Learn how to add power, punch and weight to your tracks without sacrificing your peaks in just 5 minutes!
This NY style parallel compression technique will show you how to create louder, more powerful mixes in Ableton Live 9 without squashing the life out of your transients!
What is NY Compression
New York style compression is a type of parallel compression originating from New York City. It’s typically used on the power elements of a track such as the: kick, clap, snare, open hat, bass, lead vocals, and most commonly the entire drum bus.
Parallel compression works exactly the same as standard downward compression. but rather than placing a compressor straight onto the original track in serial, a duplicate of the track is created and this duplicated track is compressed aggressively before being mixed back in with the original uncompressed audio. Hence the name ‘parallel compression’.
Whats The difference between NY & Parallel Compression
NY compression is exactly the same concept as parallel compression. The only difference comes with the use of an EQ device after the parallel compressor.
Shelving EQs on old mix consoles were typically used to accentuate the high and low end of the track at fixed frequencies around 100Hz and 10KHz to increase clarity and loudness. The technique of placing a EQ device after the compressor to increase the feeling of ‘Hifi style’ loudness originated in NYC and so the term NYC compression was coined.
How Does Parallel Compression Work
Parallel compression can be done a number of ways:
- Using chains
- Using a compressor dry/wet knob
- Duplicating tracks
By creating a parallel track we can blend in a completely ‘squashed’ or ‘slammed’ version of the track in underneath the original. The newly compressed version is usually so compressed that it is almost unusable on its own.
When the parallel compressed track is summed with the original uncompressed audio, we achieve the weightiness and fullness of the aggressive compression, coupled with the dynamics and groove of the uncompressed transients which gives us the best of both worlds.
Parallel compressing in this manner effectively raises the parts loudness (RMS) without squashing the dynamics of the track. Upward compression works in much the same way, but avoids disproportionally raising the noise floor, thanks to how a downward compressors threshold acts on the signal when in a parallel configuration.
Parallel compression is still downward compression, just a slightly more sophisticated way of doing it!
Uses For NY Style Parallel Compression
NY compression can be used to:
- Give drums more punch, thickness and weight
- Make a track sound psychoacoustically louder without adding peak level
- Raise the quieter details of a track
- Glue parts such as drums together
- Help to give vocals more attitude and allow the performance to sound more consistent
Parallel Compression Settings
To NY compress a track, very aggressive settings are used such as:
- Colourful and fast compressor types – such as a FET compressor. We recommend the Urei LN1176.
Native Instruments VC76 – A software emulation of the popular UREI LN1176 Compressor, A type of Foward Effect Transistor (FET) compressor
- Fast attack time – This will ‘slam’ the compressed part, for added punch, use a slower attack time but this is likely to add considerable peak level if set too slow.
- Fast/medium release time – Faster release times are more responsive and aggressive. Back this off for a more natural sound
- High ratio – Using a ratio above 8:1 is normal. Using settings between 10:1 and ∞:1 (Brick wall) are extremely common.
- Set threshold for 10-20 dB of gain reduction – The threshold and gain reduction together will determine the aggressiveness of the compression and also how much of the low-level detail will be brought out.
Extremely low thresholds will elongate the decay times of drums and can over accentuate parts such as low-level atmospherics, noise and reverb tails. These are essentially the elements that give parallel compression a strong ‘mix glue’ quality when used in moderation.
A glue compressor with some fairly standard settings for parallel compression.
Shelving EQ to Create Loudness
Adding an EQ before or after the compressor can help to target a particular area to compress. adding a low pass filter before the compressor is a handy way to add sub and body to kicks.
The most common use for NY compression is to use an EQ after the compressor to create the psychoacoustic illusion of a louder drum bus. This is done by adding a few dBs of gain using shelving filters at 100Hz and 10KHz. Peak filters may also be used to pinpoint exact frequency bands to be accentuated.
A parallel compression configuration being used NYC style with an upside down smiley face style Eq curve to give the impression of a louder, clearer part.
The reason this EQ shape sounds more loud and clear is beyond the scope of this mix tip, but more information on equal loudness curves and psychoacoustics can be found in Book 1 of the Zero To Hero Guide To Mixing In Ableton Live.
Step By Step Guide To Setting Up A New York style Parallel Compression Chain
- Duplicate the original track
- Solo this track and place a compressor on it
- Set the compression parameters using the guidelines above. It should sound extremely squashed
- Add an EQ8 device either before or after the compressor. We recommend before
- Set band 1 to a low shelf with 3dB of gain at between 80 – 120Hz
- Band 2 should be set to a peak filter and gently notch out around 2 dB of gain at around 300Hz, use a Q factor of around 1.4
- Set band 3 to a high shelf with 3dB of gain at between 8KHz – 12KHz
- Solo both tracks together, pull the parallel channel fader all the way down and slowly mix this signal into the original track
- Keep an eye on the peak level in the master fader, mix the signal so no peak level is added but the track should become more powerful. If too much peak level is added, try tightening the attack time.
- Once a comfortable setting has been sound, listen to this part in context of the whole track
- aUse the mute and solo buttons to listen to the difference to the project with and without the parallel channel
In this 5-minute mixdown tip, we explored the uses of NY style parallel compression in Ableton live, and how it can be used to get the benefits of both downward compression and upward compression, whilst still keeping the dynamics and transients intact, and also without excessively raising the unwanted parts such as the noise floor.
Parallel compression is probably one of the most important mixing techniques for electronic music producers to understand, especially if you want to get your mixes sounding as loud, clear and punchy as the pros!