Rap Vocal Compression Settings – The Best Settings to Use

Like most genres, rap vocals are the focal point of the mix. It’s essential that they’re front and center without sounding over-compressed or squished. With that in mind, I’ve put together this rap vocal compression settings cheat sheet which covers the best settings to use in your next rap mix.

Rap Vocal Compression Settings

rap vocal compression settings

Here is an overview on the rap vocal compression settings I recommend and typically use myself when compressing rap vocals.

The general characteristic of these compression settings is aggressive as we’re removing more dynamic range than I do relative to some genres and vocals:

upfront vocal

Now let’s talk about each of the rap vocal compression settings in detail to explain why we’re doing what we’re doing and the effect each is having.


The compressor’s threshold determines at what volume the vocal must exceed before it will begin being compressed.

The threshold on your rap vocal compression settings should be set to just below (1-2dB) the quietest part of the performance. In other words, the quietest word that you want to hear is the target.

This ensures that the entire dynamic range of the performance will be affected, albeit proportionately via the ratio which we’ll talk about next.

This should generally keep the background noise inaudible, but check out my tutorials on how to trim your song and remove vocal breaths to minimize any noise which may otherwise be more noticeable via the compression.


The compressor’s ratio determines the degree to which the audio which exceeds the threshold is turned down.

compressor ratio explained

As you can see, the higher the ratio, the more that signal which exceeds the threshold is attenuated.

At an infinite ratio (which is what a limiter uses) it becomes a ceiling to where everything is turned down and output at the same volume.

When setting the ratio in the rap vocal compression settings, I prefer a relatively aggressive ratio of 8:1 or 10:1. More aggressive ratios sacrifice dynamic range for the sake of keeping that vocal more present and up front in the mix.

In the case of the rap genre, the vocals are the star of the mix and are what is driving the energy and mix forward.

At 8:1, this keeps the vocal up front without completely removing the dynamic range altogether.


The compressor’s knee determines how strictly the threshold is enforced. A softer/higher knee means that the vocal will begin to be compressed as the signal approaches the threshold, albeit at a proportionately lower ratio.

The more the vocal exceeds the threshold, the higher the ratio is turned up, approaching the actual ratio you set.

This is in contrast with a hard knee which uniformly applies the same ratio as soon as the threshold is exceeded, not to mention it doesn’t touch the vocal until that threshold is exceeded.

A more dynamic ratio via a softer knee will understandably yield a more transparent or less noticeable compression. I like a relatively soft knee with rap vocal compression (or any vocals, for that matter), somewhere around 48dB or higher.


The compressor’s attack delays the compression for the set amount of time after the threshold is exceeded. If the attack is turned all the way down, compression begins as soon as that threshold is exceeded (factoring in the knee’s setting, of course).

Measured in milliseconds, if we set the attack to 50ms, compression won’t begin for 50ms after the threshold is exceeded (assuming a hard knee).

Why use attack on a compressor, thus delaying compression when compression is what we want?

Because there’s something called transients on all audio – that initial high frequency, almost percussive like tone associated with audio which precedes the rest of the sound.

As I mentioned in my tutorial on how to EQ hip hop vocals, I like a small boost in the 4k frequency region as this adds some vocal punch especially to the consonants and helps to keep the vocal more present in the mix.

With no attack time, the compressor will pull down the transients, thus sucking the life out of the track and causing that vocal in this case to lose its punch and disappear in the mix.

Transients don’t need much time to assert themselves, so setting a short attack time of 1-3ms is enough to maintain transient punch and presence on the rap vocal while still getting the benefits of the compression.


The release setting is the off ramp for the compression after the signal drops below the threshold again.

Whether you’re compressing vocals in rap or any genre, you’ll want some release otherwise you’re more likely to hear a pumping effect of the compression turning off abruptly.

50ms works well as a release time for rap vocal compression settings to keep that compressor responsive without hearing artifacts of the compression.

Make Up Gain

As I always recommend when using a compressor, adjust your output gain to match what the level was coming in.

This helps to maintain gain staging so that the optimal level (-18dB on average) is being fed into the next plugin, not to mention it helps to keep responsible levels across your mix to maintain mixing headroom.

Setting this manually is usually more reliable than relying on automatic make up gain.

I typically like to follow up my initial, more aggressive leaning compressor which we just set up with a secondary compressor (see how many compressors on vocals) to further smooth out the remaining dynamics and just get that vocal a little more under control.

This is an especially useful combo with rap vocals when the aim is keeping that vocal up front in the mix.

If these compression settings aren’t keeping your rap vocal present enough in the mix, consider my complete tutorial on keeping a vocal up front in the mix.

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