imparting their mark on it as it passes through. We need to emulate this to replicate the sound of it. :thumbup:
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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby jollyon » Mon Nov 13, 2017 6:10 pm

Dr Huge Longjohns wrote:
- you first need to be able to hear compression, and understand it's variables and their relationships (attack, decay, threshold, ratio etc).

Yes, I understand all this and can happily set up my compressors and tweak to my heart's content.

What I don't understand is what does an Opto circuit do/sound like, what does a VCA circuit sound like/do, what does a FET circuit sound like/do?

What can an 1176/LA2A/dbx160/SSL Buss etc emulation do that I can't programme into eg Logic's platinum digital compressor? If anything?

Logic's built in compressor already emulates quite a few different compressor styles, depending which version you're using: VCA, FET, Opto etc. It does this using a relatively small amount of processing power. A UAD clone of a classic compressor has dedicated DSP so is likely to be more impressive. As ever, it depends on what you prefer the sound of.
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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Mon Nov 13, 2017 6:28 pm

They can reproduce the textures, colours, harmonics and distortion

Yes, I get this, I was being slightly provocative with my question.

But I wonder if it's precisely these tonal changes that are the real reason we prefer one unit to another, all else being equal with the dynamic changes? I might run a sine wave through my various Logic and Waves etc emulations and see what they do on this front.
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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby desmond » Mon Nov 13, 2017 6:43 pm

Dr Huge Longjohns wrote:But I wonder if it's precisely these tonal changes that are the real reason we prefer one unit to another, all else being equal with the dynamic changes?

Why would you think they are all equal on the dynamic changes? They all have different transfer curves and complex behaviour on dynamic signals, and it's this behaviour, as well as the nice signal warming, that contribute to each units' sonic signature.
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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Mon Nov 13, 2017 7:23 pm

OK, now we're talking. Can you describe these curves to me so I can understand more clearly what's going on?
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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby CS70 » Mon Nov 13, 2017 7:54 pm

Dr Huge Longjohns wrote:...please.

Plugin reviews, specs etc say things like "Oh this plugin models the opto circuitry of the LA2A" or 'Being based on an FET...the blah blah" and "It's a VCA compressor". But what do these circuit types actually mean for the way it performs?

Should we be thinking about different compressors for different instruments for example?

While I do understand what a compressor does and how does it, that has very little to do with what I use on what, which is simply due to "try - change - like the sound better or not - remember what you did".

Much of it is also how quickly I can set up the sound I want. I'm sure there's plenty of compressors which can be made to sound very similar, but no reason to use a different tool for the same result.

So for me, the four I know best in hardware:

LA-2A - makes vocals feel near, warmer and intimate, without compromising how they cut in the mix. It "mushes up" the sound a little bit, bringing out the bass and bass-mids so the voice becomes less strident, harsh, and overall sexier. For the same reason it works on anything with potential strident or harsh tones: a violin or a viola, for example.

1176 style (I use the Purple Audio version) - for vocals you hear all the breathing, the mouth movements - the singer gets one cm from your ears (they better be singing well!). It can distort so bring out excitement and it can pump the mix from the kick with a two-second setting. Don't know if the actual 1176 sounds the same as the Purple Audio as I've never tried it in anger.

The Distressor, I know how to make it work on the snare mics, and you can compress the drum bus to make it loud but compact in Nuke. Put it as a parallel processor and you can change the drum attitude just by raising its fader. I keep thinking of playing with all the controls and see what else it can do, but haven't managed yet.

I use a Safe Sound Audio P1 preamp whose compression section is the only one I dare use during vocal recording - especially of myself. It makes the voice sound thicker and much more similar to how one hears himself when talking/singing!

There are uncountable boxes whose reviews make me salivate (til I look at the price) but I have no idea what they do and how they differ from the ones above! :-)

Plugins, I use the FabFilter-C (when I have it) as a control compressor - typically to get the tracks dynamic range to a workable level. In clean setting it doesn't seem to do anything to the sound timbre, which is just the ticket! Rough Rider is a bit like the Distressor on kick and drums - to me it has one trick only, but it's a heck of a trick.

So there you are. While my inner nerd loves to know how these things work, I can't pretend to be able to imagine how they sound from how they work... the musician in me needs to hear them, and when I like what I hear, I care not one bit on how they do what they do :)
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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby Ariosto » Tue Nov 14, 2017 9:21 am

Because compressors can change the sound and nearly always do, i avoid them like the plague.
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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby ore_terra » Tue Nov 14, 2017 10:14 am

Ariosto wrote:Because compressors can change the sound and nearly always do, i avoid them like the plague.
such as EQ and all effects? in that case mixing would be only about balancing faders and panners... definitively would make my life easier :bouncy:
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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby Bob Bickerton » Tue Nov 14, 2017 10:34 am

I think Ariosto is talking about classical genres and he’s right, no EQ or compression required if you’ve placed the mics correctly. Having said that I’ve been known to add a little Lexicon 224 reverb and very, very light Fairchild 670 compression on some projects.

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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby desmond » Tue Nov 14, 2017 11:05 am

Dr Huge Longjohns wrote:OK, now we're talking. Can you describe these curves to me so I can understand more clearly what's going on?

Well, others will be able to do the science thing better than me, but basically, compressors has somewhat complex behaviours, based on the technology they are using, and design choices made. Just because two different compressors have, for example, and attach time setting of 40ms does not mean they both have identical attack behaviour. Leave aside whether the knobs are marked accurately (in vintage gear, that's often no the case), but there will be differences in how that 40ms is measured, how much the compression sets in, whether the knee is hard or soft, what happens when the signal falls below the threshold, how it interacts with the release time and whether these behaviours change with different ratios etc. That one variable of "attack time" is simplistic compared to the behaviour that is occurring under the hood.

If you have the Logic Compressor, it's really easy to hear by setting up some example settings in Platinum mode on a variety of sources (things with good transients like drums are a good test) and switching between the compressor types, and listening to the effect of the changing behaviours - there are LA2A, 1176, SSL/dbx, Vari-mu models in there.

If all compressors had the same behaviour, I would be able to rig up eg a fat drum sound using an 1176, and you'd be able to get the same sound with an LA2A. Unfortunately, you can't - because of the different *behaviours* - this is quite apart from the tonal changes the circuitry has on the signal - and this is why people buy, and use, different compressors.

Now, obviously, it depends on your needs - if all you ever need to do is some really subtle level management with only a few dBs of more or less invisible correction, then the various compressor behaviours will much less obvious (that's what "invisible" means in this context). But when you start to work the compressors harder, as often done in contemporary music, the behaviours become much more pronounced - and in this context, you're often using compressors to shape the sound, rather than for invisible levelling, so you are intrinsically using their character to achieve a particular sound.

I'm sure there's a ton of YouTube videos that demonstrate this, with examples, if you go and look...
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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Tue Nov 14, 2017 11:49 am

LA2A, 1176, SSL/dbx, Vari-mu models in there.

Thanks D, Which is the Vari Mu? I thought the only models were:

Studio VCA: focus rite red
Studio FET: 1176 blackface
Classic VCA: dbx160
Vintage VCA: SSL Buss
Vintage FET: 1176 silver face
Vintage Opto: LA2A
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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby desmond » Tue Nov 14, 2017 12:01 pm

Yeah, you're right, I didn't have them up in front of me so was led astray by my recall at the time!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkV1CvetKm0
https://ask.audio/articles/logic-pro-x- ... a-makeover

The earlier version of Compressor had some models which were:

SOS:
"ClassA_R & ClassA_U: Quite what these emulations are based on is anyone's guess, but the names suggest variable 'mu' devices combined with Class-A amplification, similar to devices from Manley Labs."

But I'm not sure what these morphed into in the current version, or whether they were removed...
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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Tue Nov 14, 2017 12:29 pm

I just had a look and in the Compressor Type menu and they still have Type R and Type U listed but the R goes to the Focusrite Red (R for Red I guess!) and the U goes to the Studio FET (i.e. 1176 blackface) model. Maybe U stands for Universal Audio in this case?
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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby desmond » Tue Nov 14, 2017 1:47 pm

Dr Huge Longjohns wrote:I just had a look and in the Compressor Type menu and they still have Type R and Type U listed but the R goes to the Focusrite Red (R for Red I guess!) and the U goes to the Studio FET (i.e. 1176 blackface) model. Maybe U stands for Universal Audio in this case?

Thanks, I was in the process of doing exactly that, but got sidetracked while LP9 validated all my plugins... :thumbup:
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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby Mixedup » Tue Nov 14, 2017 4:19 pm

Dr Huge Longjohns wrote:Maybe U stands for Universal Audio in this case?

Or Urei, perhaps?
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Re: Describe the sounds of different compressor technologies..

Postby desmond » Tue Nov 14, 2017 4:46 pm

Mixedup wrote:Or Urei, perhaps?

More likely...
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