Hardware Compressors vs. Plug-ins: Which Should You Use?

When beginning your career as an audio engineer, you may see seasoned engineers using light to exorbitant amounts of compression during the tracking process. You may be tempted to try and recreate the same thing when you begin recording, but there are some considerations to be aware of before attempting these processes. First, know that the compression settings you’ve applied to the source of audio before it hits your DAW will be permanent, and probably not ideal.

Therefore, you must ask a series of questions: Can you hear subtle changes in different types of compressors (VCA, Vari-Mu, etc)? Can you really hear the difference in what the attack time is doing to the signal? Can you hear “pumping” in the release if it’s not pushed to “11”? ...If the answer to any of those questions is no, avoid using compressors until after it is inside your DAW. You can always undo or delete the plug, and you are back to a signal that you can work with. In time, you will hear subtle compression. Have patience and keep experimenting. You’re engineers.

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