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What is Multiband Compression? (Answered)

Multiband compression is a powerful but often underused audio compression technique that can help reduce the size of your audio files while preserving sound quality. In this post, we’ll walk you through the basics of multiband compression, explain why it’s important, and show you how to use it in your audio production workflow. So if you’re recording or are just curious about reducing noise in your audio, this post is for you!

What is multiband compression? Multiband compression is the technique of applying multiple forms of compression to each band of the frequency spectrum. Here we see Ableton Live’s Multiband Dynamics at work, compressing the high, medium, and low frequencies separately three times.

Image of red and black multiband compression. Source: alena sharkova, pexels
Image of red and black multiband compression. Source: Alena Sharkova, Pexels

What is multiband compression?

An improved compression method is multiband compression. In order to compress data more efficiently, multiband compressors divide the spectrum into many bands. There are separate compression parameters for each frequency range. To exert greater command, apply varying compression levels to the various frequency bands. Multiband compression combines the functions of equalization and dynamic processing.

What are the elements of multiband compression, and how does it work?

The various parts of a multiband compressor plugin need to be understood before it can be used effectively. Learn about the components of multiband compression and how they function in this article. We hope that this explanation will be helpful, but it is highly recommended that you experiment with the compression settings on an audio file to really grasp the effects of each knob.

Frequency bands

This is what makes up the multiband compressor. Each frequency band of a multiband compressor functions as a separate compressor. The range of frequency bands available in multiband compressor plugins varies widely.

The bands often include a movable low and high end, so you may fine-tune where your processing is applied. You may use a multiband compressor’s attack, release, and threshold controls to modify the sound of each individual frequency band. However, some multiband compressors also enable you to click and drag to shape the bands.

Spectrum analyzer

Since multiband compression is effective because it targets specific regions of the frequency spectrum, a complete spectrum analyzer is often included in multiband compressors. This may make it simple to monitor the effects of compression on individual frequency bands in real-time and in relation to one another and the overall mix.

Attack

How rapidly a compressor clamps down on an audio stream is determined by its attack, and this is true for both traditional compressors and multiband compressors.

Release

How long a standard compressor or multiband compressor works on a signal before “releasing” it is controlled by a parameter called the release. In contrast to the dynamic impact that may be achieved with a quick release, a slower release will provide a more constant compressed sensation.

Threshold

At what level of compression a certain compressor begins to clamp down on a given track is determined by its threshold or ceiling. In general, a compressor will compress data that exceeds its threshold. Because of this, lowering the threshold will result in a greater amount of signal compression.

With limiters, which may be regarded of as very powerful compressors, any signal over the threshold is compressed to the point that no more signal is audible.

Ratio

The compression strength is indicated by the ratio. As the ratio increases, the compression becomes more noticeable; as it decreases, the impact becomes less noticeable.

Knee

A knee is simply the slope of your compression, and it is a feature that is not available in all multiband compression plugins. Processing speed and accuracy are improved by a firm knee, whereas a soft knee produces a more relaxed mode of processing.

Makeup gain

After a recording has been compressed, the amplitude may be restored by adjusting the makeup gain. If you feel like you’re losing too much volume in the processed signal, you may add some makeup gain to get it back up to where it should be.

Gain reduction meter

The gain reduction meter displays how much peak amplitude has been lost due to compression. An additional measure of the compressor’s effort. It may be said that compression is intensified in proportion to the degree of gain decrease.

Crossover points

This is unique to the multiband compressor. For every given band of frequencies, the crossover point marks its beginning and end. Setting a crossover point appropriately is crucial so that you’re just affecting the issue frequencies rather than the full channel.

What are the benefits of using multiband compression in your audio production workflow?

It is quite obvious that multiband compression improves mixes significantly. These benefits include, for instance:

You get more flexibility.

Multiband compression provides a wide variety of sonic alternatives for expressing one’s creativity since it enables one to compress just a certain range of frequencies without sacrificing the track’s overall vibrancy. Multiband compression’s granularity allows for really one-of-a-kind mixes.

Multiband compression is relational.

Multiband compression, if used properly, may account for the extra frequencies present in the music. When used to selectively compress specific instruments within the context of the whole, multiband compression may help in generating a well-balanced mix.

When it comes to representation, a multiband compressor is invaluable.

It’s important to note that not all multiband compressors have a frequency spectrum viewer or spectral analyzer. However, many do, which is helpful for musicians who want to see precisely what’s happening to their sound at a given frequency. This makes a multiband compressor useful for even music novices since it may be difficult to grasp what a compressor really accomplishes.

Drawbacks of multiband compressions

Although useful in certain situations, multiband compression is no different from any other technology in that it has its limitations. In order to further educate your engineering with these tools, below are some disadvantages of multiband compression.

Using multiband compression can be tedious.

Simple solutions are often the most effective. Yes, it’s true that mastering multiband compression takes a lot of time and effort. Setting up separate controls for a low, medium, and high-frequency range is unnecessary unless absolutely necessary.

It isn’t always necessary.

At other times, a solitary group or no music at all is what’s required. Even while multiband compression has the potential to be a more useful tool than a standard compressor, it shouldn’t be used by default. Common compression methods work well in many situations where an altered signal should be heard. If it isn’t obvious that your session requires elaborate effect procedures, don’t use them.

Sometimes, you just need an eq.

You may mold your mix’s frequencies and tones using multiband compression, but an equalizer may be more useful in certain situations. When trying to get rid of annoying frequencies at a certain place in a song, a multiband compressor may be useful. However, it’s worth your time to experiment with an equalizer to see if that’s more effective. No other tools can replace these ones.

How to use multiband compression in mixing

It’s easy to see how multiband compression may be useful in a variety of scenarios within the audio engineering workflow. In light of that, I’ve laid down a rough outline of how you may potentially use the greatest multiband compressor in the mixing process.

Figure out your goals for the compressor.

You should know what you want to achieve before installing a plugin, and this is true with compression as well. To shape your sound as opposed to coloring it, for example, requires a different set of tools than would be used for coloring your sound using a multiband compressor.

Determine whether a multiband compressor is a right fit for the job.

Verify that your multiband compression requirements aren’t anything that may be met with a simpler compressor. It’s time to switch gears and resort to the tried and tested conventional compressor if you find yourself searching for additional bands or attempting to handle the full audio output.

Pick one group, to begin with.

It is crucial when working with a multiband compressor to use the fewest possible bands and to test each band alone and in combination with the others to see how the crossover points and dynamic changes relate to one another.

You may try a high ratio to begin with and bring it down from there.

Finding the optimal ratio for your compressor may require going too far before bringing it back. If you’re having trouble striking a balance, it might be helpful to identify the points at which the ratio is too weak and too strong and then work your way backward to narrow down the range you can potentially achieve by experimenting with other ratios inside the “good” zone. When there are fewer options, picking one is simpler.

Check the multiband compressor’s impact on the whole mix.

Because of the way multiband compressors affect frequency response and tone, you need to think about how this will affect the rest of your mix. In order to make room for an instrument with a greater compression ratio, like a mid-range frequency, you may need to move it to a different part of the mix.

Experiment!

The inventive potential of dynamic plugins like compressors is often overlooked. Don’t rush anything; instead, experiment with alternative attack timings, compressors, and release times. Don’t be afraid to play about with the plugin’s settings; there’s no one “correct” way to utilize it.

Be mindful of your gain reduction levels.

The amount of compression used for any given sound will vary considerably according to its intended application. However, a gain decrease of up to three decibels (dB) is recommended for most sounds. Keep in mind that a compression is a balancing act in and of itself. If you use insufficient compression, your audio sources will lack dynamic range. However, excessive compression may make the mix seem lifeless and flat.

When should I use multiband compression?

What are the circumstances in which multiband compression should be used instead of a standard compressor or some other kind of audio effect? Listed below are a few scenarios in which using one of these potent instruments might make sense.

Additional flexibility

Multiband compression is the way to go if you need a lot of leeways or if it’s not too much of a hassle. Multiband compression allows you to tailor compression to the demands of a certain input sample by giving you at least a low band, a mid band, and a high band.

Subtle changes

Since multiband compression focuses on just a subset of frequencies, it may be used to effect fine-grained adjustments that would be impossible with a more general compressor. Putting a multiband compressor at the end of your effect chain may be the best option.

If you’re processing an upright bass, for example, and you use equalization, a conventional compressor, and even a touch of reverb, you’ll end up with a little of buildup that weakens the kick drum. Multiband compression would allow you to pick a low band and modify it such that the kick strikes appropriately while eliminating boom. Therefore, unnecessary frequencies will not be compressed.

Sure, you could use a standard EQ to remove some of the low ends, but a multiband compressor offers you the best of both worlds by allowing you to maintain those sometimes vital frequencies and merely duck them down when required.

It’s evident that a multiband compressor is effective. However, you’ll still need to experiment with compression settings to find the sweet spot.

Image of a multiband compression with white, yellow, blue, and gray button. Source: pexels
Image of a multiband compression with white, yellow, blue, and gray buttons. Source: Pexels

Crossover frequencies

Reducing the impact of crossover frequencies is one of the primary reasons for using multiband compressors. There’s the problem of the bass and kick sharing the same low-end frequency region, which is notoriously tough to clean up, to give just one example. The kick is a low-end drum, so you may have to significantly compress the bass portion whenever it enters.

In order to avoid overcompressing the whole audio spectrum, it is prudent to use a multiband compressor. This is particularly true when dealing with the low end of the spectrum, where a lack of specialized targeting will result in a general compression. The use of multiband compression makes focusing on low bands simpler than taking care of a single crossover frequency.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch this video called “Multiband Compression 101: How and Why to Use It” from the Alex Knickerbocker YouTube channel.

A video called “Multiband Compression 101: How and Why to Use It” from the Alex Knickerbocker YouTube channel.
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Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about multiband compression.

How do you mix with multiband compression?

Load up a multiband compressor on the bass section. The compressor’s band frequency should be between 0-100 Hz (or higher). Apply 5 dB of gain reduction or more; you may be harsher with compression on low-end instruments. Now, put on the same quantity of cosmetics as before.

Which compression type is best?

When it comes to efficiency, what is the optimum compression format? The compression ratio is simply one element, and the answer depends on the specifics of the user’s situation. While ZPAQ and ARC are the most efficient compressors, 7Z and RAR formats decompress data at a far quicker rate than everything else we evaluated.

What is the difference between a compressor and a multiband compressor?

Standard compressors have an effect on the whole track over the full frequency spectrum, while multiband compressors only impact certain frequency ranges. This is great for making broad alterations to the dynamics, but it may also restrict unnecessary frequencies.

Is multiband compression the same as dynamic eq?

In contrast to multiband compressors, dynamic EQs often have relatively limited bandwidth options. If you need precise processing, dynamic equalizers are your best bet. A dynamic equalizer is an effective tool for dealing with audio signals that have pronounced resonance frequencies.

Conclusion

To sum up, multiband compression is an efficient way to reduce the size of your files without losing their quality. Try it out and see its effects for yourself!

This article covered what multiband compression is, its elements of multiband compression and how it works, and the benefits of using it in your audio production workflow. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • An improved compression method is a multiband compression.
  • In order to properly use a multiband compressor, it’s important to understand the different components of a multiband compressor plugin.
  • It is quite obvious that multiband compression improves mixes significantly.
  • Crossover frequencies must be established when the number of bands has been decided.
  • Similarly to how you would compress a kick or bass separately, or even a kick and bass bus, you might compress simply the high band to tone down sibilance or brighten up pokey transients.
  • Normal EQ will likely remove the bite of the other chords if you attempt to cut the upper mids from the harshest-sounding notes.
  • When the input level is higher than the setpoint, the compressor activates (with its given attack time).
  • Having only one band or none at all is sufficient at times. Multiband compression is a potentially more powerful tool than a standard compressor, but it doesn’t mean it should be used by default.
  • Other compressors try to sound like a certain piece of gear, or they add a touch of harmonic distortion to a recording for color and depth.

So, is multiband compression convenient for you to use? And did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below (I read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music production. Thanks for reading, and never stop making music..

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Written By Andrew Ash
Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I've been making music since I was a kid. I now run this blog all about home studios and music production. If you want to improve your home studio setup, this is the place for you!

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