Close this search box.

Noise Gate vs Compressor: Mastering Audio Dynamics with Precision

Noise gate vs compressor - discover the contrast between a noise gate and a compressor in audio processingNoise gate vs compressor—it’s a match-up you’ll want to understand to make your mix stand out, as they are two indispensable tools for any music studio.

Noise gates are your go-to for keeping your tracks crisp and clean. They silence the unwanted background noise when your instruments or vocals take a pause.

Now, let’s talk about compressors. They’re the heroes that even out your audio, taming the peaks and boosting the quieter moments for a smooth, uniform sound.

While each has its unique role, they can team up to take your sound to the next level. Combining a noise gate with a compressor can create the perfect balance in your recording or live setup.

Table of Contents

Remember, the order of your signal chain can make or break your audio quality. So, whether you’re tackling the punch of drums or the delicate nuances of a vocal track, mastering the use of noise gates and compressors is key to your success.

Key Takeaways

  • A noise gate eliminates unwanted background noise and a compressor reduces the dynamic range.
  • Correct signal chain setup is essential for optimal use of noise gates and compressors.
  • Together, these tools can improve the clarity and consistency of both recorded and live audio.

Understanding Noise Gates

noise gate is an essential tool in audio production that you can use to control unwanted background noise.

Imagine a gate that opens when the signal level is above a certain point—the threshold—and closes when it’s below that level.

  • Threshold: This is the level at which the gate will start to take effect. Any signals below this level will be attenuated, while signals above will pass through unaffected.

Here are some key parameters to understand:

  • Attack: The time it takes for the gate to open once the signal exceeds the threshold.
  • Release: How long it takes for the gate to close after the signal falls below the threshold.
  • Hold: The amount of time the gate stays open after the signal level falls below the threshold but before it starts to close.

Gates are useful for eliminating low-level noise such as hum, hiss, or handling noise when there’s no significant audio happening.

When you’re recording, you might notice that microphones pick up background noise. By setting a noise gate, you ensure that when you’re not speaking or playing your instrument, these sounds are kept to a minimum.


  • Set the threshold just above the level of the background noise.
  • Adjust the attack and release times to ensure the gate sounds natural and doesn’t cut off the beginning or end of your important audio signals.

By carefully setting up a noise gate, you ensure that your audio is clear and free of distractions.

Dynamic Range Compression

Dynamic range compression is a vital tool in your audio arsenal, allowing you to tame the peaks and valleys of your audio signal, striking a balance between punchiness and smoothness.

Basics of Compressors

Compressors are devices or software plugins designed to control the dynamic range of an audio signal.

Dynamic range is the difference between the quietest and loudest parts of an audio track.

A compressor works by reducing this range, making soft sounds louder and loud sounds softer, which can help in making your mix more consistent and professional. By doing so, it also adds a sense of punch and can sustain sounds longer.

Adjusting Compressor Settings

When setting a compressor, understanding its controls is crucial for achieving the desired effect:

  • Threshold level: the point at which compression begins. Sounds above this level will be compressed.
  • Ratio: determines the intensity of the compression. A higher ratio means a more pronounced compression effect.
  • Attack time: how quickly the compressor engages once the signal exceeds the threshold level.
  • Release time: how quickly the compressor stops affecting the signal once it falls below the threshold level.
  • Knee: describes how the compressor transitions from no compression to full compression. A “hard” knee is abrupt, while a “soft” knee is more gradual.

Example of Compressor Settings:

Threshold-10dBCompression starts at -10dB
Ratio4:1Every 4dB over threshold reduces to 1dB
Attack5msQuick engagement to retain transients
Release100msNatural fade back to original level
KneeSoftGradual compression application

Remember, adjusting compressor settings requires a careful balance: too much compression can remove life from your sound, whereas too little may not control dynamic range effectively. Experiment with different settings to find what best suits your audio material.

Setting Up Your Signal Chain

A pair of VU meters showing levels in a recording studio.

When assembling your signal chain, it’s essential to consider the order of your effects.

Both noise gates and compressors serve vital roles in shaping your sound.

Noise Gates:

Noise gates help eliminate unwanted background noise when you’re not playing. Placing them at the beginning of the chain, especially right after your guitar or bass, ensures a clean signal before it’s processed by other effects.


Compressors balance the dynamics by making quiet notes louder and loud notes quieter. They work best after the noise gate but before most modulation and time-based effects.

Here’s a simplified setup for guitarists and bassists:

  • Guitar/Bass -> Tuner
  • Noise Gate -> Compressor
  • Overdrives/Distortions

If applicable, utilize your amplifier’s effects loop for time-based and modulation effects:

  • Preamp (from amplifier) -> Modulation Effects (e.g., Chorus)
  • Time-Based Effects (e.g., Delay) -> Amplifier Return

Remember to keep your cabling tidy to maintain signal clarity and prevent any additional noise or signal loss. And always, trust your ears to fine-tune the order based on what sounds best to you!

Mixing Techniques

In the world of audio production, achieving a balanced mix with clarity and depth requires strategic application of effects like noise gates and compressors.

Let’s look at how these tools can refine your mixes during the mixing and mastering process.

Balancing Frequencies

When you’re mixing, paying attention to the frequency balance is crucial for a punchy and consistent sound.

By judiciously applying a compressor, you can manage the dynamic range, ensuring that all elements sit well together without any part outweighing the other. For example:

  • Kick Drums: Compress to add punch while keeping the volume consistent.
  • Vocals: Apply light compression for even amplitude across the performance.

Noise gates, on the other hand, can be essential for eliminating background noise or hum from recordings, further cleaning up the frequencies.

Achieving Clarity and Depth

Clarity and depth in your mix are what make it sound more professional.

To get there, you might:

  • Use a compressor to tighten up the mix, which helps in making it sound cohesive.
  • Employ a noise gate to remove unwanted noise, thus adding clarity to each track.

These techniques are essential for you to create space in your mix, allowing each element to be heard distinctly, and for achieving that sought-after three-dimensional feel in your final master.

Recording Drums

A drummer passionately playing the drums

When recording drums, the placement of microphones and the management of dynamics are crucial to capture a clean and impactful sound.

Achieving a balance between the aggressiveness of transients and controlling the noise floor is key.

Mic Placement Strategies

Mic placement around a drum kit profoundly affects the recorded sound and the prominence of each drum component in the mix:

  • Kick Drum: Place the mic inside the drum, close to the beater for a punchy sound, or farther away within the shell for more resonance.
  • Snare: Aim the snare mic at the center for a robust attack or tilt towards the rim for more “ring” and high-end.
  • Toms: Point the mics down towards the top heads, centering above the drum to avoid bleed from other drums, especially cymbals.
  • Overheads: Arrange overhead mics to equally capture cymbals and balance the overall drum kit’s sound. Height and angle will influence the capture of transients.
  • Hi-Hat: Use a dedicated mic, slightly off-center, to avoid excessive hi-hat spill into the snare mic.

Controlling Drum Dynamics

Drums deliver a wide dynamic range, from subtle ghost notes to thunderous hits. Managing this in your recordings can be done through:

  • Noise Gate: Apply a noise gate to individual drum mics to attenuate background noise and focus on intended drum hits.
  • Compressor: Utilize a compressor to tame the loudest peaks and maintain a consistent level across various drum elements.

Use controls carefully to avoid cutting off vital drum transients.

By carefully considering mic placement and using dynamic control wisely, you will enhance the clarity and punch of your drum recordings while preserving their natural dynamics.

Vocals and Harmonics

When producing music, the clarity and quality of vocal recordings are essential, as is the use of harmonics to enrich the overall sound. Proper techniques can enhance both in impactful ways.

Improving Vocal Recordings

To enhance your vocal recordings, focusing on microphone placement and dynamic range control is crucial.

  • Proximity to the Mic: Closer positioning emphasizes bass frequencies due to the proximity effect.
  • Pickup Patterns: Use cardioid patterns to minimize room noise pickup.

A well-placed microphone captures the full frequencies and amplitude of your voice.

Using compressors rightly is important because it balances your vocal dynamics and maintains consistent volume levels, allowing every word to stand out.

  • Attack and Release: Adjust to ensure natural sounding compression.
  • Ratio: A moderate ratio (like 3:1) often works well for vocals.

The compressors can, for example, be set to soften the louder peaks while boosting quieter parts, reducing the dynamic range for a more controlled vocal track.

Harmonic Enhancement Techniques

For enriching the harmonics of your vocal tracks, subtle use of effects and processors can add color and warmth.

  • EQ: Boosting upper-mid frequencies can enhance vocal clarity.
  • Harmonic Exciters: Introduce additional harmonics to add presence.

Be selective with these tools to avoid over-processing, which can result in a loss of the natural tone of the vocals.

Live Sound Dynamics

In a live setting, you’re often battling against a mix of ambient noise and unwanted noise. Here’s what you need to know about using noise gates and compressors to keep your live sound crisp and clear:

Noise Gates help you by:

  • Silently closing the microphone when you’re not speaking or playing, cutting out background sound.
  • Opening automatically at a set threshold, so your music or speech comes through.

Compressors are key because they:

  • Even out the audio by reducing the volume of loud sounds and boosting quieter ones.
  • Offer control over the dynamic range, making the overall sound more consistent.


  • Noise gates work wonders in reducing drum bleed or guitar amp hum in a live situation.
  • Compressors are crucial for a balanced sound, especially for vocals that need to cut through the mix.

Here’s a tip: During sound check, adjust your noise gate and compressor thresholds carefully.

You want to eliminate noise without cutting off the start or end of your notes and words.

Quick usage guide:

  • Noise Gate Settings:

    • Threshold: Set above the level of ambient noise
    • Attack/Release: Fast to respond to your playing
  • Compressor Settings:

    • Ratio: Generally a lower ratio for a more natural sound
    • Attack/Release: Adjust for smooth onset and sustain of sound

Advanced Noise Control

In your journey through audio production, understanding the nuanced interplay of dynamics processors like expanders and gates, as well as sidechain techniques, is crucial for sophisticated noise control.

Using Expanders and Gates

Expanders work similarly to compressors but in a reversed manner. They help increase dynamic range by making quiet sounds quieter, which is particularly useful in gating noise:

  • Attack Time: How quickly the expander reacts once the signal drops below the threshold.
  • Decay Time: The rate at which the signal returns to its original level once it exceeds the threshold.

noise gate is a type of expander that cuts off the signal entirely once it falls below a certain level, the threshold.

  • Set the threshold to ensure only unwanted noise is gated.
  • Adjust the release time to control how fast the gate closes after the signal falls below the threshold.

Sidechain Techniques

Sidechain compression uses an external signal to control the compressor:

  1. Sidechain trigger: An external signal that activates the compressor.
  2. Threshold and attack/release: Determines how much and how quickly the sidechain compression affects the controlled signal.

To shape your main audio using another track, consider:

  • Ducking: Temporarily reducing the volume of a signal based on the presence of another (e.g., voiceover reduces background music volume).
  • Pumping: A creative effect in electronic music where the kick drum triggers compression on another element like a synth or bass line.

Noise Gate vs Compressor – Top Takeaways

In the realm of audio editing, noise gates and compressors are essential tools, each serving a distinct purpose in shaping your sound.

Simplified, a noise gate is your threshold guardian, cutting out sound below a certain level to eliminate unwanted noise. A compressor, on the other hand, acts as a dynamic ranger, evening out the volumes across your track.

To sum up the key points:

  • Noise Gates: Apply these when you need to silence the background hum or hiss that can occur in quieter moments or due to electrical noise from your instruments.

  • Compressors: These are best when your goal is to maintain a consistent volume, add punch, or articulate the subtleties within your audio by reducing the dynamic range.


  • Noise gates cut the noise.
  • Compressors control the dynamics.

Your takeaway should be that both devices contribute to a cleaner and more professional sound although they achieve this in different ways.

Use a noise gate to clean the silence, and a compressor to enhance the sound. Choosing the right one in different scenarios is key to achieve the audio quality you desire.

Frequently Asked Questions

When exploring the realms of audio processing, you’ll encounter tools like noise gates and compressors, each with distinct functions shaping your sound.

What are the key differences between a noise gate and a compressor?

  • Noise gates mainly eliminate or reduce unwanted background noise when the signal level falls below a set threshold.
  • Compressors manage the dynamic range by attenuating signals above a certain level, which can enhance overall sound uniformity.

How does a noise gate pedal compare to a compressor pedal in terms of sound dynamics?

A noise gate pedal is designed to silence the signal when it drops below a certain volume, helping to reduce noise between notes or songs.

A compressor pedal, however, affects the entire dynamic range, smoothing out volume peaks and troughs to ensure a more consistent sound.

Should a noise gate be placed before or after a compressor in the signal chain?

Placing a noise gate before a compressor often results in cleaner dynamics, as it eliminates noise before the signal is boosted.

Positioning it after might require higher threshold settings due to increased noise from compression.

What are the drawbacks of using a noise gate in music production or live performance?

  • May lead to a loss of subtle nuances if not properly adjusted, as it can cut off quieter desired sounds.
  • Incorrect settings can create an unnatural silence or affect the signal’s decay, especially noticeable in a live performance or recording.

Which scenarios would call for noise suppression over a noise gate or compressor?

Noise suppression may be preferable when you need to address:

  • Persistent low-level noise like hums or hisses that aren’t fixed by dynamic processing.
  • Situations where a gate or compressor could compromise the integrity of the audio signal.

Can a noise gate and a compressor be effectively used together, and if so, how?

Yes, when used together, they can offer greater control over live or recorded sound.

For seamless integration:

  • Apply the noise gate first to clean up the signal.
  • Follow with a compressor to balance the dynamics without amplifying any residual noise.

More Articles

Latest Reviews