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Mastering Multiband Compression: A Comprehensive Guide For Audio Engineers

audiosorcerer
|
March 6, 2023ย 
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Last Updated on May 7, 2023

As audio production continues to evolve and new technologies emerge, one tool that has become increasingly important for engineers is multiband compression. By allowing users to selectively compress different frequency bands of an audio signal, multiband compressors provide a powerful and flexible tool for shaping dynamics and tonal balance.

In this blog post, we will take a look at how multiband compression works, how to use it, its benefits, and how it compares to dynamic eq. I'll also reveal my top 5 best multiband compressor plugins that'll take your mixing to a new level. Whether you're new to the world of audio production or have been doing this for years, you need to understand how multiband compression plays a key role in professional mixes and masters.

What Is A Multiband Compressor

A multiband compressor is a type of dynamic processing tool used in audio production that allows users to selectively compress different frequency bands of an audio signal. Unlike a traditional compressor, which applies the same compression settings to the entire signal, a multiband compressor divides the signal into multiple frequency bands and applies compression to each band separately.

The benefit of using a multiband compressor is revealed within its definition. Being able to control the dynamics of different frequency ranges rather than treating the entire frequency spectrum as a whole is its greatest power. This can be particularly useful in situations where certain frequency ranges may be more prone to overloading, such as with bass-heavy music or vocals with sibilant high frequencies.

A typical multiband compressor will feature adjustable crossover points, which allow users to define a specific frequency range for each band. They also have independent controls for attack, release, threshold, and ratio for each band. This provides a high degree of flexibility and precision in shaping the dynamics of an audio signal. To see how much compression is being applied to each band, users can refer to the gain reduction meter.

Multiband compressors are commonly used in a variety of audio production contexts, including mixing and mastering music, post-production for film and video, and live sound reinforcement. They are particularly useful to control dynamics of complex audio signals, such as those with a wide dynamic range or a complete mix and master.

Now that you know what a multiband compressor is, let's discuss how to use one.

How To Use A Multiband Compressor

Using multiband compression properly can seem daunting at first, but with a little practice, it can become an essential tool in your audio production workflow. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to use a multiband compressor:

  1. Identify the frequency ranges that need compression: The first step in using a multiband compressor is to identify the frequency ranges that need compression. This may depend on the characteristics of the audio signal and the specific goals of your project. For example, you may want to compress the low-frequency range to control bass guitar or kick drum levels, or the high-frequency range to control sibilance in a vocal track.

  2. Set the crossover points: Once you have identified the frequency ranges, you need to set the crossover frequencies for each band. This determines the range of frequencies that each band will cover. In most multiband compressors, this is done using a graphical interface that allows you to adjust the frequency ranges and slopes of each band.

  3. Set the compression parameters: With the crossover points set, you can now adjust the compression parameters for each band. This includes settings such as attack, release, threshold, and ratio. For example, you may want to set a fast attack and release time for the high-frequency band to control sibilance, and a slower attack and release time for the low-frequency band to control bass guitar levels.

  4. Adjust the makeup gain: Multiband compression can affect the overall level of the audio signal, so it's important to apply makeup gain to compensate for it. This can be done using the output gain control on the multiband compressor, or in some cases the actual makeup gain control knob.

  5. Listen and adjust as needed: Once you have set the compression parameters and makeup gain, it's important to listen to the effect of the multiband compression on the audio signal. You may need to make further adjustments to the compression parameters or makeup gain to achieve the desired result.

  6. Use your ears, not your eyes: When using a multiband compressor, it's important to remember that what matters most is how it sounds, not how it looks on the graphical interface. Use your ears to guide your adjustments, and trust your intuition and experience. And, most importantly, don't over-compress!


Related Article: The 4 Steps To Properly Applying Compression On Vocals


6 Benefits Of Multiband Compression

Multiband compression offers a range of benefits in audio production. From more precise dynamic control to greater flexibility when mastering, there are several reasons to use it. Let's look at 6 of the most powerful benefits of using multiband compression.

Greater Control Over The Dynamics

By allowing users to selectively compress different frequency bands of an audio signal, multiband compression provides a high degree of control over the dynamics of the signal. This can be particularly useful in situations where certain frequency ranges may be more prone to overloading, such as with bass-heavy music or vocals with sibilant high frequencies.

Improved Tonal Balance

Multiband compression can help to improve the tonal balance of an audio signal by selectively controlling the dynamics of different frequency ranges. This can be useful for achieving a more cohesive and balanced mix, or for addressing specific issues with individual tracks.

Reduced Pumping And Breathing

Multiband compression can be effective in reducing the pumping and breathing artifacts that can occur with traditional single-band compression. This is because multiband compression allows for more targeted and precise control over the dynamics of the signal.

Greater Flexibility And Precision

Multiband compression provides a high degree of flexibility and precision in shaping the dynamics and tonal balance of an audio signal. By allowing for independent control over each frequency band, users can fine-tune the compression settings to achieve the desired result.

Saves time

Multiband compression can save time by reducing the need for multiple instances of a single-band compressor. Instead of using multiple compressors on different frequency ranges, users can achieve similar results and compress specific frequency ranges with a single multiband compressor.

Dynamic EQ Vs Multiband Compression

Dynamic EQ and multiband compression are both powerful tools used in audio production for controlling the dynamic range and tonal balance of an audio signal. While they share some similarities, there are also some key differences between the two.

Dynamic EQ

Dynamic EQ is essentially a hybrid between an equalizer and a compressor. It operates like a standard EQ, but with the added ability to dynamically adjust the gain of specific frequency bands based on the amplitude of the incoming signal. This allows for precise control over the tonal balance of an audio signal, particularly in situations where traditional EQ may not be sufficient. Dynamic EQ can be particularly useful for controlling specific resonances, addressing frequency masking issues, and de-essing vocals.

Multiband Compression

Multiband compression, on the other hand, operates by splitting the audio signal into multiple frequency bands and applying independent compression to each band. This allows for greater control over the dynamic range of the signal, particularly in situations where traditional single-band compression may not be sufficient. Multiband compression can be particularly useful for controlling the dynamics of specific frequency ranges, such as taming harsh high frequencies or controlling boomy low frequencies.

Differences

The key difference between dynamic EQ and multiband compression lies in the way they approach the task of controlling the dynamic range and tonal balance of an audio signal. Dynamic EQ operates by adjusting the gain of specific frequency bands, while multiband compression operates by applying independent compression to each frequency band.

Which Should You Use?

The answer depends on the specific characteristics of the audio signal and what you're trying to achieve. If you need precise control over the tonal balance of the signal, particularly in situations where traditional EQ may not be sufficient, dynamic EQ may be the better choice. On the other hand, if you need greater control over the dynamic range of the signal, particularly in situations where normal compression may not be sufficient, use multiband compression for the best outcome.


Related Article: EQ Or Compression First? We Finally Put This Question To Rest


The 3 Best Multiband Compressor Plugins

With so many multiband compressors out on the market, which one should you choose to get the job done. I've compiled a list of 3 multiband compressor plugins that are popular amongst many modern engineers. Let's first start with the Waves C6.

  1. Waves C6: The Waves C6 is a versatile and powerful multiband compressor plugin designed for audio professionals and enthusiasts alike. It allows you to shape and control the dynamics of individual frequency bands, providing detailed control over the balance of your audio. With six independently adjustable bands, you can target specific frequency ranges and apply compression, expansion, equalization, or de-essing to each band separately. The plugin's user-friendly interface makes it easy to set up, while its advanced features and precise control over your audio make it a go-to tool for mastering, mixing, and sound design. The C6 is an essential plugin for anyone looking to achieve professional-level control over their audio.

  2. Slate Digital MO-TT: The Slate Digital MO-TT is a powerful and intuitive multiband compressor plugin based on the extreme OTT setting in Ableton Live. The plugin provides 3 independent bands of compression, allowing you to target specific frequency ranges with precision and control. Each band features a range of adjustable parameters, including threshold, attack, release, ratio, and makeup gain. With its versatile features and high-quality sound, the Slate Digital MO-TT is an essential tool for any audio professional looking to achieve a polished, professional sound in their mixes and masters.

  3. FabFilter Pro-MB: The FabFilter Pro-MB is a powerful and versatile multiband compressor plugin that offers precise control over the dynamics of individual frequency bands. With up to six bands of compression, expansion, and gating, the Pro-MB allows you to target specific frequency ranges and apply precise, surgical processing to your audio. The plugin features a highly intuitive interface, with a dynamic visual display that provides a detailed view of your audio's frequency content and dynamics. The Pro-MB also includes a range of advanced features, including sidechain input, mid/side processing, and multiple interface. With its combination of precision, versatility, and ease of use, the FabFilter Pro-MB is an essential tool for any audio professional looking to achieve the perfect balance and control in their mixes and masters.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, mastering multiband compression is an essential skill for any audio engineer looking to achieve professional-level control over their audio. With the right tools, techniques, and understanding of the principles of multiband compression, you can take your mixes and masters to the next level.

Whether you're looking to add warmth and depth to a mix, or achieve maximum loudness and clarity in a master, multiband compression provides a powerful and flexible tool for shaping your sound. By following the tips and best practices outlined in this guide, you'll be well on your way to mastering multiband compression and creating mixes and masters that truly stand out.

Remember, practice makes perfect, so don't be afraid to experiment and try new things until you find the perfect settings for your audio.

"Some of the links within this article are affiliate links. These links are from various companies such as Amazon. This means if you click on any of these links and purchase the item or service, I will receive an affiliate commission. This is at no cost to you and the money gets invested back into Audio Sorcerer LLC."

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