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Should I get an outboard compressor?

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  • Should I get an outboard compressor?

    I record on a Tascam 2488neo and haven't had much luck with compression - don't understand how the controls behave. So I've been thinking of spending $70 or $80 on a used rack compressor, (like a DBX266XL), printing the manual (there are no instructions with the Tascam), and compressing the mic signal before it goes into the Tascam.

    Does that make sense?

    Thanks!
    Last edited by Delmont; 02-08-2017, 07:51 PM.
    Del
    www.thefullertons.net
    ( •)—:::
    Sent on my six-string jumbo ukelele

  • #2
    Most rack compressors need to see a line level signal. If your recorder has a hardware effects loop you could do it. Plugging a mic into it before the recorder wont work. The mic (or instrument) doesn't generate a strong enough signal to get the compressor to work. Read your manual and see if its possible.

    I have taken a stereo rack compressor and run a guitar into the first channel, then run the first channel into the second to get some compression. Its still not the best solution and there was allot of hiss because of the high levels I had to crank the gains high. A mic still wouldn't work this way. A guitar pickup has barely enough output for it to work.

    Your best solution is to buy a mic preamp that has a compressor built in. An inexpensive one like this should do the job https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/TubeMPC They are called channel strips because they have more circuitry besides a preamp and can go way up in to the thousands in cost.

    I found a used Rane on EBay that has a preamp/EQ and compressor for around $20. Its a handy 1/2 rack unit for plugging in where you need to tweak a mic. Normally when I record I do all my tweaking when mixing.

    I'm sure your recorder has compression. Learning to use it properly does take a clear understanding of what you're trying to do and how a compressor works. Its not something you set and forget like a reverb or chorus. You have to know how to tweak it to find the sweet spot and that sweet spot can be different when listening to the track solo vs in a mix. Takes allot of practice weather you're using a hardware or software version.

    Comment


    • Delmont
      Delmont commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks, W, that helps a lot. The trouble I'm having with the onboard compressor is that the values are unfamiliar. For instance, the ratio dial doesn't display a ratio. Instead, its default is 70 and you can either raise or lower the number. But there's no ratio.

      So I'll keep fooling with the onboard comp, and I'll also look into the mic preamp option.

      Glad I asked! Thanks again.

    • Delmont
      Delmont commented
      Editing a comment
      PS - I just read the manual for the ART mic preamp you mentioned. Looks like a good tool for the job. I'll revisit the onboard controls to see if I can get anywhere with them, and if I can't, I'll spring for the preamp.

  • #3
    Yea, some manufacturers use they're own binary scales instead of using established standard measurements. Its a matter of number fractions in analog vs binary scaling.

    You may be able to decipher what they're ratio scale is if you knew what the 50 mark was. 0 is likely 1:1 100 is likely infinity and makes it work as a limiter. If the 50 mark was say 5:1 you'd have some reference where you're working. With most comps the ratio is non linear. It may change ratio gradually in single digits between zero and 50 and above 50 it jumps to double and triple digits as it reaches infinity.

    Its unlikely the Tascam will allow you to run an effect when tracking. First reason being is there is no need to. You should have a good 100db+ of dynamic range and unless you're going from silence to the loudness of a jet engine you should be able to fit the waveform in between the floor and ceiling without distortion.

    Compression is usually added when you mix a track when you record digitally. You have the ability to tweak just the right amount needed for a good mix within the context of a mix.

    If you were recording to tape, you might need to limit dynamics to prevent tape saturation. There's also a differences in analog involving loudness vs presence that involves gain staging a signal to find the analog gears sweet spot. I was a master at finding those points when I recorded to tape. It took a long time to adjust my technique to a medium that no longer had those sweet spots. I have to be satisfied with whatever I may get using analog gear on the front end and creating an aural illusion they exist within a mix.

    Of course compression can be an effect a player relies on for his musical performance. Bass and
    Guitar often rely on compression to sustain they're notes and curb their hard attacks. You'd usually want compress those signals before drive/gain staging so you'd use a compressor pedal just after the guitar before any gain pedals or before plugging into an amp. Even a guitar speaker and the air between a cab and mic have some natural compression.

    With vocals, I rarely if ever use any compression tracking. Most singers like myself have enough breath control to keep a sustained note. If they don't, a compressor sure isn't going to help. I use a rack compressor with my live PA but very mildly. I could just as easily turn it off and never miss it.

    Problem with compression on a vocal mic is It creates allot of unwanted noise you only wind up having to remove later. Maybe is the singer is super amateur and cant maintain a proper distance it might be helpful, but again, its still better to use it after tracking so he'll at least try and do better singing without it.

    Of course after tracking you can go ahead and pile it on as needed when mixing. One of my vocal plugins has three compressors in one. One for high frequencies, one for low and one for overall. Then I have gating and de-essing, Saturating and EQing all in the same plugin. I can dial a weak vocal up to sound as powerful as guitars and drums are with it. I wouldn't even attempt to do it before the mix was nearly done however.

    You need a target to shoot at not a black hole. Wit a mix half complete you can easily over or undershoot how much you need. If you undershoot you have to add more and a partially compressed track may not trigger a second layer of compression properly like a dry signal does. If you over do it you're usually screwed. You can try an expander to decompress but they rarely work very well.

    You do need to keep in mind that even when you're done mixing, you want to leave dynamic headroom for your mastering plugins to work. if you record a song with compressors going and the mastering engineer says you have to much - what do you do? re-record everything? If you use compression mixing you simply back the levels down and print a new copy.


    Using a comp without reference numbers can be done using your ears only and feeling your way there if you clearly understand how each parameter works.

    Your Tascam compressor does have some presets. I'd scroll through the presets and write down the numbers then compare them. A vocal setting likely has a fast attack of 1 or less. If the setting is 10 then you might assume that's 100 milliseconds. 9 is 90 8 is 80 etc. Vocals are often best less then 100ms attack, say 40~50ms. Guitar attack may be best between 40 to 60ms, up to much higher depending on what's needed. Release on vocals may be high as 120 down to 50. Guitar release may be 50 for choppy cleans to 200 or more.

    You simply compare the presets to get some idea of the parameter ranges being used then tweak them from there depending on the results you want.

    Your particular comp has Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release and level and a switch to turn it on and off. You don't have an input gain level so you're going to have to rely on a consistent recording level. If you record a track at a lower dB, you're peaks are going to be smaller and therefore your threshold setting will be affected.

    The threshold is your ceiling that flattens the peaks. As you bring it down you also bring the peaks down. If the track is weak, you have to bring the ceiling down farther before it starts to compress. if you have a guitar track that's recorded at say -10db, bringing the threshold down to around -16db should be where the comp starts to work. -20 might be ideal and -25 is completely flattened.

    If you record the track hotter, -16dB may be too much, a weaker track you may not begin to hit the ceiling till -25 or -30dB.

    If the comp had an input gain, you could leave the ceiling at say -20 then adjust the input level till it hit the ceiling.

    The ratio is going to adjust how flat the peaks are. A high ratio is limiter which completely pancakes all gain above the fixed threshold level, Lower ratios have rounder more gradual flattening.

    Attack and release are strictly timer setting on how quickly the flattening begins and ends. If the attack is too quick you can hear it chop the sound off before it ever gets to a normal level. Too long the entire transient gets through and its like the comp isn't even working.

    Release is a matter of how much silence you want between transients. If you leave the setting high, the comp never shuts off. The comp is still on by the time the next attack occurs. Set too short and your tails get chopped off and sound unnatural.

    There are no ideal settings for either because the tempo of the music and note spacing's will dictate what's needed. Even if you do break the temp of the music down, and say its 100bps, is the attack going to sound best at 5/10 of a second or 1/10 of a second. Do you want the release to extend right up to the next beat or end 1/2 way or 1/4 the distance. This is where your ears must guide you and you have to develop that guidance by tweaking the tool and discovering what happens. That's not possible on a forum like this it has to be demonstrated do you can hear it.

    The easiest way to learn might be to have a snare track with enough dead air between the beats. you could then tweak the attack, decay, threshold and ration to that single instrument and discover what you can and cant do with the tool. Then moving to other instruments and complex combinations will be allot easier.

    One other item. Your level setting can be used in combination with your on off switch.

    You'd want to begin and (usually end) with a 1:1 gain/loudness. By turning the comp on and off and then adjusting the level you can make sure you aren't using the comp as a gain booster or it producing volume sucking. You can abuse it for those results if you want but you'll at least want to know its being done so use the on off switch to do A/B comparisons of the volume with the comp engaged and bypassed.

    Last edited by WRGKMC; 02-09-2017, 11:06 AM.

    Comment


    • #4
      Thanks! Don't have a snare track. I'm trying to tame vocal and instrument spikes but haven't had much luck. I don't need to add sustain.

      I'll keep fiddling with it until it seems to do something.
      Del
      www.thefullertons.net
      ( •)—:::
      Sent on my six-string jumbo ukelele

      Comment


      • daddymack
        daddymack commented
        Editing a comment
        are you sure you don't want to use a limiter for that?

    • #5
      I have a couple of suggestions, based on your posts.

      1. Read up about compression. It's not a simple matter, and there's some 'artistry' in terms of how and when you apply it. For example, if you are otherwise really delighted with your vocal / instrument takes, and it's just the amplitude of the signal, you can use compression as you mix down. But if you feel like parts are dropping away (or clipping inadvertently) you may wish to use it while tracking. Or both.

      2. dbx makes some great inexpensive rack compressors. Take a look: http://dbxpro.com/en-US/product_fami...ics-processors

      Also, a lot depends on complexity of arrangement. Given the math-y nature of compression, I agree that not having the standard control labels makes it more difficult.

      Edit: I see you referenced a dbx 266. That's a very nice unit.
      https://soundcloud.com/danhedonia

      Comment


      • WRGKMC
        WRGKMC commented
        Editing a comment
        He's using a stand alone recorder.
        If he uses an external compressor he also need to use an external mic preamp before it.
        Rack compressors are line level not mic level. If he uses a condenser mic he also needs phantom power.
        Last edited by WRGKMC; 03-09-2017, 06:27 AM.

    • #6
      Yup. What I probably want is a preamp/channel strip. I'm trying to figure out which one. What do you know about the DBX 286s, the ProSonus Channel II, or others?
      Last edited by Delmont; 03-08-2017, 09:24 AM.
      Del
      www.thefullertons.net
      ( •)—:::
      Sent on my six-string jumbo ukelele

      Comment


      • #7
        Originally posted by Delmont View Post
        Yup. What I probably want is a preamp/channel strip. I'm trying to figure out which one. What do you know about the DBX 286s, the ProSonus Channel II, or others?
        IMO, the DBX 286s is a great value and will give you everything you need. It's more than the $70 - $80 you mention in the OP but I think it's worth the investment.

        You really don't want to compromise on your microphone or the first stage of amplification and the 286s won't mess up your sound. DBX documentation is also first rate and easy to understand.
        Every worm, every insect, every animal is working
        for the ecological wellbeing of the planet.

        Only we humans, who claim to be the most intelligent
        species here, are not doing that. ~Sadhguru

        Comment


        • Delmont
          Delmont commented
          Editing a comment
          Yup, I read the DBX manual, and it looks like it's a cinch. I'm also interested in the tube-equipped PreSonus Studio Channel, but it's too hard to communicate with the company, which makes me leery of their customer support.

          The ART Pro Channel II reads well, but some reviews say you have to swap out the tubes immediately and others say ART gear tends to be noisier than other makes.

          Getting there. Thanks again!

      • #8
        Joemeek threeQ is a good buy for the money. It has a mic preamp, optical compressor and 3 band EQ which is all you should need.

        My thoughts on a DeEsser are, they aren't essential in most cases. You cant fix a problem by covering it up and masking it. That's like saying you give up trying to improve yourself as a singer. Choosing the right mic and learning to physically sing well in order to avoid sibilance is always the best remedy.

        If you have ceased to improve as a singer or have some inherent speech impediment, then a DeEsser my be the crutch you need to tame the problem. Just realize a DeEsser robs important frequencies in order to mask problem. You're much better off applying a DeEsser when mixing and apply it selectively to treat only the words that need it. When you slap it on the entire track its like throwing a blanket over the mic which sucks all the air frequencies away.

        Comment


        • Delmont
          Delmont commented
          Editing a comment
          The Joemeek and DBX both get great reviews. Good to hear more props for both. It helps narrow things down.

          Actually, I HAVE given up on improving my singing! I can write 'em and play 'em well enough, but I can't sing 'em. Never could (unless you admire the Alfalfa/Wildman Fischer/Pete Stampfel school). As Frank used to say, that's life! That's why I'm forced to put so much time into vocals - re-singing every line over and over (and over), tweaking the signal, and finding work-arounds.

          But I haven't given up on improving my recording skills and setup. That's why I'm wondering about preamps. The goal isn't to make my vocals sound good. It's to make them sound less annoying.

          You're right about de-essing. I find I can tame them by rolling the highs all the way off and compensating by pushing up the mids. On the 'scam, you can't d-ess selected parts. It's the whole track or nothing.

        • onelife
          onelife commented
          Editing a comment
          You don't need to use the de-esser on the way in but, since the DBX 286s has a de-esser, it will be available to use when mixing (if required) by treating the unit as an external effects device.

      • #9
        Originally posted by WRGKMC View Post
        Its unlikely the Tascam will allow you to run an effect when tracking. First reason being is there is no need to. You should have a good 100db+ of dynamic range and unless you're going from silence to the loudness of a jet engine you should be able to fit the waveform in between the floor and ceiling without distortion.
        Since compression is a series effect, it can be fed from one of the Tascam's effects sends with the output of the compressor brought back in via a line input and recorded on a separate track.
        Every worm, every insect, every animal is working
        for the ecological wellbeing of the planet.

        Only we humans, who claim to be the most intelligent
        species here, are not doing that. ~Sadhguru

        Comment


        • Delmont
          Delmont commented
          Editing a comment
          Hm. Sounds like it's time crack that manual again!

          Thanks!

      • #10
        Finally bought a channel strip.

        Found a great price ($225 shipped) on a new ART Pro Channel II. Even if I have to shell out another $25 for a couple of new tubes, it'll be a a good deal.

        Now to figure out how to work the dern thing . . . .
        Del
        www.thefullertons.net
        ( •)—:::
        Sent on my six-string jumbo ukelele

        Comment


        • #11
          Finally bought a channel strip.

          Found a great price ($225 shipped) on a new ART Pro Channel II. Even if I have to shell out $25 for a better pair of tubes, it's a lot of preamp for the money.

          Now to figure out how to work the dern thing . . . .
          Del
          www.thefullertons.net
          ( •)—:::
          Sent on my six-string jumbo ukelele

          Comment


          • #12
            ^^^^ ART uses what you call starved bias circuitry for the tubes. Normally a preamp tube needs about 185vdc to operate at full bias. What ART does (and all other budget preamp manufacturers under the $500) is use a low voltage on the tube to get it to conduct a signal then they use solid state circuitry to force the signal through it. This adds some coloration to the sound but the tube doesn't add any additional gain like it would in a high voltage preamp. I have an ART SGX 2000 guitar preamp which has this feature. Its OK for what it does but its definitely not the real deal. Many manufacturers use these starved tube circuits. I even have one in my Marshall Valvestate amp.

            You can try swapping tubes but to be honest the differences are so small you'd be wasting your money. I tried swapping a dozen different tubes in a smaller Art Preamp and even with my long experience working with tubes I couldn't hear a dimes worth of difference. Tubes have to be running high voltage and actually amplifying the signal to get to the point where its tone/gain/saturation/and coloration make a difference. Even then its hard for most people to make out a difference unless you're doing quick A/B comparisons.

            I can say I got a slightly better response using an Electro Harmonix preamp tube. Those tubes have a really clean top end and they did slightly better then all the others I tried. If the preamp needs a little more clarity you could try one of those but much of its going to be absorbed by the rest of the circuitry which is all solid state. Any improvements will likely be bottlenecked by the rest of the SS circuitry.

            Still its a fine preamp for the cost. The tube may give the mic a little tube coloration and saturation. (may add some unwanted hiss too)

            Let us know how you make out.

            Comment


            • Delmont
              Delmont commented
              Editing a comment
              As always, thanks!
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