Understanding A Compressor’s Threshold Setting

A compressor is a valuable tool in regards to achieving professional sounding mixes. Why? A compressor is a tool to achieve dynamic balance, and mixing is all about achieving balance, from both dynamic and frequency perspectives.

There are a few key controls on a compressor; this tutorial discusses the threshold setting. The threshold setting controls which audio gets compressed (whereas the ratio controls how much compression is applied to the selected audio).

The diagram below illustrates how the compressor threshold setting works. The audio that is over the threshold (the dotted line) will have compression applied.

To set a compressor threshold, follow these steps:

  • On a track where you feel the need to constantly adjust the fader control to achieve a dynamic (volume) balance, call up a compressor as a channel insert. Note that because of their dynamic variability, almost all vocal tracks could use some compression.
  • Set the compressor’s ratio at 3:1.
  • Turn the threshold all the way up to 0db. In your mind, you see an imaginary, dotted ‘threshold’ line rise above the top of the waveform. 
  • Begin lowering the threshold. In your mind, this dotted line will start to come down towards the tips of the waveforms; the more you lower threshold, the more it comes down, closer to the peaks.
  • You’ll start to see Gain Reduction (GR) happening when the waveform peaks hit our imaginary threshold line. This means the volume level of our source is being reduced, because it’s triggering the compressor to start working.
  • The more you lower the threshold, the more of the source is going to be compressed.

If you use a conservative ratio, say 2:1 or 3:1, you should be able to adjust the compressor threshold so that both the louder and softer passages now sit well in the mix without any noticeable compression artifacts; no more volume issues!

Want to learn more? Check out “Home Recording Need-To-Know Essentials To Improve Your Mixes“. Or better yet, learn more by taking our Audio Engineering class… see details HERE.


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