Tips for Using Compressors for Tone and Color in a Mix // A video on using compressors for manipulating tone and color in a mix.

More compression videos from Ian Vargo:

Transcript excerpt:

Hello, this is Ian Vargo with The Pro Audio Files.

Welcome to part four in a five part series all about compression.

Today, I'm going to show you how you could use different compressors to impart harmonic content, otherwise, sometimes known as “color,” or “tone,” onto your source material.

It's a popular technique amongst engineers to use compressors almost as equalizers, and I'm going to show you a couple of different compressors, and the tones that they bring to the table. Hopefully this will help your mixing, I know it's helped mine.

Okay, so let's start with a cool little test. By cool, I mean if you're a nerd like I am, you're going to like this. Alright, so in Pro Tools here, I've got a 500Hz sine tone, and a 100Hz sine tone.

I also have — these are inactive right now, but I'll be making them active — five different compressors. After these compressors, I have an insert of the FabFilter Pro-Q 2, which has a really awesome frequency analyzer.

Let's go ahead and hit play and pay attention to the analyzer.

[sine wave]

So you see there, 500Hz.

[sine wave]

And 100.

Now, I'm going to make these compressors active, and what you're going to see is the harmonic content that is imparted onto the signal.

[sine wave, without and with compressors]

That LA-2A goes super high.

[sine wave, without and with compressors]

So as you could see, each of these compressors have their own sonic character that they add to the signal.

Let's go down to 100Hz and let's take a look and listen, and I'm also going to enable the feature in which I hover above the frequency analyzer.

[sine wave, with and without compressors]

A lot of mid-range in the Fairchild.

[sine wave, with and without compressors]

That's really interesting.

Alright, so please consider this when applying this to musical material. Not all compressors are created equal. There are some that have a boost in the mids, a boost in the highs, that make your lows fuller, I really like the Fairchild, you'll be seeing that later.

So just keep this in mind and perform tests like this and be a nerd as often as you can. Because ultimately, you want to know all of the tools that we have at our fingertips as intimately as possible.

I'm going to show you that Fairchild on base technique that I was talking about before. The Fairchild is an iconic compressor. It was used on numerous Beatles recordings, Pink Floyd, very popular in Abbey Road studios.

If you were to attempt to purchase one, you might be able to find one on eBay for $20,000 or $30,000. Fortunately, Universal Audio makes a more affordable version of it.

Let's take a listen to this bass track without the Fairchild engaged.

[bass guitar]

Okay. Let's listen, and what I want you to listen for is a mid-range sort of aggression that is added to the signal when I engage the Fairchild, as well as a low frequency bump. You're really going to hear it in the context of the mix, but let's play it soloed for now.

[bass guitar, without and with Fairchild compression, then full mix]

Definitely more smooth and aggressive sound. We benefit from the dynamic range compression where it really smooths out the performance, brings in some nice characteristics of the fingering of the bass, but also we get this really pleasant, low frequency bump.

I'm driving the input gain somewhat hard. I've got my threshold set in such a way where I'm only doing about — up to 3-4 dB of compression. This version of the Fairchild has a sidechain filter.

[bass guitar, adjusting sidechain]

So as you see, as I turn up the sidechain filter, it is applying less compression because it is receiving less low frequency content. And of course, it's always great when these plug-ins have the mix dry/wet knob.

Right here, I have an instance of the stereo version of the Fairchild that I'm actually using on my master fader. I wanted this track to have a really vintage vibe, and I really do believe that the Fairchild helped me achieve that. It's got a really cool tone on the master fader if you use it pretty conservatively.

Let's take a listen without any compression.


Let's bring it in.

[mix, with Fairchild]

The cymbals are a little bit brighter, and to me it just sounds a little bit clearer. I should say that I level matched for the purpose of this tutorial, because I know some people get upset when the post-compressed signal is significantly louder than the uncompressed signal, but in the final version of this mix, I did use the output to add some gain to the signal.


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Ace Healey

Producer & Songwriter
Producer & Songwriter from Toronto, Canada. Entrepreneur, and founder of

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