Compression: What about room acoustics ?


Last post discussed a bit about how monitoring was important in order to properly hear attack and release time on compressors.

Fred’s question regarding that matter was: What about room acoustics, does it also have an effect on how we perceive attack and release time.

The short answer is yes.

… But a more complete answer follows:

Our perception of release time

Room acoustics affect our perception of release time a LOT. Let’s say you have a long but not wide room with parallel walls, your room will have a long decay of reverb, which will make you think that every hit lasts forever. The effect of the release time will be blurred into the reverb of your room.

Interesting fact #1: I’ve noticed over the years that people tend to use release time settings that are way too slow. Acoustics might be a cause. Slow release time decreases the perceived loudness and attenuates the feel of definition.

Our perception of attack time

For the attack settings, if your room is big enough it won’t be a problem, as the delay between the original sound and the early reflections will be long enough to separate them distinctively.

Unfortunately, that’s probably not the case for most of you. If you operate from home, great are the chances that you have a low ceiling and the speakers are close the back and side walls. That is a real problem. In that case, the early reflections will blend with the original signal, making the transient less clear and defined that it should be.

Interesting fact #2: I’ve noticed over the years that people tend to use attack time settings that are way too fast. Here again, acoustics might be a cause. Fast attack times kills the magic and makes everything sound flat and dull.


All this is all nice, but what can we do about it ?

“Acoustic treatment !” would be the obvious answer, right ?  To write a full document on acoustics is out of the scope of this actual post, but I promise I’ll do so in the next week. There are so many aspects to cover on the subject, that one post wouldn’t make it.

That said, in my opinion, Here are some quick guidelines you can follow:

  • Pick the right room first.
  • Your room shall be as big as possible, with a high ceiling.
  • Get your speakers away from the walls. The speakers shouldn’t be too close to any surface. If it’s the case, build some acoustic panels and using a mirror, install them where it will catch the early reflections.
  • Consider building a cloud (acoustic panels that you hang on to the ceiling).
  • Install a bass trap. It won’t do much about early reflections but it will definitely tight your low end.

And that’s it ?

Not really. The acoustics can have an effect on the frequency response as well. You will tell me that this should affect EQing and not compression settings. Error!

That’s for another post though!

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