Do you ever feel like your mixes are a little too narrow? Or maybe a loop you're using as a really annoying sound panned off to the side that you'd like to remove? Maybe you want your master to sound tight and consistent? Mid-side compression is the perfect tool for fixing these problems, and more!
Let's learn how.
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What Is Mid-Side Compression?
Mid-side compression is an advanced compression technique that many professional engineers use to get more flexibility and control when processing stereo tracks. The idea is that you can compress the mid (mono) and stereo (left and right channels) independently.
Because many mixes carry their energy in the center of the stereo field, standard compression that is applied to the full stereo field can overreact to the loudest parts of the signal, which lie in the middle.
This can lead to the sides ending up being over-compressed relative to the mid, creating unwanted narrowing in your mix.
When To Use Mid-Side Compression
We can use mid-side compression for a wide range of applications.
I personally love using it for shaping transients, either in full tracks or an entire mix. You get more accuracy when dealing with low center frequencies, which can muddy up a stereo mix when regular stereo compression is used.
For example, if you've got a low-plucked synth, you could use mid-side compression to compress the lows in the middle of the stereo image so they don't compete with with the kick and bass. You could leave the sides of the pluck uncompressed, though, so that some of the attack still makes it through on the sides.
I also find myself using it to control dynamics in the stereo field. With a mid-side compressor, you’ll be able to create more consistency in the low center frequencies while keeping the left and right channels open with only the amount of compression that they truly require.
Using Mid-Side Compression on Loops
Let's say you're working with a stereo drum loop, but you feel like the cymbals are too loud and harsh compared to the kick and snare. Frequently, the main part of the kick and snare will be in the mid channel, while the cymbals are panned off to the side channel.
By adding a fair amount of compression to the side channel and using a quick attack, you can reduce the impact of the cymbals hits, while still allowing the kick and snare to hit hard.
Note: when using mid-side compressors to adjust the relative balance between the mid and the sides, consider carefully how much make-up gain to add. If your goal is to make the cymbals way quieter, you might add no makeup gain - heck, you might even turn the gain to negative, decreasing the volume of the sides.
Common Mid-Side Compression Settings
First, be sure to check out this guide on how to use a compressor. Everything in it is just as valid when it comes to using mid-side compression.
While overall settings will depend on the mix at hand, one of the main things I like to do with mid-side compression, no matter the mix, is clean up the side information with EQ to keep the lows in the center.
I often like to keep information below 150Hz in the center, so I can control it better with its own dynamic settings. Using a multi-band compressor beforehand could be helpful in this instance.
Note that mid-side compression requires lots of care, as it can easily destroy a song if the settings are overdone. Be sure to compare your mix with mid-side compression turned off and on to make sure you're not collapsing the stereo field.
Mid-Side Compression Mastering Applications
One of the most effective ways to use mid-side compression is during the mastering stage. Pro mastering engineers will often use it to create wider stereo images. Because you’re able to split the stereo channel into multiple sections, you can boost the high frequencies on the side and let them breathe a bit more while locking the low frequencies down in the middle of your stereo field for consistent punch.
Having high information pushed out to the sides can help your mix feel bigger and wider, especially when you compare this technique to typical compression.
Best Mid-Side Compressor VST - FabFilter Pro-C2
FabFilter Pro-C2 is one of our favorite plugins from the FabFilter collection, offering modern, transparent compression in many forms. Of course, one of its specialties is offering mid-side compression, triggering your compression however you please.
One of the true highlights of FabFilter Pro-C2 as a modern compression plugin overall is the real-time visual interface. You can see how the compressor is reacting to the signal running through it, giving you visual feedback to help you make better mixing decisions.
There are also multiple styles of compression, including vocal, mastering, bus, punch, pumping, and more, making it one of the most versatile compressors on the market.
You’ll find handy a handy lookahead feature, pro-level metering, and a handy mix-knob for parallel processing as well, making the Pro-C2 an overall workhorse for compression.
Best Waves Mid-Side Compressor - PuigChild
The PuigChild Compressor was modeled after the iconic Fairchild 670 compressor, offering separate compression for the middle and side channels. The beauty of this compressor is the unique, vintage flavor it imparts on any signal run through it. There’s a reason the Fairchild is one of the most sought-after hardware compressors on the market.
You can apply a pumping effect on the mid-channel with a faster attach to round out your transients while leaving your sides a bit more open to avoid any artifacts that would otherwise appear. It’s a great plugin for the mix bus, drum bus, or vocals!
Best Mid-Side Compressor Free - MS EQ Comp
The MS EQ Comp might not be breaking any boundaries as a mid-side compressor, but it certainly gets the job done. The compressor encodes stereo to mid-side information, allowing you to use separate volume and pan controls for the independent channels.
It doesn’t provide any unique sound quality like the PuigChild compressor, though it’s great for correcting stereo images and getting a fast, clean, compressed sound on your busses or master.
The meters are accurate, the interface is clean, and the plugin is completely free! What more could you ask for?
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!
- How to Use a Compressor: Learn to Mix with Compression Quickly!
- Sidechain Compression Explained for Beginners & Key Settings
- 3 Tips for Using a Sidechain Compressor to Add Punch & Clarity
- Multi-band Compression Tutorial for Great Vocals, Drums & More!
- How to Use Mid-Side Compression for Amazing Recordings!
- How to Use Parallel Compression for Powerfully Punchy Mixes
- Should You Compress Reverb? The Real Answer Finally Revealed.
- The 5 Types of Compressors (And Exactly When To Use Each)
- 10 Vocal Compression Mixing Tips (Including Best Settings)
- 9 Powerful Drum Compression Techniques for Punchy Pro Mixes
- Loud, Punchy Kick Drums with these Compression Settings
- How to Compress Snare - Use *These* Settings Punchy Snares
- Exactly How to Compress Bass for Tight Low End Thump!
- How Compress Acoustic Guitar Perfectly, Every time
- How to Compress Synthesizers: Best Compressor Settings for Synths
- How to Compress Organ: 4 Steps to a Great Mix!
- How to Compress Percussion: Compression Settings for Everything
- How to Compress Strings: 8 Magic Settings You Need to Know
From a Frustrated Producer in a Ragtag Bedroom Studio to Major Placements on TV Earning $1,000s!
My name is Evan, and I've been making music since around 3rd grade. I'm from San Diego, California, but I've lived in Washington, DC for the last 20 years.
While I still have a full-time day job, I have created systems that have allowed me to produce dozens of songs a year in my spare time.
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