The secret behind a good mixdown is a good balance between frequency selective sound and the loudness of the individual instruments. In this workshop we want to look at how compressors and limiters can be used to create dynamically optimized mixes. We’ll achieve this by increasing the loudness without reducing the transparency.
If you want to achieve a competitive loudness level, it is recommended to compress the individual instruments and limit their peaks to keep the dynamic in check. This guarantees that the individual signals come through in the mix. Have a listen to this sound sample:
As an example, we’ll give the bass a bit more presence:
Step 1: First we’ll load the „AM-Track“ in the plug-in slot of the bass track.
Step 2: Starting with the preset “More Attack” set the compressor as follows:
- ratio: -15 dB
- attack: 13 ms
- release: 0.19 s
As you can hear, the bass now has more presence than it did before the processing.
II: Sidechain Ducking
Sidechain ducking can be used to dynamically adjust two signals that share the same frequency range so that they both have their own space.
In this example, we want to make the bass softer in the mix each time the kick drum sets in. We’ll do this by using a compressor with sidechain functionality.
Step 1: We first add our Samplitude compressor from “Advanced Dynamics” into the first insert slot of our bass track.
Step 2: Now we’ll activate the sidechain function of the compressor and select the sidechain input of the kick drum track.
Step 3: Switch into the AUX section of the kick drum track. You’ll see that the send path to the compressor on the bass track has already been created.
This “sidechain send” routes the kick drum signal to the input of the bass compressor. This means that the kick drum signal is now controlling the input to the compressor. Amplification is preset to unity gain (0.0).
Step 4: Make sure that the AUX send is set to pre-fader by right-clicking on the sidechain send.
This prevents later changes to the volume of the kick drum from influencing the strength of bass damping.
Step 5: Back to our “Advanced Dynamics” compressor:
Make sure that the “Gate (G) Level: -100 dB” and “Limiter (L) Thresh: 0.0 dB” settings don’t let the gate and the limiter influence signal calculation. Set the “Mode” to “Simple Compressor”, the “Reaction” to “Peak” and switch on the “Preview”.
Step 6: Now we’ll drag the compression parameter “Threshold” way down to -30 dB. This has a damping effect on the bass even when the kick drum is quieter.
We’ll set the original value for the “Ratio” parameter at 2.00. This relatively low gain reduction creates soft transitions between the compressed and uncompressed guitar signal.
Keep the “Attack” and “Release” values low so that the sidechain signal dynamics can be quickly changed. We’ll select 1.0 ms for “Attack” and 14 ms for “Release”.
Experiment with the settings by using the “Bypass” function until the ducking effect is smoothly embedded in the mix and sounds natural.
Tip: If your compressor has an “Auto Makeup Gain” parameter, switch it off, otherwise you will notice that the ducking doesn’t react the way you want it to.
You can find more information on the topic of “Ducking” in the workshop “Samplitude Academy – Ducking Techniques with Samplitude”.
III. Controlling Attack – Tape Saturation with AM-Track
If you notice that a signal sounds too harsh at its onset, it is usually caused by large jumps in the level. The overtone structure with attack often leads to a masking effect that blocks out the other instruments.
You can counteract this phenomenon with the help of a tape saturation plug-in.
In the following example we want to limit the peak sound of the snare onset.
Step 1: First we’ll load the „AM-Track“ in the plug-in slot of the snare track.
Step 2: Starting with the “Snare” preset we’ll make the following settings:
- threshold: -24dB
- ratio: 1:6.0
- knee 87
- drive: vca
- attack: 1.7ms
- release 94ms
In addition to this we’ll switch on the tape saturation effect “tape simulation”. This enables us to achieve smoothing of the attack time like the overtones:
- level: 0dB
- EQ lo/hi: -0.5dB
- bias: -10%
- output: 0dB
Now open the “expert” mode to switch on the “auto makeup” functions.
Tip: Processing using a compressor and tape saturation for taming overtone-heavy attack phases is also recommended for hi-hat or clap tracks.
IV. Transparency and Loudness in the Mix – Multiband Dynamics
To make our mix even more transparent we can use the Samplitude “Multiband Dynamics”. This tool is something like a dynamic equalizer that enables frequency-based signal processing. By processing the dynamics in separate frequency ranges the risk of unwanted side effects can be decreased, e.g “pumping” which is caused by compression of a peak in the bass range that suppresses the master signal.
Pay special attention to the guitar sound in this example:
Step 1: First we’ll load the Multiband Dynamics into the plug-in slot
and open the graphical interface of the dialog by right-clicking on the slot entry.
Step 2: Now we can set the relevant frequency bands of our guitar sound for the processing. We’ll leave the number of bands at three to do this
and drag the cut-off frequencies (dotted lines in the display) to 200Hz and ~800Hz.
Step 3: We want to focus on the frequency range between 200Hz and 800Hz – Band 2 – to give the guitar more clarity and transparency. Set the mode to “Compressor”, the Threshold to -35 dB and the ration to 4.00 to compress the muffled sounding range of the signal.
Step 4: We’ll also compress the lower frequency range under 200Hz in Band 1 but not as much.
Step 5: Finally we’ll freshen up the highs in Band 4 by switching it to “Comp.Max” mode to make it louder.
In this way we’ve used frequency selective compression to add more transparency and loudness to the guitar signal.
V. Maximum Loudness with a Limiter
Using a limiter you can increase the loudness of your audio signal without creating distortion. This process first reduces the level peaks and thereby generates a denser signal. The dynamic between loud and quiet signal components is reduced before the lowered level peaks are raised to the desired volume at the output. This makes the quieter signal components louder and increases the average volume level.
In the mastering process, limiting is most often performed at the very end of the processing chain because it is here that an extra portion of loudness can be achieved while still protecting the signal for unwanted distortion. But you can also use the limiter on each instrument individually to add more power to the mix.
If you want to achieve maximum loudness without any distortion, it is recommended to group the level peaks in various stages, e.g. in single-channel, subgroup channel (if present) and finally also in the stereo master channel.
In the following example we want to make the drums louder.
Step 1: Load the eFX_Limiter into the plug-in slot of the drum group.
Step 2: Starting with the “Rock Maximizer +6dB” we’ll set the parameters as follows:
- threshold: -8.00dB
- release: 40ms
- clip gain: -0.77dB
- IN (input amplification): 0dB
- OUT (output level): -0.10dB
For the drums, the limiter primarily reduces the deep frequencies of the kick because these show a high level and are less audible to the human ear than the hits and overtones in the presence area. By cutting the high-energy (sub) bass range, the limiter can bring the onset frequencies between 1 KHz and 3 KHz to the forefront. But make sure not to remove to much power from the bass frequencies when using the limiter.
In our final example we’ll insert the Samplitude limiter “sMax11” into the stereo master as a master plug-in to show how it can be used in the mastering process.
Step 1: Load the “sMax11” limiter into the plug-in slot of the master selection.
Step 2: Here’s how to find the best setting with the sMax11:
- First, turn on the Link option. This will keep the loudness constant and you can compare the changes more easily.
- Now, raise the input amplification Gain In until the sound changes become too strong.
- Adjust the Gain In to a lower level.
- You can also minimize distortions by raising the Release time. However, the effect of the compression and increase in loudness will be lower.
- Switch the Bypass on once in a while.
- When you’ve found the optimal setting, switch the Link option off.
- Finally, switch the Output Gain to -0.1 dB or 0 dB.
We’ll set the parameters as follows:
- Gain In (input amplification): 2.0 dB
- Gain Out (Output Level): -0.10 dB
- Release 3.0 ms
- Mode: Balanced
Note: If you are planning to send your finished mix to a studio for mastering, it is best to remove the effect at this point because every mastering studio has its own processing chain which includes limiting the audio signal.
If you want to master your mix in Samplitude, you can find helpful information about this topic in the workshop “Samplitude Academy – Mastering with Samplitude”.
We hope you have lots of fun making your mixes louder and more transparent with the help of compressors and limiters!