C3 Multiband Compressor (stylized)

The contestants: Audacity’s built-in compressor, Chris’s Dynamic Compressor, C3 Multiband Compressor, and Levelator. I was personally surprised by the winner.

Thanks to Alex for originally asking the question about the differences between compressors.

The audio compressor line-up

Audacity’s built-in compressor

Default settings:

Audacity Compressor Defaults: Threshold -12dB, noise floor -30dB, ratio 4:1, attack time 0.4 seconds, decay time 6.0 seconds, make-up for gain, compress based on peaks

Chris’s Dynamic Compressor

Default settings:

Chris's Dynamic Compressor defaults: ratio 0.5, hardness 0.5, floor -32.0, noise gate falloff 0.0, maximum amplitude 0.99

Daniel’s usual settings:

Chris's Dynamic Compressor with Daniel's usual settings: ratio 0.8, hardness 0.6, flood -24dB, falloff 4.0, amplitude .99

Daniel’s revised settings:

Chris's Dynamic Compressor with Daniel's revised settings: ratio 0.8, hardness 0.6, flood -18dB, falloff 2.0, amplitude .99

C3 Multiband Compressor

Default settings (requires turning on limiter and each band):

C3 Multiband Compressor defaults, limiter on; low, mid, and high bands on

Levelator

No settings. Just drag and drop a WAV or AIFF file.

Levelator 2.1.1

Real-life podcast tests

Please check out each of the podcasts below. Huge thanks for their contributions to this test!

Yes Music Podcast

Recorded with a Shure SM58 to Behringer Tube Ultragain MIC100 to XLR/3.5mm mic jack into Audacity.

Download project

Completely Comics

Recorded with an iPhone 4 using iTalk app.

Download project

The Wired Homeschool

Recorded with an iPhone 4 using iTalk app.

Download project

Who Dey Weekly

Recorded with an Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Mic into a Tascam DR-05 external digital recorder.

Download project

Airplane Geeks

Host recorded with a PR40, Skype cohosts on various mics, through a mixer and into a digital audio recorder.

Download project

Kernels of Wheat

ElectroVoice EV-20 through a Mackie ProFX12 mixer with a Behringer MDX4600 compressor/limiter/gate (this is why my tests weren’t as effective), into a Roland R-05.

Download project

George

Straight into a Roland R-05.

Download project

Jude and the Ten Commandments

Condensor mic straight into Audacity.

Download project

Conclusion

Audacity’s built-in compressor uses standard terms, but it’s not very effective.

Chris’s Dynamic compressor does a great job with voices and gives easy control. But it’s best run on audio with little or no background noise.

C3 Multiband Compressor does a great job, but frequently misses a peak, which throws off normalization (a required extra step).

Surprisingly, Levelator did a consistently fantastic job on the audio and handled background noise well. It gives no controls and may add an extra step if you don’t record into WAV or AIFF. But it’s easy (albeit slow) and very effective.

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About the Author
As an award-winning podcaster, Daniel J. Lewis gives you the guts and teaches you the tools to launch and improve your own podcasts for sharing your passions and finding success. Daniel creates resources for podcasters, such as the SEO for Podcasters and Zoom H6 for Podcasters courses, the Social Subscribe & Follow Icons plugin for WordPress, the My Podcast Reviews global-review aggregator, and the Podcasters' Society membership for podcasters. As a recognized authority and influencer in the podcasting industry, Daniel speaks on podcasting and hosts his own podcast about how to podcast. Daniel's other podcasts, a clean-comedy podcast, and the #1 unofficial podcast for ABC's hit drama Once Upon a Time, have also been nominated for multiple awards. Daniel and his son live near Cincinnati.

11 comments on “Audacity Compressor Showdown – TAP065

  1. Hi Daniel and thanks so much for his awesome episode. I will need to listen to it a number of times to get the full benefit! It was great to hear you working in depth on my little bit of audio- and to hear that you encountered the same problems as I do! So it’s not just me being rubbish at editing. There’s so much useful information in this episode and I hope it helps others as much as it will help me!
    Thanks again,
    Kevin

    1. You’re welcome, Kevin! I was honestly surprised at the outcome because I used to dislike Levelator.

      When I did this live on Monday, a couple people in the chat room said, “Now I need to go listen to the Yes Music Podcast.” 🙂

      1. Great – nice bit of cross-promotion there! Thanks once again!

  2. Excellent episode! So, what we have learned is don’t record noise. I am a live music sound engineer, with some studio recording experience, hoping to become a podcaster.

    It seems that many podcasters think of compression as a magic fix for bad recording. It’s not. Compression is a tool to even out the dynamics a little bit of specific sound sources to allow the engineer to increase the level of that sound source without it getting in the way of the rest of the instruments in the mix.

    A good example of this would be a loud bass guitar in a loud rock band. Ideally, you would like to have a lot of bass in the mix, really, as much as possible without overpowering the rest of the band. The problem is that bass guitar has a lot of low & low-mid frequencies that can really interfere with the rest of the mix, and the bass guitar can be very quiet at times, and really loud at times. Using compression, an engineer can amplify the quiet notes and quiet down the loud ones (often referred to “squashing”). If done carefully, you can maintain a natural sound and feel, but gain the ability to increase the overall level in the mix.

    Now, when you apply this tool to a single spoken word source, where there isn’t a lot of other sound sources to blend it in with, you amplify the quiet and cut the loud parts. If you have a lot of noise in your recording, compression will usually amplify it, and with no other sounds or instruments to blend with, it actually becomes more obvious.

    Levelator appears to be doing something to remove background noise, then compressing, and then amplifying.

    The bottom line is this, don’t record noise. In all of the recording examples you used here, one of the following three things could have been done during the recording process.

    1) Eliminate the machine sounds that come with recording into computers by using a quality USB audio card or recording to an external recorder.

    2) Eliminate or reduce as much as possible the background noise during recording. There is no way to mix out traffic noise. If you don’t want it in, don’t record it,

    3) Use a decent dynamic microphone. I don’t know how many podcasts I hear where the condenser mic is picking up the fans of a noisy computer, and the typing on a keyboard, not to mention the echo in the room.

    Compression is a tool, and can really sweeten or polish your sound, but it shouldn’t be thought of as a way to fix it.

    Again, great episode.

    1. Yes, great points, Gary! Similar to what I shared in “How to Remove Noise with Audacity.”

      The one thing I would add is get closer to the mic. Podcasters tend to like to keep their distance, but also because they’re probably used to a mic with its gain all the way up.

  3. Jim Kerwin says:

    Daniel,
    This was a very practical episode.  I’m still wondering, though — is it overkill for me to use my compressor/limiter/gate AND Chris’s dynamic compressor?

    1. I don’t think it’s overkill. I still do it. In fact, as you probably heard by now in episode 66, I’ve gone back to using Chris’s Dynamic Compressor for my recordings because it still does a better job on audio recorded without much noise, especially noise-gated audio.

  4. Cd MaN says:

    Thank you, this promises to be a great episode (haven’t had time to listen it yet, but it’s in my downloaded folder :-)). 

  5. המשחקייה הפודקאסט העברי says:

    Thanks for putting in the effort for producing this episode!

  6. Hi all
    As you know, Chris’s dynamic compressor usually boost up the noise at the start and end of the audio. Below is my tips to solve it if you don’t record in studio:
    1. Just say something before and after beginning your podcast. I Suggest you countdown like 3, 2, 1, then pause for at list a second. at the end, pause before starting coutdown.
    2. Apply Chris’s Dynamic compressor with the settings of your choice.
    3. Cut the audio before and end of your podcast.
    This is how I solve when record my audio at my room. Hope that useful for you
    Cuong Dang Manh

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