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Dynamics

Dynamics or compression is an indispensable tool found on individual tracks, mix tapes and mastering chains in music production. It is one of the most popular effects among musicians and sound engineers and is used to control dynamics, change amplitude envelopes, peak limiting, sidechaining and much more. But despite its popularity, compression can be a conundrum for novices and experienced alike, as differences in dynamic range are often harder to distinguish compared to other sonic properties such as pitch and tempo.

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Newfangled Invigorate

97,38
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McDSP 6034 Ultimate Multi-Band HD v.7

225,55
176,15
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FabFilter Pro-C-2

162,38
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FabFilter Pro-DS

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FabFilter Pro-G

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Fabfilter Pro-L 2

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FabFilter Pro-MB

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McDSP 4030 Retro Compressor HD v.7

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McDSP 4030 Retro Compressor Native v.7

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McDSP 4040 Retro Limiter HD v.7

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McDSP 4040 Retro Limiter Native v.7

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McDSP 6030 Ultimate Compressor HD v.7

164,45
142,35
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McDSP CompressorBank HD v.7

136,50
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McDSP CompressorBank Native v.7

122,85
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McDSP DE 555 HD v.7

90,35
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McDSP DE 555 Native v.7

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McDSP MC2000 HD v.7

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McDSP MC2000 Native v.7

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How to use dynamics in music

Compression reduces the overall dynamic range of a piece of audio by detecting when it exceeds a specified level and then reducing it by a specified amount. In other words, it narrows the difference between the highest and lowest parts of a track, making it more uniform in sound level. 

If you've ever drawn automation curves for the audio level of a track, you've probably unwittingly made some manual compression changes—you've probably lowered parts that were excessively loud (downward compression) and raised parts that were too soft (upward compression). Although generally less customizable, a compressor automates this process for us, which can save us a lot of time.

Compress your music

Although there are always exceptions, most compressors share a common set of parameters. Understanding what each one does will allow us to use compression in our music with more intent and ease.

Threshold

A compressor's threshold, expressed in decibels (dB), determines the level at which the compressor begins to compress. Threshold can be set strategically to target specific moments in your sound. If, for example, a drum groove's snare is too loud, you can set the threshold so that it's low enough that the snare overrides it, but high enough that the rest of the kit is bypassed (the best way to do this is to slowly raise or lower the threshold, until the meter only responds to the snare).

Ratio

When the compressor has found out that the input signal has exceeded the threshold, it starts to reduce the signal. The amount by which the level is reduced is determined by the ratio. As an example, if the threshold is set to -20 dB, the input signal hits

 -16 dB, and the ratio is set to 2:1, the output signal will be reduced to -18 dB. Because the input exceeded the threshold by 4 dB, the 2:1 ratio cuts this value in half, resulting in an output of -18 dB.

A limiter is essentially a compressor with an 'infinite' ratio (think 10:1 or more). While a compressor (especially one with a lower ratio) gently tames peaks, a limiter aggressively stops any level that exceeds the threshold (aka its ceiling).

Attack and Release

The attack of the compressor, typically measured in milliseconds (ms), determines how quickly it pulls the input signal down to the full ratio value when it exceeds the threshold. Release is the opposite and represents the total time it takes for the signal to return to an uncompressed state.

Knee

The knee determines the nature of the gain reduction applied to a signal. It ranges from a value of 0,0 to 1,0, where 0,0 is a hard knee and 1,0 is a soft knee. A hard knee begins to reduce the gain abruptly when the compressor exceeds the threshold, while a soft knee gradually introduces gain reduction as the signal approaches the threshold.

Make-up Gain

We often associate compression with making a track louder. However, we have learned that compression actually reduces the level. Make-up gain is what allows compression to make a track louder. We can compensate for the lost level using this parameter, and because we tamed the peaks, we can actually make the overall sound louder without running into clipping.

Why are dynamics / compressors important?

Compression is a very important audio effect to understand because it regularly touches every aspect of digital music creation, from sound design to mixing and mastering. It can be used in creative and musical ways, but it can also turn a dynamic and exciting mix into a flat and exhausting one if used irresponsibly.

This guide should give you a strong basic understanding of compression and its common parameters. That said, just like you can't learn to ride a bike by reading a book, you can't become an expert in compression just by reading an article or watching a YouTube video; now it's time to open your DAW and experiment with all the parameters yourself. This will start to give you a feel for when compression helps or hurts your music.

We sell some of the best dynamics / compressors on the market at Cyberfarm. We would like to highlight a few below:

McDSP 6034 Ultimate Multi-Band HD v.7

The McDSP 6034 Ultimate Multi-band is your versatile solution for multi-band dynamics processing. It includes award-winning compression, expansion and gating modules from the highly acclaimed 6050 Ultimate Channel Strip plug-in, and they are swappable in real-time for quick testing while preserving relative settings. 

AVID Pro Limiter

AVID Pro Limiter is your key to sound optimization. This AAX DSP/Native plugin can maximize the volume of your mix, including 7.1 surround, without sacrificing sound quality. The Pro Limiter is designed to deliver a transparent sound experience, allowing you to raise the volume significantly while maintaining dynamics and quality. 

FabFilter Pro-DS

FabFilter Pro-DS is the smart and transparent de-esser plug-in that is ideal for processing both solo vocals and entire mixes.

Sound Radix POWAIR

The McDSP 6034 Ultimate Multi-band is a versatile multi-band dynamics processor with award-winning modules. AVID Pro Limiter is an AAX DSP/Native plugin that maximizes volume without distortion. FabFilter Pro-DS is an intelligent deesser plugin for both vocals and mixes.

AVID Pro Compressor

AVID Pro Compressor: Create professional audio recordings and mixes with this AAX DSP/Native plugin. Use the intelligent "SMART" mode for flawless compression without distortion.

If you have questions about sound production or specifically about dynamics / compressors - contact us at Cyberfarm.

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