If you are a music producer then you must know how to get your vocals under control. How do you do that? Do you use any vocal compressor plugin software for this purpose?
Not all the compressor plugin software is same, and there are many confusions and misconceptions about choosing them. How to choose the best from them is discussed here:
What is a compressor?
A compressor is nothing but a plugin, which is somewhat different in some manner, and more so when it works as a vocal compressor. How it works and how can it save you in some situations are clarified below.
Compressor plugin helps to compress the sound’s dynamic range. That means, if you set a volume, which is called threshold, it will limit the increased volume playing at the background in comparison with the sound that is coming from the front end.
This is simply put the basic function of a compressor plugin. But compression plugin can be manipulated in a thousand ways by the producers to create soulful and innovative dimensions in their music. Compression works on an algorithm which makes the plugins the secret of all the hit music creation.
There are many varieties of the work that a compressor plugin does, like side-chaining, parallel compression etc. in fact, the compressor works in such a way that you can use it as a musical instrument rather than a technical tool.
What are the key features to be looked in a vocal compressor plugin
There are various opinions about how to choose a vocal compressor plugin and which factors will help you decide the plugin to use. Here we have listed down a few:
- Threshold – The level of audio signal or sound that is determined, after which the compressor can and will reduce the volume.
- Ratio– this parameter is here to determine how much compression will be enacted if the sound level reaches the threshold
- Attack– this is the speed of work of compressor. That is, how fast the compressor will get activated to decrease the loudness.
- Release– this actually works in the opposite way to the attack. This determines how fast or slows the compression will be released so the audio signal returns to its original form.
- Knee– this one has the smoothening effect on the sudden dynamic change.
- Make-up gain– Amplitude attenuation loses some of the audio, so this feature is there to make up for the loss.
- Output– the increase or decrease of the sound level of the audio coming out from the compressor is fixed by them accordingly.
These are the basic features of the compressor, and yet you can get more from it by mixing and recording vocals with the plugin.
Character and Vanilla
These are two units of a compressor plugin. They both have different jobs entitled to them. As per the name, character unit adds some depth and richness to the vocal audio. Vanilla compressor will help to smooth out the vocal.
The best feature in a compressor is that it will work with versatility. Also, the output should be reached reasonably quickly.
In the world of compressors, there are so many options. These are a bit daunting as there are lots of things to be learnt when you are beginning to use them. Along with that, now almost every software brand has come up with their compressor series. So this is quite normal to get confused about the numerous numbers of options and features provided by those.
The 5 best vocal compressors
The compressor can be called the best vocal compressor if it offers you all the features that you may expect from one. It will be even better if it comes at a reasonable price. All these facts are true about the MJUC Vari-Tube compressor offered by Klanghelm. This works as 3 compressors combined in one. The first one works like Altec style Vari-mu, the second works like STA-Level 176, and the third one are unique in its features.
You will get most of the functional controls in the second and third module, but the first one is mostly used by the mixer and producers. Being the cheapest vocal compressor, this one is used most by the sound engineers due to its versatility.
How to mix
The vocal compassion can be managed with timing constraints. If you are trying Pop Vocal, module 1 can come handy. You can set timing constraint at “5”. It ensures fast release and programme dependent release. In this process release timing changes along with incoming signal change. Thus the release gets more transparent. Rap vocal is to be handled with module 2. The density button in this module emulates the second compression stage, which affects the interaction between ratio and the threshold.
This compressor is a bit tricky to set. If the attack is set at 12 o clock, the release should be get away with as fast as possible, so no distortion creeps in. if the timbre control is tuned a little to the brighter side, this will add kind of pop. But that will be a saturation effect and not a compression effect.
Sound Radix POWAIR
The POWAIR plugin is unparalleled in something called transparency. Through this plugin, you can get the level automation result in vocal audio with compression only. It was designed so that it could master the mind, but it can actually work with instruments, group busses, vocals and almost anything. There are two ways of this compressor to work, the first general leveller works to pull the sources towards a target threshold, may it be upward or downward. The second works as a compressor stage, and it has a fixed threshold, with knee and ratio. We can also avail quite a few attacks, sidechain filters, release, and stereo linking.
There are unique controllers too. All these together work out to create the magic of compressor. To begin with, there is a punch control which works by allowing initial transient to come through, but the attack line will not be disfigured. Then there is adaptive mode. This skilfully moves the threshold relative to the level of the incoming signal. So the compression can be applied more evenly, without bothering if the audio is loud or slow. Next thing that we should never miss to mention is a two-fer. This allows to the tempo set the audio which will eventually auto –time the music. Also, there will be an automatic make up gain toggle which makes the sound accurate. This one is possibly the only make up gain which works on any software and it works flawlessly.
The architecture of this software plugin is typical, but the vocal audio outcome is definitely very transparent, so much so that it can confiscate even an experienced pair of the ear. Also, the amount of gain reduction is outstanding for this plugin. This is a reason why POWAIR is trickier yet a must needed tool for music producers.
How to mix
Pop, Hip-hop, Reggaeton or dance music, all these audio pieces have something in common. The received reference files are highly compressed. The vocals parts are always tracked to the compressed 2 track, but the individual tracks do not match up to this highly compressed versions. The reason is compression changes the record feel and the balance, mostly in good and some time in a bad way.
So the tip is while mixing these genres, you can take help of a little bit of compression, so the overall buss gets a 2-track feel. But you should stick to the decently mixed version of compression of producers and not try too hard to remodel it completely. These two stages of this compressor help to achieve the glue effect which comes from heavy limiting without being overly dense, dead transient and distorted side effects.
This one is with the fixed value, single slider compressor which is there for a very long period. Till date, this one is one of the best compressors. This works best with vocals. This one does not work in opto style, which includes low mid presence throughout, along with a gate. This is a rather simple and effective compressor.
How to mix
We will discuss this mixing process related to vocals. Two tricks can be played with RVox. First one is to hold the shift and click both the gain and the output slider. This will turn the output down along with applying more compression at the same time. That is when the level stays at the same point and you can notice how the compressor is working. If you feel it is getting choked or pumpy just back it off, and that will be the sweet spot. Now we will talk about the second trick. The last compression stage is a good finisher. If you set everything alright with POWAIR and then you can use RVox, at the end. It will give the vocal a little extra punch. 2 to3 dB of gain reduction will help the audio to finish on a perfect note.
This one is not transparent but an obvious compressor. It is not subtle, though it can be used in subtle ways. If you are moving this compressor from extreme left to extreme right, there come certain changes in its behaviour. First, it will act as a gate, then like an expander, and then it will land in bypass right at the middle, and then finally it acts as a compressor. Then again it becomes a limiter, and it finally turns to be a dynamic reversal control.
At the last stage, the output yield is below the threshold. So this versatility proves that you can do anything with this compressor. This will completely kill the sustain of a signal and make the sustain louder than the attack. In fact, it works like a complete sound design piece in itself rather than being a mere compressor. You can completely remodel envelop of a sound with this compressor and turn it to something unrealistic.
How to mix
Drums can be best remodelled using this compressor. Drums are usually the royal snot out of thing to be compressed. If you set your drum up at three tracks, a dry track, a track with Omnipressor set as an expander, and the last track set on Omnipressor set at dynamic reversal mode. Now you can shape the attack sound and the release sound at the parallel tracks. This is the option in which you can blend these two tracks as per your choice.
If you choose to bring the super boomy fun drum sound, then you can play it on dynamic reversal track. Use the expander track in the context, so the drums poke forward a touch with its bite intact. This will take a second to get the feel. It can be applied to drum buss or individual close mics.
This is one of the favourite multi-band of many producers. FabFilter Pro MB is one more compressor in the list which comes with a variety of options. Every compression control that you can think of is present here. Variable timing, radio, expansion mode, mid or side, stereo unlinking, knee all are captured by this compressor. All these settings are available for every band. The GUI is so smart that all the learning curves are smooth. In more extreme settings it will take a while to get the feel of multiband in general. But once you reach the stage, the FabFilter Pro-MB is a great tool to work with.
How to mix
This compressor works with the kick drum. When you need the low end of an acoustic kick to sustain longer or wish to get a weightier kick or cut the punchier kick a bit shorter, this compressor will come handy. Kick depends on the bass instruments, if those are living or what they are doing. If you need to extend the sub of a kick, create a shelf low band at the deep low end. Then you will get a softer slope so you can retain better transient definition and pull up a bit by proxy.
Another way to mix it is if you set the attack key very fast, but be cautious that you are not making a mess out of initial transient. Now set the release fairly fast. Then set the GR from -12 to -14. You can aim at 6 to 12 dB of gain reduction. Now set the knee pretty hard, approx 5 dB o less. Now as the compression action will work, you can turn the output up at the same amount as per your total gain reduction. It will give you the same total amount of low end but with more body to it.
If you need a punchier kick drum, you can use expansion mode. You will not use any output gain but the setting will remain almost same. Now the attack will be super fast, release fast, knee hard and the threshold will be used to determine where the low end will start attenuating and the ratio will determine how much. Now the kick will be turned up overall as it will not have the same power and powerful presence. The low end of the kick will be shortened so there will be clarity at the low end, so if another instrument is driving the sub, it will have a clear sound.