What is Audio Compression for Beginners?

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If you’re planning to set up a home studio, I bet an audio compressor is on your must-have items list. So, what is audio compression. 

What is audio compression? Well, audio compression is a process used to reduce the dynamic range of audio signals. Normally, sounds with low volume will be lost in the background noise or overpowered by louder sounds, but that is not an issue with audio compression. This article will explain what exactly it does and how to use a compressor.

What is Audio Compression Exactly?

First and foremost, the audio compression is an alteration of the dynamic range of the audio. It can be in any form, but the most common type is called Loudness Gates. This process works by lowering down the volume of louder noises while raising up quieter ones. However, this is a very basic understanding of what it can do.

When you use this process, you can control all the characteristics of a sound with your compressor. You can change the attack time to give a specific punch to your sound, set the threshold where it will start doing its job and even set up the release time for it to stop working on that particular signal.

A dramatic example of audio compression used in everyday situations is on the radio. Every radio station has its own style, so they use this process to conform all their songs to that particular style or genre.

How to Use an Audio Compressor – Compressor Explanation

How to Use an Audio Compressor

If you aren’t familiar with an audio compressor, read this guide on how to use an audio compressor. 

The audio compressor is a very important tool in your arsenal of studio equipment. This can be used to bring out the best in your recordings. If you don’t know how to use it correctly, then you can ruin a session. So it’s best to learn all about this device before using it for the first time.

The Parameters of an Audio Compressor 

Compressors also vary on different inputs and outputs, or gains, and knobs which are used to adjust these parameters. This can be quite confusing if you’re not used to having volume controls on many devices, but you don’t have to worry. It’s really not that complicated. 

Each setting in the compressor is like a knob or lever. There are preset gain settings, and these are useful if you don’t know much about audio compression. For example, you can use an EQ before the compressor, and then set some specific values at different points during your mix. 

Here are some common compressor parameters:

Attack Time

This tells the compressor when to attack incoming signals. A longer time will allow signals to enter the compressor more smoothly, but it also means that it might not react quickly enough to sudden spikes in volume. A shorter time will allow you to achieve more dynamic changes in your sound, but it won’t react as well against large spikes in volume.

Release Time

This tells the compressor when to end its process on a signal. A longer release time will allow more of the dynamics from your signal to come through, and it will give you more of a natural sound. A shorter release time will reduce the dynamics in your sound, and it will make it seem like all the sounds are at the same volume (this is useful for compressed instruments such as drums).


The threshold is the point at which a signal triggers compression. If a signal falls below this point, the compressor won’t do anything to it. If a signal goes above this point, the compressor will activate. The threshold is set in decibels, so you must know how much each decibel level can alter the volume of your signal.


The ratio tells you how much compression will occur on your signal. A higher ratio will result in a louder, more “compressed” signal. A lower ratio will reduce the volume of your signal.

Dynamics Processor

This is a very special type of audio compression, where you can control and process the dynamics of the signal. This is most commonly used in converting the audio file to a very small mp3 format. Normally, while using regular compression, the higher the ratio, the higher the quality of your sound will be. So a 1:1 ratio will always give you professional sound quality.


The knee here means the point when the compressor begins to work on the audio. This is usually set up in the middle, and it can be used as a kind of threshold. There are 2 types of knee: soft-knee and hard-knee.


This type of knee is just like a regular knee, but it is softer. It normally has a shorter attack time than hard-knee compressors. The gain reduction is also lower than hard-knee compressors’ one and compressed louder sounds are boosted more. 


This compressor will use its heavy compression for the highest gain reduction. It will always be at full output and it produces a very raw sound. Hard-knee compressors are good for adding punch or some high volumes that are not needed. If you want to compress and clean up your sounds, then this is the right tool for you.

Output Gain

The gain reduction of a compressor’s output will determine how much of the sound you can actually hear. This is also known as the compression ratio. Different compressors will have different ratios, but they all have the same behavior under the Knee type. When you reduce the gain, some frequencies will be attenuated more than others. This will also change different knobs on a compressor to produce different effects.

See more:

Common Compression Mistakes

Compression can be a tricky thing to master, which is why most people make mistakes with it. The most common compression mistakes are:

  • Not shortening your attack time enough—this will make the compression sound clunky and unnatural. This can also get rid of some important parts of your signal.
  • Weakening your signal too much—if you compress too much, you won’t be able to hear any details or important parts of your sound.
  • Assume all compressors are the same. The truth is that each compressor has different parameters, so it’s important to know the specifics of what you’re working with.
  • Only applying compression and limiter on a song if it needs it—many songs will still be fine without any effects at all. If your song is good as it is, then you don’t need any additional compression or limiting for your track.

Final Words

Compression can be a very useful tool. It can make your mixes sound better, and you also have to know what settings to use and how to use them. This often leads to a natural sound, which is the best possible outcome. Learning more about compression will help you produce better recordings and allow you to work more efficiently.


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