Bass Compression - Audio Samples

This article got rather long, so I've divided it into three sections. This is the Audio Samples article. There are also bass compression explained and bass compressor Frequently Asked Questions.

Since you're probably a musician, I figure the best way to understand all of this is to listen to some samples. Before we do that, I'll offer a few real-life comments. First, when mixing a recorded song, compression is pretty critical. Bass is almost always compressed to some degree in most popular music, acoustic Jazz being somewhat of an exception.

Playing live is a different story. All of my patches on my GT-6B have compression, but I don't always use it. Sometimes I will kick it off and on within the same song. Sometimes I like the way it evens things out for me. Other times I want to control the dynamics. Other times I use it as an effect. It's a tool. Experiment and learn. Just remember that every song is different, so use it with care.

Bass Compression Example

One more tip: If you tweak the volume from your pickups, the amount of compression will change because your signal will be at a different level relative to the threshold. Same goes for how hard you pluck, use a pick or slap. This is yet another reason why a multi-effects box with patches is far more useful than a pedal you have to constantly adjust.

All clips were recorded using my Spector Euro 4LX. I can't even begin to tell you how great Spector Basses are!

Now for the audio clips (MP3, about 300K each). 

Blues Riff in A

Unprocessed Signal - What you hear is what I played.

Light Compression - Threshold -7db. Ratio 3:1. Fast Attack. Medium Release. No make-up gain. This just takes the edge off the peaks by about 3db.

Medium Compression - I lowered the threshold to -14db. To get the overall volume about the same, I added 4.5db of make-up gain. Some of the peaks were lowered by 8db, but I didn't need to add that much in make-up gain to make it sound just as loud as before. It's bit punchier. To my ear the trill doesn't sound so weak.

Medium-Heavy Compression - Same as above but with a ratio of 6:1. There's a lot less in the way of dynamics in this version. Another 2.5db is being pulled out from the peaks.

Heavy Compression - Same as above but with the threshold lowered to -20db and the make-up gain at 10db. At this point the compressor is starting to be more of a noticeable effect.

Slower Attack - Threshold -22db. Ratio 3:1. Slow attack. Fast release. 3db make-up gain. By slowing down the attack I let some of the peaks get through. Because I had make-up gain, the peaks are actually louder than they were before, so some parts seem punchier. At the same time the trills don't sound as weak.

Slap Riff in E

Pardon the slap technique - it's not really my thing.

Unprocessed Signal - What you hear is what I played. I need to point out that when slapping the peaks are very high compared to the "meat" of the note. When dealing with digital recording you have to be very aware of this because as soon as your signal hits 0db, it is squared off and sounds like crap.

Light Compression - Threshold -9db. Ratio 4:1. Fast Attack. Medium Release. 3db of Make-up Gain.

Medium Compression - Threshold -18db. Ratio 4:1. Same Attack and Release. 10db of Make-up gain. 

Heavy Compression - Threshold -21db. Ratio 6.5:1. Same Attack and Release. 12db of Make-up gain.

Slower Attack - Same as Heavy but with a slower Attack and only 10db of Make-Up gain.  

Putting it All Together

I've added a guitar, threw in some reverb, and tweaked the mix just a bit. What I want you to hear is how the raw bass sounds within the mix as compared to the compressed bass (the only difference between the versions). After all, it's how the song sounds that counts.

Slap Riff Raw

Slap Riff Compressed

Compressing for Sustain

Sustain Riff Raw - This is as loud as I could get the bass without digital clipping.

Sustain Riff Compressed - Threshold -20db. Ratio 4:1. Fast Attack and slow Release. 14.5db of make-up gain (I could have used even more).

Pick Riff in E

Unprocessed Raw Mix - There's a driving bass line done with a pick, a kick drum, and an amateurish lead guitar line for context.

Each Track Compressed - I put compression on each track. Bass Threshold was at -21db, a 3:1 ratio and 12db of make-up gain. Guitar was at -19db, 7:1 and +12db. Kick was at -14db, 7.5:1 and +6.5db. It sounds very different than the raw mix. 

Have you noticed that I haven't given any opinions on what sounds better? That's up to you to decide. Treat a compressor like any other effect in your arsenal. 

Back Bass Compressor Settings or on to the FAQ.

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