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Tech Tip: Audio Compression Settings for Recording Bass Guitar

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Since the electric bass has a wider dynamic range than many instruments, compression is often applied in order to maintain a more even volume level and to match the dynamics of the kick drum. When peaks are reduced, the entire bass part can be boosted in the mix without adding distortion.

Markbass Compressore Tube Bass Compressor Pedal
With the Markbass Compressore Tube Bass Compressor Pedal you can precisely dial in every compression parameter thanks to an array of dedicated knobs.

The settings depend upon both the music and the playing style of the bassist. It's necessary to listen to the part and adjust the compression settings to obtain the sound you want. If the compressor has an input level, adjust it to get a nice hot signal, but not loud enough to clip.

The threshold level determines the maximum level—signals louder than the threshold are reduced in volume. At 0dB, only the loudest signals (peaks) are compressed, retaining most of the natural dynamics of the player. Settings between -2dB and -5dB are often used; when even more compression is desired, a threshold of as much as -10dB or even -15dB might be chosen.

The ratio setting determines how much the signal is reduced. Since the electric bass has a wider dynamic range than many instruments, compression is often applied in order to maintain a more even volume level and to match the dynamics of the kick drum. When peaks are reduced, the entire bass part can be boosted in the mix without adding distortion. The settings depend upon both the music and the playing style of the bassist. It's necessary to listen to the part and adjust the compression settings to obtain the sound you want. If the compressor has an input level, adjust it to get a nice hot signal, but not loud enough to clip.

The threshold level determines the maximum level—signals louder than the threshold are reduced in volume. At 0dB, only the loudest signals (peaks) are compressed, retaining most of the natural dynamics of the player. Settings between -2dB and -5dB are often used; when even more compression is desired, a threshold of as much as -10dB or even -15dB might be chosen.

The ratio setting determines how much the signal is reduced. The higher the ratio, the more the signal is compressed. A 2:1 ratio cuts the output of any signal above the threshold in half; a 3:1 ratio reduces a signal above the threshold by 2/3. A ratio of 3:1 is a good place to begin in your search for the optimum ratio. 4:1 is also widely used, but occasionally a ratio as high as 10:1 will suit the sound.

The attack setting determines how quickly the peak is reduced. Slower attack times allow the initial transient of the note to come through, for a punchier sound. If the attack is fast, all sharp peaks will be cut, and the part will be smoother. A medium attack time of 20ms to 40ms is a good starting place.

Electro-Harmonix Bass Metaphors Compressor Effects Pedal
The Electro-Harmonix Bass Metaphors Pedal includes distortion and EQ controls that work in conjunction with its compression circuit for easy sound shaping.

The decay time determines how quickly the compression goes away. If it's set too low, it may compress a quieter note that rapidly follows an above-the-threshold note. A medium setting is good—fast enough to be ready for a quiet note, not so fast that it boosts noise that occurs between notes. Between 125ms to 250ms is usually appropriate for bass.

A compressor may allow you to select between hard-knee and soft-knee. Set on hard-knee, the compressor waits until the signal crosses the threshold, then it reduces the signal at the specified ratio for a punchy sound. With soft-knee compression, the ratio gradually increases as the signal approaches the threshold, resulting in a more natural feel and a wider dynamic range.

If the output level is equal to the level of the peaks of the uncompressed signal, the overall loudness will be higher. However, cheap compressors may add noise when the output level is raised, so it may be preferable to boost the volume at the mixing board. Adjusting one setting affects other settings. For example, an adjustment to the threshold may require an additional adjustment to the ratio. Keep at it until you get the sound that fits.

Tags: Recording Electric Bass Effects Pedals

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