Classic Analog Audio Compressor
Classic Analog Audio Compressor

March 23rd, 2022

How to Hear Compression: 5 Hints You Should Listen To

Over time, we have had a number of requests from our community to discuss some techniques that will help SoundGym members to listen out for compression and do better on our audio ear training compression games, The traits you have to look out for here can be very subtle, but if you follow our tips, you should start climbing up levels in no time.

Below we offer you five hints for things you should listen out for, however, some of these traits will be easier to identify than others, depending on the particular loop you are listening to. In each case, listen to the loop carefully and see which of these listening techniques you can apply.

1. Is the dynamic range getting smaller?

This is the first thing you should look out for, although it can sometimes be difficult to hear. The primary reason we use compressors is to compress dynamic range; we decrease the difference in level between the loudest and quietest sounds. This is normally easiest to hear on the snare. Do the snare hits sound more consistent in volume? If they do, then the signal is being compressed.

2. How long are the tails?

You won't be able to hear this easily on busier loops, as the tails of the drum hits won't have the time to ring out. On more sparse loops, however, this can be a key way to identify if the loop is compressed. When we compress a loop, we bring up the quietest parts of a sound relative to the loudest parts of a sound. This means that we hear more of the tail of a drum hit. Does it sound like the drum hits are ringing out longer? Then the signal is being compressed.

3. How loud is the 'ambiance'?

This is similar to the above tip, in that we are listening to what is going on in between the transient hit points. By 'ambiance' here, we mean things like hi-hat and cymbal sizzle, and perhaps room reverb too. Do these quieter sounds in between the main drum hits seem to be louder and more present? If so, that is a sign that the signal as a whole has a smaller dynamic range, and is therefore being compressed.

4. Are the attack transients losing 'snap'?

When we compress the start of a drum hit, we bring down the level of its attack transient. This leads to drum hits losing a certain amount of 'snap' at the moment of impact. This is a feature of compression that can be undesirable when mixing, and you can get past it by lengthening the attack time of your compressor. For that reason, this tip won't always work – but we can say is that if it sounds like one of your loops has less snap on its attack transients, it is probably being compressed.

5. Be selective with when you bypass the compressor

Do you have a strategy for when you hit the bypass button? Think about when you turn the compression on and off. Listen to the drum pattern and learn what it is doing – try turning the compressor on/off just before a snare hit. Does the snare now sound louder or quieter than you were expecting? This could be a clue as to whether you are turning the compressor on or off when you hit the bypass button.

Now... It's time to practice! Test your skills on our two compression ear training games, CompressionistDr. Compressor.

Comments:


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Colin Aiken
Mar 24
Good tips. I also learned something about spelling. 'Ambience' vs. 'Ambiance'.
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Colin Aiken
Mar 24
good read.
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Dustin James
Mar 24
This is helpful! I feel like compression is the hardest thing for most people to hear, but the workouts are helping me!
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Ben Sinclair
Mar 24
For people struggling with compression/hearing changes, don't stress or beat yourself up too much about it. Compression can do a lot of really small, subtle things that you might not be able to hear at first. As long as you keep mixing/practicing and keep your ears open, you will start to notice the small changes over time.
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Nice
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It had to be said.
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Waskia Gold
Mar 24
Yeah guys listen to ben, it may seem daunting at first and hard to distinguish what's going on, but if you get a little bit better everyday and keep at it you'll hear the changes, and your mixing will improve. just keep at it I believe in you.
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Hugo Paris
Mar 24
This is great, I particularily like the last one. Thank you!
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Hugo Paris
Mar 24
I also find it helpful to remember that a lot of this can also apply to Distorted Reality as dynamic range is impacted there too.
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Jason Lorenzo
Mar 24
@Dustin James and anyone else that is listening... this totally helped me and I became hip to this guy thanks to Soundgym.

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宇豪 韩
Mar 25
I played soundgym 2 years ago.I find out how to play it till I read these.Maybe I am too stupid....I have no talant.Thank you SOUNDGYM.
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Daniel Young
Mar 27
Thank you for posting this! I'm still struggling with compression, but reading this is helpful and like @Ben Sinclair said, the more I practice the better I get, though it is not something that is coming quickly to me! I really think understanding compression and being able to use it effectively will be a huge game changer in my audio engineering and mixing! That video @Jason Lorenzo posted is sooooo awesome too, if anyone reading this hasn't seen it, check it out!

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