3 Techniques for Compressing an Acoustic Snare Drum

Hey, folks. Matthew Weiss here — weiss-sound.com, theproaudiofiles.com/members, and mixthru.co.

We’re going to be talking about how to compress an acoustic snare drum, and more importantly, why to compress an acoustic snare drum.

I’m going to give you three techniques, and they are all going to revolve around different ideas as to why you might want to compress a snare.

So, let’s check out these drums.

[drums]

They sound alright, but they sound a little Plain Jane, so perhaps we want to use a little bit of compression on the snare to bring some life into it.

So, there’s a couple of ways that we can do it. The first way that we’re going to do this is to round out the transient, and make a spongier, softer snare hit that’s a little bit louder and more present in the overall kit.

[drums]

So here, you get a more emphasized sustain, you hear a little bit more of the snare band rattle off of the end, and what I’m doing is a fast attack time, which is a little bit under two milliseconds, a fairly fast release, right now I’ve got it at about 120 milliseconds, a fairly light ratio — three to one — and the threshold is low enough to make sure that I’m catching the body of the attack.

[drums]

And then I’m just doing some makeup gain at the end to kind of balance things out.

So, before…

[drums]

After.

[drums]

So that’s the way that we bring up a sustain, and also soften the overall transient impact.

Alright, let’s take a look at another technique.

Before…

[drums]

After.

[drums]

Here, we’re doing the opposite effect. Instead of softening the attack and bringing up the release, we’re actually exaggerating the sound of the attack and making it sound harder, and at the same time, sort of diminishing the release, and the way we’re doing this is with a very slow attack time.

I’ve set the attack to 140 milliseconds, I’ve set the release fairly slow as well. It’s about 275 milliseconds.

I have a pretty aggressive ratio. 5.7:1, and I’ve got my threshold turned way down. The reason being is because I’m actually catching a lot of the sustain of the drum using a lower threshold, but because the attack is so slow, it’s not acting fast enough to diminish the attack sound. It’s really just tightening up the sustain and the release.

[drums]

So what ends up happening is the attack is actually being preserved for the most part, and being sharpened by using this slower attack time.

Alright, one more here.

Before…

[drums]

After.

[drums]

This is one of my favorite ones. It’s using a limiter as opposed to a compressor to get a bigger snare sound.

The duration of the attack is fairly short, and if we can work with a compressor that’s acting on those very short intervals of time, we can pretty transparently boost up the level of the snare and add some character at the same time that makes the snare sound a lot more aggressive and interesting.

So you can see that I’m barely moving the needle here.

[drums]

I’m really only doing maybe about — looks like about a dB and a half of gain overall, but part of this is that the character of the limiter is fairly aggressive. I’m using the aggro mode, which is a very fast release setting, which is particularly good for drums, and I’m just using this particular limiter as opposed to a cleaner limiter because it’s got a little bit more character to it naturally, and if I wanted, I could even throw on this color control.

[drums]

Which adds a bunch of upper-mid range harmonics, which makes the snare really pop and become very aggressive.

But you can use a number of limiters. The fact is that over short durations, we can boost the snare in a fairly transparent way in terms of how we’re perceiving the attack and the release, but what we end up getting instead is a different color. There’s a subtle amount of distortion that shows up that ends up translating to our ears as color in the sound.

I happen to like that. So I tend to use this technique pretty often.

Alright guys, I hope that you learned something. Until next time.

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com.
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