Compression Study #1 – Intro/LCM Project

For my third year project at London College of Music I will be undertaking a project with Blues/Rock ’n’ Roll band, Stellify. We will be recording an EP together, but avoiding the studio environment whilst doing so. The EP will consist of four tracks recorded in four different locations, to take advantage of interesting room acoustics and give each track a very different ambient feel. The venues may change during the project, but as it stands we have planned to record in a large wooden hall, an old school gym, a brewery and a large church. Each of these will give dramatically different acoustic properties and give us an EP with a lot of variation and sonic interest.
Here is Stellify’s most recent track, Sin City, recorded with Dave Pemberton.

To accompany this project I will be carrying out a series of tests on classic styles of compression. This will include compressors such as the LA-2A, 1176 and DBX160. I will be carrying out tests on original hardware, hardware emulations and software emulations in order to thoroughly analyse what was intended as the sound and characteristic of each compressor.

I will be assessing each compressor over a series of tests. The first of which being a method of visually presenting gain reduction envelops, by inputting sine bursts into the compressor. The sine bursts are at four different frequencies (20Hz, 100Hz, 1kHz, 5kHz) to test how the compression envelope changes depending on frequency.They are designed to trigger exactly on the second so the resulting compressed burst will align with a time scale, making it easier to judge the envelope. The burst first fires a transient spike, followed by a longer burst. This tests input dependent release times, that some compressors use.

The resulting compressed file will look like this:

LA-2A Silver 5kHz

The second test will use the long sustained burst, to analyse the extra harmonics created during gain reduction. By using a sine wave, the extra harmonics are easily visible on a spectrum analyser. The results will look like this:

After identifying the technical characteristics of each compressor, I will conduct more practical tests by simply using them on different instruments. I will be able to compare how each compressor reacts to certain types of audio, and conclude which work best for certain applications. I will also be able to compare how close software emulations have come to the real hardware units.

Finally, after the technical and practical tests have been completed, I will attempt to emulate certain styles of compression with plugins capable of different styles of gain reduction (Opto/FET). To add colour, as good emulations and hardware units do, I will experiment with distortion plugins, such as FabFIlter Saturn, to transient dependent distortion to the audio.

All these tests are aimed to better my understanding of compression as a creative tool to be used while mixing. This increased knowledge and practice using and analysing compression should benefit my final mixes for Stellify.

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