V-Drums and Compression
The following is a basic explanation of what Compression is and what it does in relation to the V-drums:
What Is Compression?
Think of a Compressor as a device that listens to how loud or soft you play, and then automatically evens out the volume levels, or reduces the difference between the loudest and softest part of your performance.
There are many factors that can affect how a Compressor works and sounds. Here are some of the main parameters of a compressor and their descriptions:
THRESHOLD: This is the level or "volume" at which the compressor activates and begins to reduce the signal. For instance, when playing a V-Drums kit, a higher threshold setting will reduce only the hardest hits, whereas a lower threshold setting may effect [compress] all of your hits, even the light stuff.
RATIO: The Ratio represents the input to output level of the compressor, once the volume level crosses above the threshold. The Ratio values (i.e. 4:1) can be described as this; the higher the number to the left of the colon, the more the compressor reduces the level of the signal as it moves beyond the Threshold level setting.
ATTACK: This is how fast the Compressor reacts to the signal. A longer Attack time will slow down the time it takes for the reduction to occur. With a shorter Attack time, the compressor will react almost instantly.
HOLD: "Hold" is how long the Compressor keeps working once it's activated. This could be a useful function when compressing an instrument such as a kick drum. With a very short Hold time, just the "beater" sound of the kick would be compressed. With a longer Hold time, the entire kick sound would be compressed.
DECAY: Once the Hold time has passed, the Decay value will determine how quickly the compressor returns to normal volume.
GAIN: Since a compressor's main function is to control volume levels, you may find that your overall volume will be lower after compression. The Gain parameter can be used to boost the total volume back up to its original level.
Why Use Compression?
Compression, whether you hear it or not, is used on most modern recordings and professional live sound systems you hear today. This does not mean that you have to use it to be successful in getting a good sound. In reference to V-Drums (and acoustic drums), compression is most commonly used to "smooth out" or control the dynamic volume changes of your performance and make it much more even. As mentioned before, compression also has the ability to bring out the quiet and lower volume sounds such as ghost hits, buzz rolls and subtle tom rolls. In the end, Compression can be a very useful tool if used correctly.
Things to Watch Out for When Using Compression:
In many cases, you don't actually want to *hear* Compression. The idea is to have it to do its job, without being able to distinguish it. Try to avoid using extreme settings. Doing so can produce a "Pumping and Breathing" effect, which is generally an undesirable sound. If you're hearing this effect, try reducing the Ratio value.
If the V-drums begin to sound lifeless with no dynamics, you may have compressed them too heavily. When the volume level of every hit begins to sound the same, this may be a sign that the Threshold is too low or the Ratio is too high. Try using less extreme settings for either of these two parameters to keep the "human feel" in your drum sound.
Avoid over-using compression. Don't just apply compression on something because you think it should be there. Use it when you have a use for it. If your ghost hits on the snare aren't cutting through, or your drum tracks are too dynamic and aren't sitting well in the mix, compression could be a great solution.
Roland has designed the V-Drums sound modules to be as close to the real thing as possible which, along with your playing technique, gives them the ability to have a very broad dynamic range. That said, it could be a real advantage to use compression on a V-Drums kit. The TD-10, TD-20, and TD-12 models come with fairly advanced Compressors built in, which can be a big help in smoothing out the levels, thus making the sound man and/or audio engineer very happy.
For more detailed information on the specifics of compression, you may want to purchase a Recording techniques book or other technical publication.