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How To Parallel Compress in Pro Tools (Everything You Need To Know)

Parallel compression settings for different scenarios:

Parallel compression in different DAWs:

Related parallel compression articles:

Parallel compression, also known as “New York compression,” is a powerful technique used by audio engineers to add depth and impact to their mixes. With parallel compression, a duplicate copy of the original audio signal is heavily compressed, often using high ratios and fast attack times, and blended back in with the uncompressed signal. This results in a thicker, more powerful sound that still retains the dynamics and natural character of the original recording. Whether you’re mixing drums, vocals, or an entire mix, parallel compression can be a valuable tool in your arsenal for achieving a polished, professional sound. In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the world of parallel compression, how to do it in Pro Tools, and explore its benefits and best practices.

What Is Parallel Compression (TL;DR)

Parallel compression is a mixing technique where two audio signal paths, one compressed and one uncompressed, are blended together to add depth and sustain to a sound while retaining its dynamic range. The compressed track is set at a lower volume, while the uncompressed track is set at a higher volume to maintain the original character of the sound.

parallel compression fact sheet

This technique is useful for adding weight and body to percussive sounds like drums while retaining their punch and attack. 

How Do I Set Up Parallel Compression in Pro Tools?

Parallel compression is a technique that involves blending a heavily compressed signal with an uncompressed or lightly compressed signal to create a sound that is both dynamic and controlled. This technique can be useful in a variety of musical genres, including pop, rock, and electronic music. In Pro Tools, setting up parallel compression is very straightforward. In case you don’t know, here’s a step-by-step tutorial:

Step 1: Create Aux Track

STEP 1 PAR COMP IN PRO TOOLS

The first step is to create an auxiliary (aux) track in Pro Tools. This track will be used to process the compressed signal separately from the original audio.

To create a new aux track, go to the Track menu, select New, and then Aux Track. Alternatively, you can use the keyboard shortcut Shift+Command+N in MacOs or Cntrl+Shift+N in Windows.

Step 2: Route Audio to Aux Track

Next, you need to route the audio you want to compress to the new aux track.

To do this, go to one of the send tabs in the track containing the audio you want to compress, and then route it to the new aux track.

STEP 2 ROUTE PAR COMP IN PRO TOOLS
STEP 2 ALTERNATIVE PAR COMP IN PRO TOOLS

You can skip these two steps by clicking on any send of the unprocessed audio track, clicking on “new track”, and creating the aux track at once.

This will also label and automatically route the output.

Step 3: Insert Compressor Plugin

Once the audio is routed to the new aux track, you can insert a compressor plugin onto the track.

There are many different compressor plugins available in Pro Tools, so choose the one that works best for your specific needs.

STEP 3 INSERT COMPRESSOR PAR COMP IN PRO TOOLS

Step 4: Set Compression Parameters

Now it’s time to set the compression parameters for the compressor plugin. To do this, I like to click on the “pre-fader listen” in the send’s fader and quickly dial my settings in. 

The exact settings will vary depending on the type of compressor you are using, but here are some general guidelines:

  • Threshold: This controls the level at which the compressor starts to kick in. Set it so that the compressor is only compressing the loudest parts of the signal.
  • Ratio: This controls the amount of compression that is applied to the signal. A higher ratio means more compression. Start with a ratio of around 4:1 or 6:1.
  • Attack: This controls how quickly the compressor reacts to the signal. A shorter attack time means the compressor will kick in faster. Start with an attack time of around 10ms.
  • Release: This controls how quickly the compressor stops compressing the signal once it falls below the threshold. A shorter release time means the compressor will stop compressing faster. Start with a release time of around 100ms.
  • Makeup gain: This controls the amount of gain applied to the compressed signal to make up for the loss of volume caused by the compression. Set it so that the compressed signal is at a similar volume level to the uncompressed signal.

Step 5: Blend Compressed and Dry Signals

STEP 5 BLEND PAR COMP IN PRO TOOLS

With the compressor settings in place, you can now blend the compressed signal with the original audio to create the desired effect.

To do this, adjust the level of the compressed signal using the send level control on the original audio track.

Start with a small amount of compression (around -10 dB of gain reduction) and adjust the level to taste.

Step 6: Fine-Tune Compression Settings

Finally, fine-tune the compression settings until you achieve the desired result. You may need to adjust the threshold, ratio, attack, release, or makeup gain to get the sound you want. Listen carefully to the mix as you make these adjustments, and make small changes until everything sounds just right.

When Should I Use Parallel Compression?

Parallel compression is particularly useful when working with dynamic audio material that has wide fluctuations in volume, like drums, vocals, or bass. By compressing the audio signal heavily in parallel, you can bring up the quieter parts of the signal while still retaining the natural dynamics and transients of the original audio. This can help to create a more present and powerful sound, while also preventing the audio from getting lost in the mix.

Here are some tips to help you determine when parallel compression might be appropriate:

  1. When dealing with dynamic audio material: As mentioned above, dynamic audio material with wide fluctuations in volume can benefit greatly from parallel compression. Examples include drum kits, vocal recordings, and bass guitars.
  2. When trying to achieve a more balanced mix: Parallel compression can help to even out the levels of different instruments and elements in a mix. For example, if you have a guitar part that is too quiet in some sections but too loud in others, parallel compression can help to even out the levels while retaining the natural dynamics.
  3. When going for a particular sound: Parallel compression can be used to create a specific sound or effect, such as a thick and punchy drum sound. By heavily compressing the drums in parallel and blending the compressed signal with the dry signal, you can achieve a sound that is both powerful and dynamic.

For example:

Let’s say you have a drum recording that sounds great but lacks impact and presence in the mix. You could use parallel compression to bring up the quieter parts of the drum recording and add more punch and power to the overall sound.

In this case, I’m mixing a beat and have only two drum tracks, and just ran into that situation. Both have similar kick and snare sounds and include other elements that we want to be present. Since they need different processing, I’ll set up two separate aux tracks with different compressors, the SSL-G Buss compressor, and the 1176 blackface. 

when to use PC

I’ll use the SSL compressor on the first track because I want a balanced and rounder tone. On the other hand, the main drums need more attitude because they feel awfully thin and clumsy. I will use the 1176 to give them character, body, and a wider feel.

An interesting advantage of using the 1176 for this type of situation is that you can achieve higher ratios of compression and a unique character by pressing down all the buttons or enabling the all-buttons-in mode.

Before

Hear how the drums sound good, but still thin and blurry in the bottom end

After

Notice how the drums have more snap and body, the lower frequencies are rounder, and sounds with a lot more depth and dimension

Which Style of Compression Should I Use for Parallel Processing?

Explain the pros and cons of each type under different headings (H3). Under analog please talk about certain examples of classic compressors used for parallel processing. Please mention 1176 parallel compression specifically

VCA 

VCA compressors are often fast and transparent, making them suitable for retaining the natural dynamics of the original signal while adding some controlled compression.

However, they can sound sterile or introduce pumping artifacts, which may not be desirable in all situations.

For situations where you don’t want to change the tone of the track, like just want to use parallel compression to create more depth and control the peaks of a drum room track, these are the ones you might want to use.

vca compressors

1176 (FET)

fet compressors

FET compressors, and particularly the 1176 compressor offer a fast and punchy sound, versatility, and ease of use for a wide range of applications.

You can use it on vocals, bass guitars, drums, acoustic guitars, and much more. Additionally, each model has its unique sound and characteristics.

However, its limited control, coloration, high cost, and maintenance requirements are potential downsides.

It’s well-suited for parallel compression due to its fast attack time and quick release and is commonly used for New York compression.

Tube

Using a tube compressor for parallel compression has several pros and cons.

On the bright side, tube compressors can provide warm and smooth compression that can add character and depth to a sound.

Also, tube compressors are often very responsive to changes in input level, making them well-suited for use in parallel compression. 

mnm What Is A Delta Mu Tube Compressor How Does It Work large

However, on the negative side, their sound may not be suitable for all genres of music or all types of audio processing, which means that there’s a good chance it doesn’t work with the source material. 

Optical

optical compressors

Optical compressors, like the classic Teletronix LA-2A are great for a parallel setup due to their smooth and natural sound, slower attack time, and ability to add depth.

However, their limited compression range and coloration of the sound may be a disadvantage in certain situations.

These are more helpful when used on synths or any source that’s not particularly dynamic, like strings, pads, synths, etc.

Digital

Using a digital compressor provides easy control over compression parameters, attack and release times, and offers various features and presets for achieving the desired sound.

However, downsides include potential latency issues, reduced dynamic range, and the possibility of digital artifacts or distortion.

Digital compressors may not always sound as natural or musical as analog compressors or analog models.

digital compressors

Analog

analog compressors

Analog compressors have a warm and appealing sound that can enhance a mix, and their forgiving compression curve can make them easier to use for parallel compression.

The tactile controls and visual feedback of analog compressors are also helpful for dialing in the desired compression. 

However, they can introduce noise and distortion, be more expensive, require more maintenance than digital compressors, and be less precise, with more variability between units.

Some classic examples of analog compressors used for parallel processing include the Empirical Labs Distressor, which has an edgy and natural compression, the Universal Audio 1176, which has a colorful and aggressive sound, and the API 2500, which adds punch and depth to drums and percussion.

Advanced Parallel Processing Techniques

Multi-Band Parallel Compression

Multi-band parallel compression divides the signal into separate frequency bands, each with its own compressor. This technique is useful when working with instruments with a wide dynamic range that require different levels of compression across the frequency spectrum. 

For example, a mix with a lot of low-end energy could benefit from multi-band parallel compression to compress the lower frequencies without over-compressing the higher frequencies. This technique helps to create a more balanced and cohesive sound.

To do this, we: 

Insert a multi-band compressor on the mix bus. Make sure to choose a compressor that has separate controls for each band (low, mid, and high). In this case, I’ll use FabFilter’s Pro MB.

MB parallel compression

Solo the low band and adjust the compressor settings to control the dynamics of the low-end frequencies.

You want to achieve a consistent and controlled low-end that sits well in the mix without overpowering the other instruments.

Start by setting a moderate ratio (around 3:1), medium attack, and release times, and adjust the threshold until you start seeing a gain reduction of around 3-6dB.

Be careful not to over-compress the low end, as this can make it sound thin and weak.

Then, un-solo the low band and solo the mid and high bands. Adjust the compressor settings for each band to control the dynamics of the mid-range and high-end frequencies. You may need to use more subtle compression settings for these bands, as they typically don’t have as much dynamic range as the low end.

Adjust the mix knob on the multi-band compressor to blend the compressed signal with the dry signal.

Start with a 50/50 blend and adjust as needed to achieve the desired balance between the compressed and uncompressed signals.

adjust mix knob 1

Finally, use your ears and make small adjustments to the compressor settings as needed to achieve the best possible sound for your mix. Remember that less is often more with compression, so use it judiciously and don’t overdo it.

Before

After

Notice how it makes the whole mix feel tighter and with more space

Sidechain Compression 

Sidechain compression is a technique that uses an external signal to trigger the compressor. This technique is useful when the instrument is competing with other elements in the mix, and the goal is to make it stand out more. 

For example, in a dense mix with a lot of drums, sidechain compression on the bass guitar can help it cut through the mix better. By using the kick drum as the sidechain trigger, the compressor reduces the bass guitar’s level when the kick drum hits, creating space in the mix and making both instruments more audible.

In this case, we

SIDECHAIN COMPRESSION 1

Insert a compressor on the bass guitar track. We’ll use Pro C2 because we don’t have the individual kick track, but a full drum mix.

Send both drum tracks to a bus, in this case we’ll use bus 1, and also set it as the sidechain input in the compressor on the bass track.

In the compressor, we’ll set sidechain from internal to external and use the EQ filter in the advanced tab to isolate the lower frequencies.

Then, adjust the settings. Usually, fast attack and release settings work well to catch the transient. Make sure to keep the ratio at 4:1 or lower too, and ensure you’re not compressing more than 2-4 dB of gain reduction which will avoid pumping.

Finally, use your ears and make small adjustments to the compressor settings as needed to achieve the best possible sound for your mix. Remember that less is often more with compression, so use it judiciously and don’t overdo it.

Before

After

Notice how it sounds fuller and the groove feels tighter

Upward Compression 

Upward compression is a technique that increases the level of low-level signals while leaving higher-level signals unaffected. This technique is useful for adding sustain and body to instruments without over-compressing the transients. This technique can help bring out the natural sustain and tone of an instrument without sacrificing its dynamic range. 

For example, upward compression on strings playing staccato can add sustain and body to the accents without making it sound overly compressed, making it stand out in the mix.

What we need to do is

Create a new aux channel and add a compressor that allows upward compression. I like to use Waves’ MV2 because it’s simple and effective.

Set up the compressor to get more definition on the notes played by the strings and try to make it very distinctive.

The idea is to bring the quieter parts of the performance to add definition and make them sound larger because they get lost in the mix and can’t be appreciated.

MV2
EQ AFTER UPWARD COMPRESSION

Adjust the output gain and add an EQ to mold the parallel settings so that it works with the dry signal.

In this case, the dry strings were a tad muddy, so to compensate, I added a cut around 200hz and boosted mid frequencies at 1147hz.

Since I’m using FabFilter’s Pro Q3, I’ll make both bands dynamic to get a more musical sound.

A free alternative EQ plugin for this is the TDR Nova.

Finally, use your ears and blend with the dry signal.

Before

After

Notice how it’s much easier to separate the strings from the organ and the piano, but they don’t take each other’s space.

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