What does audio compression do?

What does audio compression do

Navigating the world of audio engineering can be confusing for novices but has never been more in demand. With the rise of interest in new media such as YouTube, podcasts, and amateur music production, more people than ever are trying to learn the ins and outs of audio engineering.

One of the most common audio processing techniques used is compression. The term is often thrown around in jargon among sound engineers, but what does it actually mean? What does audio compression do? 

Audio Compression Defined

Audio Compression and Mixing

Compression is a vital tool in any sound editor’s bag of tricks. Audio compression is a process that squashes the dynamic range of a sound file. Dynamics are the variations in volume from loud to soft. The resulting effect is an overall increase in clarity at the expense of dynamics. Audio compression decreases the overall volume of the loudest sounds in the mix while increasing the volume of the quietest. This creates an effect that is useful in a broad variety of media applications. 

Compression Uses 

The media industries which make use of compression are varied and diverse. However, it is primarily used in podcasting, broadcasting and music production. Aside from its prominent use in the music industry to make obnoxious pop music louder and catchier, it is critical to improving the quality and timbre of the human voice.

All aspiring podcasters should take note: you will always sound more professional with compression. Compression provided by audio mixers like the Behringer Xenyx X1204USB, will give your podcast that authentic radio broadcast sound and feel. Using the right software also makes a big difference.

Behringer Xenyx X1204USB Premium 12-Input 2/2-Bus Mixer with USB/Audio Interface

Some podcasters apply compression using free audio programs such as Audacity, however professional DAWs such as Abelton Live are a worthwhile investment and can unlock deeper potential with their broader suite of features. 

Compression in Podcasting

Everyone wishes they had a perfect radio voice, but unfortunately, the human voice naturally creates many unflattering sonic artifacts when recorded. From better microphones (like the Razer Seiren Elite or the Rode Procaster) to pop filters, we can decrease unwanted sonic qualities in many ways.

Compression reduces sibilance (the unpleasant hissing caused by “S” sounds) and prevents voices from peaking out and causing distortion. Especially when there are multiple speakers on a podcast who may be at varying distances from their microphones or have microphones recording at incongruent levels, compression evens things out and boosts clarity. 

Two People Talking on a Podcast

Pick your Source 

Depending on your podcast setup, you may be applying compression either through an analog mixer or a DAW. Regardless of the source, professionals find it critical to use compression when recording a podcast. It is worthwhile to hear a side by side comparison of audio that has benefited from compression to understand the difference.

The effect can be hard to discern at first for those with an untrained ear. However, upon subjectively appreciating the difference, one can more effectively decide whether compression is the correct route to take for their audio processing needs. Before undertaking any significant audio intensive project, it is worth researching the benefits of compression and deciding which amp, mixer, or DAW is the most effective solution.

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