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Parallel Compression

how to use parallel compression

Parallel compression is one of the most powerful techniques in music production. The idea is to combine an uncompressed signal with a heavily compressed version of that same signal. With this technique, you can increase the average level of a signal and lock a sound into place without getting the negative artifacts of aggressive compression.



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 What Is Parallel Compression In Music Production?


Parallel compression in music production works by creating an identical duplicate version of the signal, which is then sent back into your DAW to be mixed with the dry signal.



One signal is compressed. The other clean. 

Basically, you are combing a clean signal with the compressed signal, then balancing the volume of the two.


So, What Are The Benefits of Parallel Compression?


One of the main reasons you might use parallel compression is that you can increase low-level audio signals without negatively impacting the transient peaks of your signal.

Another word for transients is punch. The great thing about parallel compression is that the clean signal lets you preserve all of that powerful punch in your signal.

At the same time, compression artifacts are nice too! A good compressor, like the highly recommend Arturia Comp-FET76, will add warmth, saturation, and a touch of hype to whatever you run through it. Plus, by reducing the transients of the compressed signal, the quieter parts of that signal become relatively louder, resulting in a fatter sounding overall mix.

Frequently, parallel compression is best for producing an “invisible” form of compression to get the best of both worlds. 

You can heavily compress your audio to reduce the dynamic range and maintain control over your peaking transients, creating an aggressive sound that you can blend in with your open and dynamic signal. 


When To Use Parallel Compression


Parallel compression can be used whenever you need to increase the punch or presence of a signal while retaining the dynamic qualities of the dry audio. Parallel compression is very common on vocals and drums, though it can be used on just about any instrument. 

I frequently also find myself using parallel compression on:

  • Bass
  • Percussion
  • Glitch-loops
  • My entire mix!


How To Use Parallel Compression


There are two main ways to use parallel compression:


  • Wet/Dry Knob
  • Effect Send


How to Use Parallel Compression as an Insert Effect


To use parallel compression on your insert, you need to use a compression plugin that allows you to blend your compressed signal in with your dry signal. Look for a compressor with a Mix knob, like the Arturia Comp FET-76.

Depending on the DAW you use, you might have a compressor with a parallel parameter built-in.  


How to Use Parallel Compression as a Send Effect


However, if you want a bit more control over your compressed signal, you may consider using it on an effect send. Essentially, you can set up your compressor on a bus and send a copy of your dry signal out to it. Once you’ve dialed in the perfect compression settings to get heavy, punchy compression, you can slowly mix it in with your main signal until you get the perfect blend. 

I often like using parallel compression on an effect send, as I can EQ or saturate the heavily-compressed signal how I please, giving me a bit more control.


Recommended Parallel Compression Settings


The idea behind parallel compression is that you want to squash your signal to blend it back in with your original signal. To do so, you’ll want to use a high ratio. I often like to start with 8:1 and move higher if need be. 

You can take your threshold down pretty low as well to get a fair amount of gain reduction. I often find myself taking off around 20dB of gain to really squash the signal and get rid of its dynamics.  

The attack and release will depend on what you’re using your parallel compression for, though a fast attack and medium release will often do the trick to start. If you need a bit more transient punch, you can slow the attack down to let the front end of the signal through.


Best Plugin for Parallel Compression 


If you want to get the "classic" parallel compression sound, though, you need to use a compressor that mimics the 1176 compressors all buttons in mode (aka "nuke"), like the Arturia Comp FET-76. This compression setting results in a ratio over over 20:1 and absolutely blitzes the parallel signal in the most pleasant way possible. 

It sounds great, looks beautiful, includes multiple advanced compression modes, as well as a built in sidechain. On top of that, you can also use it for mid-side compression. 

And even better, it includes a built-in high and low pass filter, as well as a simple EQ. It also includes a wet/dry knob. This lets you easily use it as an insert effect where other compressors might muddy things up.


Best Waves Plugin for Parallel Compression


Waves also makes a really affordable plugin that is great for straightforward parallel compression. The CLA-76 is a no frills approach to the classic 1176 compressor. While it looks like a dog, it sounds pretty good, and includes the famous all buttons mode. 

It's definitely worth checking out if you're not sure whether parallel compression is for you.


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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