A beginner’s guide to understanding the audio compressor attack setting

A beginner’s guide to understanding the audio compressor attack setting

Understanding the compressor attack setting

The compressor attack setting lets you control how quickly the compressor turns a signal down when it overshoots the threshold.

The attack time is defined in milliseconds. Typical attack times are 0.010 ms to 250 ms. The lower the number of milliseconds, the faster the attack time. Around 10 microseconds to 1 millisecond can be thought of as a fast attack time. Around 10 milliseconds to 100 milliseconds can be thought of as a slow attack time.

As soon as a signal overshoots the compressor’s threshold, the attack phase begins and the compressor starts to turn the signal down. With faster attack times, the compressor will turn the signal down more quickly. With slower attack times, the compressor will turn the signal down more gradually.

Using the compressor attack setting

How you set the attack time is often dependent on what it is you are compressing and how you want the compression to affect the signal. Fast attack turns the signal down very quickly, which is useful when you want to tame an audio signal’s transients. But this can cause some signals to lose their impact. This is particularly noticeable with percussive instruments like drums.

With a slower attack time, however, it takes longer for the compressor to turn the signal down, and so the signal’s transient undergoes very little gain reduction. This is great if retaining some of a signal’s natural attack is desired.

Of course, if the attack is too slow, then the part of the signal that you want to compress may be over, and the signal may have fallen back below the threshold before any noticeable gain reduction has been reached.

Conclusion

The compressor attack setting gives you lots of control over the way that your compressors affect your audio signals. You are able to use the attack time to control how quickly you want a signal to be turned down after overshooting the compressor’s threshold. So using the attack setting is a key step in really crafting the way you apply compression to your tracks.

How do you set this parameter for different instruments in your mixes? Leave your thoughts or questions in the comment section below.

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