Compressor

A dynamic range compressor limits the volume levels of a sound recording so that it stays within a certain loudness range.

An example of where it is used is in TV broadcasting, where it ensures that the volume levels of ads are perceived as being louder than the television program itself (without any change in the actual broadcast volume).

It also has a use for recording audio from one medium to another, where the two mediums are not capable of handling the same range of volume levels (e.g. A CD can handle a much greater range than a cassette tape).

Compressor Settings

Attack:
The time (between 0 and 1000 milliseconds) that it will take to apply the gain adjustment. The total gain adjustment required will be gradually introduced over this period.
Release:
The time (between 0 and 5000 milliseconds) that it will take to remove the gain adjustment once gain adjustment is no longer needed. This is the opposite of attack.
Limit:
Defines the maximum decibel level that the sound recording will be allowed to rise up to. So if, for example, the Limiter Threshold was set to -2dB, then you would never hear the volume level of the recording get louder than -2dB. Any signal over the limiter threshold would be clipped, which would probably cause distortion. Note that setting the Limiter Threshold to 0dB effectively turns the limiter off, because 0dB represents the loudest signal possible in a digital recording.
Ratio:
Defines the ratio of the reduction in volume of sounds which exceed the compressor threshold. For example, if the ratio is 4:1 and the volume exceeds the threshold by 4dB, then the volume will be reduced to only exceed the threshold by 1dB. Note that a ratio of 1:1 means that there will be no change in volume; it effectively turns the compressor off.
Threshold:
Reduces the volume of sound below its Threshold. This can be useful for reducing or removing softer background noise from a recording.