Q: "What’s the difference between tube and optical compression?"
A: The main difference between these two types of compression is the circuits used to manipulate how much gain is reduced. Tube compressors work by re-biasing the tube to control the amount of gain reduction. This type of compression gives off a well-known smoothness and warmth as well as adding a little bit of harmonic distortion to the overall sound. Optical compressors on the other hand use a photo optical detector circuit to control gain reduction. Compared to tube compressors, optical compressors use less components and have a characteristically cleaner, transparent sound, although it should be said that many gravitate towards tube compression specifically for the way it colors their tone. There are also some optical compressors out there that employ tube circuits, such as the ART Tube MP/C. Unlike true tube compressors where the vacuum tube is used for gain reduction, a photo optical detector circuit is still responsible for compression but use the tube circuit for makeup gain (in other words, to amplify the overall signal level after compression).
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