Kick Compression – The Best Kick Drum Compression Settings

A well compressed kick drum has added thickness and sustain to better feature it as the anchor and most important element in your mix that it is. In this kick compression tutorial, I’ll share the perfect kick drum compression settings to dial in to hit that sweet spot for your mix’s anchor.

Kick Compression

Below I’ve got my perfect kick drum compression settings. I’m aiming for 3dB of average gain reduction, 5dB on the loudest peaks. This is achieved as the result of all of these settings working together, so I’ll list each one and go into detail in depth on each one.

Note that if you need more transient punch on your kick, consider my guide on adding audio transients. Conversely, if you’ve got too MUCH punch on your kick and it’s needlessly driving up your peaks and reducing headroom, check out my tutorial on using a hard clipper to manage this and getting a thicker kick through transient cutting.

Now let’s get into the perfect kick drum compression settings to dial into your kick.

Kick Drum Compression Settings

kick compression

I put together the above kick compression settings guide/chart via FabFilter’s Pro-C compressor.

That said, all of these settings can be found on any compressor, stock to your DAW or third party.

Now on to the settings.

Threshold

Normally when I’m talking compression threshold, my recommended setting is more vague, more aiming for the gain reduction.

With kick compression, the peaks are typically pretty consistent.

As such, I recommend aiming for 5-10dB beneath this peak for the kick threshold.

kick compression threshold

The kick has such clear and clean dynamics, this brings up everything outside of the transients of the peaks to give you a nice boost of sustain.

We’ll keep that punch especially with the kick’s attack setting in a moment, but this is a good place to aim for your threshold.

Ratio

The compressor ratio determines at what rate the compression is applied.

For the kick compression ratio, I recommend a relatively above average ratio of 5:1.

kick compression ratio

Combined with a 10dB threshold, this means we’re outputting 2dB when the threshold is exceeded by 10dB.

This is where (when combined with the makeup gain) we get that added thickness and sustain from the rest/meat of the kick.

Knee

The compressor knee determines how strictly the threshold and ratio are enforced.

Again, because a kick has such clearly defined dynamics and peaks, I like to strictly stick to the threshold and ratio I set.

To accomplish this, I like a hard knee of 3-6dB on the kick drum.

kick compression knee

This ensures that the signal is barely compressed at all unless that threshold is met.

Attack

I referenced this earlier, but the compression attack is how soon after the signal crosses the threshold that compression actually begins.

I recommend an attack on your kick compression of 15ms.

kick compression attack

This delays the compression more than long enough to let the sharpness of those transient peaks around 5k (see what are transients) cut through the mix before the compression clamps them down, pushing up the body of the kick.

This is what yields a more balanced kick, so with 15ms you’re getting the benefits of the compression while keeping the punch of the transient.

Hold

As I mentioned in my comparison of hold and release on the compressor, the hold feature keeps the compression for the set amount of time.

A little hold alongside the release (which I’ll mention next) helps to give the thickness achieved from the compressor a little added sustain.

To that end, I like to set a hold of about 20ms on my kick compression.

kick compression hold

You can turn this up if you want a bit more sustain from the kick, but remember to set this alongside the kick’s release.

Release

The release on the compressor is the amount of time it takes for the compressor to ease the audio back to its fully uncompressed state.

Set your release somewhere between 30-50ms to give your kick a transparent amount of decay.

kick compression release

Combined with the hold we just set, this should give your kick the added thickness via sustain that we want.

Output

I can’t overstate the importance of matching your output level to your input level.

In order words, set your makeup gain so that whether the compressor is on or off, the volume remains the same.

This ensures that we can effectively evaluate the effectiveness of the compression you added, not to mention it it keeps gain staging intact for the next plugin in the chain.

Kick Compression Tips

  • Kick compression allows you to maintain the transients of your kick while bringing up the body and adding some sustain and decay.
  • Aim for 5-10dB under the peaks for your threshold.
  • Go with a slightly aggressive ratio of 5:1.
  • Use a relatively hard knee of 3-6dB.
  • Set an attack time of 15ms to give yourself more than enough of the upper frequency rich transient cutting through to draw the listener’s ear to the kick before the compression snaps down.
  • Use 20ms of hold time to add some thickness and sustain.
  • Set a release time of 30-50ms for a transparent decay.
  • Match your output volume to the input level.
  • Aim for 5dB of gain reduction with all of these settings.

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