Two Stage Compression

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Jeremy Garber
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Post by Jeremy Garber » Mon Oct 22, 2007 9:25 pm

I've messed with parallel compression a little bit with drums for a nice result. I can imagine what adding a compressor to the summed mix of parallel compression would be. It works in my head.

It was a nice article, though I think it was way too long and obviously confused a lot of people on what is a fairly simple concept. In fact, I think it could have been explained more clearly with a signal chain flow chart and two to three paragraph description as a side-bar.

Regardless, I got the idea and will try it soon.

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Code: Select all

               -> dry signal ->
sound source {                  } summed mix -> compressor -> main -> :)
               -> compressor ->

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Post by trodden » Tue Oct 23, 2007 10:32 am

MoreSpaceEcho wrote:no, no tony...parallel compression is now considered 'hack'.

according to the author....
well shoot fire, i need to be doing more parallel compression then!

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Post by Skipwave » Tue Oct 23, 2007 11:48 am

I see this as combining parallel compression and two-stage compression as described by Harvey Gerst, who talked of using two compressors on a mix, splitting the duties between them (slow/fast, attack/decay, etc.).

This worked great on some mixes I was working on when I read the article. Perfect timing. The band has some unruly loud/soft dynamics. The Caffrey-comp-chain method really does help with that.

I knew I could count on this forum to have a good discussion about the article, with a few offhanded dismissals. It's something that's useful sometimes..... and that's quite a thing.
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Post by phantom power » Wed Oct 24, 2007 2:28 pm

I checked out the video posted here:

http://monsterislandtv.com/

and while it I found it interesting, I do think that Tad Donley is a much better host. Maybe he could give a step by step on 2 stage compression.

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Post by RefD » Wed Oct 24, 2007 9:10 pm

phantom power wrote:I checked out the video posted here:

http://monsterislandtv.com/

and while it I found it interesting, I do think that Tad Donley is a much better host. Maybe he could give a step by step on 2 stage compression.
dood, Tad Donley uses 12 step compression.
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Post by squizo » Wed Oct 31, 2007 1:09 pm

just give away all the secrets why dontcha!

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Post by jjblair » Fri Nov 02, 2007 9:13 am

Wow, I'm glad to know that I'm a hack for using parallel compression! Way to make generalizations, Mike. You must hang out with some really bad engineers, if you are hearing what you describe.

BTW isn't aping Michael Brauer's techniques (which I believe you learned FROM Michael), and writing a very didactic article about it, the very definition of being a hack?

Not to mention, I have a hard time being lectured about compression from somebody who doesn't own any 1176s. (And no ... Distressors are not the same thing.)
Last edited by jjblair on Wed Nov 07, 2007 12:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by msmith » Fri Nov 02, 2007 9:33 am

Hey...I think this is a great technique, and its important to realize that everyone works differently and (even more importantly)differently on different material. There is no magic bullet for a great sound, but rather a bunch of small details that add up to a bigger picture. Its a little hard to explain in print, especially Im sure for those who arent using a console setup. I think its great to have coverage of neat techniques like these...Kudos...

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Post by jjblair » Fri Nov 02, 2007 12:55 pm

My objection to the article is two fold: One is the condescension of other techniques. It's total strawman tactics, too - Pick the worst example of the method, and then ascribe anybody who uses the method as a hack.

The other thing that annoys me is that he is essentially writing an article about Michael Brauer's "multi bus compression" technique, without giving Michael the credit for this. In fact, I understand that he advertises himself as an "expert at multi bus compression."

This is akin to me writing an article about the isoceles triangle technique I use on drums, and not giving Glynn Johns credit for popularizing it. Not to mention saying that other OH miking techniques are hacks. By the way, you should hire me because I'm an expert at iso. triangle miking!

It's the height of pomposity, not to mention disingenuous.

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Post by fossiltooth » Fri Nov 02, 2007 10:17 pm

jjblair wrote:Wow, I'm glad to know that I'm a hack for using parallel compression! Way to make generalizations, Mike. You must hang out with some really bad engineers, if you are hearing what you describe.

BTW isn't plagiarizing Michael Brauer's techniques (which I believe you learned FROM Michael), and writing a very didactic article about it, the very definition of being a hack?

Not to mention, I have a hard time being lectured about compression from somebody who doesn't own any 1176s. (And no ... Distressors are not the same thing.)
Oh, snap.
jjblair wrote:My objection to the article is two fold: One is the condescension of other techniques. It's total strawman tactics, too - Pick the worst example of the method, and then ascribe anybody who uses the method as a hack.

The other thing that annoys me is that he is essentially writing an article about Michael Brauer's "multi bus compression" technique, without giving Michael the credit for this. In fact, I understand that he advertises himself as an "expert at multi bus compression."

This is akin to me writing an article about the isoceles triangle technique I use on drums, and not giving Glynn Johns credit for popularizing it. Not to mention saying that other OH miking techniques are hacks. By the way, you should hire me because I'm an expert at iso. triangle miking!

It's the height of pomposity, not to mention disingenuous.
Well, I'm glad to see I wasn't the only one who was a little annoyed by the tone of this article.

I hope I'm in good company ...you better not be a schmuck! It's hard to tell when someone appears to be riled.
Last edited by fossiltooth on Sat Nov 03, 2007 9:12 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Post by jjblair » Fri Nov 02, 2007 11:03 pm

Well, a couple people think so, but most people seem to like me. But if you are going to have an opinion and make it known, as I do, you are bound to piss somebody off every now and then.

Larry and Hillary will vouch for me, though!

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Post by mcaff » Sat Nov 03, 2007 8:50 am

JJ, I love the idea that a measure of credibility is the gear one owns. Does that mean a gut who works exclusively ITB can never have a valid opinion on compression or do plugins count - I have 1176 as plugins. If this is not a joke and it's really important to you, I can tell you that I did have a pair of the 1176 reissues for quite a while. I loved the way the compressed, but I never really liked the tone of that particular pair, so I sold them and replaced them with a second pair of Distressors - which I agree, are not 1176s and that's why I have them instead of the 1176s. At some point, I expect I'll end up with a pair of the blue stripe 1176s, which while I've never used, sound like they're more what I'd hope to get from an 1176.


As far ash your other comments, you're way, way off the mark. But if you've got your mind made up and this is some kind of personal thing, which it sounds to me like it is, don't bother reading the rest of this post because it's just going to piss you off more.


You are not the first person to miss-read the sentence that used the term hack and in an industry that is essentially based around computers, it never occurred to me that engineers would ascribe the wrong meaning to the word - there are several, the meaning your ascribing to it, "a cab driver", and it is commonly used by computer programmers to describe temporary fixes and jury rigged workarounds when fixing software problems and that's the way it's used in the article because it' is a far more accurate and effective term than "band aid" or "short cut".

From Urban Dictionary.com:

3. To jury-rig or improvise something inelegant but effective, usually as a temporary solution to a problem

2. A temporary, jury-rigged solution, especially in the fields of computer programming and engineering: the technical equivalent of chewing gum and duct tape. Compare to kludge.

n2. This subroutine is just a hack; I'm going to go back and put some real code in later.


The sentence in the article read "I usually consider parallel compression a "hack".

That does not mean that I consider the people to use it to be "hacks" and that it's nothing more than my opinion as well as the fact that it clearly goes on to explain the specifics that that opinion is in response to. As far as the skills of the engineers that I hang out with, I don't hang out with many, and they have a wide range of skills, many are just as you describe them.

The issue I have with parallel compression, is that it allows these particular individuals to be dishonest with themselves because they mask their bad compression with the dry signal. They get all the subliminal aspects of bad compression - the agitation from the intensity of every little sound being brought up in volume, but they don't hear the transients being removed. Another way to look at it is that they're able to use peak limiting when compression would be more appropriate and the most obvious cue that the peak limiting is not providing what they want is the squashed transients. I've got a perfect example, but it's not a story to post publicly.

What I can't believe no one has pointed out yet is the hypocrisy of the comment. I thought people would find that genuinely funny to go from saying that parallel compression is *a* hack, to basing an entire technique around it. Do you see the irony?

As far as your concerns about multi-buss compression, the idea in this article has precisely zero to do with multi buss compression. The fact that you think that, indicates that you don't understand one or both of the techniques. Using two pairs of busses to mult a signal is not Brauer's multi-buss technique, so I've been racking my brain trying to figure out why you might think that and the only thing that I can come up with is the use of letters to reference stereo buss pairs. Brauer uses letters because those are the names of the busses he uses on the SSL 9k. I use letter because most consoles don't have both tracking and specialized mix busses, they just have the tracing busses that can be used during mixing. Those are usually labeled as 1/2 and 3/4 and we're I to refer to "buss 1" when discussing a stereo pair, that could be misinterpreted as the mono buss of buss 1/2. If I referred to "stereo buss 1" that might seem to imply that the console had more than one master stereo buss, so letters are the best choice and the use of letters as a generic variable does not make it plagiarizing.


I don't think I've ever used the word "expert" to describe my knowledge of Brauer's technique. I have had the unique opportunity to spend many, many hours talking to him about it and sorting through a 50,000 word transcription of a 10 hour conversation. That certainly gives me a bit of familiarity. Brauer must think so because he asked me to help him with his last Tape Op demo because I've spent more time playing with the idea on a non-SSL console than he has. Based on his comments after that demo, I'd say that I can adequately give you a general overview of the technique and explain the problem that it solves.

The concept with "Multi Buss Compression" in the definition of Brauer's mixing technique is to create multiple compression subgroups and compress within the subgroups so that the different parts of the mix don't create ducking effects when they pass through a stereo compressor on the stereo mix. An example of the problem this solves is that it's not uncommon to be nearly complete with a mix and the decide that you need to turn the bass up. Now, that level change causes the vocals to be ducked in some spots where it shouldn't be. There is more than one way to solve the problem, and multi-buss is one of them. When you group bass and drums separate, from guitars, separate from vocals and the compress them all separately, if you push the bass up, it's not going to to hit the compressor that the vocals are going through and it won't be able to duck them. That's a simplified overview of the technique. He has many creative techniques that he does within the groups, and, also uses group assignment as part of the mix esthetics.


The idea that I tried to communicate (and judging by the number of emails I've received thanking me for the article, I'd say it was more successful than not) was a method of narrowing dynamic range without hearing compression artifacts. I described it in two parts, because while it's the exact same thing being done, I still see it working in two separate ways. I'm not sure if you saw the video which used multiple busses for the routing, but that's a great example of how this is not multi-buss compression in Brauer's sense. There were multiple busses used, but they were to create a single subgroup. The alternative would be to use a mult and potentially have loading issues depending on the gear and how you do it.

The premise is that "the hack" really only has the effect of raising the low volume signals because the dry signal is unrestrained by gain reduction - this is why parallel compression is sometimes referred to as "upward compression". So if you have parallel compression in front or regular compression, you'll only hear the parallel compression alone when the dynamics are so low that the uncompressed signal is masked by the compressed signal. Assuming that you don't have you second compressor in the routing set with a threshold that it's kicking in at this point two, the parallel compressor is now taking care of the compression during the low dynamics. When the dynamic changed, it's masked and "useless" but the the sum of the compressed and uncompressed signal, which is really basically the uncompressed signal, hit the second compressor and that can be set that it's only affecting the loud sections of the song. So it's like having one compressor for the quiet sections and one for the loud sections. This is totally uninteresting unless you've had the experience of setting a compressor for a quiet verse and that perfect setting trashes the chorus - the perfect setting becomes "bad compression". If you don't hear "bad compression" or consider big verses and small choruses to be a problem, than this technique is a waste.

People have a hard time learning to hear compression. There are a few people who've said that the sidebar on "bad compression" alone made the piece valuable to them. As msmith said, everyone is works different and it's possible that all this is basic stuff to you and that relative to your skill level, this is a beginner's article.

The other concept, is to use "the hack" to bring up the low level signals so that you're sending a much narrower dynamic range to your "main" compressor. Where are all the comments in response to the idea that a compressor is best off seeing a dynamic range of 3db or smaller at it's input? What kind of asshole writes something that absurd? 6db is pushing it and beyond 10db of dynamic range going to an compressor input sounds bad? He's nuts, compressors are meant to narrow dynamic range not have it narrowed for them! What's he using, a diva compressor that has to have it's work done for him? Why doesn't he use some real compressors like an 1176....? (oh wait, we did get that comment).

I tried to get opinions from a few designers to include in the article. One understood the question but said he had no idea. Dave Derr pointed out that you can get a great sound out of a Distressor with 30db of gain reduction happening. But, you can get 30db of gain reduction on a signal that has a far narrower dynamic range than 30db. So that's not the same point. I didn't reach Greg Gualtieri until after the deadline for the article. He agreed with the numbers. He also explained that classical engineers used to use nearly this exact same technique 40-50 years ago.

So, a vocal is a great example. If you set the compressor for the verse, the chorus is going to get squashed. One option, is to have a fader infront of the compressor and ride it into the compressor - push it up of the quiet sections so that every part of the performance is hitting the compressor at as close to the same level as possible. One could argue that this is a better technique, but these days, not everyone has a fader available. So parallel compression in front of the compressor can be used if you don't have the option of a fader, and now the "hack" is being used for what it actually does - bringing up the quiet sections without affecting the loud ones.

All that's left ot explain is how to make parallel compression - as someone did very well a few posts back. You use console busses, mults and a summing box, or as another person mentioned "why not use a compressor with a mix knob?" - the answer being that there aren't many that have one. I don't know of any specific plugins that do, but I've heard there is one. I know the Chandler Germanium and the Tonelux compressors have one, but I'm not clear if the Tonelux compressor is available. I've heard there's one other hardware one, maybe a Cranesong (?) that that has a mix knob built in. The article did cover that at the end, but most time was spent explaining techniques that could be used by more people than the few who have that specific gear. I also covered how to do this with plugins for people who are exclusively ITB. I've since decided that the explanation provided earlier in this thread about assigning a group to one buss pair and creating to separate auxes fed by that same buss pair is an easier method than sending to two separate busses. That's kind of redundant unless you want certain routing options, like to have tracks feed the compression, but not feed the dry path.


I hope that this clarifies that hack was being used as a noun and not an adjective to describe the people who use parallel compression (I hope that people can see the ironic humor too). This should also make it clear that using multiple busses to send to compressors does not make something the same thing as Michael Brauer's Multi-Buss Compression - check out the Tape Op interview with him again for some real detail. I hope it's also now clear that "two stage compression" - daisy chaining a compressor with a mix knob or using busses as mults to achieve the same thing has absolutely nothing to do with Multi-Buss Compression (unless for instance you use the daisy chain set up within Brauer's Multi-Busss routing, which works phenomenally well).

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Post by mcaff » Sat Nov 03, 2007 8:52 am

The last thing to address is the idea of the fast attack/slow attack compression referred to twice in this thread, both one page back and more recently a few posts up. I'm not familiar with Harvey Gerst's example as referred to here, but I'm going to guess it's the technique of using one compressor for peak limiting and one for a more average program compression. I've had success with that, and in some cases do that within this technique I'm talking about. However, for me, whatever the attack of the first compressor, having a parallel stage infront of a regular stage makes a significant difference and is one of the fundamental aspects of the idea I'm trying to convey.

As far as attack an release times, I haven't tried this, but, I think you could very effectively implement "Two Stage Compression" as outlined in this Tape Op article using the exact same compressors set the exact same way in both stages. Drums for instance - set two pairs of Distressors the exact same way - let's say 4:1 ratio then 4.5, 10, 2, 5.5. You might have to vary the input setting to achieve proper gain staging, but once that's set right, you've got punchy quiet drums and then the same envelope when they get loud and are only affected by the second pair of Distressors.

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Post by jjblair » Sat Nov 03, 2007 10:47 am

Mike, sorry if I came off like I had a craw in my ass, because honestly, the article gave me a craw in my ass! Maybe I did take it a little too personally. BTW, I thought the point about the irony was already made, no? But main objections still stand: I found the tone of the article to be condescending; either my reading skills suck, or there was so much convolution that it reads like you are demonstrating Brauer's techniques; and the strawman argument, using the worst possible examples of the parallel compression to denigrate it.

First, you advertising yourself as "an expert on multi-bus compression" was hearsay. If I'm wrong about that, I'm sorry. It may have influenced my reading of the article as regurgitating Brauer, as well as the fact that you quote him in the first paragraph. Yes, you don't specifically go into multi-bus, in terms of compressing sub groups as opposed to the master bus, by I felt the way you were describing compressing the drum bus was maybe too similar to some of his concepts that he has tried to teach. It was just the feeling I was getting reading it, which as I said, may have been influenced.

BTW, you say that "two stage compression can prevent all these types of bad compression." Well, so can using a single compressor properly! Two stage compression with bad compressor settings will still give you "bad compression" as you call it.

And, I don't think there's such a thing as "bad compression." It's either musical, and works with the track, or it doesn't. As I read your definition, the drum compression on the Flaming Lips "The W.A.N.D." is "bad compression," even though it works great for the song.

So maybe if the article didn't read as "This stuff is 'bad.' You shouldn't do it. Do this instead," and instead said, "If you are experiencing these artifacts when compressing and don't like it, try this instead," I would have been put off less. It's casuistic. (I just learned that word. It's a good one.)

Hell, it's music. The techs at Abbey Road got pissed at the Beatles for going direct with the guitars and mismatching the impedances. That was "bad," too! Maybe I WANT to kill the transients in my drums! All I know is that when I mult my kick or snare out and kill it with my G.E. 6386 type limiter, and then bring it back in in parallel with the original, it makes it more musical on some material.

Just because I don't like the sound of the compressed signal on its own as much as I like blending it with the original doesn't mean it's a bad thing. I'm after the sum. In fact, I like the sound of the sum of those parts more than anything you would consider "good compression." It doesn't matter how I get there. I'm there. I like the sound, the band is happy with it, the kick and snare stick out of the mix better than they did before, and the music moves me more now, because I can feel that back beat. The skill is in knowing when the blend works, and knowing when to or when not to turn the knobs. Just because a monkey can do it doesn't mean that he's going to get it to sound musical.

You used the word "hack" twice, and with the overall tone of the article, my reading of it had nothing to do with cab drivers or computer geeks.

And no, I'm not judging you by the gear you own. However, I consider the 1176 to be a desert island compressor. If I had to own just one do-everything well comp, that's it. It's just my POV that I have a hard time being lectured (and yes, it felt like I was being lectured) about compression by somebody who doesn't find that box valuable enough to own one. So I guess you could say I'm judging you by the gear you USE. If you say you use the UAD version, then fair enough, except it doesn't do the distortion thing, which is God's gift to room mics.

(And as far as reissues go, get yourself a Purple MC77 and re-assess the situation. I'll give you Bones Howe's vocal settings, and you'll never use another compressor on vox in the mix.)

As far as getting opinions, it's good get opinions from the people who design the compressors, but what about the good engineers that use them? Greg and Dave are outstanding designers and extremely nice gentlemen. But I don't recall hearing a record they mixed, and feeling the need to call them up to ask how they got those awesome sounds. Those are the opinions I'm interested in!

BTW, everybody DOES have a fader available these days ... in their DAW. Matter of fact, everybody has automation now, which many didn't before. I had to drop $35k for my Uptown telve years ago. Now we all get it included in our DAWs that are a fraction of what just the faders used to cost! (And that was the cheapest of the moving faders, too.) And if you are using a compressor built into your DAW, would not the best solution to the situation you described be to automate the input gain on the compressor?

So, by you defining what you meant by "hack," isn't "two stage compression" just a "hack" for not setting your compressor right in the first place? Maybe we should just learn how to set our compressors right to start off with? Or maybe it's something as basic as somebody choosing the wrong microphone. So, you really want your OHs compressed that hard? Maybe use a darker mic, like a ribbon, that won't start pumping as the high end of the cymbals starts to swim. Maybe use a more transparent compressor when tracking the vocals, so you don't have to worry about the difference in levels between verses and choruses when you apply that "flavor" compressor when mixing. Oh wait, I forgot, nobody likes to process to tape/disk anymore. That might limit their options later when they fuck up their mix!

Cheers.

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Post by TapeOpLarry » Sun Nov 04, 2007 8:01 am

Hey guys! As you are both friends of mine (JJ and Mike) and we've talked about this off the board, I want to say this. First, thanks for calming down a little bit here. JJ, I can understand the bristling at the word "hack", and I wish Mike had made it's use clearer in the article. I use "cheap fix" parallel compression all the time, when it works for me. Just like every other little trick I use or don't use. I was happy to run Mike's article because it showed us a trick that is slightly different than that - the same reason I ran Mike's interview with Michael Brauer in the first place.

"Bad" compression is subjective as hell. This whole article is based around the situation where you don't want to hear compression but want to keep elements in the mix. In my experience sometimes this is true and other times not. I don't have a SpectraSonics 610 in my rack for clean compression!

We don't run "Mix it Like a Pro" or "Master at Home in 30 Minutes" articles like some mags. We rarely run anything besides interviews, letters and reviews. When I do deem something worth running it is because it's an interesting tip that might help some people out or explain a concept that is new to them. It's never under the assumption that this is THE ONLY WAY TO RECORD. In fact, given everthing that's been in Tape Op for 11 years I'm offended that anyone would think I'd promote something as such!

Thanks for the lively discussion everyone. Just keep in mind that all this stems from just trying to help people explore ways of recording, and never telling them there is only one way to record.
Larry Crane, Editor/Founder Tape Op Magazine
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