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DiMarco

Compressor misconceptions

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I think there are some misconceptions about using a compressor in your signal chain, and a lot of bassists seem to not know what a decent compressor can actually do for you.
Last week, again, a fellow bassist told me "I do not need a compressor, my playing is good enough".

Why do some players feel using a compressor is a bad thing? Any sound engineer will ALWAYS compress your signal anyway and you do not use a compressor to "fix bad playing technique".

First of all: You need a GOOD compressor if you want it to get you a good sound. I tried a number of cheap comps and wasn't at all happy with what they do. For instance the Spectracomp on my TC amp is completely RUBBISH compared to my two pedal comps, it is acting like a limiter not a compressor.

There are two compressors in my big drawer of pedals, and they both have very different characteristics.

Most of the time I will use my Cali76cb, which has a high pass filter that keeps it from squashing the low B on a higher ratio and it has a dry/wet blend so I can combine the compressed and uncompressed sound. I have it set up with a pretty long attack time, low ratio and I blend in a fair amount of the uncompressed signal. This way the compressor doesn't do much when I play softly but when I dig in it will add punch through the attack phase of the envelope (the attack phase of each note I play). It makes my basses sound more 'in your face' when I play hard, exactly what I want it to do.

Then there's the Black Finger which is adding tube warmth to my sound. This one (kinda like a Diamond compressor) works particularly well with Pbass tone and adds that tuby on the verge of breakup grit if I want it to. If I had to describe the effect I'd say the Black Finger makes my bass sound bigger.

So there you go. One compressor for punch, one for warmth. None for "fixing my touch".

Anyone out there who also find their compressor improves their tone? If so, in what way?

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11 minutes ago, DiMarco said:

Any sound engineer will ALWAYS compress your signal anyway

Sounds like an excellent reason not to have one then.

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My personal experience with compressors is that i have never spent a lot of money on one. i tend to buy a relatively cheap one, it either doesn't do anything audibly that i like or it is too complex for me to get what i want out of it, so i sell it on.

I understand the reasoning behind them but i find them to difficult to use.

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Posted (edited)
16 minutes ago, DiMarco said:

I think there are some misconceptions about using a compressor in your signal chain, and a lot of bassists seem to not know what a decent compressor can actually do for you.
Last week, again, a fellow bassist told me "I do not need a compressor, my playing is good enough".

Why do some players feel using a compressor is a bad thing? Any sound engineer will ALWAYS compress your signal anyway and you do not use a compressor to "fix bad playing technique".

First of all: You need a GOOD compressor if you want it to get you a good sound. I tried a number of cheap comps and wasn't at all happy with what they do. For instance the Spectracomp on my TC amp is completely RUBBISH compared to my two pedal comps, it is acting like a limiter not a compressor.

There are two compressors in my big drawer of pedals, and they both have very different characteristics.

Most of the time I will use my Cali76cb, which has a high pass filter that keeps it from squashing the low B on a higher ratio and it has a dry/wet blend so I can combine the compressed and uncompressed sound. I have it set up with a pretty long attack time, low ratio and I blend in a fair amount of the uncompressed signal. This way the compressor doesn't do much when I play softly but when I dig in it will add punch through the attack phase of the envelope (the attack phase of each note I play). It makes my basses sound more 'in your face' when I play hard, exactly what I want it to do.

Then there's the Black Finger which is adding tube warmth to my sound. This one (kinda like a Diamond compressor) works particularly well with Pbass tone and adds that tuby on the verge of breakup grit if I want it to. If I had to describe the effect I'd say the Black Finger makes my bass sound bigger.

So there you go. One compressor for punch, one for warmth. None for "fixing my touch".

Anyone out there who also find their compressor improves their tone? If so, in what way?

I love em, compressors/compression are/is brilliant and once you get your head around using them, how it can work across all instruments and music live and recorded it opens up a whole new world of enjoyment.

Had a few, current lot CaliCB, there is a another FET compressor as well in my amp/preamp pedal and I also have an FEA labs Opti FET which is the nuts

Edited by Cuzzie
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I love them. I own loads, have sold even more.

Was totally amazed by the new-ish Boss BC-1X. 
falls into the “it just works” category of ease of use.

 

My favourite is probably the Empress though. 

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37 minutes ago, DiMarco said:

Why do some players feel using a compressor is a bad thing? 

I don't think most bass players think it's a bad thing, more that they don't hear any real benefit from having one on their pedal boards when playing live.

It seems to me that there are at least as many bassists who are perfectly happy without a pedal board comp as their counterparts who swear by them.

Besides, if you are making extensive use of dirt pedals as part of "your sound" you're already getting some compression in your signal, and some amps have compression built in also...

55 minutes ago, DiMarco said:

First of all: You need a GOOD compressor if you want it to get you a good sound. I tried a number of cheap comps and wasn't at all happy with what they do. For instance the Spectracomp on my TC amp is completely RUBBISH compared to my two pedal comps, it is acting like a limiter not a compressor.

...although I note you regard the TC Spectracomp on the TC amp to be "pants" because it acts like a limiter.

Nothing wrong with a limiter though. It's a valid alternative which many bassists are very happy with. It allows your natural sound and playing technique to come through / "breathe" for the most part whilst eliminating unwanted volume spikes.

38 minutes ago, DiMarco said:

Any sound engineer will ALWAYS compress your signal anyway

It makes complete sense to use bass compression in a recording studio where the compression can be adjusted to suit the style of music and done expertly by a sound engineer (see comment on attack / release below). And if you're playing at a venue with a decent sound engineer who is going to be compressing your signal anyway - so I completely get where @jrixn1 is coming from with his post above.

40 minutes ago, DiMarco said:

...you do not use a compressor to "fix bad playing technique".

A lot of bass players use their compressors to get more even volume across their strings as an alternative to adjusting the height of one side of their pups e.g. closer to the top D and G strings, but also to prevent unwanted volume spikes more generally.

Dunno if that is what you are referring to as "fixing bad technique?"

43 minutes ago, DiMarco said:

I have it set up with a pretty long attack time, low ratio and I blend in a fair amount of the uncompressed signal. This way the compressor doesn't do much when I play softly but when I dig in it will add punch through the attack phase of the envelope (the attack phase of each note I play). It makes my basses sound more 'in your face' when I play hard, exactly what I want it to do.

Agreed. It seems to me that the much of the "magic" of a compressor is in the attack and release settings, which actually should be adjusted for each track to suit the style of playing. Something that a trained sound engineer will do in a recording studio. It also seems to be a facet of compression that is discussed very little and perhaps not widely understood (I certainly don't claim to be an expert!)

Again this level of refinement / adjustment makes total sense in the hands of an expert sound engineer in the studio, but less so for a bassist doing DIY compression in the Dog 'n' Duck pub?

 

Just my 2 cents FWIW! 😊

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3 hours ago, Al Krow said:

Agreed. It seems to me that the much of the "magic" of a compressor is in the attack and release settings, which actually should be adjusted for each track to suit the style of playing.

According to the Trace Elliot manual a single compressor can't cover bass guitar. Hence the dual band High/Low compression on the SMX. Otherwise they are 'one knob' compressors ie fixed ratios, but they work as advertised.

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Compressor misconceptions, interesting thread title but bass compression is a widely misunderstood subject. Unfortunately, a lot of these misunderstandings and misconceptions have appeared on Basschat over the years which only serve to further confuse an already widely misunderstood subject. And unfortunately, a lot of this nonsense is still available when searching the forum and through Google so is likely to perpetuate. 

My take on it is that some people assume a stomp box compressor is an effect, they expect something spectacular to happen when they engage it, or for something immediately obvious as you'd get from other effect types, filters, synths etc. When this doesn't happen the questions start which is fair enough or assumptions are made that the pedal serves no purpose. This is where, IMO the misconceptions start creeping in. Regardless, while not exactly glamorous compression is a very useful tool in much the same way that EQ is a useful tool. While it can be used as an effect that's not really its point.

Possibly the most sagely advice I've seen on BC regarding compression was something along the lines of "don't think like a bass player when using it, think like a sound engineer". That's when it all makes sense.

Do you need one? No, not really, but if it's going to help you sit better with the other instruments, why wouldn't you?

Can you control your dynamics with your fingers? Yes. To a point. But depending on where you play the same note on the neck (e.g. G at 15th fret on the E string compared to an open G string) the same note can have hugely different dynamic energy levels. While you can play one louder or harder than the other a compressor will smooth these out so both notes will work in the mix despite their different harmonic densities.

Compression kills my dynamics. Yes it can if you haven't set it up correctly. In the same way that a poorly EQ'd tone can make you sound awful. But when done right you retain your dynamics and still sit better in the mix. 

While compression takes a while to understand it's worth doing your homework to get a good understanding of how to get the best out of it. Many of us spend a good chunk of cash on gear chasing the sounds in our heads, we buy certain basses and amps to make us sound great, so why not use compression to help make you slot in alongside the other instruments you're playing with? 

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Posted (edited)

As a wise and knowledgeable engineer once wrote understanding what a compressor can do for you and figuring out if/why you need one is half the battle. The wise old engineer listed these points as some reasons one may wish to ‘compress’ their sound. 
 

Dynamics control.

Tone enhancement.

Speaker/amp protection.

For added sustain.

As an effect (ie Tony Levin).

Only for pop/slap.

To keep filters/other effects from blasting ears.

So I can use a much lighter touch on the strings.

Edited by krispn
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Posted (edited)

So many misconceptions across compression it’s almost too many to go through.

Why learn to change a string and use a screwdriver for pick up heights - a tech/luthier can do that?

Why learn about other pick ups than the standard one in your bass and maybe change them, the manufacturers did that and surely got it right?

Maybe the sound engineer should also say which bass, amp, DI box etc you should use?

Compression - leave it alone but limiter that’s ok?! I often see this written to protect the speakers from violent spikes. The people that say/use this - how often are you ragging your speakers so hard they are about to fart out this requiring this? Is it poor technique being masked if your volume of playing is so widely off to create a massive jump? Maybe compression and or limiting is what is required in this scenario.......


Maybe that is taking it to its nth degree - but even those who don’t use agree it is and should be used. Recording or live - which is more important? Arguably live and a more pleasurable experience, but defo equal at worst.

And for the sound man - surely giving the most balanced and careful thought out signal as possible from all instruments is better to slow him/her to do as good job as possible as well as for your band

Edited by Cuzzie
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I have to agree with the OP that cheap compressors are not up to much. I advanced from in-amp compression to a cheap Behringer then to a mid-priced Boss (forgotten the name) and didn't find either of them very useful. It was only when I got myself a Seymour Duncan Double Back VCA-based compressor that I was able to get the kind of 'thunk' I was looking for. 

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For years I tried and couldn’t get along with compression, but then I was playing with gain/drive and digging in as hard as possible all the time, maybe I already had the compression I needed with the drive, and dynamics weren’t a factor. Now however I’m playing with a lighter touch, lighter pick, no drive, and have minimal compression. I’ve just chosen the “even everything out” setting from the manual, it doesn’t seem to do anything until I switch it off, which I suppose is a sign it’s working as it should. Holds me back a bit, which is what I wanted, nothing special, no instant miracles, just smooth things out a tad.

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On 01/05/2021 at 20:11, DiMarco said:


Last week, again, a fellow bassist told me "I do not need a compressor, my playing is good enough".

 

 And what makes you think its not?

 

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30 minutes ago, dave_bass5 said:

 And what makes you think its not?

 

I think it's more not understanding what a compressor can do, as it isn't necessarily something that can be achieved by "good enough" playing.

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9 minutes ago, Kev said:

I think it's more not understanding what a compressor can do, as it isn't necessarily something that can be achieved by "good enough" playing.

And not necessarily needed by everyone, but that goes against the comp users code lol.

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Posted (edited)

Nor are any other effects. Your point being?

Playing good doesn't nullify the added value of fuzzes, choruses, wah pedals and octavers does it? What is different about compressors that people say they don't need them because they are playing good? It is rubbish really.

 

Edited by DiMarco

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15 minutes ago, DiMarco said:

Nor are any other effects. Your point being?

Playing good doesn't nullify the added value of fuzzes, choruses, wah pedals and octavers does it? What is different about compressors that people say they don't need them because they are playing good? It is rubbish really.

 

Ok, so thats your opinion but not an answer to the question.

I asked you why you thought the player in question was wrong. I didnt mention FX or anything else. Can we keep on topic?

Surely its up to the player to decide and not be judged on a web forum? Ive got a compressor, its a nice one, i used it when i needed to, but that is not all the time. Are you telling me I’m scared to use it all the time/i should use it all the time/my tone is not good enough for me if i dont etc. 

I’m not dismissing Comps, just questioning your comment. Why do you think this player thinks a comp is a bad thing and he isn’t just happy with his tone and doesn't want to mess with it? Why should he consider something that will change his tone if he is happy with what he has?

As for cheap vs expensive, where do the two cross over, and who sets this cross over point? Is it a universally agreed price point or just an opinion?

 

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What I don't understand about compressors is why people get so cross about them.

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53 minutes ago, dave_bass5 said:

Ok, so thats your opinion but not an answer to the question.

I asked you why you thought the player in question was wrong. I didnt mention FX or anything else. Can we keep on topic?

Surely its up to the player to decide and not be judged on a web forum? Ive got a compressor, its a nice one, i used it when i needed to, but that is not all the time. Are you telling me I’m scared to use it all the time/i should use it all the time/my tone is not good enough for me if i dont etc. 

I’m not dismissing Comps, just questioning your comment. Why do you think this player thinks a comp is a bad thing and he isn’t just happy with his tone and doesn't want to mess with it? Why should he consider something that will change his tone if he is happy with what he has?

As for cheap vs expensive, where do the two cross over, and who sets this cross over point? Is it a universally agreed price point or just an opinion?

 

Read my post again, but more carefully.

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I’ve listened to many players and compression won’t fix bad technique, it won’t add the notes they’re choosing not to play be that a nice counterpoint which was on the original recording (and is the most interesting bass part on the song) or a fancy riff and fill up the neck. It won’t compensate for bad slap technique and it won’t disguise poor timing. An overly compressed bass tone won’t make a good player sound bad but a bad player can’t hide behind a (tastefully mixed and) compressed tone. If a compressor can aide the player in the 7 or 8 points listed above so be it but not all players value those same aspects of their tone/technique. 

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It seems that people assume a comp should be doing something all the time, and noticeably so. I always like a comp to be on all the time but with a threshold that compresses only notes above a certain peak, giving a more consistent ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ to the overall sound which helps it sit in the mix and produce a tasty clank when you dig in, instead of distorting something. Controlled and nuanced playing still has all the dynamics. There’s no ‘breathy’ compressed artificial sustain volume swelling seasickness which I guess is what some people start. Trouble is every player, every bass, and every signal chain is different so the uses and possibilities are endless!

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44 minutes ago, Jus Lukin said:

What I don't understand about compressors is why people get so cross about them.

I don’t really know either, but it’s probably due mainly to a lack of understanding of its use. Also maybe the view I am good enough to not use one or only used for poor technique puts noses out of joints.

The thing that slightly irks me, though not enough to get my knickers in a twist is the view of compression is fine for recorded music, but live music it’s not needed and anyway someone at a desk who may or may not be good will compress anyway so leave it to them.

I would say it’s even more important in live music - the more controlled and balanced a sound is and the less you could give a sound person to worry about and tinker with, surely the better the end result - everyone is always better with the least uncontrolled variables possible to manage

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Posted (edited)

I use a TC BH250 with the Spectracomp at about 9 o'clock-ish, into 1 or 2 BF One10. 

To my ears it just thickens up the sound a bit giving me the warmth I like. I expect it evens out the dynamic range a bit too. 

I certainly do not want to have to fiddle about with attack and decay and thresholds etc. 

One knob does it for me, others of course will quite rightly disagree. 

When I was younger I would probably have enjoyed something with loads of twiddling possibilities and also delved into the theory. But I can't be bothered nowadays so I'm pleased to use my 'off the shelf' Spectracomp, it's just the job. 🙂

Go with whatever sounds good to you. 

Edited by grandad
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1 hour ago, Jus Lukin said:

What I don't understand about compressors is why people get so cross about them.

I think in a lot of cases (not necessarily anyone responding here!) people simply don't understand what compressors achieve, or try to use them as an occasional effects pedal in a heavy noticeable setting (tone wise) and not understand why else they would really use one, and get defensive when use is challenged.  I've seen bassists show them off as an effects pedal, when really the only difference they are hearing that would justify occasional use is a volume boost, because they didn't set it to unity gain.

For me, always on of course, slowest attack and fastest release settings, makes notes just hit harder.  Ideal as a finger style player in metal.

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If I use a compressor on bass it is invariably as a limiter. Either a big-box Cali76 (which actually describes itself as a ‘Limiting Amplifier’), or the COMP/LIMIT control on my EBS amp.

When I play guitar I have a completely different approach, using compression to produce obvious squash or sustain.

If I’m having a bad night playing, no amount of compression will fix that. But I can kind of understand players worrying about becoming dependent on an effect.

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