Hey guys, Robbo here. Today marks the first in a series of blogs, I've been thinking about for a while. Hopefully, they will be an insight into the world of processed audio to help you make better decisions when it comes to how you present your finished audio, be it a voice-over, podcast or audiobook.
Today it's the one subject everyone talks about but many don't understand... Audio Compression! So get ready to level up your sound game and leave your listeners wondering, "How did they make that voice so darn irresistible?"
So let's start with the basics... What IS compression?
At its core, compression is a signal processing technique that helps manage the dynamic range of an audio signal. Dynamic range refers to the difference between the loudest and softest parts of a sound, and compression ensures that this range stays within a controlled and desirable limit. In simpler terms, compression is like an audio superhero that tames unruly peaks and boosts quiet moments, ensuring a consistent and pleasant listening experience.
The magic happens when a compressor kicks in based on predefined settings such as threshold, ratio, attack, and release. The threshold determines when compression engages, the ratio dictates the amount of compression applied, while attack and release control how quickly the compression starts and stops. Think of compression as your audio's personal bodyguard, ensuring that every word is heard loud and clear without any surprises. Whether it's a podcast, music track, or voiceover, audio compression is the behind-the-scenes maestro that turns a raw recording into a captivating auditory masterpiece.
So how do we know what to set those parameters to?
Threshold: For voiceovers, it's crucial to find that sweet spot where the compressor engages precisely when the audio goes past a certain level—enough to smooth out any sudden peaks without overly altering the natural nuances of the voice. Aim for a threshold that catches those occasional intensity spikes while allowing the softer, subtle moments to breathe. Striking this balance ensures that your voiceover maintains its authenticity while benefiting from the invisible hand of compression.
Ratio: For voiceovers, a moderate ratio, typically ranging from 2:1 to 4:1, is often the sweet spot. This means that for every 2 to 4 decibels the audio exceeds the threshold, the compressor will allow only 1 decibel to pass through. Finding the right ratio is key—it will smooth out loud peaks while maintaining the dynamic range essential for a natural and expressive voiceover. Experimenting with ratios allows you to find the perfect balance, enhancing the overall quality and impact of your voice recordings.
Attack and Release: These are your voice's dynamic duo. The attack time dictates how quickly the compressor kicks in after the audio signal crosses the threshold. For voiceovers, a moderate attack time, typically in the range of 5 to 20 milliseconds, strikes a balance between taming sudden peaks and preserving the natural transients in speech. On the flip side, the release time determines how quickly the compressor lets go once the signal falls back below the threshold. Optimal release times for voiceovers usually range from 50 to 200 milliseconds, allowing for a smooth and gradual release that avoids noticeable pumping artifacts. Customizing these parameters ensures that your voice recordings maintain clarity, control, and a vibrant dynamic range, resulting in a polished and professional sound.
What's the downside?
Compression is cool when used properly, but overdoing it? Not so much. Avoid the 'robot
apocalypse' by finding that sweet spot. We want lively voices, not voice zombies! My personal opinion? Leave it to the engineer on your job. More than likely he knows what he's doing and he'll have an idea of how much compression he wants/needs on the mix overall, and will compensate for that by using a little less on your voice-over if necessary. Don't box him into a corner by compressing the living heck out of your voice tracks and leave him scrambling to find a way out of the mess once he's added all the other elements the mix requires. TRUST ME, he won't be singing your praises to the client. Compression will also bring out any nasty artifacts in your recordings, so a noisy room, or small pop or click (Mouth Nose is an absolute killer) will also become more apparent the harder you compress, so if you're not careful you could be opening an even BIGGER can of worms.
So, if you feel like you're ready to crank up the ratio, dial in the threshold, and get the timing just right, here are my top tips when it comes to compressing your voice...
If you're not sure... Don't touch it: There's nothing more frustrating to an engineer than a poorly compressed piece of audio left for them to deal with..
Room Vibes: Your recording space matters. Treat it right, and compression becomes your sidekick. If your room is subpar to begin with, don't make it worse by making all that nasty stuff more obvious.
Level Check: Keep it real, check your levels. Have a reason to use it. If you just want you're voice to sound "cool" then there's your reason to leave it alone. If you've just recorded a wildly dynamic session, then a little compression may help to "level things out", but remember, there's an engineer on the other end of your "We Transfer" who is more than qualified to make the call on when and "how much".
Should you be using compression on your podcast?
Using audio compression effectively is crucial for podcasters to ensure a consistent and professional sound quality throughout their episodes. But remember, just like your Voice Actor counterparts, the goal is to enhance the listening experience without sacrificing the natural dynamics of your voice and content. Experimentation and understanding how compression influences your podcast's unique characteristics will help you achieve the best results.
So, there you have it – your backstage pass to audio compression awesomeness. Your voice, now with added magic! Get it right and you'll be a hero, get it wrong, and well... who knows when you'll get a call from that client again!
My final piece of advice? If in doubt, don't touch it, in this digital era, "fix it in the mix" is more truth than fantasy! We appreciate you, our Patreon squad, for being the ultimate supporters. Stay tuned for more epic tips and tricks, because this audio adventure is just getting started! If you have any questions feel free to drop me a line via the "Contact" page here on the website..