Compressor Shoot Out On Live Drums

With all of the software compressors available, it can be difficult for a young producer to decide what’s an effective use of their budget.  Most DAW’s have some sort of stock compressor, but there’s always the allure of these high-end 3rd party processors that supposedly give you this magical mix the stock processors do not.  Today we find out.

Compression plays a vital role in all aspects of music production.  Consequently, it’s also the most misunderstood and misused dynamic processor I know of.

Compression is meant to give you control over the dynamic range of an audio source.  The dynamic range of an audio source is the distance between its quietest and loudest parts.  A compressor can be used to reduce (compress) the distance between those parts, and in effect, make the overall sound source louder.

When used correctly compression is an indispensable tool in the world of engineering sound and music.

I have a live multi-track drum session in Ableton mixed and polished off using its stock compressors.  I’ll swap them out with popular 3rd party processors to see which ones deliver the best results.

Here is our drum mix using Ableton’s single-band compressor.

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Figure 1: Ableton's single-band compressor.

 

The purpose of this article is to see how Ableton’s stock compressor stacks up against popular competition like the Waves SSL 4000 Series E-Channel Strip. We will also take a look at IK Multimedia’s Classic and Opto Compressor.

Note: Only single-band compressors in the mix will be exchanged to keep the results as honest as possible.

 IK Multimedia’s Classic and Opto Compressor

Figure 2: IK Multimedia's Classic Compressor.

Figure 3: IK Multimedia's Opto Compressor.

 

IK Multimedia has grown in popularity over the last decade making a name for their savvy ability to emulate analog gear, amongst other things.  So we exchanged Ableton’s single-band compressors for the above IK compressors and used similar settings.

You can purchase these compressors individually or in bulk with IK’s T-Racks 3 Deluxe Mastering Suite, which cost $500 (or at least that’s what it cost when I bought it).

Here is our drum segment using the above IK compressors:

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It’s worth mentioning that we had to use two different IK compressors because Ableton’s stock compressor is capable of both classic and opto compression.

Now, compare this to our Ableton example:

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The results are quite similar, but once you decide for yourself which example you think sounds better the question then becomes simple.  If I own Ableton, is it really worth it for me to invest in additional 3rd party compressors?

Waves SSL 4000 E-Channel Strip

Waves are renown for they’re high-end processors.  They are one of the biggest names out there and the Waves SSL 4000 Series has been a popular plug-in bundle for many years.

We repeated this same test using the compressor from this channel strip to see how Ableton faired against some so-called ‘high-end’ competition.

All of the compressor settings from the original Ableton session were replicated as closely as possible.  Only the compressor section of the E-channel was used.

Here are the results:

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Now, compare this to our Ableton example and our IK example:

Ableton example:

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IK Multimedia Example:

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Individual Tracks

 Here are some kick and snare examples you can compare to see how these compressors match up on an individual track level.

Kick Tracks

Ableton Kick Track:

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IK Multimedia Kick Track:

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WAVES E-Channel Kick Track:

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Snare Tracks

Ableton Snare Track:

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IK Multimedia Snare Track:

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Waves E-Channel Snare Track:

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Summary

Decide for yourself, which compressor delivered the best results – it’s merely a matter of opinion.  Personally, I thought that Ableton’s compressor delivered the most transparent results.  But, I also found that the IK compressors delivered what sounded like the clearest mix, which was probably my favorite of the three.  I liked the SSL E-Channel results the least in this scenario, but I could see the sound that it produces being useful in certain Hip Hop situations.

Ableton’s compressor clearly outshined the IK and SSL compressor in terms of control and flexibility.  It had the widest range (in milliseconds) for Attack and Release settings and was capable of both generic and opto compression, amongst other things.

If there is anything to learn from this experiment it’s this:  Spend less time drooling over the gear you can’t afford and more time critically learning how to work with the gear you have – it’s probably better than you think it is.

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Feel free to sound off in the comments below and let us know which example you think delivered the best results

To Be Continued…

In part 2 of this article we will continue with a shoot out using popular bus compressors on the master mix of our drum session.

Continue to part 2:

http://www.samplepacks.ca/compressor-shoot-out-on-live-drums-pt-2

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