The compressors and limiters in Stereo Tool are protected against causing distortion. So very aggressive settings and large amounts of limiting can safely be used. General panel General compressor/limiter settings.
Enabled Turns the compressor/limiter on.
Compressor type Analog or Digital compressor type.
The Analog compressor type is intended to replace the Digital one. It's behavior is generally more natural, so if you are starting on a new preset, it's probably a good idea to use Analog mode. On top of the better end result, it also uses far less processing power.
Quick adjust panel Achieve several effects with a single slider.
Most of these sliders impact the value of several other sliders that are described below, to achieve a certain effect.
Density Use more compression.
Changes the input and output levels of the compressor such that the total output level is not affected but compressor starts to work at much lower input levels.
Aggressiveness (hot) Makes attack and decay faster or slower. Sound is more squashed.
This slider adjusts both attack and decay to have more aggressive compression.
Singleband Drive Amplification of the input before the compressor/limiter.
Output Level Amplification of the output level after the compressor and limiter.
It is generally a good idea to make sure that the output level of each filter is set such that disabling the filter does not change the level. This makes it much easier to compare what each filter does (it can be turned on and off without having to adjust other settings).
Threshold level The input level above which the compressor becomes active.
Knee Makes the transition around the threshold more smooth.
At the threshold the response to slightly different input levels changes abruptly. Knee smooths the transition.
Attack panel Attack settings.
Attack The time a 86% volume reduction due to a higher input level takes.
If the input level increases a bit, the volume goes down more slowly than if it increases a lot. This means that it's not possible to give a value in dB/ms.
Max Attack Speed
Auto Attack Shape
Exceed Max Attack Speed
Exceed Attack Rise
Attack Flatness Lets the compressor respond faster to small differences and slower to bigger ones.
Small differences in level are thus quickly compensated, with helps to reach the target level much faster. And the compressor attack responds less aggressively to big volume changes.
Limit level The maximum output level of the limiter.
Limiter distortion Allows the limiter attack to distort.
Some people like this effect, especially on low frequency audio - bass kicks get a special type of 'edge'.
Limiter max release Controls the release behavior of the limiter.
The limiter attack is always as fast as possible without causing distortion. The same is true for release, but in some cases the release behavior can be too prudent. This slider overrides the standard limiter release behavior: If the release behavior that would be used based on the adaptive algorithm is slower than this, the configured release time is used instead. This does mean that very fast release times can cause some distortion.
Limit before compress
Release (time to raise 10 dB) The time it takes for the output level to climb by 10 dB if the input level falls silent.
Max Release Speed
Auto Release Shape
Exceed Max Release Speed
Exceed Release Rise
Release hold time Time for the 'brake' on the release to fade out.
When attack has been active, release is not immediately activated to avoid excessive movement. Instead, the release is held back for a while. This slider determines how long.
Release Flatness Lets the compressor respond faster to small differences and slower to large ones.
Small differences in level are quickly compensated, with helps to reach the target level much faster as long as differences in level are small. This gives a much more sparkling, 'alive', sound. But... Big differences are less quickly compensated. See Release Inertia for a solution for that.
Another explanation to further clarify things: In the compressors, if there's a volume change, it takes quite long for the level to 'stabilize'. That's because the closer the actual level gets to the 'target' level, the slower it moves (the shape is asymptotic). Something similar happens in release. This seems to be a good thing, and traditionally this is what compressors do.
What Flatness does is:
If the difference in level is 6 dB, nothing changes
If the difference in level is less than 6 dB, for Flatness values > 1 the change speed is increased.
If the difference in level is greater than 6 dB, for Flatness values > 1 the change speed is decreased.
More technical: The Flatness'th root of the difference in level is used - so for 2 that's the square root etc.
What this means: The higher the Flatness value is, the more the movement to the new level will look like a straight line instead of an asymptote.
Release Inertia Adjusts release behavior to match human hearing for more natural results.
Without Inertia and Release Flatness, after a very big volume spike the speed at which the audio returned was always the same - but determined by how much it had to move up. So, if the volume dropped by 6 dB and after 100 ms the volume went up 3 dB, then for a volume drop of 12 dB that would be 6 dB. Sounds perfect.
But it's not. Say you have a huge drop, for example after a very loud 'S' in the high frequency band, where normal volume differences are at most a few dB and this S suddenly sticks out 20 dB. For a difference of 4 dB, after 100 ms the difference in level is 1 dB - 75% of the difference is reduced. Now, this last 1 dB is really nearly unnoticeable, so for your ears the release kinda stops after 100 ms. But, for a difference of 20 dB, after 100 ms the difference is still 5 dB! And you need more than another 100 ms before you reach this 1 dB point.
So, after a loud sound you hear a gap at settings that sound good for small volume differences.
Release Flatness helps a lot for the final part of release: Small differences get compensated faster. But at the same time, bigger differences take longer to recover, which causes the same effect for really big differences as before.
Inertia fixes this. With inertia combined with Release Flatness you can make the release happen in a nearly constant time, without the slowdown at the end that you would have without Release Flatness, but also without the slower recovery for very big volume differences. Basically, the release happens in a nearly straight line, but the slope of the release depends on how much level must be compensated. With high Inertia values, release can even be faster for very big differences than for smaller ones, which can be good to quickly fill up the gap after a loud sound.
For bigger Gamma values you need bigger Inertia values.
In case things are not yet clear now, here's another explanation: For release, especially large differences must be compensated very fast - for 2 reasons:
Big differences mean very dynamic input, and for more dynamic input it's good that more compression occurs.
If you have a loud sound, and it takes multiple seconds for the level to get back, that sounds really bad.
Sound drops by 4 dB. When 3 dB has been restored, you really won't hear much difference anymore in level.
Sound drops by 40 dB. Now, when 39 dB has been restored you really don't hear much difference anymore.
So in one case when 75% restoration is there we're good, in the other we need 97.5%. And since - without Release Flatness - the behavior is asymptotic, reaching 97.5% takes multiple times as long as reaching 75%. Higher Release Flatness values only make things worse.
Why is this bad? Well, it makes it nearly impossible to find a good Release (time to raise 10 dB), what works well for small differences will be far too slow for big differences, and what works well for big differences will sound very aggressive on small differences.
So, the time it takes for the level to be restored to a level where human hearing stops to notice a difference - say 1 dB below the target level - must be nearly constant.
Inertia ('heavyness') makes sure that once release is moving up, the speed won't slow down until the target is reached. For big drops the effect is much bigger than for small drops, which is exactly what is needed.
Release Inertia and Release Flatness must be configured to work properly together. The best way to do this is to record a sample with different level tones (Loud - soft, loud - less soft, loud - just a little less loud), and check if all take approximate the same time to reach a level slightly below the target level.
If you have to drive 10 meters, you just barely hit the gass and drive very slowly. If you have to drive 1 km, you hit the gass and speed up (Release hold time), then release the gass and let the car roll slowing down towards the end. With Inertia, you would not release the gas until you're very close to the end and then hit the brakes to stop.
Continuous Release Increases release speed if the level is reduced more.
This makes the release behavior non-linear.
Release Gate panel
Gate slowdown If the input level is lower than this, release is slowed down.
Detection type Chooses between RMS or Peak level measurement.
Peak mode can cause quite large reactions to a single small spike in the sound. RMS mode responds more like human hearing does, but low frequencies seem to be counted a lot stronger than in peak mode, which easily causes pumping.
ITU-BS.1770 Bass Respond less strong to bass because to human ears it seem to sound less loud.
ITU-BS.1770 Head Respond more to high frequencies because they sound louder to humans.
Feedback Chooses between feed forward and feedback mode.
In feed forward mode, the input is used directly for the measurement. In feedback mode, the output level is measured instead of the input level.
Feedback mode is known to sound more natural, but the level control is far less accurate. For example, say the input level is 6 dB too loud and the ratio is 1:1000. Then in feed forward mode, the level will be reduced by about 6 dB. But in feedback mode, once the level is reduced by about 3 dB, the compressor will 'see' that it needs about 3 dB of reduction and not reduce the level further.
Ratio Determines how strongly the compressor responds to changing input levels.
Say, at one moment a sound comes in at the threshold level, so nothing happens to it. If another sound comes in at 6 dB above the theshold level, the input should be reduced by half. The ratio indicates how much of the increase in input level is not removed. At a the lowest ratio (1:1), the compressor is basically disabled. At the maximum ratio, 1000:1, 1/1000th of the increase is kept.
Channel separation Process channels separately, combined, or in between.
At 0%, the two channels will always behave the same. At 100%, they move completely separate of each other.
Look-ahead time Lets the compresor respond to the sound a bit in the future.
This means that the initial spike of a loud sound gets reduced better, which can give a more natural sound.
The attack of the limiter is already protected, and if you don't use very short attack times for the compressor this probably has little effect.
Non-standard attack panel Protection against spikes for slow compressor settings.
Some presets use very slow attack and release times. This can sound great, but the level control for sudden volume increases is less good.
This section contains the settings for an extra compressor that takes over in such cases. It does not affect normal audio.
Level difference Increases the level of the 2nd compressor with faster attack.
Because the attack is so much faster, the audio level of the 2nd compressor is generally a bit lower. If we would take the minimum of the two, we would always look at the 2nd compressor, but that should only happen in extreme cases. By increasing the output level and then taking the maximum of the two, the 2nd compressor only has an effect on the sound if its output level is quite a bit lower. For example, if this value is set to 2.00, the 2nd compressor will not kick in if the level difference is less than 6 dB.
Minimum drop Disables the 2nd compressor if the attenuation didn't suddenly drop a lot.
The 2nd compressor should only be active if there's a huge difference between the volume when using a normal and very fast attack, but that's not all - if you play very dynamic music it should not kill the punch. This slider controls how much the attenuation must have suddenly dropped (in the fast attack 2nd compressor) for it to be taken into account.
Fast Attack The fast attack time.
To be useful, this must be a lot smaller than Attack - typical values are around 1-5 ms.
Release speedup Controls how much faster the 2nd compressor release is.
Beside a faster attack, the release for the 2nd compressor can also be made faster. This helps to prevent long-term volume drops after a short loud spike in the sound. This value controls how much faster the release is than Release (time to raise 10 dB).
Non-standard release panel Experimental settings. Should probably not be used.
Dynamic release Dynamically increase the release speed if the volume drops more.
If this is set to 0 the release always runs at exactly the same speed. A similar effect can be reached with Release Flatness.
Dynamic release to 0 dB Release acts as if the input level is always at 0 dB.
So the release speed depends only on how deep the level has dropped. See also Continuous Release.
Non-standard tweaks panel Settings that control compressor/limiter envelope detection.
In a compressor we have 2 things: An 'envelope', basically a line that follows the audio level, and the compressor behavior itself. If the level drops a lot, release is faster - and this is based on the envelope. Now, if the envelope just follows sample levels, then there will be a lot of near-0 values (just when a waveform crosses 0) which would cause infinitely fast release behavior. The envelope line needs to be made such that this doesn't happen.
So, around a peak in the waveform, for the surrounding samples we should not allow the envelope to reach much lower values than the value of that peak.
That works fine for high frequencies. But if you take a bass, the sample values are dropping slowly and in the valleys the level will still approach 0. Which still causes issues with release behavior. Because of that, there's some code that measures DC offset and increases the Base smoothing to something close to infinity when there's more DC offset present. Base smoothing controls how big the area is that's considered for DC measurement (lower frequency = bigger area). What we are actually measuring here is DC offset in a specific direction divided by total (absolute) power.
RMS block size The size of the area around the current sample used to calculate the RMS level.
Bigger values means less precise timing of attack/release behavior, but also less effect from low frequencies (less pumping). Generally, the RMS block size should be set just high enough to not cause distortion when using the limiters (Threshold level) a lot.
Peak smoothing Controls envelope smoothing around peaks in the waveform.
Lower values may cause distortion, but too high values reduce the precision of the limiters and (to a much lesser extent) the compressor release behavior.
Bass detection Controls upto which frequency bass should be detected for Smooth Bass power.