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rpschultz13

Compressor threshold

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Is there any way to tell when the comp is kicking in? It’s hard for me to know where to set the threshold.

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The best way I've found to distinguish between such minute changes in settings is to place the looper at the front of the signal chain and play a short loop while adjusting the setting you are after. I'm sure there's a way to tell using a DAW, but what you hear is what matters. You can also always use the pedal edit function to tweak the setting while playing. Since compression is a lot about feel, this might work best.

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Best way I know would be to use a DAW and watch the input and output peak meters. If you have a compressor where the output gain knob has a dB scale, set it to 0 dB, then you can see the compressor start to work as soon as the output level drops below the input level. Otherwise it's still guesswork and I recommend rzumwalt's approach.

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A rough way is to use a patch with just a noise gate, and then play notes continuously whilst increasing the gate level. (It helps to assign the level to the Expression pedal for this patch).  You will get to a point where the volume decreases markedly, and make a note of the db level.  Be aware that this will vary for high string notes, low string notes, double stops, power chords, full chords, and how hard you pick or strum, so you will need to repeat the exercise several times.  You will get a feel for the range of levels your pickups produce with different strings, chords, and dynamics.  This range will be much higher for humbuckers than for single coils.  You will also get a clearer idea idea of where to place the compressor threshold for mixed playing, e.g. when you are playing a mixed rhythm of single note riffs with chord stabs, you may want to balance things out by boosting the single notes but not the chord stabs. You can then place the threshold between the level for riff notes and the level for chords.  

This technique can be quite useful in other contexts to check levels in various parts of a patch chain. For compressors, it obviously only works with those that have settings for db levels - for the simple compressors it is just hit and miss until it sounds right.

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14 hours ago, rpschultz13 said:

Is there any way to tell when the comp is kicking in? It’s hard for me to know where to set the threshold.

 

The only place to set the threshold is where it sounds right, and feels right to you. This is a lot of trial and error, especially if you are relatively new to compression. No two compressors work the same, and no compressor works the same with different guitars.

 

I recommend starting with three extreme settings... full CCW, half way, and full CW. This will immediately tell you which direction the threshold is working. Next, find the place where you notice NOTHING, vs having PLENTY. What you want will likely be somewhere in between, but again - there are too many variables to say anything with certainty.  

 

Always balance the level with the effect on/off. As you add more compression, you will need to raise the output level of the effect. 

 

Good luck, and welcome to the compression rabbit hole! 

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It is a bit frustrating, for those of us coming from a DAW background, that there is no visual indication of compressor action on the Helix. But then I remember that none of the compressor pedals I've used has had a gain reduction meter...

 

Use your ears. :)

 

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19 hours ago, rpschultz13 said:

Both of the pedal compressors I’ve owned had an LED. Boss CP1X and Empress. Yes frustrating.

 

I suspect we will see more and more comp pedals with this feature moving forward but right now they are in the vast minority.  Most of us would be used to the traditional comp pedal, where nothing more than ears and feel are used to get what you want. 

 

That said - it would be convenient to have a meter on the Helix devices... I know there are many requests for one on the L6 ideascale. 

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13 minutes ago, rpschultz13 said:

I know nothing about DAW, or using one with the Helix. How would that work?

 

It becomes your sound card. So, after you make sure you have installed the Helix driver on your computer and hooked it up to your computer via USB, you will then be able to select the Helix as it's sound card/input source.

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so..if you can hear it working....its set too low.  If its too extreme , its set too high.

now to be fair: I some times set the ratio a bit higher when setting the threshold to make it easier to fund the sweet spot then reduce the ratio a bit to tame it down...

 

There is a story floating around here about a US producer who came here to do a record..and the first thing he did was tape over all the meters so he was not distracted by them and used his ears to mix rather than his eyes.  Interesting concept.  I think is a true story but I wasn't there myself.

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I appreciate that story, but very few people have developed an ear to hear compression. I run sound and teach my guys to "mix" with their ears, but adjust the gain and compression with their eyes.

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On 6/17/2018 at 4:49 AM, gbr13697 said:

A rough way is to use a patch with just a noise gate, and then play notes continuously whilst increasing the gate level. (It helps to assign the level to the Expression pedal for this patch).  You will get to a point where the volume decreases markedly, and make a note of the db level.  Be aware that this will vary for high string notes, low string notes, double stops, power chords, full chords, and how hard you pick or strum, so you will need to repeat the exercise several times.  You will get a feel for the range of levels your pickups produce with different strings, chords, and dynamics.  This range will be much higher for humbuckers than for single coils.  You will also get a clearer idea idea of where to place the compressor threshold for mixed playing, e.g. when you are playing a mixed rhythm of single note riffs with chord stabs, you may want to balance things out by boosting the single notes but not the chord stabs. You can then place the threshold between the level for riff notes and the level for chords. 

 

I tried this last night, nifty idea. I put a hard gate first in my helix chain and adjusted the threshold until it was kicking in at the level I wanted. Then bypassed the gate and applied the same threshold level to the deluxe compressor. Not quite as convenient as having a reduction meter, but works about as well.

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Here’s a simple way to get an idea how much compression you’re getting, and what it sounds like. Setup two paths in Helix that are identical, but except for one has a compressor at the beginning of the path. Hard pan them left and right, and run them into your DAW so you can see the DAW meters. With the compressor off, you should se exactly the same levels in the left and right channels. As you start lowering the threshold (or increasing the sustain), you start seeing the impact of the gain reduction in the channel that has the compressor. Vary the attack and release and see how fast the gain reduction happens, and how how fast it recovers. Listen to how that impacts the tone, especially the pick attack, and rapid notes in succession. Try using the makeup gain to get the same overall level from both channels. Then play and see how the two still sound different. You can see how they behave by looking at how the two meters respond differently.

 

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This stuff is way over my head.  There has to be a much simpler way to dial in a compressor. 

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31 minutes ago, RD1967 said:

This stuff is way over my head.  There has to be a much simpler way to dial in a compressor. 

 

There really isn't on the Helix. That said, the Boss CP-1X is a fantastic compressor pedal, multi-band, and easy as pie to dial in. Some people call it an auto-compressor because it dials in most of those parameters on it's own, and the LED makes it REAL easy to set the threshold. I wish the Helix comps had some of that functionality.

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On 6/19/2018 at 9:31 AM, rpschultz13 said:

I appreciate that story, but very few people have developed an ear to hear compression. I run sound and teach my guys to "mix" with their ears, but adjust the gain and compression with their eyes.

 

When it comes to vocals that's probably more true than it is with instruments.  But it's certainly not unknowable by ear in either case if you do it enough.  I do think until you can develop an ear to hear it you probably need a signal meter so you can identify when it's beginning to kick in and when it's beginning to squish to help train your ear to hear it.  With instruments however compressors tend to be used more as an effect than a fix to problems of inconsistencies in the volume of a singing voice, so it makes it easier to hear because that's a particular sound you wanting.  Kind of like that "chunky" sound of Pete Townshend or Keith Richards guitars.

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Here'a another way to set Helix compressors.

  1. If you want a really squashed tone as an effect, set the compression ratio (in there's a control) high, say greater than 5:1. Use 1.5-3 for milder compression 
  2. Start with Sustain at 0 or Threshold all the way up - i.e. no compression.
  3. Set Attack to be as slow as possible and release to be as fast as possible (if the compressor has them) so that these will contribute to minimal compression and have the least impact on the guitar tone
  4. At this starting point, toggling the block on and of should make no difference.
  5. Next play and start turning the sustain up (or the threshold down) until you notice some loss in volume. This is an estimate of the gain reduction. You can watch the meters on your PA input if you want to actually measure the overall gain reduction or use a dB meter, most phones have apps for them. Toggle the block on and off to help get a sense of the amount of gain reduction
  6. Keep playing and start reducing the attack time until the pick attack just starts to get washed out, then back off a bit (unless you want that effect). This gives you the fastest attack possible without killing the pick attack, articulation and note dynamics. You'll notice some additional gain reduction. 
  7. Start increasing the release time until the compressor sounds smooth and there's no odd pumping or the compressor seems to follow the tempo of the song. This will depend on how fast you're picking in a song. You want the release to be as slow as possible to give the most sustain, but fast enough so that the pick attack of notes played fast don't get cut off. This will probably also increase the gain reduction.
  8. Finally set the makeup gain: adjust the level control so that the toggling the compressor on and off doesn't appear to change the overall volume

This will help bring the guitar for forward in the mix and will even out picking dynamics. It will give the guitar more sustain and a nice feel without being overly obvious.

 

Of course if you're looking to use compression as an effect, keep turning the dials until it does what you want, maybe using the above steps as a starting point, but going beyond the limits in each case to see what it does.

 

Another thing to consider is compression before or after distortion. A compressor before distortion won't do much because the distortion is already clipping and there's no gain left for the compressor to work with. A compressor will tend to keep the tone in saturation a little longer. A compressor after distortion isn't going to do too much either because the input is already clipped and there's no dynamics left for the compressor to work with. Worst case is it will allow more distorted pick attack through if the attack is slow and this could add to fizz/ice pick.

 

A compressor with additional makeup gain can act as a boost. If its before distortion, this will increase the distortion saturation. If its after distortion, it will act as a volume boost. But there are probably better blocks to use as a volume boost, you don't need to use a compressor for that.

 

I put the compressor early in the signal chain, before distortion since I mostly use it for clean or on the edge of break tones. A compressor works great in this case, keeping the amp closer to breakup and giving a warmer sustain.

 

One last thing to consider is amp sag, which is essentially a compressor in the power amp section. What's different about sag is that it works as a compressor even when the power amp is heavily distorted - in fact that's when it works best. Keep the master volume turned up and drive turned down to control the distortion to maximize sag and how the overall amp feels.

 

 

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So many suggestions!

 

The simplest method for me is this: (works best on Deluxe Comp)

 

1) To find treshold where comp starts to kick in.

-Turn off Auto Gain. Set level to 0, ratio to max, knee to 0.

-Start with a high treshold

-Reduce treshold in sensible increments. Keep comparing Comp-On and Bypassed volume. If there's no difference, keep dropping the treshold.

-Once Comp-On is softer than Bypassed, you're nearly there. Increase treshold in finer increments until the volumes are indistinguishable. Done.

 

2) Dialing in the the comp.

-Set ratio to something sensible (e.g. 1:4), add a little knee if you like.

-Predetermine how much gain reduction you're aiming for (3-4db sounds good to me). Set level to make up for your intended reduction (e.g. 3db reduction = +3db level)

-Repeat steps in part 1 until the Comp-On and Bypassed are at the same volume on your loudest chords

 

(Edit: differs from @amsdenj in that the make-up gain is adjusted to a ballpark value at the start rather than at the end, so I can compare with & without comp while fine-tuning, without my perception being affected by different loudness)

Good luck!

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