Compression - hardware or software?

I have both, whats best?

My preamp has a compression module built in. It s a Pro-channel optical compressorr and it sounds excellent to me.

With the latest version of n, you get a decent compressor on every channel. So my question is, which would be best? I was always pleased with my hardware compression before, but thinking about it, with the FASoft Compressor option, I am much more in control of the sound. If, for example I record with too much compression with my preamnp, I will never be able to take it off. With the software version, I record clean and have maximum flexibility.

What are your opinions?


I pretty much agree with your own conclusion.
If you’ve done it wrong on the way in you can’t make up for lost dynamics / weird effects (unless your name is JP22, cause then you can compensate by using EQ ! :p but that’s a different story check out )

However, I would add one thing/idea - maybe you can set the compressor up more ‘hardknee’ to use it as a limiter to keep you from clipping the input on the soundcard ?

Having said that - it would be a pitty to not be able to use an optical on vocals …

You asked for my thoughts, not knowing that my thoughts are most of the time a confusing cloud of options …

These were my ramblings

Cheers !


hi Wihan,

thanks for the advice again :D


Having said that - it would be a pitty to not be able to use an optical on vocals …

Are you saying that my optical compression unit will provide an audibly superior sound to vocals than a VST?



Are you saying that my optical compression unit will provide an audibly superior sound to vocals than a VST?

It’s not a given, but I’ve heard often that people do like the characteristic of an optical compressor on vocal.

So it’s not totally a question of the quality of the compressor (or hardware vs software for that matter), but rather a question of the type of compression / charactaristic of it. I think you do get optical compressor simulator plugins, but if you find out where, let me know too !

I’ll start to look around myself.


Digital Fishphones Blockfish and Endorphin plugins simulate an optical compressor. I recommend them highly.

The fact that nearly every review of the best software compression says something about “how much it sounds like X hardware unit” might sort of tip you off. As good as the fishphones stuff is for free, e.g., it can’t hold a candle to a good bit of hardware. Other software comes closer, can can sound better than some harware units, e.g., the PSP vintage warmer sounds really good to me, and I found I had little use for my inexpensive behringer auto com as a result. But I say: don’t be afraid to “print” if the sound is right. Sure, you lose flexibility, but the point is to sound good.

What preamp do you have?

Its a Pro-channel P3. These used to be called 'Joe Meek’



Joe Meek ?

Personal opinion : I’ll live with it not being flexible afterwards …

I’ve got a 4 channel comp/limiter that I use to stop any errant overs on drums or vocals on the way in, especially when recording a gig. Set the gain to hit just under zero, bring the limiter in so that it just makes a difference in level on the hardest hits, and then back the gain off a bee’s dick.

Hi All:
You can’t beat an “Out-board” effect in the “Chain” when tracking… But it takes a lot of “Ruined Tracks” to get One-on-One with the outboard Hardware…

I’ve been playing with this piece of Software… lately… It’s not the end-to-it-all… but it seems to be something I don’t forget I have…

Whatever you use… Hardware or Software it shouldn’t be something you hear… That is… if use IT properly… for IT to work…right…


I’m with wihan. :)

i have to say, anytime i’ve seen someone ask “what’s best?”, i’ve always seen people chime in with “that depends!” i’d say that you just have to try a variety of things. you might find that the hardware compressor just sounds better on some things than any software; you might also find that compression, to your taste, is compression, and there’s no need to futz around with a hardware box. either way, you’ll also get comfortable enough with it (assuming you’re not already!) to be confident about printing it.

also, i’ve seen multiple references in tapeop to the practice of compressing twice – a little while tracking (through your outboard), and a little more while mixing (with a vst, presumably). and now that i think about it, you should try using the hardware compressor while mixing! i’ve never tried that with n-track, but i’d imagine that it’s possible somehow.

so, to recap: don’t just do any one thing. use the physical compressor AND your plugins, and in time you’ll discover which applications each one is best for.

hope i’m not just telling you something you already know :)


Not at all, the advice is really appreciated. From most of the advice , I have decided on a radical approach. Try it all, see what sounds best…oh and have fun! :)


Quote (stuntman @ Feb. 17 2006,05:21)
Try it all, see what sounds best...oh and have fun! :)

That's the spirit !


If you have more than 2 outputs on your soundcard (or a second soundcard), what’s to stop you routing the tracks/groups that you’d like to compress to the second set of outs, into the compressor and then taking the compressor outs into the soundcard inputs in “Live” mode for real time external effects?

Shall we wager on what stuntman does? My money is on hardware for the most part. :)


Rule of thumb: "Don’t do today what you can put off until tomorrow."

In other words, if you’re using compression for normal dynamics control, do it in software so you can listen to what you’re adjusting IN THE MIX. In general, all FX should be adjusted when listening IN THE MIX, because that’s what counts. Nobody gives a rat’s asss how a track sounds when soloed!

However, if you find you need to use a given hardware compressor in order to get the particular sound you want, then by definition you can’t put it off – well, not so easily. You could record it dry and then apply outboard FX later, monitoring the mix in mono if necessary. Or, if you have the channels for it, record both dry and hardware compressed, and later figure out which you prefer. A nice thing about having it all is getting to choose. Note that this is also an application of the rule above: put off the decision until later!

Another use of outboard gear is to limit on input to avoid peaking and saving a performance. With high S/N analog gear and 24-bit soundcards, this is hardly necessary in the studio unless you goof by not leaving enough headroom. But for unrepeatable performances, like recording a live act, limiters can be very effective “face savers”. (It’s no fun to say, “Sure, I recorded it but unfortunately that really cool bit you did sounds like crap because the levels were too high …”)

A number of folks who over the years have learned that when they use compressor X set up they way they like it, it produces better results for them than they can get with software compression. Fine, they know what they want and how to get it. For most home recording folks I suggest not to bother until you’re getting pretty darn good mixes, because you can get excellent results without hardware compression. But if you already have the gear, no reason not to experiment with it and see what it’s good for.

I vote for the outboard compressor during mixing. if you have enough inputs/outputs, just send your track to a second output, run it through the compressor and back into an input. use your soundcard’s console to hear the track in real time, and when you’ve gotten the compressor set how you like it for the mix, hit record to make a printed track of the compressor output. mute your original track (or perhaps blend it with another compressor plugin for something interesting) and voila.

I’ve also heard that vocals sound great through an optical compressor. It supposedly gives it a very up front and intimate sound. honestly, my mixing environment is not good enough for me to hear the differences between different compressors really. or maybe I just suck, but anyways. using this method will give you the best of both worlds, and not have to worry about too much compression on the recording and wishing you could undo it.