Gates 101: What is Hold?

Hey, guys. Matthew Weiss here —,, and

We’re going to be talking about a unique function that is on some compressors, and most often times found on gates. That is the “hold” function.

So I’m going to play this snare drum for you.

[snare drum]

So let’s say that we want to cut that bleed down and maybe, I don’t know, for whatever reason get rid of the ghost notes. Not that we’d really want to do that. But what we would use for that is a gate. The idea behind a gate is that any sound that’s loud enough to breach our threshold, that’s going to open the gate, and that’s going to pass through, but anything that isn’t loud enough is going to get reduced.

So let’s throw the gate on and hear how that sounds.

[snare with gate]

So we’ve pretty much completely eliminated all of the bleed and all of the extra notes and things like that, but unfortunately, we’ve also totally killed the sound of the drum, right? Only the attack of the snare is getting through this gate.

So here we have a couple of different settings. We have a release setting, and we have a hold setting. The difference is this.

The release setting is going to be how fast the gain reduction is being restored afterwards. The hold is going to cause a delay in where gain reduction occurs at all.

So meaning this.

If we have a zero millisecond hold, we’re going to start doing gain reduction after the gate opens immediately. How fast we do it is going to depend on the release. So if we have a very fast release…

[snare with gate, fast release]

Alright, we get like, no sustain at all. If we slow the release down…

[snare with gate, slow release]

We hear more of the sustain, but what’s happening is we’re reshaping the sustain.

Now let’s use the hold function instead of the release.

[snare with gate, hold function]

Notice how the sustain feels like it hangs out for a moment, and then completely chops off.

That’s because no gain reduction is being done at all for 250 milliseconds after the gate opens.

So the reason why you might want to use the hold function is two fold. The first is that what we want to do, ideally in this situation is we want the entirety of the snare to come through, and then we just want the bleed to go away.

So by using the hold, we can effectively help the gate identify the entirety of the snare sound. Not just the attack, but also the decay, the sustain, and the release. Because it’s not going to react strictly to level, it’s also going to react to duration of time.

If the whole envelope of the snare is 120 milliseconds, then we can capture the whole snare release, like the whole snare envelope, by using this hold function. Then we can pair it up with the release and we can get what sounds like a completely intact snare with just no bleed.

[snare with gate]

So let’s do a before and after real quick. Before…

[snare without gate and with gate]

We’re getting pretty much the whole sound of the snare, and then just chopping off the bleed.

So that’s one reason why you would do it. The other reason why you would do it is because the hold function prevents a type of distortion called hysteresis. I know that’s sort of a crazy vocab word, but the idea is this. If you have a very fast type of sound — something where you’re using a very quick attack and a pretty quick release — the change of level as the sound is decaying might vary in amplitude, and cause the gate to start to flutter open and closed.

When you hear it, you hear it, and when you know it, you know it. By setting the hold function to be non-zero, usually about 10 milliseconds to 20 milliseconds is enough, you don’t allow the gate to react to those very, very quick subtle changes in level over the course of the sound decaying.

This can be really helpful if you happen to have something like say, a bass hit. Like a bass note that is wobbling down as it goes. It will prevent this sort of weird, fluttery action from occurring. So that can be another use for it as well.

Alright, guys. So that’s the hold function. Most of the time you’re going to see it on a gate. Occasionally, you’ll see them on other dynamic processors as well, but now you know what it does.

Alright, until next time, guys.

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:
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