Using Saturation as a Compressor in Ableton Live

Compression seems to be a bit of a frightening beast to many people when they first learn about it, and when they first start producing music; it certainly was for me! There are a million guides out there to tell you all about it, but at the end of the day it does one thing and one thing only… turns down the volume. Of course, the devil in the details, and just HOW it turns down that volume is where all the afore-mentioned trickery comes in.

In this video, I show a standard use of a compressor – to turn down the peaks of a drum loop. This is a very common approach when the peaks in the drum signal are a little too loud, and you’re wanting to reign them in a bit. Usually, you’d want to do this so afterwards you can turn up the overall level of the drums to make them sound a bit fuller in the mix, without those high peaks taking up all your headroom. This is the quintessential, classic, compressor one-oh-one usage.

But, this is not a video about compression. What I aim to show is that a VERY similar effect can be achieved using a Saturator instead of a Compressor! With careful use of an oscilloscope, and a bit of understanding about what these processors are doing under the hood, you can set up a saturator to perform this task brilliantly. Using a saturator to remove or reduce peaks in a signal is incredibly useful at mixdown, and a trick I use multiple times in every track I make… in my opinion it should be in every producers tool-box!

The video is made using Ableton Live, using the built in compressor and saturator, as well as an excellent oscilloscope called S(m)exoscope, which is available free for Windows and Mac.

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