Do you want your sounds cut through your mix? Then you will love OTT compression. This audio effect is a favorite among many electronic music producers in a wide range of genres. Mainly as a way of making a sound really stand out and scream through the speakers.
So, if your sounds need a bit more ‘oomph’ and edge in your mix, this article is for you.
Let’s dive in and explore what OTT compression is really all about.
What Is OTT Compression?
OTT is a technique that stands for Over The Top compression. As the name suggests, this is a compression technique to go for when you really want your sound to stand out.
The main idea behind the audio effect is an extreme upwards and downwards compression. OTT pushes the loudest parts of your sound down while pushing the quietest parts up in volume. The result is no dynamic range and an extremely squashed sound.
While this may seem counterproductive to one of the most important aspects behind great music, dynamics, and highs and lows, OTT compression does serve a purpose.
Let’s see how you can use OTT on your sounds and in your mixes.
How Do You Use OTT?
Starting out, this is what the OTT compressor looks like. Pay extra attention to the blue and red boxes in the middle and the attack and release times on the right.
The input controls means the input gain of each band before it undergoes the dynamics processing in your OTT. On the right side, the output controls is simply your output level after dynamics have been applied.
These six boxes, blue and red is your upwards and downwards expansion. The boxes on the top represents your higher frequencies, the middle box is your mid frequencies and the bottom boxes is your low frequencies.
Drag the edges of these boxes to change your thresholds and drag up and down inside the blocks to increase or decrease its volume.
The three boxes on the left represents your upward compression. That means, compressing your sound upwards and making quieter parts louder if you increase it.
On the right side, the boxes represent downward compression, meaning compressing your sound downwards, setting a ceiling and making your louder parts quieter if you increase it.
To the right of the blocks, you have release and attack times for each band.
- Release time means how long it takes for the device to return to normal operation after the signal falls below the threshold.
- Attack time means how long it takes to reach maximum compression or expansion once a signal exceeds the threshold.
On the left-hand side of OTT, you find two sets of crossover frequencies. Set your high and low frequencies and the range of the mid band will extend from the set high crossover frequency down to the low-mid crossover frequency.
On your right, you have output, time and amount. Output allows you to adjust for any losses in gain during the compression process. Time directly scales the duration of your release and attack controls, for faster or slower times. Amount is your dry and wet knob, which allows you to control the amount of effect on your sound.
Why use OTT?
The key to using OTT compression in an enhancive way is only using a tiny bit. That means, taking your dry and wet knob and turning it down – a lot. Doing that creates a rough shimmer, like extremely heavy saturation, in the back of your sound. For creating fatter sounds or for times when you want more texture or fullness, a dash of OTT is a great idea.
But you can also use it to absolute extremes. With the OTT on full dry/wet, your sound will become extremely squashed, with virtually no dynamics and a distortion-like sound.
That can also be useful in some situations. You might have a sound you want to push to the edge – maybe a vocal chop that comes in at random times or an atmospheric element that you sidechain to your kick.
With OTT, only your imagination sets the limits, but if you want to try it on a few instruments, we have a few recommendations.
Try using OTT on these sounds and instruments:
- Drum loops – OTT can really thicken up drums but be careful so you don’t destroy the drum’s dynamics, which is tremendously important for groove and feel.
- Bass – try using a bit of OTT on your electronic bass to pump up the dynamics and sound.
- Plucks – use a dash of OTT on plucks you want to push forward in your mix but beware that the compression can destroy the plucky dynamics of your sound.
- Strings – string and OTT can go very well together on a lower dry and wet, especially brighter, analog strings.
- Pads – OTT can also work well on darker pads.
- Atmosphere – OTT sounds great on atmospheres and especially real recorded sounds, like birds and rain.
Of course, you can try using OTT on any sound imaginable. But you can try the above examples as a start. Experiment with different amounts, times, frequencies and output levels and see how it can improve your sound.
Best OTT VST Plugins
While you can achieve an OTT effect with disparate compression effects, the easiest is using dedicated OTT effects with all the controls you need for excellent over the top dynamics.
The two best options are OTT from Ableton and OTT from Xfer Records.
1. OTT (Ableton)
The Ableton OTT is a preset that comes from the built-in multiband dynamics effect. It does the job beautifully with excellent abilities for customization and fine tuning.
2. OTT (Xfer Records)
OTT from Xfer Records is very similar to Ableton's and sounds basically the same. This is a great options if you're not an Ableton user but still want the power of a great OTT effect right in your DAW.
Download OTT (Xfer Records) FREE here.
Over the top compression or OTT, is a great way to push sounds to the absolute limit. You can also use the audio effect to give your sound a tiny bit of extra sizzle, if you dial back on the amount.
Overall, there is no set limits on what you can use OTT for. It's completely up to you to experiment. Try using it on your lead sounds, use it in parallel, or try using it to smash your snares or hi hats.
We can't wait to see what kind of magic you do with OTT.
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Thanks for reading, and see you in the next article.
About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.