One of the most significant techniques of music processing is compression. Beginner and intermediate producers, however, may misunderstand it.

Compressor plugins are subtle, and their impact on sound isn’t really noticeable until you understand how they function.

What is the explanation for this? You’re not paying attention to the correct stuff.

In reality, you can need to learn how to hear compression until you can fully comprehend what it does and how it improves your music.

I’ll go through the fundamentals of compression and how to hear and use it in your music in this post.

What is compression?

In audio, dynamic range compression is a mixing technique that makes the loudest sections of a signal softer and the quietest parts clearer.

It’s achieved this way so that noisy peaks in a signal don’t become irritating when smaller passages remain audible.

This is how compression functions

Compression reduces the signal’s volume if it exceeds a predetermined threshold.

The ratio is the amount of which the signal is reduced after reaching the threshold.

The compression is more severe when the first number in the ratio is greater. The sum of compression is expressed as a decibel reduction in gain.

The attack and release settings determine how long the compressor’s impact lasts. Here are the fundamentals:

  • The compressor kicks in rapidly as soon as the sound crosses the threshold due to the limited attack duration.
  • A longer attack duration allows the sound to breathe more freely until the gain is reduced.
  • A short release period ensures the sound returns to its original state more quickly.
  • The sound returns easily and steadily from the gain reduction with a long release period.
  • Visit our in-depth tutorial for a more comprehensive description of compression.

Why is it essential to hear compression in order to use it?

Compression, unlike most mixing techniques, does not drastically alter the sound’s timbre.

Except with a heavily colored character compressor, correctly implemented compression won’t alter the simple tone much.

Instead, you’ll have to pay attention to the nuances of the voice.

If the volume levels rise and fall, start looking for which areas of the sound are the loudest, which are the quietest, and how the sound breathes.

The violent assault of the kick and snare becomes less prominent as the drum sound compresses, and the body of the drums and the air in the space become more prominent.

That’s one example, but if you break down a sound’s individual features, you can use the same rules to hear compression.

How to hear compression to set attack and release

Compression’s aim is to reduce the dynamic range of the sound just enough to bring it into the mix.

Compression, on the other hand, will render the music sound bolder, punchier, and more powerful.

To do so, use the threshold and ratio controls to get the volume correct, as well as the assault and release controls to get the timing right.

To figure out where you stand, you’ll need to hear each content clearly.

In three simple steps, here’s how to easily hear compression:

1. Pay attention to the transient


The transient is the blast of energy that occurs at the start of a sound.

I’m referring to the split second between when a drumstick strikes the snare and when a performer shapes the syllable through their lips.

The loudest part of every signal is nearly always the transient. The transients are the first sections to cross the line as the compressor’s threshold is reduced.

If the compressor is overworked, the transients would be pushed too deep down into the sound’s body.

In the mix, this ensures the sound can lose its liveliness and begin to sound flat.

Attack and release controls are included in this situation. To control the dynamics of the sound in the mix, lower the threshold and select a large enough ratio.

If the number you need flattens the transients entirely, you’ll need to change the assault as well.

Begin with a quick assault and eventually slow down before the vitality returns. Stop as soon as the compression has a good handle on the sound.

2. Listen for a pumping sound

As you adjust the attack, you’ll notice how compression affects the dynamics of the sound.

However, you could run into a problem with the compressor’s timing.

The gain reduction feature of the compressor would avoid working on the signal when the sound frequency falls below the threshold level.

You’ll note an unnatural pumping tone as the compression disengages whether it’s stopped too quickly or too slowly.

The strong transient of a bass drum also draws in the sustain of the cymbals, resulting in a whooshing tone as it exits.

Begin with a medium-to-long release environment and gradually reduce it until the compressor’s decay emphasizes the sound’s body and sustain without sounding artificial.

3. Get to know the meters and keep an eye on them

When learning compression, these fragile environments may be challenging to hear.

Fortunately, the compressor plugin’s meter is there to assist you. It will provide you important details about the impact your compression has on the signal if you keep an eye on it.

The amount of gain reduction added to the signal is seen in dB on a typical compressor VU meter.

However, observing the meter’s movement will provide insight into attack and release. Is the meter bouncing back and forth to the beat of the music? When you hear a transient, can it snap back quickly?

Changes to the controls can be coordinated with the vibration and the meters. You’ll be able to hear compression if you understand how they’re connected.

Compression in mastering

Compression is a common method of mastering, but it uses the same fundamentals.

During the final master, mastering compression is applied to the whole mix rather than specific songs.

The purpose of dynamics control remains the same, but it’s a far more delicate mechanism intended to improve the song without altering the mix’s sound.

When it comes to mastering, it’s simple to do more damage than good with compression.

That is why mastering engineers are among the most experienced professionals in the music industry.

Understanding how a compressor affects the final master requires years of experience and abilities.

Even so, you can hear compression in mastering if you listen for the same characteristics I mentioned earlier.

Compressor fundamentals

You’ll get used to compression’s strength in your mix until you hear it.

Now that you have a good understanding of how compression functions, you’ll be able to sense it in your mix.