sidechain linking techniques

How an audio compressor responds to stereo content depends largely on how the channel linking is implemented in the sidechain. This has a major influence on how the spatial representation of a stereo signal is preserved or even enhanced. The task of the compressor designer is to decide which technical design is most suitable for a given overall concept and to what extent the user can control the linkage when using the device.

In analog compressor designs, in addition to unlinked “dual mono” operation, one usually finds simple techniques such as summing both stereo channels (corresponding to the center of the stereo signal) or the extraction of the maximum levels of both channels using a comparator circuit implementing the mathematical term max(L,R).

More sophisticated designs improve this by making the linking itself frequency dependent, e.g. by linking the channels only within a certain frequency range. It is also common to adjust the amount of coupling from 0 to 100%, and the API 2500 hardware compressor serves as a good example of such frequency dependent implementation. For the low and mid frequency range, simple summing often works slightly better in terms of good stereo imaging, while for the mid to high frequency range, decoupling to some degree often proves to be a better choice.

The channel coupling can also be considered as RMS (or vector) summing, which can be easily realized by sqrt(L^2+R^2). As an added sugar, this also elegantly solves the rectification problem and results in very consistent gain reduction across the actual level distributions that occur between two channels.

If, on the other hand, one wants to focus attention on correlated and uncorrelated signal components individually (both of which together make up a true stereo signal), then a mid/side decomposition in the sidechain is the ticket: A straight forward max(mid(L,R), side(L,R)) on the already rectified channels L and R is able to respond to any kind of correlated signal not only in a very balanced way but also to enhance its spatial representation.

More advanced techniques usually combine the methods already described.

audio analyzers currently in use here

During tracking, mixing and mixdown I’m utilizing different analyzers whether thats freeware or commercial, hard- or software. Each of them doing a decent job in its very own area:

VU Meter

Always in good use during tracking and mixing mainly for checking channel levels and gainstaging all kinds of plugins. I also love to have a VU right on the mixbus to get a quick visual indication about Peak vs RMS dynamic behaviour.

TBProAudio mvMeter2 is freeware and actually meters not only VU but also RMS, EBU LU as well as PPM. It is also resizeable (VST3 version) and supports different skins.

Spectrum Analyzer I

To me, the Voxengo SPAN is an all-time classic analyzer and ever so reliable. I’ve always used it to have a quick indication about an instruments frequency coverage or the overall frequency balance on the mixbus. There is always one running at the very end of the summing bus in the post-fader section.

Voxengo SPAN is also freeware and highly customizable regarding the analyzer FFT resolution, slope smoothing and ballistics.

Spectrum Analyzer II

Another spectrum analyzer I’m using is Voxengo TEOTE which actually is not only an analyzer but a full spectrum dynamic processor. However, let alone the analyzer itself (fully working in demo mode!) is an excellent assistant when it comes to assess the overall frequency balance. The analyzer does this in regards to a full spectrum noise profile which is adjustable with a Tilt EQ, basically. Very handy for judging deviations (over time) from an ideal frequency response.

Voxengo TEOTE demo version available on their website.

Loudness Metering

I’m leaving all EBU R128 related business to the TC Electronic Clarity M. Since it is a hardware based monitoring solution it always is active here on my desktop no matter what and also serves for double-checking equal RMS levels (for A/B comparisions) and a quick look at the frequency balance from time to time. The hardware is connected via USB (could be SPDIF as well) and is driven by a small remote plugin sitting at the very end of the summing bus in my setup here. It also offers a vector scope and provides audio correlation information. It supports a vast variety of professional metering standards.

Courtesy of Music Tribe IP Ltd.

Image Courtesy of Music Tribe IP Ltd.