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Topic: Applying compresson early in the signal\recording chain?

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  1. #1

    Applying compresson early in the signal\\recording chain?

    I was told today that, when recording to a hard disk, it\'s wise to apply a little compression at the mixer level, before the signal moves through the sound card, instead of applying it with either a vst or in mastering. (I\'m speaking of recording solo instruments, here.)This method, I was told, lets more of the signal move through the sound card.

    In other words, to record a guitar track, I should plug the guitar into a compression unit, plug that into the mixer, and then that into the soundcard.

    Is this accurate?

  2. #2

    Re: Applying compresson early in the signal\\recording chain?

    (Disclaimer)- I\'m far from being an expert but to record a solo instrument through your sound card you should really be using a pre-amp. This will give you a gain increase.

    Also, if you are recording at a suitable bit depth you wont have to record as hot to overcome the noise floor (I\'m pretty sure). If you have at least a modest input level you can always normalize the wav later.

    A compressor is likely to have a radical effect on the sound too (unless that\'s what you want). A pre-amp will color the sound too but not as much or in the same way.

    Any experts care to confirm or refute this? [img]images/icons/smile.gif[/img]

  3. #3

    Re: Applying compresson early in the signal\\recording chain?

    I\'m an expert charlatan, and here\'s an explanation. Working backwards, a preamp\'s job is to boost a signal to line level. Whether or not you need one depends on what you\'re recording and whether the sound card has a mic input (in which case it already has a preamp). Synths have line-level outputs. Mics and guitars don\'t. If you\'re plugging a guitar or bass directly into a preamp, you need a direct box to step it down to mic level so you don\'t overload the mic preamp - unless you\'re using an instrument preamp.

    Some preamps do add a character, but most of them are designed to be as transparent as possible.

    The reason you were told to use a compressor is that if you reduce the level of the hotter parts of the signal, you can raise the whole thing higher. This goes back to the idea that you want to record as many bits as possible.

    Most people always use compression, but not for that reason. Compression smooths out the sound and keeps it within the right dynamic range of whatever you\'re recording. It\'s rare to hear a recording with anything that wasn\'t compressed, because it\'s the sound.

    There\'s a lot more to say about what compressors can do, but I\'m too lazy to write a book right now!

  4. #4
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Re: Applying compresson early in the signal\\recording chain?

    Originally posted by Nick Batzdorf:
    The reason you were told to use a compressor is that if you reduce the level of the hotter parts of the signal, you can raise the whole thing higher. This goes back to the idea that you want to record as many bits as possible.
    <font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">To expand on this just slightly, this also goes back to analog and 16-bit recording. At 24 and higher bit depths, it matters not a whit whether you compress after the fact or before--you will have sufficient bit depth that everything is captured no matter what. In other words, what you were told is actually incorrect in today\'s recording practice. Using a compressor ahead of your DA converter doesn\'t capture more information at all, just limits your flexibility and leaves you stuck with a sound you may or may not want.

  5. #5

    Re: Applying compresson early in the signal\\recording chain?

    I think most people operate under the principle that if you\'re going to compress it anyway - at least once before you\'re done mixing - you may as well do it on the way in with a good outboard compressor. It\'s hard to imagine a pop vocal or drum instrument without any compression, for example, so it probably makes sense to hit it a little going in.

    But I agree 100% that Jake was given slightly off-center advice. A compressor isn\'t going to make everything sound better just because it\'s in the line.

    Everything should be done with a purpose in mind, whether it\'s compression, reverb, or anything else. And now that we actually have ten billion of everything available inside every DAW, I often find myself fighting the urge to pile on more and more crap just because it\'s there!

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