a pretty major effect on the sound. Very short release
times can distort low frequencies. Very long release
times can result in “pumping”, a sudden gain reduction
that is usually unwanted or “breathing”, a slow return to
unity level with a noticeable increase in the noise floor.
Compression and Sustain
Compressors are commonly used in the guitar world
as sustainers. There is a common misconception that
sustain is what a compressor was intended for but the
truth is, sustain is an aftereffect of compression. The job
of a compressor is the keep the output level more-or-less the same even while the input level is decreasing.
This is what causes the compressor to increase sustain.
One note I would like to make about compressors in
general before we talk about types. A compressor reduces the gap between the softest note and the loudest note. It does this by reducing the output level of
the loudest notes. When we adjust the volume of an
amplifier, we do so with the loudest notes in mind.
When those loudest notes are compressed down to
a level closer to average, some sort of gain make-up
is required in order to retain the original level. This
is usually done with the Output (volume) control of
the compressor. Now, we just reduced the loudest
notes in volume which means the average volume
being output to the amplifier is going to seem like
the quietest notes are being amplified. This includes
the noise floor. This means that any sort of noise in
the signal is ultimately going to sound amplified at
the output of the compressor. It isn’t actually amplified but since the levels are brought closer together
and the quiet notes aren’t as far away from the loud
notes, the background noise at the lowest levels will
also be closer to the loudest notes, therefore standing out more. This is not completely understood by
people that have little or no experience with compressors and often times this natural artifact of the compressor is mistaken for the compressor being “noisy”.
If a compressor sounds noisy, often times it is the result of noise induced somewhere in the signal chain
that is unnoticeable until the signal is compressed. In
my experience this is usually caused by an overdrive
or fuzz pedal, bad guitar wiring, or bad patch cable.
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