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Is a hardware compressor useful?

Hi dudes and divas!

I am about to buy a new microphone for recording (the Shure sm7b) and since I am going shopping anyway I am thinking about buying a hardware compressor as well, but only if it has a real benefit.
I noticed that my recordings tend to get distorted when I am belting, cuz I can suddenly go really loud compared to some other parts of the song. (I had this problem while recording Grace from Jeff Buckley, and I don't feel like adjusting the gain button while singing.)
Would a hardware compressor be a solution to this problem and are there some good affordable ones?


  • Klaus_TKlaus_T Moderator, 2.0 PRO Posts: 2,355
    edited August 2021
    hi Nina, yes an analog compressor could help you out in this case. having said that, if you record with 24 bit, you have a dynamic range of 144 dB (in theory), which is certainly more than the human range can cover. i.e. you might just be setting the gain too high currently. you would normally set the gain so that it does not clip at the peak of your song. you can approximate your loudest part for setting the gain, no need to hit the right notes, just be loud. then, set it so there is still some headroom (like -6 dB at the loudest peak). that way there is no way it will ever clip during your performance. if then the soft passages are too soft for you on your headphones, you could use a digital compressor to even it out. digital compressors usually come free in some variety so that's why i would suggest you do it that way. depending on what you mean by "cheap", you might not be so happy with whatever you get for that price, while you can get some really good digital clones of vintage compressors for free. another thing, if you later find it is too compressed, there is nothing you can do to uncompress it, if it was recorded through the hardware.

    if you learn good microphone technique and back off for the louder parts, you would not even need a compressor in the first place... yes, in a professional studio you would have some light compression on the vocals while recording, but more so to even the track out mildly, vs. squashing the loud parts to prevent the input from clipping. you would also have the engineer there to regulate the gain and catch any peaks when it is getting too hot.

    not wanting to talk you out of buying a compressor, just some thoughts to save you some money, but if you name your budget, i or someone else might actually be able to help you find a device that might be suitable for what you want, if you prefer to do still buy something.

  • NinaSTNinaST 2.0 PRO Posts: 91
    Thanks a lot for all the information!
    I'm not gonna buy a hardware compressor. :)
    But I will seriously need to improve my ableton skills if I want to make decent recordings. :D
    To be honest, I've been using compressors to reduce the volume, but not the other way around. I'll explore a bit more once my Shure sm7b arrives. :smiley:
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