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Pro Tools: Bus & Group Compression

Avid Pro Tools Tips & Techniques By Julian Rodgers
Published February 2021

Screen 1: The green fader works like a group fader on a traditional analogue mixer, controlling the levels of all the channels that are being fed through it. The light blue fader on the right is a VCA fader: it doesn’t actually pass audio, it simply tells the faders within the group what level they should be. For simple setups they work identically, but as things get more complex the comparison falls apart.Screen 1: The green fader works like a group fader on a traditional analogue mixer, controlling the levels of all the channels that are being fed through it. The light blue fader on the right is a VCA fader: it doesn’t actually pass audio, it simply tells the faders within the group what level they should be. For simple setups they work identically, but as things get more complex the comparison falls apart.

We explore Bus and Group compression.

While there are undoubtably far more people using Pro Tools today who have never used an analogue mixer than there were when I came to the platform over 20 years ago, those devices still cast a long shadow over their software equivalents. One assumption I was quick to make when coming to Pro Tools was that a Group in Pro Tools was the same as a group on the hardware mixers I was used to. The comparison was entirely inappropriate: the only thing they share is a name!

The distinction is between a set of tracks which can be controlled as one without their outputs being summed (a Mix Group in Pro Tools) and a submix of tracks being controlled by a fader at the summing point (a group as I understood it from analogue mixing consoles).

Screen 1, above, shows how the two processes differ. Although the two approaches are similar, and in the simplest examples behave identically, as complexity grows they yield different results. There are many practical reasons why you might choose one over the other but the area I’m going to concentrate on here is the difference it can make to processing — particularly compression.

Pretty much everyone who mixes audio loves zooming in on the minutiae of the differences between the effects of different compressors, and something which merits close examination is the difference that dynamic processing has depending on where it is in the mixer topology and exactly what is...

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Published February 2021

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