This is a simple tutorial on how to add the perfect amount of compression for speech, dialogue and spoken vocals in Logic Pro X. It only takes a few clicks to get excellent results, thanks to Logic’s excellent compressor plug-in that comes standard with the program.
The Logic Pro X default compressor has several emulation algorithms, our favorite of which is the optical compressor (referred to as “Opto” in the software). It’s modeled after retro tube-style optical compressors, known for their smooth and transparent style of compression. Unlike more common VCA and FET compressors, optical compressors (like the Teletronix LA-2A) literally use light to vary the amount of gain reduction, and attack and release times. In optical compressors, the incoming audio signal modulates a lighting element that projects onto a light-sensitive resistor. The resistance of this light-sensitive element modulates the compression circuit and determines how quickly and to what degree the signal gets attenuated. Sound complicated? Well, the takeaway is that this offers a style of compression that’s smooth, and well-suited for vocal recordings. Setting up this compressor in Logic takes only seconds.
As a small disclaimer, compression on speech and dialogue typically sounds best used judiciously. Heavy-handed compression sounds choppy, amateurish, and distracting as a result. When you can “hear” compression on spoken vocals, it’s usually a job poorly done. We’re going to describe how to add just enough compression to increase the overall loudness of a vocal recording without the compression sounding noticeable. Likewise, these settings work best for a vocal recording made in a quiet room or studio, while using good microphone technique. For vocals with a lot of background noise, you’ll like prefer a limiter or more aggressive, high-ratio compressor.
Setting up the compressor
Open Logic Pro X, start a new project and create a new audio track
If you’re creating a new vocal recording, aim for levels that average around -12 dBFS. If using an existing recording, adjust the region gain so that the levels average around -12 dBFS. We recommend opening up the Logic Pro MultiMeter plugin and aiming for -12 dB, as shown below.
Go to the Logic Pro mixer by pressing “X”, clicking the mixer icon on the top left, or by clicking “View”, then “Show Mixer”.
Open a compressor insert of the vocal recording’s corresponding mixer track. Click on the “Gain Reduction” section of the channel strip of your vocal track.
In the Compressor user interface, navigate to the presets at the top right of the window. Click the dropdown arrow and under “04 Voice”, select “Opto Vocal 01”.
Set “Auto Gain” to -12 dB, and adjust the threshold with the audio playing until the gain reduction meter peaks between -3 and -5 dB. In our case, we set the threshold to -20 dB.
That’s it! Take a listen, and if you’ve recorded a clean vocal in a studio environment, you will have now created the ideal amount of compression for spoken vocals and dialogue. Right away, you may notice that the levels might sound a bit low. We leave this headroom for following up the compressor with an EQ plugin and then using a limiter to make up the additional gain without clipping. Even if the recording still needs a bit more work, the compression portion of the signal will have been taken care of.
This setting can work for sung vocal recordings, but we prefer using the smoother preset “Opto Compressor 02” instead and recommend averaging -10 dB of gain reduction. If you’d like to see us cover music in a future post, please let us know in the comments section below.
We hope this gives you a starting point for using vocal compression in Logic Pro X. These settings were created to serve as a universal template for any spoken vocal studio recording, but feel free to change them to suit your application. If you found this helpful, leave a comment, and follow us on Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.