Tom Compression – How to Compress Tom Drums

Whether we’re talking floor or keg toms, a well compressed tom has added sustain and thickness while maintaining the bright transients to cut through the mix. In this tom compression tutorial, I’ll share the ideal settings to bring out sustain and fullness on the back end and maintain that front end bite.

Tom Compression

Below I’ve got the ideal tom compression settings I dial in as a starting point every time I start mixing my toms:

tom compression

Oftentimes the only thing I really need to adjust here is the threshold. Let’s go through each setting one by one to better explain what’s going on here.


Similar to kick compression, the peaks on a tom are relatively consistent, depending on the performance.

Similar to the kick, I typically aim for 5-10dB beneath the peaks when setting the threshold on my tom compression.

tom compression threshold

Along with the rest of the settings, this will typically bring on around 3dB average gain reduction and 5dB or a shade more on the loudest peaks.

The rest of the settings are instrumental in achieving that gain reduction, particularly the ratio.


The compressor ratio dictates to what degree the compression is applied.

I like a relatively higher ratio of 5:1 on tom compression which helps in bringing out more sustain on the back end.

tom compression ratio

If the threshold is exceeded by 5dB, the output is brought down to 1dB exceeding that ratio, or 4dB in gain reduction.

If you want more energy, turn the ratio higher. If you want a punchier sound from your tom, turn the ratio down.


The compressor knee relates to the threshold and how strictly that cutoff point is enforced. A softer knee means that the signal will be compressed BEFORE the signal reaches the threshold, albeit at a lighter ratio than you have set.

I like a relatively hard knee of 6dB to strictly enforce that threshold to mostly target the peaks.


The compressor’s attack determines how quickly the compression is engaged once the threshold is met. Setting a longer/slower attack time will delay the compression once the threshold is met. Conversely, a shorter/faster attack time will compress the signal soon after the threshold is met, even practically instantly if you so choose.

I like a relatively fast attack of 5ms on tom compression, but this is enough of a delay of the compression to allow the transients of the tom to cut through the mix.

tom compression attack

The transients are those higher frequencies on the instrument which precede the rest of the frequencies and sound. In the case of a tom specifically, the transients would relate to the sound of stick on the head of the drum.

That “crack” helps the tom cut through the mix, drawing the listener’s ear to the rest of the sound.

5 milliseconds may not sound like much, but it’s enough for the tom to come through at full volume to assert itself in the mix before the compression pulls it down and effectively amplifies the rest of the sound.

Release and Hold

The compression release and hold settings determine how long after the signal dips below the threshold that the audio returns to its uncompressed state.

Hold adds on as much time in milliseconds of full compression at the same rate even after the signal drops below the threshold, acting as a buffer.

The release eases up the compression more naturally after the hold time. As I specified in my comparison of hold and release, zero release time will result in an abrupt drop off, manifesting in a pumping sound. As such, you need some release otherwise the compression will sound awkward.

With tom compression, I like a hold and release time of 40ms and 40-50ms, respectively.

tom compression release

The hold gives a nice added cushion for more back end sustain while the release eases off of the compression in a transparent way.

You may need to adjust these depending on the performance. Sometimes if I’ve got a lot of tom heavy fills, especially when some of which feature fast beats, then I’ll switch to an automatic release time which varies the time as necessary.


It’s important that you adjust the makeup gain last to match the level of the tom(s) without the compression. The level will be lower with no makeup gain because of the gain reduction of the compression, so to ensure that the track stays sitting right in terms of volume with the rest of the mix, we need to adjust this.

Simply adjust this level and split test with the compression on and off until it sounds the same while the tom is playing.

tom compression gain

This is also important for gain staging purposes to ensure that the output level stays ideal for the next plugin in the chain.

Check out the rest of my drum mixing tips to get the rest of your kit in order, as well!

Tom Compression Tips

  • Tom compression allows you to balance the transients of your floor and keg toms while bringing out more back end sustain and thickness from the drums.
  • Set the threshold somewhere between 5-10dB below the highest peaks.
  • A ratio of 5:1 is generally a good starting point for tom compression, though if you want more energy turn this up or if you want more punch turn this down.
  • Use a relatively hard knee of -6dB to specifically target those peaks which works well on a relatively dynamic instrument like the tom drum.
  • Set an attack time of 5ms to delay the compression for a split second to allow the crack of stick on tom head to cut through the mix.
  • Use 40ms of hold time to add some thickness and sustain and a release time of 40-50ms for a natural decay.
  • Match your output volume to the input level for gain staging purposes.

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