Hold and Release in Audio Mixing – What Is the Difference?

Hold and release – you’ve seen both settings on your compressors, gates, and other plugins. They both lengthen the effect of that plugin by a time length of your choosing, so what’s the difference? Let’s quickly identify the difference between hold and release.

Hold and Release

Both settings work together typically alongside a threshold on dynamics plugins like compressors and gates. They use the threshold level to determine how soon after that level drops below the threshold to stop the engagement of the effect.

On a compressor, hold and release determine how long it takes for the signal to go back to being uncompressed after it drops below the threshold.

On a gate, hold and release determine how long it takes for that gate to close after the signal drops below the threshold.

They each differ in how they end that engagement of the effect, so let’s compare the two.

hold and release

What is Hold

After the signal drops below the threshold, the hold enforces an additional amount of time where the effect of the compression or gate remains fully engaged.

So if we have the hold setting on a gate set to 1 second, after the signal drops below the threshold, that gate will remain open for 1 additional second. At that point, with no release time set, the gate will instantly close.

On a compressor, it keeps the track fully compressed for whatever time we set after the signal drops below the threshold. Once that amount of time is up, with no release time set, the compression abruptly ends and the track goes back to being completely uncompressed.

The idea with hold is that it’s an all or nothing setting. It keeps the effect going before abruptly ending it.

Note I kept mentioning “with no release time set”, because the hold works alongside the release. Let’s identify what is release now.

What is Release

As I mentioned in my audio compressor settings chart, release time is the amount of time it takes for the effect to trail off.

That’s the main difference between hold and release – the hold is instant whereas the release disengages the effect at a slope.

If we have a gate with no hold time and a 1 second release, after the signal drops below the threshold it will take 1 full second for that gate to completely close up.

So if we set a compressor with no hold time and a 1 second release, after the signal drops below the threshold it will take 1 full second for that compression to die off and fully let go.

It’s a more natural and transparent disengagement of that effect than the hold.

Note that the hold and release settings work together to dictate disengagement time for an effect with the hold always preceding the release.

If we have a compressor with a hold time of 1 second and a release time of 1 second, once that signal drops below the threshold, the compression will remain fully engaged for 1 additional second via the hold, then trail off for the next 1 second until the track is completely uncompressed again.

Adding a bit of hold time is sometimes useful when we need a little extra time of that effect at full force before the release kicks in.

Conversely, a very short release can round off the abruptness of the hold time.

I find the latter works well when working with gated reverb on drums, setting that hold time to the length we want, then dialing in a very short release time so we get a touch of a gradual release on the end.

The example times of 1 second were extreme for the purpose of demonstrating a point; generally we’re talking a much shorter hold time of 50ms on top of much shorter release time at 50ms (again, for example).

This is always a case by case basis, so try dialing in a little hold time next time to supplement that release time and effect overall, and above all else as always trust your ears!

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