The Art of Compressing the Low-End

Low-end is one of the most important elements of any mix. Whether the average listener realizes it or not, a song’s well-mixed low end, or the lack thereof, strongly influences their opinion of a song. Well-mixed low-end can make the difference between a mix feeling great or lackluster.

As a result, it stands to reason that putting one of your mix’s most important elements, low-end, together with one of the most essential mixing techniques, compression, leaves a lot for a mixing engineer in any genre to consider.

Let us clear things up for you!

Why Compressing Low-End is Tricky

The short answer is that compressing low-end is tricky because most compressor plug-ins naturally attenuate quite a noticeable amount of low-end and sub frequencies. If you’re compressing a kick drum that only has a tiny bit too much sub in it, for example, then this works out perfectly!

The McDSP CompressorBank Compressor Plug-In

On the other hand, compressing a bass guitar that has the perfect amount of sub requires a bit more care, as going too far could leave the bass guitar sounding thinner than desired. Compression gain reduction artifacts can also be introduced into the mix (no pun intended) and then you’ve got even more to think about!

That’s because large amounts of gain reduction can cause distortion artifacts, and compressors that saturate the input signal to any degree could make these distortion artifacts even more obvious. Let’s go into a bit more detail on that.

Why Saturating or Distorting Low-End Is Usually Not a Good Idea

“Wait, I thought this post was about compression. Why are we talking about saturation all of the sudden?”

Bear with us!

Although adding distortion and/or saturation to your low-end instruments can sometimes be a great creative decision, nine times out of ten it’s not a great idea if you’re working on elements, such as a synth sub bass, with valuable low-end information that you want to preserve.

A Sub Bass with Distortion
A Sub Bass without Distortion

Think about what happens when you saturate or distort something a lot. As you can see in the screenshot above, since saturation generates lots of harmonic content, it ends up leaving behind quite a bit of high-end and high-mid frequency information that wasn’t there before.

While these new frequencies can sound great, they can often overshadow what’s going on in the low-end.

What Does That Have to Do with Compression?

This has everything to do with compression because, like we mentioned earlier, many compressor plug-ins induce subtle amounts of saturation, both intentionally and unintentionally. Even compression plug-ins that do not saturate the input signal may introduce distortion artifacts depending on your attack settings, release settings, and gain reduction amounts.

At the end of the day, remember that mixing is a balancing act. In other words, adding something somewhere will always take something away from somewhere else. While this isn’t always a bad thing, additional high-end frequencies in your bass instruments can easily take away from the low-end foundation, which serves quite an important purpose, provided by those same instruments.

Stress-Free Low-End Compression: The McDSP 4030 Retro Compressor

Are you looking for a way to compress your dynamic bass instruments without squeezing all the low-end information out of them? There are quite a few ways you can do this, such as multi-band and parallel compression, but the simplest way is by using the 4030 Retro Compressor from McDSP!

The McDSP 4030 Retro Compressor

What makes the 4030 perfect for compressing bass instruments? It’s not a feature that you can see on its interface, rather, the plug-in’s attack and release controls are always adapting behind the scenes, allowing you to do huge amounts of gain reduction without having to worry about gain reduction distortion artifacts!

If that’s not enough for you, the 4030 also features a completely unique algorithm that is not modeled after any other gear. It also has a mix control which, when used in conjunction with its sidechain controls, leaves you with a world of possibilities that are worth exploring.

Want to check out the 4030 for yourself? Try out a free 14-day, fully functional 4030 Retro Compressor trial here.

As always, we hope you learned something new! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter below to stay up to date on all things McDSP. We’ll see you next time!