Explaining Why Two Bass Compressors Are Better Than One

No, this isn’t a stereo playback thing. It’s not a “your way is wrong and my way is right” type of thing either. This is about why more often than not, I find myself using two compressors when I’m mixing bass guitar.

Many times, multiple compressors become a necessity if you want to apply multiple levels of subtle compression instead of taking one big leap by squashing something with a single compressor. A chain of compressor plugins with 2 – 3 dB of peak reduction each is going to sound drastically different from a single compressor pinned at -20 dB. The approach that makes the most sense for your session is completely up to you and what you’re trying to accomplish.

Even still, that’s not the two-compressor approach that I want to talk about today…

Today, I want to focus on something that’s relatively unique to the way we hear and feel bass. It has as much to do with the tone of the bass as it does with the dynamic control that you get with a properly dialed-in compressor. And it all starts with setting a crossover frequency.

Choosing Your Perfect Crossover

A crossover frequency is often discussed when it comes to speaker calibration. When choosing what type of monitors you want in your room, the crossover is going to determine at what frequency the speaker stops playing back sound through the cone and starts playing it through the tweeter. In the same exact fashion, manufacturers will indicate a crossover frequency with their subwoofers to inform the end user of where they can set the high pass on their speakers for optimal separation and playback.

Essentially, a crossover tells something where to stop and where something else should start. For bass compression, this is going to be the frequency where we stop feeding sound into one compressor and where to start feeding it into the other.

Why Would We Want To Do This?

Bass guitar has two distinct ranges that your listener will focus on:

  •      The low-end content that they feel
  •      The upper-mid content that they hear

It’s really as simple as that for bass. While we can hear the low-end frequencies, they’re harder to decipher in a full mix. Our ears instead latch onto the bite of the upper-mids where our picking and playing have the most attack.

Similarly, those upper-mids don’t sustain nearly as long or as well as the lower frequencies do. This is why you’ll usually hear the bass from a venue much further away – the low-end sustains and carries better thanks to its longer wavelengths.

Because both of these sections have such unique characteristics, we want to treat them differently with our compressors – hence the need for two of them. By using a crossover to segment the two, you’re able to uniquely process both sections without one affecting the other. You get complete flexibility.

How To Break Up Your Bass

There are plenty of ways to get your bass into two parts. For many, sending their bass to two aux tracks and using a high-pass filter on one and a low-pass filter on the other does the trick. For others, creating a copy of the bass track and applying the same kind of filtering is easier to work with.

The third option is to use a plugin that already takes crossover into consideration such as Bassforge Hellraiser. By using a plugin that allows you to break your signal up into multiple bands within its interface, you save any potential phase issues or imbalances between the plugins. It’s a huge timesaver offered by several plugins, and it’s a shame that more compressors don’t have the option by default since it can be applied to other thing like room mics and full-range instruments like pianos.

Compress Away!

Once you’ve got everything split out correctly, you just need to set your compression levels to what sounds right. I tend to use a bit more aggressive compression (and sometimes limiting) on my upper-mids while using smoother, lighter compression on the low-end content just to round it out. Check out how you can set the built-in compressor in Bassforge Hellraiser in the video below:

Fit For Your Mix

Now that you’ve got a killer standalone bass tone, do you know how to get it to sit in your mix?

If you’re struggling to get it to sit right with your kick or you’re having trouble balancing it with your guitars, let me give it a listen and let you know what I think.

Having a pro comb through your track to provide mix notes can be an invaluable experience as you develop your signature sound, which is why I’m committed to giving that to each and every JST VIP member.

Learn more about JST VIP here.