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What Is Compression Threshold? (And How To Use It)

Master your understanding of compression settings:

Quick guides to compression settings for instruments:

A compressor is at its core simply volume attenuation. The compression threshold controls how much compression happens. Every time the input signal level exceeds the threshold there is a gain reduction, (depending on the chosen ratio), and the way in which this decrease occurs is dictated by the compressor parameters.

In short, the compressor threshold is the volume that your audio signal must exceed before the compressor begins to do its job. It will idly sit by until the designated dB is breached, whereupon it jumps into action and applies all the other parameters that your compressor has been set to.

If you have a set threshold of -10dB then everything below this level is unaffected, and anything that passes that amplitude is compressed.

Furthermore, if no ratio is selected and your ratio is 1:1, the audio will not compress. You need to learn about compression ratio before setting the threshold.

Where Should I Set My Compressor Threshold?

There is no set level for the threshold. It is very much a case of what your personal preference is, coupled with what the style of the song requires. Additionally, it is dependent on the gain structure of your audio, so there is no one size fits all threshold level.

For instance, in electronic music and rock and roll you may wish to have a high threshold in order to compress a wide range of the audio signal.

That way you can tame many of the signal peaks in a busy arrangement. But a folk song with a sparse arrangement might require a lower threshold to let the subtleties of the dynamic range through.

Additionally, it depends on the gain of your audio. If your audio is extremely low in volume, you will need to set your threshold differently to another piece of audio that has a high volume. Threshold is simply the dB level at which the compressor will work on.

Main Controls Needed For Threshold To Work

Something that is very closely tied to the threshold is the compressor's ratio. You must set the ratio before the threshold otherwise your compression will not work.

At 2:1 then an input signal exceeding the threshold by 4dB will be reduced by 2db. A 1:1 ratio means no reduction occurs. Therefore, without a set ratio exceeding 1:1 no more compression will take place.

Makeup gain allows you to boost the output signal to compensate for the loss in volume. This means that the quieter parts are louder and the loudest parts are quieter – voila, the signal's dynamic range has been reduced.

Other Audio Effects That Use Threshold Control

Gate

A noise gate will remove any audio that passes the threshold. It operates much like a gate that is closed, blocking anything from passing through. For instance, at -20dB, anything that falls below this is completely silenced.

Expander

This tool increases the dynamic range (difference between the loudest and quietest parts . It works in much the same way that a noise gate operates, in that it removes audio depending on what dB the threshold is set to.

Rather than completely shutting the volume off once it passes the threshold, it has a more natural fading effect.

Limiter

Essentially a compressor that applies a brick wall compression (ratio of 10:1 or higher to audio signals in order to increase perceived loudness.

A Brief Overview of Compression Settings

Here's a quick overview of all the compressor settings:

  • Attack & Release – attack time is how fast the compression occurs, dictated in milliseconds or seconds, and release time is how long it takes to relinquish the compression.
  • Makeup Gain – after the compressor does its thing you can then increase the overall volume using the makeup gain
  • Ratio how much gain reduction is applied once the signal passes the threshold.
  • Threshold the volume the signal must pass before compressor kicks in.
  • Dry/Wet – also known as ‘Mix', this option lets you blend the dry and wet signal (with compression and without compression) in order to achieve a more natural sounding output.
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