|Audacity's Compressor effect reduces "dynamic range" by making the loud sections quieter, then optionally amplifies the compressed audio to be as loud as possible without clipping. This increases the perceived overall loudness of the audio.
The terms of the Compressor effect are as follows:
- Threshold - the volume level at which compression starts to be applied. The further right the slider, the louder the input has to be before compression is applied.
- Ratio - if the level is above the threshold, how much it will be reduced. For example, a 3:1 ratio implies that a passage in the original audio that became 3 dB louder would only become 1 dB louder in the compressed result. The further the slider is to right, the stronger is the compression applied.
- Attack time - the amount of time the compressor waits to respond after the Threshold is reached
- Decay Time: (only in Audacity Beta) - how soon the compressor starts to increase the volume level back to normal after the level drops below the Threshold
- Normalize to 0 dB after compressing - if this is checked, then after compression the audio will be amplified to the maximum amount possible without adding distortion
There are some good (but not too technical) explanations of compression on the "Harmony" web sites:
- Compressors demystified
- Compression (this has moved from its original site and may have missing images)
Alternative Free Compressors
- Chris's dynamic compressor by Chris Capel was a popular Nyquist plug-in that tried to even out abrupt changes of volume by employing "lookahead" (this attempts to anticipate volume changes by starting to apply compression before the volume rises to the threshold level). Chris's plug-in also had options to soften the softer audio, and invert loudness.
An archived version of this plug-in can be downloaded by left-clicking this link, then use the browser feature to save in text format. Right-click and "Save Link As" or "Save Target As" may also work in some browsers. Archived documentation can be found here.