Old 03-12-2014, 03:43 AM   #1
Damage Inc.
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Default Compression - That first hit.

Hello everyone.

I'm rather new to using compressors, although I've been experimenting with them for quite some time and pretty much know how to work with them now.
There's this one issue that I do not see how to really fix, and that's the following (I hope I can make this clear enough):

A compressor basically acts as "gain reduction", right, and it basically closes up once you send a signal through it.
Now, no matter how "superfast" a compressor is, often I find it's still not fast enough to catch that first hit on a channel.
This is because the compressor is sitting in this "idle" position that is basically at "0 gain reduction", and it still needs to "charge" up to that point where it will be hovering for pretty much the rest of the track. This of course results in the first hit being significantly louder than the rest.

I don't know if it's clear what I mean by now, but in case you do; Is there anything I can do about this? Maybe there's a common trick or workaround?
Perhaps there's a way to have a compressor wait at a higher gain-reduction instead of zero or some technique like that?

This is just something I do not understand, and maybe I'm using compressors slightly the wrong way.
I tend to have this side-effect quite often, but only when the very first hit of a mix is hard.
I don't know what else to do but lowering the compression, which in turn means that I'm sacrificing what I want to achieve with the compressor.
It's like, no matter how I set the balance, it's always that first hit that blasts and sometimes even clips through.
Whether it's a full band playing, or a rather gentle guitar-note, the compressor will let it rip until it ups the gain-reduction.


Thanks for reading.
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Old 03-12-2014, 06:08 AM   #2
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Hello everyone.

I'm rather new to using compressors, although I've been experimenting with them for quite some time and pretty much know how to work with them now.
There's this one issue that I do not see how to really fix, and that's the following (I hope I can make this clear enough):

A compressor basically acts as "gain reduction", right, and it basically closes up once you send a signal through it.
Now, no matter how "superfast" a compressor is, often I find it's still not fast enough to catch that first hit on a channel.
This is because the compressor is sitting in this "idle" position that is basically at "0 gain reduction", and it still needs to "charge" up to that point where it will be hovering for pretty much the rest of the track. This of course results in the first hit being significantly louder than the rest.

I don't know if it's clear what I mean by now, but in case you do; Is there anything I can do about this? Maybe there's a common trick or workaround?
Perhaps there's a way to have a compressor wait at a higher gain-reduction instead of zero or some technique like that?

This is just something I do not understand, and maybe I'm using compressors slightly the wrong way.
I tend to have this side-effect quite often, but only when the very first hit of a mix is hard.
I don't know what else to do but lowering the compression, which in turn means that I'm sacrificing what I want to achieve with the compressor.
It's like, no matter how I set the balance, it's always that first hit that blasts and sometimes even clips through.
Whether it's a full band playing, or a rather gentle guitar-note, the compressor will let it rip until it ups the gain-reduction.


Thanks for reading.
One thing to use would be a compressor that actually is fast enough. The other thing would be to use compressor that has some limiting/soft-clipping in it which tames the peaks. Another thing would be to use a limiter/satrurator/clipper in the FX chain too. Then again there is stuff like ReaComp where you can set the compressor to work "ahead of time" and this can help. I don't usually use ReaComp but in ReaGate which I use a lot I use this same ability all the time.

One thing that I often do with vocals especially is backwards compression. I reverse the audio and render the compressors to it that way and then I reverse the audio again. This way I get very smooth compression that can still be quite severe. For vocals I use TDR Feedback comp II. Actually when I keep that comp active even after the audio is reversed back to normal, it adds to that compression and makes it even smoother. With backwards compression you don't have to use so fast attack times which is a bonus because that makes it easier for compressor.
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Old 03-12-2014, 06:38 AM   #3
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Damage,
I read through your post, but had a hard time following some of it. It may be a good idea to read through a compression tutorial and familiarize yourself with the common terms of compression: attack, release, ratio, threshold, etc.

Yes, compression reduces volume. The highest peaks are often reduced, resulting in a more "even" volume for that source. When make-up gain is applied, the entire source is then raised in volume, often producing a sound that is more present, closer to the "front". Some genres use a lot of compression to achieve this effect. LOUDER is not always better, but our ears are so sensitive that we get tricked into thinking that louder is better, thus the common over use of compression and loudness wars.

I'm not sure from your post if you are inserting compression on individual tracks or on the Master Track. It's very possible to have all your individual tracks performing below 0dBFS, but when all that sound gets summed together, the result clips on the Master Track. Proper gain staging is an important factor here, besides compression.

gavriloP gave some good suggestions on trying a limiter of some type. Depending on your style of music, this may satisfy your needs.


ReaComp should be plenty fast to clamp down on some initial peaks. Try these exaggerated settings to hear how ReaComp can work quickly:
Attack: fastest
Release: auto release setting
Ratio: 6:1 (this setting should make the example obvious to your ears)
Threshold: move the threshold until you get about 4-6 dB of gain reduction from the compressor on the loudest parts.

After bypassing ReaComp and hearing the difference, try to slow the attack down (10-15ms) to let some of the transients through (transients = what I'm assuming you're referring to by the "initial hit").

Please do not take those settings as something to use on your music. They are simply provided to show you how ReaComp can function. Minor changes in the settings can make a big difference to the music. Often times it changes the feel or groove of the song. This can be helpful, but it can also destroy a song, if used incorrectly.

Practice... I'm assuming the you can hear, so... you can develop these skills.
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Old 03-12-2014, 07:30 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by jpanderson80 View Post
I'm not sure from your post if you are inserting compression on individual tracks or on the Master Track. It's very possible to have all your individual tracks performing below 0dBFS, but when all that sound gets summed together, the result clips on the Master Track. Proper gain staging is an important factor here, besides compression.
That's another thing to keep in mind. Your tracks should be somewhere well below 0db, particularly if you are tinkering with gain. I usually mix to target -6db at the master fader to leave room for the mastering guy. This gives you some headroom to work with. If you're pushing everything as close to 0 as you can, you have very little room to work with.
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Old 03-12-2014, 07:38 AM   #5
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One thing to use would be a compressor that actually is fast enough. The other thing would be to use compressor that has some limiting/soft-clipping in it which tames the peaks. Another thing would be to use a limiter/satrurator/clipper in the FX chain too. Then again there is stuff like ReaComp where you can set the compressor to work "ahead of time" and this can help. I don't usually use ReaComp but in ReaGate which I use a lot I use this same ability all the time.
Well, like I said, it doesn't seem to matter how "super fast" (as in, how they're basically advertised with) the compressors are, they won't beat that sudden first hit because the compressor is of course wide open during of the silence prior to that. I mean, I've even tried demos of the more expensive plug-ins but it didn't make a difference.

Perhaps I should try a limiter. The thing is though, I wouldn't want it to limit anything else because the rest doesn't need to be, as the compressor is already "limiting" the peaks from clipping.

Quote:
One thing that I often do with vocals especially is backwards compression. I reverse the audio and render the compressors to it that way and then I reverse the audio again. This way I get very smooth compression that can still be quite severe. For vocals I use TDR Feedback comp II. Actually when I keep that comp active even after the audio is reversed back to normal, it adds to that compression and makes it even smoother. With backwards compression you don't have to use so fast attack times which is a bonus because that makes it easier for compressor.
The problem in most cases is that it's basically on the "master". I mean, if this were a mixing-project, it would of course allow for a lot more ways to reduce the level of that first hit.
But it's often already in the mix like that, specifically what I'm working on right now, which pushed me to finally go ask around here.

But that's an interesting trick. Thanks for the tip, I'll make note of it for future projects.


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Originally Posted by jpanderson80 View Post
Damage,
I read through your post, but had a hard time following some of it. It may be a good idea to read through a compression tutorial and familiarize yourself with the common terms of compression: attack, release, ratio, threshold, etc.
I've actually done this plenty over the years. Just because I said "I'm rather new to using compressors." doesn't mean I don't know them.
It's just that I've only been getting into hands-on mixing and mastering a lot more recently, and of course I find out about issues in practice. But I've done plenty of reading and research.

Quote:
Yes, compression reduces volume. The highest peaks are often reduced, resulting in a more "even" volume for that source. When make-up gain is applied, the entire source is then raised in volume, often producing a sound that is more present, closer to the "front". Some genres use a lot of compression to achieve this effect. LOUDER is not always better, but our ears are so sensitive that we get tricked into thinking that louder is better, thus the common over use of compression and loudness wars.
Well, I'm obsessed about keeping the dynamics and thus peaks intact. That's exactly the problem with this "first hit"-issue that it often clips and then the compressor becomes active and takes care of smoothing out the rest. And I'm definitely familiar with the Loudness War and my eyes are fixated on all the meters. I use a very balanced amount of compression, just enough that it sort of evens out the levels and not enough to make it pump, cause I hate that sound. Well, it depends on what sound you're looking for or music you're working with like you said, but in most music that I'm into there's none of that heavy compression. So again, it's exactly because that first hit is clipping, and I need to somehow pinch that peak early enough.


Quote:
I'm not sure from your post if you are inserting compression on individual tracks or on the Master Track. It's very possible to have all your individual tracks performing below 0dBFS, but when all that sound gets summed together, the result clips on the Master Track. Proper gain staging is an important factor here, besides compression.
Well, in my last or current particular case I'm basically mastering.
I have two compressors; The first is an initial one before most other plugins, which is the most subtle to just round some peaks basically. And there's a master-compressor at the very end which takes on the whole wall of sound. Still, that one's not working all that hard either, because I already make sure nothing before that point is too hot.
I think that the fact that I leave it so dynamic and "peaky" is exactly the problem, leaving too much room for that first hit to blast through. So, as the question states, how do I control that hit if it's already recorded and mixed down like that?

To be honest, I'm not sure at the moment (I don't have the project open) but I think the master-meter at the end doesn't even clip. I mean, what I know is that some plug-ins (EQs and so on) up the chain ARE clipping. And that's again only with that one hit and for the rest of the track they don't. Most of them even have reduced output, but all they're getting hit with is that one hit the compressor prior to them lets through.

Quote:
gavriloP gave some good suggestions on trying a limiter of some type. Depending on your style of music, this may satisfy your needs.


ReaComp should be plenty fast to clamp down on some initial peaks. Try these exaggerated settings to hear how ReaComp can work quickly:
Attack: fastest
Release: auto release setting
Ratio: 6:1 (this setting should make the example obvious to your ears)
Threshold: move the threshold until you get about 4-6 dB of gain reduction from the compressor on the loudest parts.

After bypassing ReaComp and hearing the difference, try to slow the attack down (10-15ms) to let some of the transients through (transients = what I'm assuming you're referring to by the "initial hit").

Please do not take those settings as something to use on your music. They are simply provided to show you how ReaComp can function. Minor changes in the settings can make a big difference to the music. Often times it changes the feel or groove of the song. This can be helpful, but it can also destroy a song, if used incorrectly.

Practice... I'm assuming the you can hear, so... you can develop these skills.
OK, I'll experiment some and see what that does. Thanks.

By the way, one question popped up:

I'm less familiar with limiters. I've only used them in sound-effects before, but what do they technically do? They just cut off a peak, like at a fixed level?
As opposed to a compressor that of course varies its reduction in lots of ways.

Last edited by Damage Inc.; 03-12-2014 at 08:01 AM.
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Old 03-12-2014, 07:39 AM   #6
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What compressor type is it? Opto almost guarantees that pop on the first trigger depending on the style of compressor. Secondly, what are you trying to achieve? Limiting something completely? I ask because you typically don't want the source clamped down to a 0.000000000001 attack time.
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Old 03-12-2014, 08:15 AM   #7
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What compressor type is it? Opto almost guarantees that pop on the first trigger depending on the style of compressor. Secondly, what are you trying to achieve? Limiting something completely? I ask because you typically don't want the source clamped down to a 0.000000000001 attack time.
The first one in the chain is apparently modeled after VCA-based technology. The other one... I'm not sure, but it doesn't say it's Opto-based in any description.

What I'm generally trying to achieve is "equalization", but in terms of levels of course. Mostly trying to contain any peaks and prevent them from clipping.
But it's often that one first peak that's left through anyway, cause of the inactive compressor, which I'm trying to do something about.

I might as well just put a volume-envelope on the track and slightly reduce the first hit only. But if this is the way it's intentionally mixed, I don't really want to mess with that.
I still want to learn how to deal with this issue without having to resort to that, cause there's plenty of music with sudden hits after very quiet moments.
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Old 03-12-2014, 08:18 AM   #8
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The first one in the chain is apparently modeled after VCA-based technology.
What are they if you don't mind telling us? Someone might know them very well and can supply better info.
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Old 03-12-2014, 10:15 AM   #9
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What are they if you don't mind telling us? Someone might know them very well and can supply better info.
Oh, well at the moment the two particular ones I'm demo-ing are the Waves api-2500 and SSL Master Buss Compressor. But this might change and I've been trying out all kinds of different ones to see what works best for me of course. These are great though.
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Old 03-12-2014, 11:15 AM   #10
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Default Levels?

Can you tell us what the levels are on the individual tracks as well as the master buss? This might help us help you.
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Old 03-12-2014, 12:59 PM   #11
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As mentioned above, ReaComp will do it because A) it will go down to 0 attack time (though that adds distortion) and 2) it has lookahead, which with a more reasonable attack time can accomplish something similar without so much distortion.

Analog comps (and digital comps that emulate them) usually don't, again because 0 attack time can cause distortion. You can sort of fake lookahead compression in these comps with the creative use of sidechaining and delay.

I'd like to mention, though, that if you put a limiter on after the compressor, it will only affect those peaks which the compressor hasn't already reduced below the threshold you set on the limiter. Likewise, if the limiter is before the compressor, and reduces the peak to a level below the compressor's threshold...
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Old 03-12-2014, 09:47 PM   #12
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If the limiter is placed after the compressor, and this "first hit" is the only thing that you need to take care of, the limiter doesn't have to do anything to any other part of the recording. That "first hit" would be the only thing that gets loud enough to trigger it.

It sounds like your solution is either "look-ahead" (if that first hit is not actually louder than anything that follows) or taming that first hit with some specific volume controlling (if it actually is louder than everything else).
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Old 03-13-2014, 12:03 AM   #13
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Can you tell us what the levels are on the individual tracks as well as the master buss? This might help us help you.
There's one completed mix on one track on my last/current particular session, so basically a master-track.
I'm not sure what to tell you of the levels that run throughout this one track, but it's all rather balanced. Except, again, the very first moment that the compressors let through.

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As mentioned above, ReaComp will do it because A) it will go down to 0 attack time (though that adds distortion) and 2) it has lookahead, which with a more reasonable attack time can accomplish something similar without so much distortion.

Analog comps (and digital comps that emulate them) usually don't, again because 0 attack time can cause distortion.
Aha! "Lookahead" sounds like exactly what needs to be done here.

Too bad that it introduces distortion though. Would that be very noticeable?
Cause then I might as well just leave in the one clipped hit, which isn't even loud in actual volume even though it clips some of the signal.

I did however find that the "hard knee"-setting in the api-2500 helped make it respond a bit quicker, even though it's of course still a little late.
But that's one fancy compressor by the way. Too much for my budget, but that thing's nice.

Quote:
You can sort of fake lookahead compression in these comps with the creative use of sidechaining and delay.
That seems a bit more complicated though. I wouldn't know how to do thát. I'll try to figure it a little more straightforward for now.

Edit: Wait a minute... This is a note in the api-2500 its manual:
"Sidechain lets you trigger the compressor using an external source, which is fed into the RMS detector and controls the compression of the input signal."

So, if I understand this correctly, that supposed external source could be a duplicate of the same track (but muted I guess, if that's a way)
except playing a little early to simulate that "lookahead"?

I'm probably making things up now. Just a guess if I could use that sidechain-option for anything in this case.


Quote:
I'd like to mention, though, that if you put a limiter on after the compressor, it will only affect those peaks which the compressor hasn't already reduced below the threshold you set on the limiter. Likewise, if the limiter is before the compressor, and reduces the peak to a level below the compressor's threshold...
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If the limiter is placed after the compressor, and this "first hit" is the only thing that you need to take care of, the limiter doesn't have to do anything to any other part of the recording. That "first hit" would be the only thing that gets loud enough to trigger it.
Right, I should find the threshold so it only acts on that one peak.
The limiter might have to go all the way at the end, after the master compressor. Is that an OK thing to do? I guess so, seems to make sense. But just checking.

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Old 03-13-2014, 04:11 AM   #14
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Aha! "Lookahead" sounds like exactly what needs to be done here.

Too bad that it introduces distortion though. Would that be very noticeable?
Cause then I might as well just leave in the one clipped hit, which isn't even loud in actual volume even though it clips some of the signal.
Lookahead doesn't introduce distortion, a too short attack time does. The downside to lookahead is that it adds latency to do its magic, but that shouldn't be a problem when you are not recording while monitoring through the DAW.
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Old 03-13-2014, 07:06 AM   #15
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Oh, well at the moment the two particular ones I'm demo-ing are the Waves api-2500 and SSL Master Buss Compressor. But this might change and I've been trying out all kinds of different ones to see what works best for me of course. These are great though.
Damage,
I use these two compressors on almost every mix. I love them both. When reading through the previous posts, you mentioned again the initial hit clipping. Try trimming the volume of the media item down until the initial hit is around -12 or so for each channel. (Note: this is not the fader on the Mixer, this is the item trim...I may have used the wrong term for this funciton so someone may need to correct me!) The BULK of the sound should be around -18 on the meters. Both of those compressors from Waves are calibrated to work best at -18, which roughly equals 0 on the VU meter. That alone should help tremendously with the clipping issues, and it should help the compressors from sounding overloaded.

Let me know what you think about those two compressors.
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Old 03-13-2014, 01:36 PM   #16
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So, if I understand this correctly, that supposed external source could be a duplicate of the same track (but muted I guess, if that's a way)
except playing a little early to simulate that "lookahead"?

I'm probably making things up now. Just a guess if I could use that sidechain-option for anything in this case.
I intentionally left that vague so you'd figure it out on your own. In digital it's easy because you have all kinds of ways to slide and mess with time. In analog it's a bit tougher because, well, how do you create a negative delay in real time? You end up having to delay everything but the look ahead sidechain track. If you had a spare track on the tape you could flip the tape over, apply your delay and print it, then turn the tape back over, but...
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Old 03-13-2014, 09:17 PM   #17
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Personally i would not worry about delayed sidehchaining or reverse compression for this -- seems excessive.

From your description: "and it still needs to "charge" up to that point where it will be hovering for pretty much the rest of the track" -- it sounds to me like a compressor that is being overdriven with a threshold set pretty low, maybe also with a slow attack, maybe also a high ratio, and it's compressing all the time as the song plays, and you like the sound of the automatic gain that's giving you.

There's no rule that says you can't have a compressor compressing constantly, but expecting it to both handle short-term dynamic ranges (the first hit) and to auto-gain the whole song is probably asking too much of one compressor.

Try putting another compressor first in line with, say, a 25ms attack and an 80ms release, ratio 8:1 (these are guesses - ymmv), threshold just low enough to trigger on the loud hits to tame them a little bit (e.g. seeing 4dB reduction, maybe 6?), but high enough to be inactive most of the time. Then use a second compressor after that for the auto gain control you're seeking. Now you have one compressor for each distinct job, rather than trying to make one do both jobs. The first tames the peaks, the second handles the bigger picture gain control. Then follow the last plugin in the master chain with a gentle limiter to bring the overall level up to snuff and to tame the very peakiest peaks that remain.

As you said, this would be more properly fixed before the master bus with envelope automation and individual track compression.

Generall, most of the pros i've read would say that if you find yourself using a compressor for significant auto-gain you're usually better off automating the volume evelope, replaying the performance, etc.
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Old 03-13-2014, 10:00 PM   #18
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One thing that I often do with vocals especially is backwards compression. I reverse the audio and render the compressors to it that way and then I reverse the audio again. This way I get very smooth compression that can still be quite severe. Actually when I keep that comp active even after the audio is reversed back to normal, it adds to that compression and makes it even smoother. With backwards compression you don't have to use so fast attack times which is a bonus because that makes it easier for compressor.
I was reading this thread and stumbled upon your tip.

This is a very productive and innovative approach
to using these tools for certain applications.

Thank you for sharing this technique !!!
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Old 03-14-2014, 10:29 AM   #19
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Personally i would not worry about delayed sidehchaining or reverse compression for this -- seems excessive.

...

Generall, most of the pros i've read would say that if you find yourself using a compressor for significant auto-gain you're usually better off automating the volume evelope, replaying the performance, etc.
Good points. There are lots of ways to skin a cat, and plenty of people would rather just leave the poor kitty alone.

When it comes to "automatic gain control" and automation for general leveling, I've found that ReaComp is often the right tool for that job too. By setting the RMS window to something relatively long, and putting the lookahead somewhere in the middle of the window it sort of reacts to both the past and the future, and can provide very effective, but very natural sounding "automatic automation" without disturbing the actual short term ADSR-type dynamics of individual events. I usually end up with very low ratios for this - like less than 2:1. I felt guilty for a minute or two. Like I was just being lazy and really "should" get in and automate by hand and ear (though I think many of us do it by eye more than we'd like to admit), but when it works it just plain works, and if it ain't working I try something else.

That usually comes before any actual dynamic processing.

Sometimes when I'm trying to knock down a really fast transient and can't get the A/R controls to sound natural without distortion I'll slap on my Slew Rate Limiter JS. It just won't let the signal get too big too fast. It is a form of distortion, but by nature is much less harsh sounding than compressor ripple distortion or even brickwall clipping. Set correctly, it's extremely subtle, but knocks down that horrible tick sound that certain sources end up with.
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Old 03-14-2014, 11:04 AM   #20
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you say you are mastering at the moment. is the initial peak already in the mixes and you are trying to remove it, or is it only a side effect of your plugins?

many mastering engineers reverse the order of the comp/limiters. instead of the common low ratio to high ratio, it can be set up with a brickwall limiter first to catch and deal with peaks to stop them affecting the following dynamics tools which step down to lower ratios to smooth out long term dynamics. (you could put another brickwall limiter at the end for safety) lots of dynamics processors doing a little bit, often sounds better than 1 or 2 doing a lot of work

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Old 04-15-2014, 03:11 PM   #21
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What about using a short fade in (a couple of milliseconds at most) on the first hit of the song? That might make things easier on your compressor...
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