What is Compressor Attack and Release: 101 Starter Guide!

What is Compressor Attack and Release


Compression is usually a difficult one to get your head around. Even for those who’ve got their head across the threshold and ratio settings. And that is without the attack and release times being set accurately it should all the time be tough to get the specified impact.

This fast guide will define a really useful trick we realized from a pal a couple of years ago which lets you get your attack and release times excellent. It is primarily designed to work on drums however the identical ideas will apply to any sound.

The main goal here is to understand all the parameters of the compressor to know how exactly to set this crucial process. If you are not sure what exactly you are doing with the knobs, it is better to leave out the compression process for someone else, until you understand it all.

We always encourage you to experiment and find out which settings are working best for you, and what exactly they are doing to the sound you are working on.

If you have an idea of what you want to achieve with the compression, it is not going to be a problem to finish it. Some crucial listening and basic knowledge can set you on a way to correct experimentation.

Stay along to see what is something more about attack and release and get the best out of this article.

compressor unit with attack and release

What are Compressor Attack and Release Settings

The attack and release time settings basically manage the reaction pace of a compressor. And with a bit of know-how, they can be used to make tracks sound any way you need.

Consider the attack setting as the response time of the compressor. It controls how long it takes for the compressor to kick in after a signal crosses the threshold.

They are shown in milliseconds and you will be able to calculate everything and set the right release and attack times.

graph for compressor

Fast Attack

With a fast attack time, the compressor kicks in virtually instantly, which is nice for those who’re making an attempt to stop signals from clipping or tame unruly peaks. As for tone, quick attack times can be used to tighten up sloppy performances and make things really feel a bit extra polished.

Setting the attack time too quickly could suck the life out of a performance or push an instrument again within the mix making it sound farther away from the listener.

Fast attack speeds also can trigger audible distortion or artifacts, particularly when dealing with bass frequencies. To stop this, strive to use a compressor with a built-in high-pass filter to bypass the bass frequencies.

Slow Attack

With a slow attack pace, the compressor lets a little bit of the preliminary signal through earlier than it kicks in, which can be used to emphasize the influence of a signal, making it sound larger and extra aggressive.

Nonetheless, slow attack speeds are not perfect for controlling dynamics. Actually, slow attack speeds can truly make a performance with uneven dynamics even worse.

combinations of attack and release speeds

Fast Release Setting

The release setting controls how long it takes for the compressor to let go of a signal. Fast release times are additionally nice for raising the perceived loudness of a track.

At low ranges of gain reduction, quick-release speeds sound essentially the purest. However, when used at excessive ratios, fast release times could make tracks sound extra gritty and aggressive.

Simply watch out, excessive compression with a fast release time may cause an undesirable pumping sound.

Slow Release

Slow-release speeds are nice for smoothing out dynamic performances. It may also be used to push an instrument again within the mix, making it sound farther away from the listener.

If the release time is just too slow, a compressor could suck the life out of your performance, making it sound dull and flat.


Attack time – the time it takes for the compressor to finish the gain reduction (or bring down the level) based mostly on the compression ratio.

Attack determines what number of milliseconds (ms) it takes your compressor to use a full dose of compression to your audio signal as soon as it passes the threshold. A short (quick) attack time will trigger your compressor to rapidly apply the total quantity of compression as soon as the signal reaches past the threshold, and is mostly good for attenuating sharp transients.

A long (gradual) attack time will trigger your compressor to slowly apply the total amount of compression as soon as the signal reaches past the threshold. If the signal peaks above the threshold and rapidly returns to beneath the threshold, it might never obtain a full dose of compression.

Setting an extended attack time permits your compressor to disregard transients, and particularly target the tail finish of sounds, leaving the transients unaffected.

graph for compressor attack

Release time – the time it takes for the compressor to bring up the level to be the same as the input level was before any compression started to take place.

Release determines what number of milliseconds (ms) it takes your compressor to cease attenuating gain once your audio signal drops beneath the threshold. A quick release will trigger your compressor to stop attenuating gain rapidly once the signal returns beneath the threshold. Utilizing a quick release together with a quick attack is mostly the best suited to peak compression.

A gradual release will trigger your compressor to stop attenuating gain slowly as soon as the signal returns beneath the threshold. Utilizing a gradual release helps to maintain the compression clear, and is usually best suited to long, sustained sounds like a bass guitar.

graph for compressor release

How to set the perfect attack and release times for a compressor?

Each frequency/range wants a unique release and attack times remedy. In a multiband compressor, it helps you to assign completely different compressor settings (threshold, compression ratio, attack, and release times) for each frequency band or range.

For instance, in case your multiband compressor has three bands (bass, mid and high-frequency range), you possibly can assign three compression settings for each of these bands.

Mastering those two settings, as well as the others, is very important to understand compression as a whole. What are compressor release and attack are just a couple of those?

The one remaining downside is how it is possible for you to assign inexpensive release and attack times for every compression band.

There are particular guidelines applied by the skilled audio recording community as to the way to set the release and attack times. For instance, they use the beats-per-minute methodology of the music.

graph for compressor signal

What is an attack and what is a release?  –Attack and Release are two elements of the identical range of control — the timing with which the compressor’s gain reduction begins (attack) and stops (release) performing in your signal.

You already know that when the signal goes above your threshold, the compressor release and attack controls.

Attack and release define whether or not the compressor reaches its full range of gain reduction straight away or extra gradually. Together, they’re probably the most essential settings for achieving pure, musical-sounding compression.

Set the attack too quick and your transients will probably be crushed. Set the release too quick and also you risk an unnatural pumping impact.

Be sure to have a robust thought of which components of the sound you need to stay dynamic, and set your instances to realize it. Good compression begins with an excellent plan of what sounds need what sort of processing.

attack time and release time

Tip: Use a compressor’s VU meter to look at how the needle strikes. Is it moving in time with the music? If that’s the case, you’re most likely getting near the fitting attack/release times.

There are different settings for controlling compression that I won’t get into right here. However, with a powerful understanding of those 2 settings, you’ll have a stable base to realize healthy compression.


Using a compressor can sometimes be a struggle. Especially when you will be tweaking the release and attack times on it. To set the release time and the attack times will only depend on the signal you are working on. You will be facing slower attack times, fast releases and every possible combination.

In collaboration with the threshold setting, ratio setting, and make-up gain, you can make your signal shine. Our suggestion is to always follow the gain reduction meter and work with the output gain. The output gain is what will make the whole process equal in level, meaning that the input and output gain to be the same.

If you are not using the compression right, it will suck the life out of your signal, lower the perceived loudness and simply ruin it. So take care when you are working with the compressor and do not rush to finalize the process.

Read our guides on what these settings are and everything should be a little bit clearer to you. Use compression only when needed and tame the signal level. We want to thank you for being with us on this article and sharing it around if you like it, so more people will see it and learn something new!

Check our eBook on Mixing Tips! If you want to get a more in-depth breakdown of those tips we share, follow our link and get the “Ultimate Mixing Tips Booklet” and up your game quickly!


Nikoloski is the founder and main content writer and editor of Mixing Tips. With his experience in audio engineering, mixing, and mastering for over 15 years, will provide hands-on experience and expertise in all the matters covered on this website.

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