Train Your Ears – Part 2: Hearing Compression and Compression Distortion

We’re in the middle of a series about ear training! Last week I detailed a method of training your ears to hear different frequencies and ranges. Click HERE to check that post out!

This week I want to touch on how to train your ears to hear compression and compression induced distortion.

Over the thousands of mixes Kevin and I have listened to and given feedback on over at MixCoach Member, these are two of the most prevalent problems we hear from beginner’s mixes.

So how do you train your ears to hear Compression and Compression Distortion?

I created a product we sell called the “MixCoach Guide To Mastering Your Own Mix” that goes in depth with tutorials on how to not only master your mixes, but also how to hear what compression and other mastering is doing. What follows is one of the best methods I covered in

The idea here is to experiment.

Training Your Ears To Hear Compression In 10 Steps:

  • Step 1 – Once again, grab your favorite mix and import it into your favorite DAW
  • Step 2 – Insert a compressor and a phase flipping plug-in on this track (We will call this “track 1”)
  • Step 3 – Duplicate that track. (We will call the duplicate “track 2”)
  • Step 4 – Bypass the compressor and phase plug-in on track 1
  • Step 5 – Use the phase plug-in to flip the phase of track 2 (now when you press play you shouldn’t hear anything. Both tracks are canceling each other out)
  • Step 6 – Set the compressor on track 2 to limiter mode with the threshold all the way up (there should still be no sound coming through when the track is playing)
  • Step 7 – Now gradually start adding compression to track 2 while listening. (You will now hear only the difference between the two tracks, therefore isolating what the compressor is actually doing)
  • Step 8 – Continue lowering the threshold until you hear all the crazy distortion.
  • Step 9 – Repeat this on individual tracks on your mix (i.e. the kick track, the snare, the electric guitars, the vocal)
  • Step 10 – Write in your notebook what you are hearing as you increase the distortion. What frequencies are building up as you increase the compression? What are you missing from the mix? What sounds boosted? What sounds cut?

Again, the idea here is to experiment. With each element in a mix there is a slightly different reaction going on. With each compressor you will hear different tonal differences and distortion levels. The key is to identify what each of your favorite compressors is doing to a mix and to keep that in mind while mixing. So say you want a warm distorted compression, now you’ll know what compressor to reach for.

What’s your favorite compressor and how do you use it? Tell us in the comments!

By Jon Wright

As a graduate of MTSU with a degree in Audio Engineering and Technology Jon has been working as a full time mixer and engineer in Nashville. He loves running, writing, and all forms of entertainment. He also enjoys long walks on the beach with his wife.

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