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Author Topic: Parallel compression, my new love & best friend  (Read 36104 times)

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Offline Gutbucket

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Parallel compression, my new love & best friend
« on: July 22, 2010, 01:45:36 PM »
I've developed a rational relationship with EQ (she's so cerebral), but I've struggled with Dynamic Range- that fiery & passionate muse that can get out of hand, but man what a lover!

A lot of the material I record is highly dynamic and stands to benefit from a reduction of that extreme range for playback on systems owned by mere mortals, who don't listen with their hand glued to the volume knob.  Yet it seems I can never get a compressor to sound really clean and transparent enough.  Instead, even if it sounds OK in isolation, the music sounds squashed and dead in comparison to the fully dynamic version.  It usually works better and sounds more natural if I draw volume envelopes that bring up softer material, but it's a pain to do and still doesn't always get the result I'm looking for.

I also feel like I'd like a tool which allows me to set a separate EQ curve for the softer material verses the loud parts and automatically switches smoothly between them.  If I set EQ so that the quiet parts sound right, things get hard when the levels heat up. If I EQ for the loud sections, the quiet bits sound slightly dull, washed out, thin and distant.

So I finally tried applying a technique I'd read Bob Olhsson discussing (once Motown's mastering & mix engineer, still actively mastering) that was used then and is a now a somewhat standard mastering technique - and it seems to have given me a much better handle on both problems.  It's also discussed in Bob Katz's book on mastering, where he refers to it as parallel compression.

Last night I took a completed 4-mic stereo mix-down of a show that I've been working on, brought the stereo track back into Samplitude, copied it to a new track and left the original alone but applied compression/limiting and EQ to the copy.  I set a low threshold and an aggressive compressor curve with lots of makup gain that radically boosts the low level material and was hard limited above about -10/-15dBfs.  I also strongly EQ'd the heavily compressed stereo copy with a 'loudness' type curve with boosted lows, presence region and highs and scooped lower mids and upper bass.  It took a good bit of listening to the solo'd  track to get the compressor attack and release settings and the EQ near where they should be.  Alone, it sounded very contoured and squashed- nothing like what was shooting for, but not grossly distorted either.  I then unsolo'd the track and brought down the level to something like 20dB below the uncompressed stereo track.  I played around with level and eq of the compressed track a bit more and for the first time ever I ended up with something that was better sounding than the original at both low and high level passages.

The contribution of the compressed track primarily becomes apparent in the lower level passages, where it brings up the details and adds the appropriate EQ at the same time.  It also reinforces the punch and thickness of the drums solo parts that have full peaks (which remain cleanly unsquashed) as well as little bush-work details that now can be clearly heard at sane listening levels.  At high level portions the uncompressed track drowns out the compressed copy completely- no lopping off of the peaks or squashed transients. It really helped to bring out the somewhat buried contribution of the third member of the trio- a muted bass trumpet player that played rather softly can now be heard much more easily.

I'd previously tried doing something similar 'within' an in-line compressor plugin that provides a wet/dry mix control, mixing uncompressed signal with the compressed output, but never got the results I was looking for.  Maybe its the additional control that doing it this way provides, but I suspect it's most likely the seperate EQing of the compressed signal and the way that the separate track technique makes it easy to see, hear and adjust what the relationship is between the compressed and uncompressed material that makes the difference.

I need to go deeper, with it, but I'm thrilled!  If you're struggling with compression, give it a try.
« Last Edit: September 03, 2010, 11:14:29 PM by Gutbucket »
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Offline Gutbucket

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Re: Parallel compression, my new love & best friend
« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2010, 12:59:06 PM »
Another good term for this is bottom-up compression, since it is raising the low level portions instead of reducing the high level parts.  It is a dynamics tool, but in that sense it is quite different than 'normal' compression and serves another purpose.  That hit home last night when I realized I needed to go in an draw some envelopes to reduce a few high level drum hits.  This form of compression does not affect those peaks at all, so if I kept levels low enough for those few peaks not to clip, the RMS level of the music was too low.  After enveloping down the level of a handful of the sharp peaks I could then raise the master output gain and get the RMS level to a reasonable point without the highest transients clipping.  The enveloping worked really well for that and only required a few edits- in this case 5 or so of the strongest hits.  This goes full circle back to the envelope-is-better-sounding than trying to apply a limiter to the master bus thing.

By contrast, parallel or bottom-up compression is a low level enhancement tool.  Bringing out detail and tone in the quieter parts (via both upward dynamics & EQ) which would otherwise drop below audibility.  Different tools for different problems, even if they are all dynamics related.
musical volition > vibrations > voltages > numeric values > voltages > vibrations> virtual teleportation time-machine experience
Better recording made easy - >>Improved PAS table<< | Made excellent- >>click here to download the Oddball Microphone Technique illustrated PDF booklet<<

Offline Johnny Thunder

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Re: Parallel compression, my new love & best friend
« Reply #2 on: July 24, 2010, 11:10:33 AM »
I, for one, think this is a pretty sharp technique. I appriciate you sharing your findings with it, and am interested in lookahead, attack and release times you're having success with should you care to share that information. I have several recordings I want to try this with. MUCH better than squasing the upper limits of the dynamic range to match the lower end.

-JT

Offline Patrick

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Re: Parallel compression, my new love & best friend
« Reply #3 on: July 24, 2010, 11:40:10 AM »
I've been meaning to write up a post about this for months.  This is a technique that's used everyday in all recording situations.  Parallel comping your drum bus in the studio is a fantastic way to "beef up" your drums but still not make them sound squashed.  Keeps the transient response of the bus but also gives some drive behind it.  I've also seen it used on bass tracks and guitar busses.  It's used in mastering all the time.  Really an amazing tool to have in your arsenal. 

When I'm doing "professional" taping gigs (paid 2 or 4 track location stuff) I pretty much always end up running it through a parallel compressor setup.  It sounds great, raises RMS volume without pushing the transients into peaking.  This technique could absolutely be used for most of the 2 track records here.

Great post! 

Offline sparkey

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Re: Parallel compression, my new love & best friend
« Reply #4 on: July 24, 2010, 05:26:31 PM »
Great post, thanks for sharing!

Offline crazifyngers

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Re: Parallel compression, my new love & best friend
« Reply #5 on: August 25, 2010, 07:33:51 PM »
wow i have done this to a few recordings and i think it helps them a lot!  I like dynamic range but some bands are very extreme (low anthem).  this technique sounds great to me!
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Re: Parallel compression, my new love & best friend
« Reply #6 on: August 25, 2010, 09:50:02 PM »
Great post, thanks for sharing!

 :clapping:
"This is a common practice we have on the bus; debating facts that we could easily find through printed material. It's like, how far is it today? I think it's four hours, and someone else comes in at 11 hours, and well, then we'll... just... talk about it..." - Jeb Puryear

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Offline paulbaptiste

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Re: Parallel compression, my new love & best friend
« Reply #7 on: August 26, 2010, 11:09:30 PM »
Great post, thanks for sharing!

 :clapping:
poetic even. 
I've been struggling with this for awhile.  I have quite a few matrix recordings and "evening them out" always just bring the vocals but still looses the atmosphere of the recording, by bringing those to the front i still set aside the natural aspect of that recording. I give it bass.  Not satisfied with that.
I have a great recording from both sources; audience and sbd, Thomas A. Minor;  I'm listening to it right now.  I hear the bugs chirping in the background and it's wonderful.  Mix the aud/sbd, loose that "air" which in this case adds alot, crickets and banjo, junebugs and stand up bass.  I want that air, that atmosphere, to not be noise, not sure if i can do what your doing with audacity.  I know i lack the knowledge, but do i have the right tools???  :?
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Offline Gutbucket

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Re: Parallel compression, my new love & best friend
« Reply #8 on: August 27, 2010, 11:04:31 AM »
You have the tools in Audacity. You just need an extra stereo track with a copy of the audio, leave the original alone, apply EQ and a compression to the copy, then mix that in at a lower level with the original.

Solo the copied stereo track and adjust the eq, compressor, and level of the copied track.  As a starting point, try using way more compresssion than would normally be called for, something like a 10:1 ratio with a very low threshold and enough makeup gain so that you have enough output to vary its contribution to the mix later.  Bump up the high frequencies, maybe the lows, and maybe cut the low mids.  Then unsolo the track and adjust it's level against the un-effected original track, listening for what it's doing for the low level stuff.. to the chirping bugs and background ambient air.  Then play around with the compression settings, the eq and the level of the compressed track under the uncompressed one.

BTW another common name for this technique is New York Compression.

[edited for typo's]
« Last Edit: August 27, 2010, 12:04:12 PM by Gutbucket »
musical volition > vibrations > voltages > numeric values > voltages > vibrations> virtual teleportation time-machine experience
Better recording made easy - >>Improved PAS table<< | Made excellent- >>click here to download the Oddball Microphone Technique illustrated PDF booklet<<

Offline paulbaptiste

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Re: Parallel compression, my new love & best friend
« Reply #9 on: August 27, 2010, 11:57:29 AM »
^  Awesome!  THanks for the breakdown, althrough i do read it in the original post, makes more sense to me now.
  I have something i can already try this with, the same recording i've mentioned.  One is unaltered, the other is compressed and boosted.  I've been playing them, trading song per song over the speakers trying to find what i like better.  Now i'll put them together and do some work.  Exciting prospect; to actually improve upon the recording without losing/Squashing it.  Thank you
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Offline Gutbucket

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Re: Parallel compression, my new love & best friend
« Reply #10 on: August 27, 2010, 12:01:35 PM »
Squashing up instead of squashing down-

musical volition > vibrations > voltages > numeric values > voltages > vibrations> virtual teleportation time-machine experience
Better recording made easy - >>Improved PAS table<< | Made excellent- >>click here to download the Oddball Microphone Technique illustrated PDF booklet<<

Offline notsofast

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Re: Parallel compression, my new love & best friend
« Reply #11 on: August 27, 2010, 01:13:43 PM »
Fascinating, I learned so much and am eager to try and even re-master some of my pulls with this technique.

Thanks for the clear explanation and planting the seed,

Tim
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Offline JasonSobel

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Re: Parallel compression, my new love & best friend
« Reply #12 on: August 27, 2010, 01:19:23 PM »
I'm going to try this out on my d'Elf recording from last night.  We'll see how it goes.

Offline Gutbucket

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Re: Parallel compression, my new love & best friend
« Reply #13 on: August 27, 2010, 02:49:40 PM »
Let me know how it works for you.

Totally dig the d'Elf.  Thanks for making so many great recordings of them over the years, J!
musical volition > vibrations > voltages > numeric values > voltages > vibrations> virtual teleportation time-machine experience
Better recording made easy - >>Improved PAS table<< | Made excellent- >>click here to download the Oddball Microphone Technique illustrated PDF booklet<<

Online Sloan Simpson

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Re: Parallel compression, my new love & best friend
« Reply #14 on: August 27, 2010, 06:59:36 PM »
Couple questions:
- Can this be done in Wavelab?  Via the Montage feature I assume?
- I recorded a set recently where the artist switches instruments every couple songs (barely-mic'ed acoustic guitar, full electric guitar w/ distortion, barely mic'ed banjo, piano, etc.).  The levels vary wildly from song to song.  Would this be a good candidate for parallel compression?

Thanks for the thread, just having trouble completely wrapping my mind around it . . .

edit: I guess I really just am not getting what numbers and settings to go for to get this to work  . . .
« Last Edit: August 28, 2010, 03:39:54 AM by Sloan Simpson »
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