In this series of features I’ll be focusing on one of the corner stones of audio production technique; dynamics. Although most of us use a dynamics processor, in the form of a compressor or limiter, in every session it’s always good to go back to basics and get to grips with what’s going on under the hood!
I’ll try to cover all areas of dynamics over the course of the series; this short introduction is just to give you an idea of what’s in store and will highlight the areas we’ll be focusing on. We’ll be covering each section in much more detail down the line; each process will get its own dedicated feature.
The plug-ins I’ll be using in every installment are all from the Plugin Alliance website and are available as fully functional 14 day trials. You can download any of them now
When it comes to dynamics processing compression has to be the most synonymous. More often than not it’s the first plug-in people reach for either when attacking a problem or attempting to enhance an element of their mix. This processing often takes place whether it’s needed or not and sometimes without the full understanding of what is actually taking place.
Compression essentially gives you the ability to control dynamics in realtime by attenuating (reducing) louder sections of your audio. This reduction in dynamic range results in a more uniform dynamic signature and in turn gives you audio that is easier to mix and reveals more detail in performances.
You’ll find very similar controls on most compressors. Ratio, threshold, attack and release make appearances on most models but knowing exactly what these parameters do and how they interact is absolutely key. Moving forward we’ll be taking a look at all of this and more using compressors available for Plugin Alliance.
Limiters And Maximisers
A step up from compression brings us to limiting. Limiters are essentially a compressor with a very high ratio setting, this slight alteration can result in dramatically different results. Limiters can be used for anything from adding density to a drum buss or extreme perceived volume to a master.
While limiters usually have a much simpler set of parameters to deal with they also have the uncanny ability of completely ruining a healthy dynamic signal if they aren't handled with care.
I’ll be checking out the best way to use limiters and how to avoid common pitfalls. I’ll also look into the terminology that’s used in conjunction with limiters; what exactly is a brick wall limiter and how does a maximizer differ from a traditional limiter?
Multi-bands And Dynamic EQ
Multi-bands And Dynamic EQ
When presented with a mix, or recording, that contains obvious problems a traditional ‘single band’ compressor can fall short. An aggressive kick drum or guitar part will trigger gain reduction across the entire frequency range introducing unwanted pumping. The answer to this problem is multi-band processing.
A multi-band compressor is essentially a bank of compressors housed in a single unit. A crossover then divides the frequency range into manageable sections (often 3-5 bands). Each of these bands can then be treated separately using independent compressors.
This approach gives you the freedom, for example, to treat low frequency instruments in isolation without effecting the high frequencies at all. Multi-band processing is how de-essing is achieved but the only limit here is your imagination.
We’ll look at multi-band compression in all its glory along with variations on the theme such as dynamic EQ. If you don't use multi-band processing now you may wonder how you ever lived without it!
Transient Designers, Expansion And More…
The dynamics category can become slightly blurred beyond the familiar territory of compression and limiting. We’ll delve into what might be considered as ‘special’ dynamics processors. Although these maybe a little left field they certainly shouldn’t be overlooked.
Transient design for example could arguably be one of the most important effects available for your DAW right now. With the ability to add punch to drums, tame problem recordings and even adjust the amount of reverb in a signal it’s a must have for anyone serious about their audio.
Look out for the first installment of this series where we’ll focus on compression and it’s main uses. In the meantime, download 14 day demos of these plugins from the download section of the individual product pages.