[If you want to hear the runners-up in this category, you can download them here.]
Test C: Heavier Song With Aggressive Compression
For this third and final test, I went much further into the compressors and made them work a little bit. I think there are enough people that work this way and are looking for compressors that work well with that approach, so I set the compressors accordingly.
For the most part, I went with medium to slow attack times and medium release times; unless there was an auto release function, which I opted for instead. I also set the ratios a bit higher at 4:1 instead of the moderate 2:1 ratio as I had used before.
With high-density, hard-hitting tracks, the compression can be noticeable—and not always desirably so—so getting the release right was paramount. Oftentimes the auto release function allowed me to keep compressing 3-5dB without audible pumping or breathing.
(Since this mix was already done, I was unable to manipulate the mix to accommodate some of the compression changes. Were I mixing the song while applying compression, I could use more athletic automation moves to make things behave more predictably.)
For this test I used a song from a band from Germany called Nissefort for whom I mixed their upcoming record. The song is called “Alone” and will be available when they release the record sometime in 2017. You can go to their Facebook page to connect with them: https://www.facebook.com/
This song is also aggressive with tons of guitar, bass and drums, all fighting for space with the vocal. I thought that this type of song was more suited to be compressed more, without suffering some of the pitfalls of over-compression that occur on more dynamic songs.
Once again, in my own order of preference. (And you can click here to download the full resolution files.):
Brainworx Vertigo VSC-2 (C1)
Once again the VSC-2 works well on loud, aggressive music. It does some cool and noticeable things to the sound of the drum transients and seems to pull the guitars a bit forward while smoothing them out. It doesn’t appreciably soften the sound of anything either.
While I can clearly hear it working, it does add a cool sense of movement and excitement that really works on a track like this one. The use of the auto release function allows the compressor to be more agile in following the changing dynamics in the louder section.
Slate Digital-FG Grey (C2)
It’s no surprise that another SSL buss compressor was close behind the Vertigo. These sound pretty similar, though the Slate is not quite as open sounding on the top end. I also found that the Slate seemed better if I drove it a little further into compression than the Vertigo. Once again, I used the auto release function and this one felt pretty full and in-your-face.
Klanghelm MJUC Mk3 (C3)
This is technically a Variable Mu type compressor but it has characteristics that seem more like the SSL comp than the other vari-mu models in this compressor. Once again, it added a ton of low end thickness which made the track have an air of authority and power.
Chandler Limited Zener Limiter (C4)
This limiter sounded cool, but it took a bit more manipulation of the track to make it do what I wanted. The Zener Limiter has an unusual gain structure, and when compressing complex material like a full-on rock mix, it’s not always easy to keep it out of compression without turning something down in front of the limiter. Additionally, it’s not always easy to make up the lost gain after you trim it back to get the compressor to behave as you want. It’s a very aggressive and colored sounding compressor, so when it kicks in, it’s not subtle!
In order to get it inline with the other tracks and to make the compression work the way I needed it to, I had to turn down the front end of the track so it still hit hard on the loud part (see image 13). This is not a big deal when you’re mixing because you can account for this, but in this instance it was worth noting what needed to happen to make a true “apples to apples” comparison.
Despite all of that, the compression sounded so cool when the track got loud that I felt it had to be included. It’s not transparent or subtle but it does have a ton of character that many may find appealing.
A Few Observations
Whenever I write an article or do a review of something, my main goal is to offer you, the reader, some perspective and information that you may not be able to find anywhere else. At the same time, I also hope that my own perspective will be given a shakeup that will force me to reexamine what I do and how I do it, so I can improve the quality of my work.
When it comes to 2-mix compressors, I have always been a bit old school, meaning that the compressor is there to enhance the sound of the mix but is not the thing that the mix lives or dies by. In the last 10-15 years however (and in some cases earlier) the 2-mix compressor has become elemental to the work of so many top-flight mixers that it was worth exploring what a more heavy-handed approach can bring to a mix. I can’t say that I would necessarily change the way I go about compressing the mix all the time, but I do see the appeal of the sound that it can create.
This experiment also made me realize that it would take a change in my mixing process if I chose to adopt a more aggressive style of compression on the 2-mix.
When I’m mixing, I work on my different instruments (drums, bass, guitars, keys, vocals, etc.), and then I work on the balance between them. After that, I work on different sections from loud to quiet to make the balances work, and to make sure that the transitions are smooth and musical.
Once that’s sorted out, I work to make certain that the static mix (before automation) is solid and works well without much further manipulation. Once everything has been accounted for, then I insert the 2-mix compressor on the stereo buss. At this point it is simply adding glue and enhancing the tone. I will then follow with automation to make the mix interesting and to make the compression work even better while accounting for the changes that the compressor may have caused.
By contrast, when I’ve worked with people who use a stereo bus compressor more aggressively, they tend to start the mix with the compressor inline. This way, every decision they make directly affects what happens when it hits the compressor, and they build the mix to deal with that.
On one hand it seems backwards to fight something from the beginning. But on the other hand, if you prefer the sound you can ultimately achieve by using more aggressive bus compression, then why not leave it in and deal with the issues that arise, as they arise? That way, you can hear the way the compressor reacts to your changes in real times, and adjust accordingly.