why compress before it hits tape/converter?

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oceanblood
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why compress before it hits tape/converter?

Post by oceanblood » Thu Jan 21, 2016 7:06 pm

Pretty basic question here, but I'd like to understand this as much as possible...
It seems to be somewhat standard to run a signal chain through a compressor before it hits tape (or a/d converter) and I'm curious why this is better than compressing after recording? (assuming it is)
Every time i've recorded in a studio, the engineer almost always runs through outboard gear before the signal hits protools, but when I record at home, I don't have fancy outboard compressors. I DO, however, have some rather nice plugins that emulate analog compressors that would otherwise cost thousands. How much of a difference is it to use these plugins AFTER the sound is tracked, rather than running an outboard compressor before the sound is tracked??
What is the benefit of compressing before the signal is recorded? Why is this the standard way of doing things? Does it have to do with the noise floor?
Forgive me if this is a silly question :oops:

Thanks for any and all insight !!!
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Drone
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Post by Drone » Thu Jan 21, 2016 7:23 pm

To limit the signal and prevent clipping?
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Post by joninc » Thu Jan 21, 2016 7:54 pm

Tone!! Lots of nice compressors are as much for the way they affect the tone of the source you are recording as it is about "gain reduction".

People compress to tape or digital for lots of reasons but I do it mainly because I want to hear the sounds as close to how I imagine them as possible. If I know I am going to compress later, I want to hear it right away.

Also I mix more and more itb so I want to hit all the outboard on the way in since only my mixbuss will go through analog outboard gear at the mix phase.

Another common reason is that people might only own 1 nice piece and want to get the most out of it. So Maybe you track kick through your distressor and then want to use it on snare at the mix. Trying to maximize its use.
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oceanblood
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Post by oceanblood » Thu Jan 21, 2016 7:59 pm

Drone,

Of course, I can prevent clipping by monitoring my gain stages. What I want to know is if there is a musical and/or technical reason to squash my signal before its tracked. In any given home studio you'll have an audio interface, with pre's, and you can get the job done without clipping even if you don't have your signal going through a compressor first. I don't think engineers go out of their way to use specific compressors for specific tasks simply to prevent clipping. I want to know why it's thought to be better to compress, or do anything at all really, to the sound BEFORE it hits tape/converters (where you cannot undo your processing) Why not record the full dynamic range straight off the microphone and compress after?
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Post by oceanblood » Thu Jan 21, 2016 8:05 pm

I suppose the crux of what I'm asking is why do anything at all to the signal BEFORE it is tracked (where you can't undo the changes) Why not compress/distress etc... after? Especially considering many of us don't have nice external compressors, but have good plugins...
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Post by kslight » Thu Jan 21, 2016 8:31 pm

In an analog world if you were to apply compression before tape you can better put the signal above noise floor (hotter level to tape) as well as any gain you apply AFTER tape will bring up noise. On one track this may not seem significant but cumulatively it adds up. Also many studios have a finite number of outboard gears so it's a way to manage your resource so that say your 'A' compressor will be available for something else on mix down should you need to level that vocal further (if your board has no automation).

The main reasons to do so when recording digitally have already been covered. I like to commit to sounds early and move on, if I have access to decent EQs and compressors I will probably track with them because I can't take them home. I have a pretty good idea what I want to hear when tracking so there is no advantage to me to leave the decisions for later if I don't have to.

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Post by joninc » Thu Jan 21, 2016 8:40 pm

The more you do recording, the more you know what you are going for and therefore you make decisions earlier and commit to sounds as you go.
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Post by Drone » Fri Jan 22, 2016 6:38 am

oceanblood wrote:I suppose the crux of what I'm asking is why do anything at all to the signal BEFORE it is tracked (where you can't undo the changes) Why not compress/distress etc... after? Especially considering many of us don't have nice external compressors, but have good plugins...
To sum up what the others are saying.

No, there is nothing happening compressing before you record, that can't be done after you record. It's just personal workflow taste.
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Post by floid » Fri Jan 22, 2016 7:32 am

Playing bass into a comp can definitely affect the performance. I like to use the metering on a 163x as a way to find notes I need to play with better dynamics.
Singing into a chain that includes basic compression and eq you know you'll be doing, can call attention to sibilance etc that can be addressed at the mic.
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Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Fri Jan 22, 2016 8:10 am

Drone wrote:
oceanblood wrote:I suppose the crux of what I'm asking is why do anything at all to the signal BEFORE it is tracked (where you can't undo the changes) Why not compress/distress etc... after? Especially considering many of us don't have nice external compressors, but have good plugins...
To sum up what the others are saying.

No, there is nothing happening compressing before you record, that can't be done after you record. It's just personal workflow taste.
Yes - but to sum up the other side -except
- if you're working on tape (where you get a better handle on signal to noise by compressing on the way in)
- have one specific compressor that you want to use on multiple sources at mix time (meaning the best options are to compress one of those sources on the way in and the other at mix time)
- are tracking at a studio with better outboard then you'll have where-ever you mix
- are sending the record out to be mixed by someone else. In that case your best chance of having the mixes turn out sounding the way you'd like is to commit to sounds in the tracking stage.

Above and beyond all of that I compress before tape/computer because I know the sound I'm looking for and I want to commit to those sounds instead of postponing those decisions. I'd like the record to sound like a record when I push up the faders. It makes it easier for singers or anybody else overdubbing to be working with tracks that sound like the record. It also makes it way easier to tailor the sounds of each overdub to the rest of the tracks if the raw tracks are in the ballpark of where they'll be for the final mix. A good analogy would be to think of a guitar player doing an overdub. You could just have them plug right into a DI and tell them you'll take care of everything else by reamping and adding effects during the mix but you'll get a much better performance if they dialed in their amp, pedals, and picked the right guitar for the song.

Even in the tracking stage I'm thinking about the final mix and how all the pieces will fit together. Once you've got the confidence to commit it becomes much easier and the end result is usually better.

That said, it's all down to personal taste and workflow. If applying that stuff in the mix works better for you there's nothing wrong with that.

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Post by Recycled_Brains » Fri Jan 22, 2016 2:14 pm

I usually do a bit of compressing on bass and vocals on the way in. Usually 2 reasons for that... 1. It helps the performance. Vocals and bass seem to always be the most "wild" in their dynamics, so I find a few db of relatively subtle compression helps the player/singer hear things a little better while performing. 2. I always compress vocals and bass the most during mix, so I like to get it at least part way there right off the bat.

Lately though, I've been tapping kick and snare just a tiny bit because I'm usually recording drums with API pres and [for fuck's sake] even padded with the gain low, it's really hard to keep those sources from clipping the converters and PT.... so it's sorta necessary.

Side note... WHY CAN'T API PUT OUTPUT ATTENUATORS ON THEIR PREAMPS!? :roll:
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Post by vvv » Fri Jan 22, 2016 3:59 pm

All good stuff above.

And as Recycled_Brains said, you can better monitor.

Last week I was playing an amp'd electric guitar in the "Control" room.

at the same time the bassist was laying his track. While I would have recorded with a compressor anyway (a Jazz into The Brick into a dbx160XT was the chain), it certainly helped both of us to hear him play over the loud guitar amp, and us to lock a little better when the bass track was leveled.
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Post by Drone » Fri Jan 22, 2016 5:11 pm

A.David.MacKinnon wrote:
Yes - but to sum up the other side -except
- if you're working on tape (where you get a better handle on signal to noise by compressing on the way in)
- have one specific compressor that you want to use on multiple sources at mix time (meaning the best options are to compress one of those sources on the way in and the other at mix time)
He does actually mention he as no outboard gear, just nice plugins. :mrgreen:
The previous statement is from a guy who records his own, and other projects for fun. No money is made.

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Post by drumsound » Fri Jan 22, 2016 5:43 pm

Like many have said, I'm trying to get the sound NOW. That said, I don't just patch a compressor on everything, just things that I WANT or NEED compression. Bass and vocals always seems like a must. BD and SD, I've done both ways. I recently went back to compressing on record, and life's been good. I'm also not afraid to EQ a track if I feel the need.

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Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Fri Jan 22, 2016 7:07 pm

Drone wrote:
A.David.MacKinnon wrote:
Yes - but to sum up the other side -except
- if you're working on tape (where you get a better handle on signal to noise by compressing on the way in)
- have one specific compressor that you want to use on multiple sources at mix time (meaning the best options are to compress one of those sources on the way in and the other at mix time)
He does actually mention he as no outboard gear, just nice plugins. :mrgreen:
Totally understood and understandable. Just explaining why some (myself included) would choose to compress on the way in but what-ever works with what-ever you work with is usually the best approach.

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