Podcasters: What is “Compression” and Why It’s So Important
Compression is a key audio concept that many podcasters overlook
Discover what audio compression is and why it plays a crucial role in podcast production. Learn how to use compression effectively to improve your podcast's sound quality and attract more listeners.
What is compression?
Compression is a key aspect of audio mastering, which helps balance the dynamic range of your podcast's audio.
The “dynamic range” is just a term used to describe the difference between the highest and lowest volumes of a particular audio clip or stream.
Songs you hear on the radio are infamously compressed until their dynamic range is almost entirely flat—this is why the quietest parts of a song can sound just as loud as the loudest parts of a song. It’s so prevalent these days, that merely uttering that fact can sound silly to most people—”wait, wha?” It’s like a fish not realizing it’s swimming in water.
Back in the old days though, songs were recorded with very high dynamic range—the quiet parts were truly very quiet, and the loudest parts are loud.
This approach though probably isn’t ideal for podcasting—there’s much less going on in a mostly spoken-word piece of audio, so a generous amount of compression can actually go a long way in making sure both host and guest (or anyone else) is audible despite any background noise in the listener’s environment.
By managing the difference between the loudest and softest parts of your recording, compression creates a more consistent sound that's easier to listen to and more enjoyable for your audience.
The Importance of Compression in Podcast Production
When producing a podcast, compression is essential for several reasons:
Enhanced clarity: Compression ensures that quieter parts of your recording are still audible, making it easier for listeners to understand every word.
Consistency across episodes: By using consistent compression settings, you'll create a uniform sound across all episodes, creating a more professional listening experience. Once you find a nice sweet spot, you’ll probably want to save them as a template for future recordings.
Reduced listener fatigue: When audio levels fluctuate too much, it can be tiring for listeners, causing them to lose interest or stop listening altogether. Compression helps maintain a comfortable listening experience. With music, like classical music recordings, this feature is actually desirable—but with spoken word audio, not so much.
Improved overall sound quality: Applying compression can help your podcast stand out from the competition by offering a polished, high-quality audio experience. Coupling it with limiting, you can make your podcast sound nice and loud, without making your listener’s ears bleed (because if your podcast is coming in quiet compared to other podcasts in a listener’s queue, it can make you sound a bit low-budget. Although being too loud can do the same.)
How to Use Compression in Podcasting
To begin using compression effectively in your podcast, follow these steps:
Choose the right software: There are numerous audio editing programs available, including free options like Audacity and paid software such as Adobe Audition. These tools often include built-in compression features or support plugins to help you apply compression. Keep in mind that if you’re running a low-budget setup, possibly recording audio on your smartphone, these “devices of convenience” will often apply their own compression and limiting, and so you risk over-doing it if you don’t first analyze the quality of your recording input.
Learn the basics of compression: Familiarize yourself with key terms and concepts, such as threshold, ratio, attack, and release. Understanding these concepts will help you make informed decisions when adjusting your compression settings. Podcast hosts like Buzzsprout also have a “Magic Mastering” feature which can automate this process for you so you don’t have to think about it.
Experiment with settings: Each podcast will have unique compression needs, due to different voices being present, so it's essential to test different settings and find what works best for your specific content. Start with a low ratio and moderate threshold, and then adjust accordingly.
Outsource or collaborate: If you're not confident in your audio mastering skills, consider partnering with a podcast editing service or a podcast editor to ensure your audio is polished and professional.
Understanding and effectively applying compression is a vital aspect of creating a high-quality podcast that keeps listeners engaged. As podcasting continues to grow in popularity, mastering audio compression can give you a competitive edge and help you stand out in a crowded market.