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How to Compress Woodwinds

how to compress woodwinds

From gentle flutes to roaring saxophones, woodwinds present a host of challenges when it comes to mixing. In this article you'll learn the best compression settings for all the major types of woodwind instruments so that your mixes will sound dynamic and professional!

If you want to improve the sound of your woodwinds even further, be sure to check out this guide on How to EQ Woodwinds.

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Challenges of Compressing Woodwinds


Compressing woodwinds can be challenging, as they are a lot like the human voice. They often have to retain enough dynamics to sound natural, though not have too much dynamics to where they pop out of the mix.  

I often approach certain woodwinds differently than others, as some woodwind instruments require a much more delicate approach. 

Regardless of the woodwind I’m working with, however, I try not to do more than 3 to 5dB of compression to keep things sounding as natural as possible. 


Sax Compressor Settings


Saxophone is one of those instruments that often needs dynamic consistency, especially if it’s used in a pop song. You can be a bit more heavy-handed with sax compression than other woodwind instruments.

I often like to start by loading up a FET compressor like the 1176, using a medium attack and a fast release. You can shoot for anywhere between 5 to 7dB of gain reduction without stripping away the nuances of the sound. 

In many ways, the saxophone is most similar to the human voice, so approach compression the same way you would with a vocal in your song and you should be on the right track!


Flute Compressor Settings


Flute requires far more care than saxophone, depending on the mix. Of course, we’re beginning to hear flute samples a lot in hip-hop and pop tracks these days, which are typically mangled, distorted, and sampled, giving them an over-compressed, otherworldly sound.

But for non-hip hop uses, if you want to retain the natural dynamics of your flute while providing a slight bit of control, we recommend utilizing a compressor with a low 2:1 or 3:1 ratio and around 3-5dB of compression on the loudest parts.  

Be very subtle with your compression, as it can change the character of the instrument if you aren’t careful. 


Woodwind Section Compressor Settings


Compressing woodwinds requires a lot of care as well. If you’re working in a classical setting, you’re much better off riding the faders to control the dynamics of your sound. However, if you absolutely need compression, whether it’s for the sound or a bit of glue, I highly recommend using an optical compressor with a slow attack and release. 

At most, I like to go for around 3dB of compression and use my fader to ride anything that goes above my desired loudness threshold.


Learn more about Mixing with Compression


This is only one part of mixing with compression! Luckily, I've put together a bunch more articles to help you master this crucial mixing skill!


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