Snare Compression – The Perfect Settings for Your Snare

Along with the kick, the snare is a huge part of the backbone of a song. It creates energy and serves as a point of reference or anchor for the listener. As such, your snare needs to cut through the mix and be a constant presence. A reliable way to accomplish this is using snare compression, so let’s talk about the perfect settings to quickly dial into your snare.

Snare Compression

Applying a compressor to your snare can actually help the initial transients be more present as well as beef up the ringing sound.

Let’s take a look at my recommend snare compression settings and go through each setting one by one to better explain why and what effect they create:

snare compression


The threshold tells the compressor how much volume is required from the snare to trigger compression. The lower we set this level, the more of the snare will be compressed.

With snare compression, I generally set the threshold at roughly 10dB below the average peak level.

snare compression threshold

This pulls down enough of the peaks while giving me all of the sustain on the back end via the makeup gain which we’ll talk about later. As always, threshold is just one element to the equation, so let’s set the rest of our parameters.


The ratio knob is at the heart of every compressor. It essentially dictates how hard that compressor works, or how much gain reduction you want. I wrote a tutorial on compressor ratio explained, so refer to that for more information.

How much compression you want to apply to your snare will generally vary from genre to genre. A lower ratio is going to yield a more subtle effect, like just creating a bit more glue. A harder ratio will bring out more of that sustain on the back end.

I recommend setting your snare compression ratio to 6:1, meaning every dB the signal goes over the threshold you set, it will reduce the output by 6 dB.

snare compression ratio

This typically gives my snares a bit more thickness, body, and presence in the mix without being too much. If you have a particular weak snare, you might need to go higher on your ratio.


As I covered in my tutorial of the compressor’s knee, this is essentially informing the compressor how strictly it should follow the threshold.

A hard knee means that the compressor won’t open or begin doing its job until the threshold is met. Once that threshold is met, it compresses at the exact ratio you’ve set.

Conversely, a softer knee opens more gradually ahead of the threshold and begins compressing at a lower ratio. That ratio increases the closer it gets to the set threshold.

A hard knee increases the odds that the listener will hear the compressor working whereas a softer knee makes it more transparent and more subtle.

When compressing a snare, I like hard knee of 3dB which better targets the peaks.

Attack Time

Compressor attack time is always important, but it’s especially so when compressing a snare. If your attack time is too fast, meaning the compressor turns on too quickly when it receives signal, it will squash the transients and you’ll lose the punch of the snare.

You want to adjust this so that the crack of the upper mid range transients are untouched and more of the subsequent body of the snare is brought out for that thickness.

snare compression attack

For snare compression attack, I like a relatively fast time of roughly 5ms as I still find that this is enough time to let the transient “crack” of stick on skin to pass through untouched before the compression snaps on to give us that desirable thickness on the back end.

Release + Hold Time

The compression release dictates how long that compression remains in effect. Leaving this longer on a snare will give you more thickness from the body but you’ll lose some of the snappiness of the compression that you want.

The compression hold time adds a short stint of full compression AFTER the level drops below the threshold. This is good for a little added roundness on a snare.

Ultimately I like 20ms of hold time and 80ms of release time in snare compression.

snare compression release

This is a healthy compromise in most cases to get the best of both worlds, more presence and thickness while keeping it responsive and clean.

Output/Makeup Gain

Lastly, adjust your output gain as necessary to make up for any gain reduction the compressor creates.

Be sure that it’s the same level going out that it is going in so that you’re getting an honest impression of what the compressor is doing so that you can do an honest A/B split test between the two.

snare compression makeup gain

More than that, this maintains gain staging so that the best level is fed into the next plugin in the chain for the best results, not to mention it maintains mixing headroom.

Snare Compression Tips

  • Good snare compression adds fullness and sustain to your snare without smothering the transients.
  • Set the threshold to 10dB below peaks.
  • Set a ratio of 6:1 (turn higher for more sustain, lower for more punch).
  • Set 5ms of attack time to maintain transient punch.
  • Use 20ms of hold time to cushion the 80ms release, yielding a more natural overall release of compression on the snare.
  • Match the output level of your snare post compression to the level without compression to maintain gain staging and the proper snare level relative to the rest of your mix.

2 thoughts on “Snare Compression – The Perfect Settings for Your Snare”

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