Sunday, February 26, 2012

HOW TO USE THE LIMITER (free Vst Plugins included)

Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about Limiters!
Limiters are basically compressors set with a high ratio (often infinite) and a hard knee, and their aim is to create a volume threshold that cannot be exceeded. Usually this function is needed in the Mastering phase, and it allows you to maximize the impact of your mix and to control the headroom of the sound, reducing the peaks in volume and bringing up the quieter parts (headroom is the dynamic range of a sound before it reaches the distortion level).
Another important use of Limiters comes in the Mixing phase: often you will need to limit certain tracks with a high dynamic range (such as snare drum, guitars, bass, and sometimes vocals), in order to make sure that, although the sound may already be compressed, there will be no chance that any peak will cross the chosen threshold. Each instrument must seat on its place, in order to avoid bad surprises in the Mastering phase! The use of Limiters in the mixing phase is not to maximize the sound or squeeze it, as it may happen in the mastering phase, but just to set the ceiling for the single signals, so don't be aggressive with limiters when mixing: the aim is just to mantain the maximum headroom possible!

During the the Mastering phase, looking at the spectrum of your wave (using Meters, if needed) you will probably notice that there are some high volume peaks (around the 0db area), and others which are a little too low, and you cannot just turn up the volume, since the higher peaks will exceed 0db and distort.
So what we need is to reduce those peaks, thus giving us the opportunity to raise the global volume of the song without surpassing the distortion threshold.

There is a limiter in almost every DAW, but Here is a selection of the best free ones, and among those our suggestion goes to the Yohn W1, a clone of the famous Waves L1 Limiter.

Let's take a look to the basic controls featured on this kind of effect:

- Threshold: controls where the limiter will start to kick in (just like a regular Compressor), eliminating everything above the threshold (in this, limiters are different from compressors, since with comp you can control the amount of the reduction via the Ratio Control). The headroom created by removing those peaks is automatically compensated by raising the quieter sounds. Usually a threshold that goes from -2db to -4db is enough to make the sound punchier, preserving the headroom and without compromising the dynamics, but the most important thing is to always check the meters for clipping and distortions, and whenever they occour, try applying less aggressive settings.

- Ceiling: determines the maximum volume reachable by the limiter. E.g. : if we lower the threshold down to -15db and the ceiling to -6db, the threshold will cut all the peaks above -15db and raise the rest, then the global volume will be raised to -6db. In the mastering phase is suggested to bring the Ceiling Control to around -0.1db, but if our music will be listened mostly on mp3 or Youtube, it's better to set it at -1.0db, in order to avoid unwanted distortions.

- Release: it's the less important control here, and most of the times can be left to a default of 100ms. As on the other Compressors, the release control determines the amount of time the sound takes to go from full limiting to no limiting.

It is very important to keep a Dynamic Range (the difference between the quieter and the louder parts) between 14 and 10db, not less, or the sound will result overcompressed and flat, and in order to keep an eye on this we suggest you to use a Metering Tool. To learn More about the Dynamic Range, and how to measure it, check out our article about the Loudness War.
We can also use more than one limiter instance: the first one to raise the perceived volume, then an EQ to compensate if the limiting is taking out some lower frequencies (which may happen sometimes), and then another limiter to trim the volume, just remember that a limiter should Always be the final plugin, and the last limiter should be POST FADER (on the Cubase/Nuendo interface this means that should be placed on the last 2 slots of the effects insert).

- How to use the Limiter: as we've already seen, the base idea is to reduce the highest peaks in order to clear space to raise the overall level of the whole mix, so we must lower the threshold and the ceiling controls of the same amount (many limiters, such as the Waves L2 have an option to link these 2 controls), while keeping an eye to the "Attenuation" meter: we should lower the 2 controls until we have some attenuation, but not too much, just the peaks of the loudest instruments (which is often the snare drum). When we have found the right spot (too much attenuation means distortion and we don't want it! We just want to use the "unused" room to heighten the overall level!), which is when we have just a very occasional attenuation, we have found the right threshold level. Now we can unlink the Treshold and the Ceiling controls, and raise the Ceiling fader up to -0,1 in order to use all the volume we can before the distortion!

Limiters often have other controls like Attack, an in-built Maximizer, a Stereo Expander and others, but here we've just analized the core functions of limiting. Feel free to experiment!

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

HOW TO USE SIDECHAIN COMPRESSION (free Vst Plugins included)

Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about an advanced compression technique called "Sidechain Compression", which is widely used in productions that span from extreme metal music to dubstep. To take a look to the Basics of Compression, CLICK HERE.

Sidechain Compression is a technique that consinsts into putting a compressor on a sound (usually the kick), that when is triggered, it applies the compression on another sound (usually the bass, or the synth on dance music), instead of affecting the kick itself;
the aim is to obtain a "pumping" drum sound, almost as the bass is part of the release of the kick itself (therefore largely increasing the groove), and avoids at the same time certain frequencies of the bass to cover the same frequencies of the drum kick, leaving it as much clear and audible as possible.
Let's focus on its most common use, for rock-heavy metal music, and once you've learned how it works, you can try it on more creative ways.

First off, grab a vst compressor that supports sidechaining, Here is a List of Free Sidechain Compressors, and among them I obviously suggest the ReaComp; many DAWs, anyways, already have an "in bundle" compressor that supports sidechaining.

Now load the compressor on your Bass track and activate the "sidechain" control (for example, in Nuendo, it's an orange button on the top left of the effect window, if you lay the cursor on it without clicking it will say "Activate Side-Chain"). Once this control is active, open the kick track and find the "Audio Sends" menu. By clicking on one of the empty slots, it will make you choose the buss where to send your Input, and choose "Sidechains - Reacomp", or whatever  is the compressor you've loaded on your bass track. After you chose, set the "Send Level" to 0.00 db.
Now, by playing the two tracks together, you will notice how the kick will cut through the bass sound much clearer, and the more you will lower the "Threshold" control, the more the bass volume will be lowered when the compressor activates (the ideal would be that when the kick hits, the bass is lowered of around -7db).
The attack time should be set pretty fast, according to the music genre, and so the release time, that may vary orientatively from 250ms to 500.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012


Hello! Today we're going one step forward on the exploration of some advaced compression techniques (for the Basics of Compression CLICK HERE).

Multiband compressors are nothing but a serie of compressors linked together. They divide the frequency spectrum down into a few areas/slices, depending on how many bands the compressor has (usually from three to five). On most cases, the spectrum is divided into four categories: lows, low mids, high mids and highs.
You can switch a specific frequency spectrum off and on, and you can also determine the frequency range of a specific band, moving it left and right.
For instance, if you want to compress the bass, squash the low mids, ride the high mids and leave the highest frequencies uncompressed it is possible, and all with just one compressor.
Mastering grade multi band compressors can be indispensable tools for reducing the dynamic range of a group of instruments (or the full mix) without modifying excessively the overall sound.
Using this method means that you can work on some areas of your mix without affecting others. Although you may not get the cohesive effect that single band buss compressors achieve it will certainly blend mix elements together on a more surgical way; of course if you feel the need, you can experiment with a mixture of multi-band and single band buss compressors.

Here is a choice of the best FREE multiband VST compressors available (especially the C3 and the Broadcast), and among the others I would suggest REAXCOMP, which is by far the best around.
Here is the Fruity Multiband Compressor, instead, on a page that shows a detailed explaination of the most common controls featured on this kind of plugins.

Here is instead a short example of settings for a 5 band Multiband Compressor:

LOW - tighten up bottom end.
Frequency Range: 0Hz-150Hz
Ratio: 2.5:1
Attack: 20ms
Release: 150ms
Threshold: very low to almost always trigger compression.
Gain: make up gain lost in compression.

LOW MID - tighten up the mix.
Frequency Range: 150Hz-600Hz
Ratio: 3:1
Attack: 20ms
Release: 150ms
Threshold: trigger regularly, but be about 2dB below the point of
rarely triggering.
Gain: make up for compression, or just a little more for warmth.

MID - add punch to the mix.
Frequency Range: 600Hz-1.5Hz
Ratio: 6:1
Attack: 10ms
Release: 150ms
Threshold: set fairly low to almost always trigger compression.
Gain: add 4-6dB or more to make up lost gain and add guts.

MID HI - add presence and increased clarity of individual instruments.
Frequency Range: 1.5KHz-6Hz
Ratio: 3:1
Attack: 10ms
Release: 150ms
Threshold: trigger regularly, but be about 2dB below the point of
rarely triggering.
Gain: add 1-3dB for presence/clarity.

HI - reduce harshness without losing sparkle
Frequency Range: 6KHz-15Hz
Ratio: 2:1
Attack: 10ms
Release: 150ms
Threshold: only trigger when harshness present.
Gain: maybe add 1-2dB to recover sparkle lost in compression.

Gain after each band of compression can be used to shape the sound.

(source: ).

And here is the setting that the world class producer Andy Sneap suggest to use on Heavy Metal guitars, with the Waves C4 Multiband Compressor:  Bypass all bands except one that goes from 65hz to 281hz,
Gain: +0.3
Range: -8.0
Attack: 16.03
Release: 25
Threshold: -26.5

This setting helps taming the lows in the "mud area".

Multiband compression is used much more in mastering than mixing (CLICK HERE FOR AN ARTICLE ABOUT USING MULTIBAND COMPRESSION IN MASTERING). Since we are dealing with such a wide blend of sources on a master track, some mastering engineers use multiband compression to control certain aspects of a mix, like only tightening up the low end for a punchier bass sound, but multiband compressors can be also found used for drumkits, or vocals.

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

HOW TO USE PARALLEL COMPRESSION (free Vst Plugins included)


Hello and welcome to the advanced part of my Compression Tutorial (for the Basics of  Compression, click HERE).
Today we're going to talk about Parallel Compression, which is a particolar way to apply this effect, in order to achieve certain results which are heavily used on professional studios.


This technique is commonly used for drums or vocals, or even for the whole mix. It consists in creating on your D.A.W. project an Effects Track (or FX Track, or Fx Buss, there are different names according to the software used) or a Group Track, loading on it a Bus Compressor and/or an equalizer or any other effect you may need, and blend this track with the other already-processed tracks that you have.

A drum group is perhaps one of the best examples of when we would use Buss Compression, and since it’s very likely that you would insert individual compressors on some of your separate drum tracks, we can call it Parallel Compression (since e.g. the kick, which you may have already compressed on its own, will be routed along with the other drum parts on the Fx Buss which contains the compression, and the two compressions will be summed).

Let's try this experiment: Record a drum kit, or use a virtual drumset, and apply some equalization and compression on the single parts you need, then create a Stereo Group Channel, load a compressor on it (for example the Audio Damage Rough Rider), and set it very aggressive (threshold -40dB or so, ratio set to infinity). The idea is to blend this heavily compressed sound with the original, softly processed or even unprocessed one, to retain some of the track's original transients and musical dynamics.
 I prefer a long release time (maybe around half a second, more or less), but the real secret to making this work is how you set the attack time, we can start setting it somewhere in between 2-10ms, but it's really all a matter of experimentation and different tastes. Once you've found a sound you like (you can also add an equalizer and try to boost 6db around 100Hz and 10Khz), open your snare, kick tracks and all the others you wish to effect, go to the Fx Send menu of the single tracks, and load the Stereo Group Channel you've created with the Compressor.
From Here, you can blend the effects track with the single instruments tracks, choosing the amount of effect that will affect the single drum tracks.

This compression technique is also known as the New York Compression Trick.

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