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Thread: COMPRESSOR advice: 2-Channel STEREO or MONO?

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    COMPRESSOR advice: 2-Channel STEREO or MONO?

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    Hi Folks!

    My New Years Resolution for 2014 is to get a small, analogue home-studio up'n'running and I am currently in the process of sourcing some 'bare necessities' as it were (on a budget ie: scouring the secondhand market!)

    I'm a Singer-songwriter and will be working in isolation but attempting to make my recordings sound like a band by building up my tracks one by one through multi-tracking (that's the idea anyway!) Today's questions are to do with: COMPRESSORS

    - Are they a 'bare necessity' or can I get by without one? (I have tried using one in the past but ran into difficulty with it - the way I was using it my source sounded better without!)

    - Considering the way I'll be recording (ie: solo) if I get one, will I need a 2 Channel STEREO model or, for my particular recording set-up, will a MONO one suffice?

    - Convince me I even need one! (I appear to have a bit of a mental block with 'em!)

    - Any recommendations as to what might be a good one to get and how best to utilise one? Does EVERYTHING have to have compression? Would you use it as an aux send/return across all tracks or just on individual tracks - I don't really 'get it' when it comes to stuff like this so, if I get one, definitely the simpler the better methinks!

    Thanks again folks - I'll get there ..... eventually!!!

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    I would say that a compressor is an essential item. It basically serves to even out the volumes of the individual tracks and make the song sound a lot more 'together' and 'solid'. They're not hard to get used to using although they can be a bit confusing at first.

    Unless you want to spend mega money on a classic compressor like an 1176 or LA2A, pretty much all the compressors you look at are going to be two channel. I highly recommend the ART pro VLA II. It's only about 250 quid and it's a great compressor for pretty much anything.

    You'll need to use the compressor in line with the signal, either via an insert or at the input of the desk. You can't patch them into aux sends like a reverb unit.
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    Exclamation ...

    I say a compressor is not a necessity.

    If you choose to use one, I think a 2-ch/stereo compressor is best because it gives you the flexibility to use it on separate sources simultaneously, or "strap" it across the stereo buss for mixdown, but is clearly a choice and not a necessity.

    You may make perfectly fine track recordings and mixdowns entirely without it. It's another tool in the toolbox. It's like a varied flavor of ice cream. Do you want vanilla or chocolate chip? Are chocolate chips a necessity in ice cream?

    I've recorded for over 30 years without a compressor, although I've owned two stereo rackmount compressors for at least 10 years. Thought I wanted it; never needed it. Now,... mind you, anyone can listen to my recordings and nitpick at all the many and various flaws, but not using a compressor (IMO) would not be a reason or factor.

    Even if you wanted nice even levels, there are other techniques to use that don't employ a hardware or software compressor.

    In the turnaround, in my old band days I used an inline guitar compressor a lot, but not because I "needed it" to even out my levels, I just liked how it gave me more sustain. Truth be told, sometimes I like some bite and unevenness of levels.

    Other than just stated, compression has never been used, needed or featured on my tracks or mixes. It's my choice and I don't believe a compressor (or compression itself) is a necessity in the studio. I think of it more like another tool, and perhaps at times as a crutch or maybe even a fad.

    In closing, I'll point back to the massive amount of criticism of certain music being "over-compressed", and even still that is a choice and was not a necessity.

    YMMV
    (your mileage may vary)
    [in forum talk means that is my opinion and others may have legitimate and differing opinions].

    Welcome to the forum. (pls check your PMs)
    Quote Originally Posted by Lt. Bob
    ... subtleties of sound make a difference to those who really listen.

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    I will offer a counter-point to the no compression ideology (which is completely valid)... I started without using compression on my recordings. When I finally got a VLA II, I was blown away. Ever since then, I've recorded with compression on the majority of my mixes - whether it be on a single track, a buss, or the master buss. I really only do like a 4:1 ratio with maybe 4dB of gain reduction (by a lot of people's standards, hardly any compression), but it really has helped me to tighten up my mixes. It's not always ideal, but if you're recording any kind of percussion I feel like it's kind of essential. A lot of people like to "ride the faders" and EQ to fix any volume issues, but as you add more tracks, compression can make your life a whole lot easier.

    Also, I found that, at the time, adding a compressor to my rig was the "missing link"... It just kind of started to click after that. I also kind of like to look at it as a sort of effect. The VLA II is a great piece for the price. It can add warmth and depth to certain sources (I find it a little to much on other things) - but then again I don't really do that much compression (mostly just try and tighten up the bass and control some unwanted dB peaks).

    If you're doing mostly acoustic music, it might not be essential, but anything electronic will a lot of the time require some kind of compression. This is something that many people have very different opinions on... so yeah, YMMV!

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    Thanks for the opinions folks! OK, were I to get one (ie: a standalone compressor) I'm curious to know how folks go about using them. Not just the whole Ratio/Threshold levels thing but, right now, the actual physical placement. Am I right in thinking then that you can't use one in an effects loop 'cause you'd need to have different settings for each signal you put through it? I guess so right? I'm currently scratching my head trying hard to come up with my Studio Plan for linking all this stuff together as it were - it's messing with my head! I have a very limited available space in which to dedicate to my home studio set up (a garage sized space measuring 12' x 8' ). I'm currently trying to plan it down on paper first before I start putting it all together. Unfortunately the console I'm looking to use has all its connecting points 'around the back' as it were so its not going to be that easy to access especially when I finally put it in the only area it can go in the room - it will be pretty much hard up against a side wall (leaving just enough room for the cables to protrude). Because of this then, once in place, I would be hoping to leave it that way without constantly having to link in said compressor for every signal I would want to use it on (ie: mic'd signals such as vox, acoustic guitar, percussion, double bass, etc. + line-in stuff too I guess).

    As an aside here I've also established that, excluding a compressor at this planning stage, I have 13 appliances requiring mains power! Unfortunately I only have one wall socket available in my designated space with a plug extension that will take a maximum of 8 plugs ('do the math' as one might say in America!) Oh man, I tell ya, I'm still just working with paper plans here but I want/need this all up'n'running come the New Year. I'm finding it all pretty involved this whole home studio setting up lark and have to admit I am feeling rather out of my depth right now!

    Thanks again to everyone for all their help and advice to date. Keep it coming as I need all the help I can get! I have to reiterate ... I'm not the most technical person! If I could pay someone to do this (ie: link all this stuff together and provide me with a user-friendly studio I would!) I now really just wanna get this part out of the way so I can get going with my music as that's where my talents lie (at least they used to! Like I say, it's been a long time ....)

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    Right. I used to have just a single stereo compressor which I would use for both the microphone and for mixdown. This meant repatching a lot, so eventually I got an ART Levelar which I included permanently in the microphone signal chain.

    FYI the mic signal chain is thus: mic -> preamp -> levelar -> copicat -> instrument mixer
    Possibly a better option if I was beginning again would be to get a dedicated channel for the mic with the preamp and compressor built in, but my budget was a lot tighter when starting out.

    I now have the old FAT-1 compressor hooked up to the Korg Triton so I can compress it when using it for drums, and I recently got a TLA 5021 to give bus compression (though mostly it's acting as a balancing converter and to fine-tune the levels just before hitting the master recorder)

    That's what I'm doing, anyway.

    As for the power situation, you will almost certainly end up chaining multiple power strips. Pretty much everyone does this and since it's usually lots of very small devices it's not normally a problem. You might want to get one of those plug-in power monitors and see how much the actual load is. IIRC my measured current draw, with about 16 devices - including three tape recorders and the PC I was using for the mellotron samples - was under 2 amps - the strips will be rated for up to 13.

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    I think it's much harder to get a recording to sound 'finished' without a 2-channel buss compressor. I generally do not use compression on anything but vocals and mixdown ... but I also do not use any 'mastering' -- that is, the final mix is the master, so I need it to sound ready to go.

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