Make Up Gain – Should You Be Using it?

Most compressors have a make up gain feature. Let’s identify what make up gain is and more importantly answer whether or not you should be using it on your compressor.

What is Make Up Gain

Let’s first identify what is make up gain.

make up gain

Make up gain is gain/volume which is automatically applied to the output signal on a compressor.

Compressors are essentially tools which reduce dynamic range in order to create a more consistent volume. This helps that track sit better in the context of the mix.

A byproduct of compressing that dynamic range is that the peaks of the audio get turned down, so the track is quieter post-compression than it was coming in.

To compensate for this, compressors have output gain controllers, and most of them specifically have a feature known as make up gain.

Make up gain automatically accounts for the volume lost in the compression process and adds that volume back in to make it up (hence the name). The amount of make up gain it adds back in is relative to how much volume it determines was lost during compression.

Should You Use Make Up Gain

So should you use make up gain?

Any compressors which have an automatic make up gain feature give you the option to turn this on and have the compressor automatically add back in the gain it determines was lost versus leaving it off and adding gain back in yourself.

This gives you the luxury of not having to listen closely in manually matching the output level to the input level as it’s roughly done for you automatically.

It’s important that you match the output level to the level that was coming into the compressor in the first place.

This maintains gain staging which is important to practice across your mix:

gain staging cheat sheet

Gain staging ensures that you’re feeding an optimal level in to the next plugin in the chain for better sounding results, not to mention it keeps that track from getting too loud to maintain mixing headroom.

So getting back to the question, should you use make up gain on your compressors?

While automatic make up gain is certainly a convenient feature, I prefer to and recommend that you generally get in the habit of leaving automatic make up gain turned off and manually matching the output to the input level.

Doing this manually allows you to better aim for that sweet spot of -18dB on average versus the automatic option which is comparatively less precise generally.

This only takes a few seconds to do and in turn keeps your audio in its best shape for the next stage in the processing chain so that you can achieve better sounding results.

Add this up over the dozens of tracks which make up your mix and it has a huge impact in creating a substantially better sounding mix!

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