Compressing Vocals PART 4 (Parallel Compression)

So lets sum it all up:

PART 1 – We talked about using compression like sand paper
PART 2 – We talked about how to use the compressor to push sounds behind the vocals
PART 3 – We discussed how to use a limiter to keep a vocal part in check (Peak Limiting)

So in this Post I will be discussing the idea of Parallel Compression or “NY Style Compression” and how I approach it when it comes to vocals.  Parallel Compression is a form of upward compression where two identical signals are run side by side.  One signal is dry or lightly compressed and the other one is heavily compressed.  The two signals are then mixed together to taste.

Now in the general sense of compression we think of pulling down the peaks of a signal to get it to sound louder.  Only problem is it takes down all the dynamics with it.  Parallel compression leaves the dynamics and brings up the lower parts in the singal, giving it a more natural sound.This is why I choose to use parallel compression along with the techniques discussed in PART 1 and PART 2.  It allows me to shape the sound in a more natural way while still retaining the dynamics that we humans love to hear.

What are we trying to achieve?

Its not quite as simple as duplicating a signal. throwing on a compressor and calling it day.  We need to have some reasons and ideas before we take the plunge.  The first thing I’d recommend is to listen to the sound first to determine whether it actually needs parallel compression.  That’s probably the most difficult hurdle to over come.  But if you reference enough music styles that you like and are trying to recreate, eventually you will develop an ear for what should work.

The Big 3

When I’m getting ready to use paralell compression in regards to vocals, 3 things I’m normally trying to achieve are:

1) accentuate the transients

In order to accentuate the transients I would normally use a faster attack but slow enough to let all that goodness come through.  I’m looking, usually, in the ball park of 10-30 ms.

2) increase the apparent volume

In order to increase the apparent volume we need to eliminate most of the peaks in the sound.  I would normally gravitate towards a higher ratio but lately I’m finding that a medium ratio of about 3-6, seems to work well.  This is also accompanied by a generous threshold aiming for an average of about 6-12dB of gain reduction.  Some people go a lot harder but I feel I get a more natural tone by not hitting it too hard.

3) add some body

In order to add body to the sound we need to set the release to a setting of medium to something a little slow.  now this really does change from vocal to vocal but I’d guess anywhere from 150-1000ms and even more if it sounds right.  You would really just have to play around in that area until it sounds good and then start mixing it in with the original sound.


We can also change these settings as we feel fit.  If we want less transients, then just increase the speed of the attack.  If we want less body in the sound then make the release faster.  As long as we can hear what we want,  before we make any decisions, then we are on the right track to creating and interesting and pleasing vocal sound.  Try this technique yourself and see how you like it.  You can also add in other processing like EQ to even further accentuate your sound.  I tend not to use EQ as much any more because I find once the compressor is in the sweet spot, it really doesn’t need it, but you be the judge and make the decision on your own.  Good Luck!

YouTube Video Source: How to Compress Vocals (Parallel Compression) [4/4]