Dynamic range compression

The DBX 566 stereo tube audio compressor.
A rack of audio compressors in a recording studio. From top to bottom: Retro Instruments/Gates STA level; Spectra Sonic; Dbx 162; Dbx 165; Empirical Labs Distressor; Smart Research C2; Chandler Limited TG1; Daking FET (91579); and Altec 436c.

Dynamic range compression (DRC) or simply compression is an audio signal processing operation that reduces the volume of loud sounds or amplifies quiet sounds thus reducing or compressing an audio signal's dynamic range. Compression is commonly used in sound recording and reproduction, broadcasting,[1] live sound reinforcement and in some instrument amplifiers.

A dedicated electronic hardware unit or audio software that applies compression is called a compressor. In the 2000s, compressors became available as software plugins that run in digital audio workstation software. In recorded and live music, compression parameters may be adjusted to change the way they affect sounds. Compression and limiting are identical in process but different in degree and perceived effect. A limiter is a compressor with a high ratio and, generally, a short attack time.


Two methods of dynamic range compression
Downward compression diagram
Downward compression
Upward compression diagram
Upward compression

Downward compression reduces loud sounds over a certain threshold while quiet sounds remain unaffected. A limiter is an extreme type of downward compression. Upward compression increases the loudness of sounds below a certain threshold while leaving louder sounds unaffected. Both downward and upward compression reduce the dynamic range of an audio signal.[2]

An expander increases the dynamic range of the audio signal.[3] Expanders are generally used to make quiet sounds even quieter by reducing the level of an audio signal that falls below a set threshold level. A noise gate is a type of expander.[2]