Posted November 24, 2012 by Stephan Earl in Tips and Tutorials

Using Compressors for the Overall Mix: Part 2

Using Compressors for the Overall Mix - Home Music Production

by Rick Saxby

In Using Compressors for the Overall Mix: Part 1, I focused on using a bus compressor to help mix your songs.  In part two I will focus on using a mastering compressor after you are finished with the mix.  I typically put the mastering compressor right after the bus compressor on the master fader, after I’m finished with the mix.  Bear in mind that while many people will choose to use a bus compressor for the majority of their mixes, using a mastering compressor is so subtle you will sometimes find yourself not needing it at all.  Just remember mastering engineers do not always use compression.

There are a lot of great compressors out there that can be used for mastering compression.  Here are a handful of the ones I favor:

  • PSP Audio Ware makes the PSP MasterComp that is spectacular and is ideal for the task at hand.
  • IK Multimedia makes T-RackS mastering effects software. You can purchase the individual compressors on their website.  The Classic T-Racks Compressor is a good choice.
  • Slate Digital makes the FG-X Virtual Mastering Processor which features a very nice and transparent master compressor.
  • Vladgsound.wordpress.com makes the Molot compressor (downloadable from the website) which is completely free and can still hang with expensive pro compressors.

Master Compression

Molot Compressor - Home Music Production

The compressor I use in this article for example settings is the free Molot Compressor.  One of my favorite features of the Molot Compressor that you won’t find on any other compressor is the Sigma/Alpha switch.  Sigma sounds like a Neve 33609 (with more flexible settings suited for mastering, minus auto release) and the Alpha setting sounds like a Fairchild Compressor (also with more flexible settings minus the auto release).  Once you get the settings the way you like them you can switch back and forth to find the one you like best. Both sound great, so sometimes it can be hard to choose!

Make note that you can use these settings (except for maybe the knee, up sampling and dry mix settings) on most compressors out there suitable for mastering.  First off, you’ll notice the compressor settings for the Molot are written in a different language.  Go to the bottom right corner and click the little EN sign for English. Now go to the bottom left corner and click the little white triangle so you can see the setting details.  Here are the settings I recommend to start off with for mastering:

  • Ratio: 1:2:1
  • Attack: 30ms
  • Release: 100ms
  • Turn the filter on and set it to around 90 Hz.
  • Knee is set all the way to soft.
  • Dry mix set to 0%
  • Up sampling set to 8x
  • Mode set to Stereo
  • Don’t do anything with the limiter and mid scoop.

You will now need to gently toggle the threshold till you get about 1db of gain reduction.  Let your ears be your guide now.  You might end up with more or even less than 1db of gain reduction so don’t stare at the level meter- just concentrate on the sound of the music and also the threshold knob so you don’t lose your place.

It’s also VERY important to make sure the makeup gain knob is set to the same volume as the song when the compressor is bypassed. It’s a proven fact that people are prone to think the louder a mix (or master) is, the better it sounds. Don’t fool yourself into thinking something sounds better when it doesn’t. After you get the makeup knob set to the same volume as the song is with the Master Compressor bypassed (turned off), switch back and forth to make sure the song actually sounds better compressed. If not, keep trying to make the compressed version sound better than the original. If you can’t, no big deal. Obviously that particular song doesn’t need any further compression.

Feel free to try out the settings I gave you.  It’s really just something to get you started.  When you start feeling comfortable enough with the compressor as a mastering plug-in, change it up a little with the attack, release, ratio and filter settings.  Experimentation is key.

Have fun with whatever master compressor you’re going to use.  Just remember that mastering compression is intended to be subtle.


Rick Saxby is a guest writer at HomeMusicProduction.com.Rick Saxby

Rick Saxby lives in the Nashville area and since 1999 has produced and recorded various local independent artists in the area- starting on four tracks in 1998 and then moving on to computer based recording in 2001. He interned at Osborne Studio and Sound for five years and received a Bachelors of Accounting from MTSU. He currently runs a website where he sells hip hop beats, mixing services and his brother’s album art work at www.nashvillebros.com