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Studio Compression: When, Why To Use Slow & Fast Attack Times
When you’re dating a compressor, it’s important to take things slow...
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When To Go Fast
Of course, there are times to use fast attack times, too. Whenever the transients of a given signal are too loud or need to be “tamed” a bit, you should try using a faster attack time.

The best way to do this is to set your ratio and threshold where you want them, then slowly dial back the attack knob. As the attack time shortens, the underlying audio will slowly become more and more “dull.”

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it might be just the thing you’re looking for for a particular track. Here are a few examples of when it makes sense to use a fast attack time:

Too much “thump” in the bass. Perhaps your bass player digs in really hard when he plays bass, so all his notes have a really loud transient, but it’s hard to hear the sustain.

Or perhaps you can’t get a good overall bass level in your mix without the transients overtaking the mix. Use a faster attack time to clamp down on these transients before they get out of control.

Snare drum cuts through the mix too much. Sometimes you just can’t get the snare drum to sit in the mix. You turn it up, it cuts through too much. you turn it down, you can’t hear it. 

A faster attack will let you turn it up without it chopping your ears off at the beginning of each hit.

Lead vocals. Sometimes a slow attack on vocals can make it sound a bit odd.

If you’ve ever listened to a talk radio show where every phrase the announcer says has too much “punch” at the beginning? Yeah, that’s probably due to over-compression and a slow attack time.

Joe Gilder is a Nashville-based engineer, musician, and producer who also provides training and advice at the Home Studio Corner.Note that Joe also offers highly effective training courses, including Understanding Compression and Understanding EQ.

Comment (1)
Posted by Tim  on  07/16/11  at  04:00 AM
I usualy do live mixes and hardly ever use compression, though, I do use it on the lower frequency instruments, like a bass and bass drum. Or if there is a vocalist that does not have a lot mic technique or when the lead singer etc, is just way to loud. Medium attack on the bass and bassdrum and fast attack (but still within lines without the pumping effect) on vocals when needed.

By the way, those two links (understanding eq and compression) at the bottom do not work properly :)

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