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5 Dynamics Processors That Aren’t Compressors

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Compression is one of the most frequently talked about dynamic processors. But there are many other dynamic processors that deserve attention, as they can be just as effective — if not more effective — than using a compressor.

Here’s 5 alternative dynamic processors and my favorite uses for them.

1. Expanders

Expanders are the opposite of compressors. While a compressor reduces level of a signal above a set threshold, expanders reduce level of signals below a threshold.

Favorite uses: clearing excess room sound out of acoustic instruments; emphasizing the attack on drums, piano, and bass; sharpening synth stabs or pulse leads. Alternatively, super rounding out a drum sound by setting the threshold very very low and the attack time very slow (think about that a while).

2. Gates

Gates are basically extreme expanders. They cut all the sound below the threshold.

In my uses I tend to be looking at either EQ’ing the sidechain or keying the gate to a completely different source.

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Favorite uses: creating stutter effects, tightening up drum and synth layers, emphasizing the tone of the attack on percussive elements, controlling reverb tails by keying the reverb to the dry signal.

3. Upward Expanders

An upward expander adds level to a signal that breaches a set threshold.

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So rather than making quiet signals quieter like a normal expander, it makes loud signals louder.

Favorite uses: adding attack to anything; adding excitement to highly dynamic sources like vocals, piano, acoustic guitar (usually using a slightly slower attack time to prevent the signal from getting “spiky”).

4. Transient Designers

Transient Designers are generally a combination of expanders and compressors that detect and react specifically to very fast parts of the signal.

While I often don’t use transient designers in favor of other dynamic processors there are a few key uses.

Favorite uses: De-Compressing squashed Hip-Hop beats, adding subtle excitement to instruments, defining the attack on a predominantly sustaining sound like horns or strings.

5. Limiters

Limiters are like super compressors. They are meant to function over very fast periods of time and apply super high ratios for gain reduction.

Favorite uses: locking vocals “inside” a record, shaving off excess transients on drums/whatever else, enhancing hand claps and finger snaps, ruining my own mixes by making them excessively loud at the client’s request.

Conclusion

Dynamic processors are ultimately shaping tools.

Thinking of your sound like a sentence that needs editing. Sometimes a sentence has way too many words and really could be paired down in order to make the meaning significantly more clear, less confusing, and fit the flow of the paragraph better. Sometimes sentences need more.

Figure out what your goals are then grab the best tool for the job.

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