Compressor attack and release times

I’ve put together this quick demo

Here’s what to listen for: 

Fast attack, medium release 
Pay attention to how the fast attack immediately clamps down on the drum transient (the initial spike). Note how the impact of the drum sounds much softer as a result. This makes the drum sound squashed. 

Medium attack, medium release 
Notice how with a slower attack time, some of the transients are let through by the compressor before the gain reduction begins. As a result, the very start of the drum is significantly louder than the body or tail. This makes the drum sound snappy. 

Slow attack, medium release 
Compare the length of the drum transient between a medium attack time and slow attack time. Notice how the “clamping down” action is slower, letting more of the transient through. As a result, the transient is more solid, and has more body. 

Medium attack, fast release 
Notice how, compared to the previous examples, the tail rises up much faster than before. Because the gain reduction returns to unity about halfway through the beat, the last part of the tail decays naturally. This produces a swelling sound, in contrast to the sucking/reversed sound of a medium release. 

Medium attack, slow release 
Here the gain reduction is not given a chance to return to unity before the next hit. What you’re hearing is only the first half of the release envelope. Notice how the effect is not so dramatic. This is also because the compressor is already reducing gain when the next transient arrives – meaning there is less room for the compressor to further reduce gain (as compared to the gain reduction being at unity just before the transient arrives). A slower release can be useful when you want to keep the dynamics controlled but in a more natural (and less dramatic) way. 

Each example was processed by one instance of a notorious free compressor with no parameter readout – so don’t ask me for the numbers, I don’t know what they are. I tuned the compressor by ear, and so should you! 

-Kim.

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