To Compress or Not to Compress....

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by IcedEarthWOM, Nov 5, 2005.

  1. IcedEarthWOM


    Oct 2, 2005
    Does anyone know of any audio samples for comparison between compressed and uncompressed bass, just so I can hear the difference?
  2. Dugz Ink

    Dugz Ink

    Oct 23, 2005
    There are so many "flavors" of compression, it would be impossible to come up with one that is representative. A slow attack can allow you to keep a punchy sound while compressing the sustain, fast attack and tight settings can make a bass sound more like a synth... and the list goes on.

    It's a lot like players; a great engineer (who has almost any compressor) can make your bass sound like there isn't any compression or like it is a different instrument, but a bad engineer will just turn the signal into a crushed mess even if they have the best compressor.

    Compression has its place, but you have to learn how to use it.
  3. chaosMK


    May 26, 2005
    Albuquerque, NM
    Hi-fi into an old tube amp
    I used a discontinued ART Levelar for a while. It was/is my first compressor and I got it for super cheap on ebay. Has a tube in it. I couldnt really figure out how to do much with it aside from dampen my punch, and I am all about the punch.
  4. luknfur


    Jan 14, 2004

    gives this a whirl and see if there's some concurrence or it gets shot down. Learning something never hurt me yet at any rate. But I don't use compressors (have but been it's be too long to recall) but I've ran lots of pups and this is my experience from a "natural" compression perspective cause different pups can exhibit it to different degrees or not at all.

    Adjust for clean play. Play a slow riff fingered (or picked for that matter) at a J bridge position. Then do the same thing fingered at the 15th fret and observe the difference. Not a great example but it's something you can do yourself now, gives you some idea, and captures the jist of it.

    You might even do that before you read the following so you can draw your own conclusion and compare your findings to the following.

    As mentioned there's no doubt lots of variations that can occur from electronic compression - perhaps even more sustain, don't remember. But from a pup perspective a compressed tone will be less lively, fewer harmonics, less affected by variation in attack, noticeable abbreviation to tone - less sustain/ring to notes; but more clear, precise, and more hi-fi sounding. The man thing not reflective of that method to me is the brightness of non-compressed tone is stripped by virtue of playing at the 15 fret. That aspect is really like playing at the bridge was.

    Compression basically sounds like what the word describes - squeezing the tone into less space.

    To me compression works for some tunes but not most. And you can not change anything except the tune you're playing and it can sound compressed to one tune and not another - the natural stuff anyway.

    Aside from that, the main "advantage" I see from compressed tone is that it compensates for sloppy playing in terms of not maintaining a consistent strength of attack - so it can make volume level sound even when it's not being played that way. The disadvantage is that compression comes at the expense of control of dynamics - you have to work harder to get subtlties of play or notes louder or softer if you want (depending on how compressed the tone is).

    Let me know how it works.

    And guys, hit me with your best shot : -)
  5. nemo


    Mar 19, 2004
    No escape. You will get your bass compressed anyway. Only situation without compression could be live gig without PA.
    On every other ocassion your bass signal will get compressed. Live through PA - on mixing console - there for sure a soundman will use compression for bass.
    In studio - recording through tube compressor (this is not a rule, though), but recording to tape with give natural tape compression, then compression on track in the DAW, then compressing in mastering stage.

    On live venues you can help yourself if you use your own compression with your tweaked settings - this maybe can make soundman happy and then he won't possibly use his squashing compressor on console.

    I know, this all is a little bit far fetched, but you get the picture.
  6. IcedEarthWOM


    Oct 2, 2005
    Ok, so say I get a compression effect, where do I place it.

    this is the effects chain that I'm thinking of building:

    Bass > Tuner > Volume > Wah > NS-2 (Send) > Distorsion (w/Line Out Jack) > NS-2 (Return) > EQ > Reverb > Power Amp
  7. Dugz Ink

    Dugz Ink

    Oct 23, 2005
    You definitely want the compression before the reverb. Otherwise the compression will screw up the "natural" decay of the reverb.

    Most people like the EQ after the compression. However, if I have only one EQ, I'll put it before the compression; why allow the frequencies that you're going to reduce to have an affect on the compression?

    Yes, heavy compression can make the audio sound dull, so it's nice to have a post-compression EQ (to brighten it up a bit) but not absolutely necessary if you set the pre-compression EQ properly.

    Most distortion pedals will add compression, simply because of their nature, so adding compression after distortion won't give you much of a change in sound/levels.

    Adding it before the distortion can change the sound. Some people want to chop off the attack before the distortion, to provide a "smoother" sound. (Smooth distortion? Why not use a square-wave synth?) Also, bad playing control + distortion will sound less bad if the signal is compressed before the distortion.

    Providing compression before going to the Wah? I've never tried that, so I won't sit here and tell you how I think it might sound.

    Not ALL compression will change your sound. As I stated before, a talented person who has a bit of experience can add compression without making it sound unnatural.

    So, if you go to a studio to record, I would only use the volume, Wah, and distortion pedals; the studio will have better EQ, reverb, and compression than you can find in a stock pedal... and they might be more capable than you are of setting the EQ and compression to get the sound that YOU want.

    However, if your engineer adds whatever compression he/she wants, and changes your sound without your approval, then you need to either tell them to back off or fire them. It's your music, not theirs, and they are supposed to be there to support YOU.
  8. As far as where to put effects in your chain, it depends on what you want. Let your ears guide you. There's always a place to start. For a quick and easy guide to effect placement, look here.

    As far as EQ, if you're adding lots of bass I would put your compressor before the EQ. The reason being that low freqs trigger your compressor much easier and even if you have a wide control range on your compressor it could still end up squeezing too much.

    On recordings I try to keep bass compression out of the picture until mastering. With an ebony fingerboard and a Demeter 201, there's already enough compression happening before getting to the DAW. Of the last few recordings I've done, I've been fortunate enough to be able to engineer, mix and master them so it's been nice to be in full control of my sound. That's not always the case. :rolleyes:

    Yeah, the live thing is a whole other game. Even if I ask for no compression, it seems impossible for them to resist. It's like they're thinking to themselves, "well I've got 20 channels of compression, why not use them?" :scowl:
  9. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    You are never going to get a PA guy to not compress your bass if he can help it. Your need to hear your bass uncompressed is far outweighed by his need for your uncompressed bass not to blow out his speakers with spikes. And quite frankly, I don't blame him.

    I don't see why people resist compression so much, really. Unless you have a really cheap compressor that all it does is squash your signal and add noise, I see no reason not to have it. Plus, if you occasionally get pulled out of having a consistent attack, as I do, it helps to have a little compression compensating for you, and the only one who will know is you.

    My dbx 266 is in my rack and stays on all the time, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
  10. Good point, Jimmy. But, a GOOD compressor is very important. I have an inexpensive Laney amp who's onboard compressor is GARBAGE...the amp sounds pretty good without the compressor...but with it in the sound is unclear garbled MUD...

    I generally don't run any effects...and really don't like them, anyway...but I am definitely in the market for a decent compressor...a budget one, of course...

    Quite frankly...if one plays slap style...I don't know how they CAN play without a compressor.
  11. westland


    Oct 8, 2004
    Hong Kong
    I've put a dbx 160A permanently in front of the EQ in my TFB550. The attack time is handled automatically by the 160A, so the only control parameters I need to think about are threshhold and ratio (which I always keep under 4:1). I like this arrangement because: (1) the dbx is dead silent (2) with a high threshhold I just have a limiter (3) if I worry about the mix, with walking basslines, this gives me a nice even volume, and (4) there are a row of LEDs that tell me how much compression I am actually using (in real-time); very nice for visual cues. I just use my ears, and if I don't like what I hear, increase threshhold, or reduce ratio. This is the way I like it ... very simple, but effective at leveling the sound.
  12. Dugz Ink

    Dugz Ink

    Oct 23, 2005
    Personally, I do use brick-wall limiting while playing.

    When I'm ready to mix, I will use light compression.

    However, I've found that EVERY time I say "compression is okay" somebody will buy a cheap compressor, twist the knobs all the way, and then wonder why his/her bass sounds like crap.

    I've also found that it's better for people to learn how to make a bass sound good without compression before they try learning how to make it sound good with compression.

    So I tend to chant my "compression is evil" mantra.
  13. IcedEarthWOM


    Oct 2, 2005
    There's lot more to this than I thought :D

    I'll probably pick one up by the beginning of the new year so I'll likely post my thoughts and my board (maybe w/ pics) then.
  14. First post on here in about 9 months or so, so here goes...

    I play a Cort Artisan A6, and for the work our band does, there's a wide, wide range for the songs we play. Some of the stuff is just chugging away on the B/E for some sections followed by some higher work further up the fretboard/strings. Therefore, playing without a compressor was OK, but it was tricky trying to get the sound to be 'level' so there wasn't a noticeable change in volume at all. I bought a compressor my guitarist didn't use any more, and the change has been great. At first, it was set up fully wrong. Everything below my low A on my E-string had virtually no sustain and just died, and I wasn't really blown away. However, I then set it up so it was a little milder in terms of attack and compression. We carried on with the practise, and it was only on the last song we played that I turned the compressor off to see how it was affecting things. I just dropped out of the mix in a real not-so-good way. Turned it back up, and there was that nice sound again.

    For me, it works super well. Seems to hold up for solo stuff too, although my baby amp's dead at the moment so I haven't had too much of a chance to stretch the compressor's legs with that yet, but we'll see...

    If you get a chance to borrow one/try one out, give it a go, then make your mind up.

    The descriptions I've given are fairly whack, but it certainly helped me out.
  15. luknfur


    Jan 14, 2004

    yeh, and this is just compression. It's the same with every piece - chorus, whatever. And every time you add a piece then you have interaction between those pieces and it gets more complicated. Add another piece, .....

    Nothing for each piece to run $200 up, the board, etc. So it gets expensive too.

    Not prime real estate for the faint of heart.
  16. msquared


    Sep 19, 2004
    Kansas City
    I personally use a Trace SMX compression pedal and consider it an essential piece of gear. It's dual band so I am able to dial in the lows and highs at different levels (or disengage high band compression altogether), which helps a lot. I don't sweat the nuances that might be lost from using it. I think that the notes are the important part anyway, and a drummer and distorted guitar are going to do more to mess up those nuances than properly configured compression does.

    When I mix, I either use Sonar's tape simulator plugin or a multiband compressor to get the initial bass compression (and no compression during the actual recording). What I use and how much depends on the sound of the band, and I'll usually determine this by soloing the bass and guitars and working the compression until I find which works the best without too much EQ adjustment and volume tweaking. I don't tend to use huge amounts if I can get away with it but some bassists just really need it (inconsistant attack and other sloppiness).
  17. Droog


    Aug 14, 2003
    I need to compress.

    Keep in mind that I was an engineer before I became a bass player so my perspective may be different. I am a little too dynamic in my playing, I rock out too much and have poor discipline at times and so to have a little bit of compression to even me out is a good thing. In my mind compression is a tool not and effect. I use it to keep an even signal to the amp, for the benefit of the speakers and for the audiance. That is not to say that you can't get some cool effects from a compressor, just not my style right now.

    I have a feeling people who get a compressor without understanding what it does, will be disapointed with their purchase. Just cuz lots of folks use them does not mean that you need one. If you know you need a slight tweek (or a big one) to your dynamics then go ahead. If you feel like getting one just for the hell of it, I think you are going to be upset.

    Its like getting a 10 speed bike when really can't quite even ride your single speed yet. Yeah, all the bigs kids got them and they seem help your riding but those shifters are gonna screw you up and you are gonna scrape your knees up and everyone will laugh at you. Just kidding about the laughing part, but its a decent analogy.
  18. luknfur


    Jan 14, 2004
    Aside from that, the main "advantage" I see from compressed tone is that it compensates for sloppy playing in terms of not maintaining a consistent strength of attack - so it can make volume level sound even when it's not being played that way. The disadvantage is that compression comes at the expense of control of dynamics - you have to work harder to get subtlties of play or notes louder or softer if you want (depending on how compressed the tone is).


    just want to clarify this statement cause it may seem like I was minimizing the value of compression and discouraging use which was not the intent.

    I said as much cause those are the first thoughts that come to my mind about compression.

    Compression is just another tool used to alter tone. I don't use a compressor but I use an attenuator which has a similar affect (oops correction here, it's the "attitude" control on the amp. Has an attenuator also but the attenuator doesn't have a compression effect) and I use it with some frequency as indicated.

    Compression can add definition to attack and clean up a pup that is otherwise on the muddy side. Also some pups don't balance well across the strings no matter how they're adjusted or what strings are used. A compressor can salvage such a pup without the need to alter attack to compensate which can in turn impair speed in the process. And a few pups you get beat the string to death and it ain't gonna happen.

    Depending on the environment, style of music, and how it's played, a lot of dynamics gets lost in the mix anyway - whether there's a soundman jacking with you or not.
  19. I wanted to add something yesterday but I couldn't think of the right words. Luknfur, you read my mind! Also remember, just like any other tool, compression can be used and/or misused.
  20. luknfur


    Jan 14, 2004
    Yeh, and it tends to be misused as a compensatory mechanism rather than as an enhancement - which to me is the real advantage cause tasteful compression can be sweet. But that's why I just sort of just spat that previous statement out.