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Q. Should I compress at the recording stage?

Is it still worth tracking through a hardware compressor? Definitely maybe...Is it still worth tracking through a hardware compressor? Definitely maybe...

I’m seeing a lot of conflicting advice about using compression while recording. Some seem to swear by it while others say it’s completely unnecessary with 24‑bit recording and modern converters. Where do you stand on this?

Billy Whiteman

SOS Reviews Editor Matt Houghton: There are a few considerations here, but let’s start with your point about 24‑bit recording. Yes, it’s true that this allows you to capture a signal with a huge dynamic range, so you can keep the noise floor plenty low enough without risk of overloading your interface/A‑D converters — ie. it’s easy to set a suitable input level, since you can afford to leave plenty of headroom. In fact, some interfaces and portable recorders now offer 32‑bit recording, which almost makes setting levels unnecessary! Purely in terms of accommodating dynamic range with minimal noise and distortion, then, you clearly don’t need to compress using hardware ‘on the way in’.

It’s also true that you’ll have more control over the compressor if you apply it to an already recorded signal, because when mixing in the DAW you can refine its settings to the nth degree and, should you need to, even automate the threshold to fine‑tune its response. It also means that if you need to use a corrective noise‑reduction process which uses a ‘noise fingerprint’ then that noise will be steady in level and therefore easier for an algorithm to work...

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