Dave Gamble, owner of DMG Audio, has drawn on years of experience at Novation, Sonalksis, Brainworx and Focusrite, to come up with the vision and creation of Compassion – a highly flexible and configurable dynamics processor plugin, that fits into most DAW’s in VST, RTAS and AU format. On the website, DMG state that their aim in creating Compassion was to make a plugin that was ‘a model of dynamic processing that included all the different schools of design’, so that you didn’t have to have several different compression plugins for different uses, but could go to Compassion for it all. At the same time, it was to be simple to approach and intuitive to use.
Upon opening the plugin, there is a good-looking and straightforward GUI in the same colour scheme as DMG’s first plugin (Equality) The parameter controls are as you would see in any compressor: threshold, ratio, attack, release and makeup gain. These are the basics for any compressor – how much you want to squash the signal volume, how quickly, and how fast to ‘un-squash’ it. The attack and release start at a ridiculously fast 0ms, and work up. There’s also auto-release, and auto-makeup gain buttons, enabling quick level setting depending on what audio you have passing through.
A large section of the plugin is taken up by a graphic display that scrolls the audio waveform as it passes through the plugin. As you go to work on the compression, the visual clearly displays what part of the audio is being affected, and how much compression is happening. For someone starting to get their head around the concept of compression, this is an extremely useful tool. It’s also possible to directly grab the waveform and alter the amount of compression just by moving the mouse up and down.
A preset menu contains 15 presets with no fuss titles: main buss, heavy drum compression, bass squash etc. I would have loved a few more presets utilizing some of the other aspects of Compassion (more on that later). Within the same section is another menu entitled ‘Mods’. The mods are killer – instead of being straight presets, they are ‘character’ additions to whatever compression you dial in. They are presets of parameters that affect the colour of the sound, not the compression, and are intended to emulate, in the opinion of the creator, the characteristics of any classic hardware compressor you can think of. So in practice, you dial in your compression, then select the ‘mod’ from a selection of 30, with names like Opto, FET, classic british style, etc. It’s a really great way to compare different flavours of compression from over the years.
There’s a dry/wet mix knob – which I found useful to easily recreate the NYC parallel compressed sound, without any setup. There’s a sidechain button, to let the plugin know to look for external audio to trigger the compression. This isn’t standard on many compressors, and is a welcome addition – I find sidechaining extremely useful in many situations. At the top of the plugin is also a menu bar that contains an A/B comparison menu that actually goes up to H, providing 8 different settings that you can save, then audition through.
More than modelling
Gamble writes that although Compassion started as a modeling compressor, it quickly became more than that, and with the addition of the Advanced settings, there lie the extended capabilities of Gate/expansion, upward compression, transient design, deep sidechaining, clip limiting, and shaping of attack and release curves. So in the menu bar is another button that opens a lower window containing all the (80+) parameters for more advanced options that enable all these different dynamic processing elements.
In this advanced window you’ll find:
- Two EQ’s (one sidechain, one main) - Deeper parameters for Threshold, Ratio, attack, release, and auto release (such as envelope shapes, for attack and release) -Transient design and clip limiting.
There’s too much here to go into all of it. But I’ll dip into a couple of them, to give you an idea of the depth of the capabilities of this plugin.
One EQ is for the sidechain. You can get really specific on what frequencies you want to trigger the compression. So for example you could EQ out the mid and top frequencies on an incoming drum mix signal, meaning that the main trigger for the sidechain would only be the kick drum, instead of kick, snare and hihat. The other EQ is for the main mix, input and output, which provides more flexibility in the kind of sound that you create – (you could isolate a certain frequency range in the dry mix; add it to the wet mix and boost a certain area of the sound.)
The transient designer and clip limiter are sections that I really liked. Once compression’s been applied to sound, you sometimes find that you’ve lost some of the edge and snappiness of the sound. This is especially true of percussive rhythmic audio. The transient designer here enables you to bring back some of the attack of the sound, enabling a more aggressive, driving sound to the audio material. I found this particular transient designer really useful, not only bringing back the snap on the snare and the click on the kick, but going beyond and enabling deep transformation of sounds. The parameters on the transient designer include attack level, sustain level, attack and sustain envelope speed, and envelope follower. Here’s a quick clip of different settings on the transient designer on a simple drum loop:
And here’s a track I wrote, using Compassion plugin on several tracks, and on the main buss.
This really is an excellent dynamics plugin. There’s way more to this plugin than I could cover in this article. DMG has done a great job at giving the choice between using Compassion as a basic compressor, and diving into the plugin as a really controllable dynamics processor. I learned a lot about dynamics processing just from playing round with different parameters and listening. This plugin is a fantastic addition for anyone to stock up their dynamic processing plugin collection with. It is possible to tweak sound clinically and with subtlety, and yet also be able to really sculpt and design the sound you want with the material you have. The only thought I had was it would be great if there were a larger supply of presets/mods to tweak for those on a time crunch.
Price 149 British Pounds (roughly $245 in today’s delightful economy…)
… I learned a lot about dynamics processing just from playing round with different parameters and listening…