Compression & EQ - in what order do you use them ?

Discussion in 'Tracking / Mixing / Editing' started by DonnyThompson, Mar 22, 2015.

  1. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I thought a discussion would be in order, considering that most of us will often use both.

    Accordingly, I thought it would be interesting to see what our members think, and how you approach the order of EQ and Compression in a mix...

    The discussion doesn't need to be limited to just the track level, or just the bus level. you generally Compress first? Or, EQ first?

    My own answer is... it depends.

    On a bus level, say for example, a drum kit bus, if there are particular frequency transients that tend to jump out, I don't want the compressor to focus on or react to just those frequencies, so I prefer to EQ first, leveling out potentially problematic frequencies first, so that the compressor is reacting to "the whole" as opposed to the parts of the whole, and in setting that order, that isn't reacting to just those problem transients alone.

    But... there are also many times I prefer to compress first, grabbing any and all possible problem transients before the signal hits the EQ, leveling out the track first, so that I can fine tune it with EQ afterwards.

    Generally, I'll first consider what part of the signal I don't like frequency-wise, and what frequencies
    I may want to attenuate before the signal is compressed. If there's a particular frequency that I don't like, I'll work the EQ first, that way the compressor's threshold won't be triggered by those frequencies that I'll likely end up getting rid of anyway.

    Although - there are many occasions where I prefer to compress first, where it can kind of "firm up" the dynamics of the track before it goes to the EQ, and it also often gives me an indication of what type of EQ the track will need.

    So... what say you?

    Are there particular scenarios that dictate which you use first?
    Or do you always use the same order?
  2. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    In general I'm pretty much doing what you are D. For most things I personally like to compress before EQ. If there's any problematic or clinical things like notches and HPF LPF, then I'll take care of those before the compressor sees it. I will often switch the order just to AB.

    I don't really know why I usualy try the compressor->eq first. For general tone shaping and dynamics I guess it makes sense to have the signal balanced dynamically with the compressors and performer sitting well, then sweetening. I just tended to like the compressor first when I first started messing with bigger chains and it's just kinda the way I genrally flow things, especially at first, and I know they'll be both on the signal. I like that the eureka channels have a button that quickly switches the order. spmething like lead vocals for example I'd de ess/hpf wit thenfirst instnsiation, then compress, the likley a tone sweetener eq. I like channel strips more and more lately analog and digital.

    I tend to track with eq and compression and I am fine being heavy handed with it, if it's grooving. I don't have super clinical OB eq to work with, but usually anything requiring that much is soiled with mics /gear selection. Basic cutting of crap and sweetening of the sugar on the tracks, with some smack and girth is good to tape for a lot of things. A lot of times they're is a lot less mix plug-inson things I track, than when I mix other tracks that come in. Something like the waves neve or ssl strip has some filters built in that are fine if you don't need to be super forensic.

    Live mixing is different for me, and I generally eq first, and ease in any compression, if any at all. Or I'll start with generic, light settings, just to have it on, so I dint get any unpleasant surprises when I eneable it, like a accidentally spiked makeup gain knob, or low threshold, making nasty noises.

    The manual in my porta john eh, studio, used to said, if hiss was problematic, cool down the treble for tracking to the tape, so it doesn't record accentuated highs, then, boost them in the mix, to get some presences but with less hiss. I used to do that if I had to, but that thing is fairly quiet.

    I wonder if anyone is going to say they always have it in a a certain order? I'm waiting for one of those, 'well the first time I did it in (said order) I had a hit, and I never changed it' lol. Watever works right?
  3. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    I mostly do EQ before Compression but not as a rule, more as an habit.
    Things for sure LF tends to affect the level of compression a lot, so if I was to HiPass the signal I would mostly do it before compression.
    But again not a rule because I sometime use sidechain to make the compressor react on higher frequencies.

    What ever sounds best is my guide line ! ;)
  4. Makzimia

    Makzimia Active Member

    I'm with Marco, generally before. Sometimes however after, and occasionally before and after.
  5. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    I don't like the sound of a signal reacting dynamically to a different tonal balance than I'm hearing, so 90% of the time it's eq first. For example, compressing first then cutting LF often means that you can hear the gain reduction modulating the mids and highs as the compressor reacts to LF content that's no longer present. Minor eq adjustments, especially in the HF can be done post compression without too much adverse effect.
  6. ChrisH

    ChrisH Active Member

    I do both, sometimes simultaneously.
    However, 99% of the time if the track needs eq, I will eq first, then compress to taste and application, sometimes fallowed up by a bit more eq.
    No Rules.
    At this point in my humble yet obsessed 12 years of mixing, when I hear a track I know what needs to be done almost immediately, like road tripping and knowing exactly where your destination is and what roads to take, mixing is the miles you put in, the in-between point a to point b.
  7. Dunar

    Dunar Active Member

    I agree with ChrisH (no rules) and the remark of Donny for particular transients ('I don't want the compressor to focus on or react to just those frequencies, so I prefer to EQ first'). There are cases when, on the same track, after compression one has to EQ again in order to raise certain frequencies leveled by compression but often enough, in order to enhance the general mix, I apply a last EQ for all tracks of the mix, after I am done with each of them (EQ, Comp, etc); especially after panning (certain of) the tracks it happens that certain frequencies change a little bit in the whole picture.
  8. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    No rule for me either, its all subjective from one mix to the next.

    When mixing down on a 2 DAW system,
    I will have one uncoupled stereo surgical EQ in front of a stereo uncoupled comp, then a coupled stereo broadband with HPF and LPF >AD.
    Once its ITB I go into an MS process and thin out the sides, tighten up the center and maybe play with the imaging > ending with a limiter.
  9. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    I have to agree that it depends on the mix.

    In most cases I EQ then use a compressor depending on the track and whats needed.

    On rare occasions I'll use something like the RC 500 by Presonus which is an FET modeling channel strip with both EQ and compressor, or the VT 1 which is modelled on a tube pre-amp also which has both EQ and compressor, but only if it suits the track I'm working with.

    Both channel strips allow for either the EQ or compressors to be bypassed to allow use of either function so you can use them with other stand alone EQs' or compressors to taste.

    Attached Files:

  10. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    Always EQ, maybe then compression, but for me this is probably only on the bass, and perhaps Vox. Compression is my nemesis. I often know it's needed, but I hate what it does to the sound. If I had a digital mixer with a broken select switch, and could have only eq or compression, it would be eq 100%
  11. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    apply as needed. with a daw there's no reason not to try it both ways. each path will show different results.

    old school method dictated first sweeping the eq on each channel at tracking to find resonant freqs and cut them. then compressors were inserted on problem tracks to keep them from slamming the meters. most real consoles had pre eq and post eq points in the patch bays so deciding which to use was a simple matter of switching a couple of connections and listening to see which way sounded better.

    so stuff was eq'ed and compressed twice usually . the rule of thumb was 3 dB eq or compression at each uses which in most cases was subtle enough to minimise undesirable effects..
    JayTerrance, ChrisH and audiokid like this.
  12. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

  13. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    As of 2016. In a perfect DAW world these options are choice for me.
    • high quality tracking console (could be 2 or more channels)
    • high quality transparent console (could be 2 or more channels)
    the ability to hard bypass, insert, flip to include either console option pre or post.​
    • at least one analog LA2A
    • at least one 1176
    • at least one transparent comp
    • at least one Pultec MEQ 5
    • at least one transparent surgical EQ
    and.... at least one Bricasti if you have cash left over​

    If we don't have the budget, understanding what Kurt just said can be emulated but it isn't as fun and not quite as smooth after the fact. To my ears, it takes more time to get there if you don't have the front end to begin with.
    Regardless of analog or itb comps, they always degrade sound but they also add a smoothness that I cannot be emulated the same way after its ITB. But, that doesn't mean you need anything either. Which is why transparent is the new colour.

    That's why "first sweeping the eq on each channel at tracking to find resonant freqs and cut them, then compressors were inserted on problem tracks to keep them from slamming the meters." its so effective. Tracking to a DAW is no different that a tape deck.

    The better the front end, always sounds better ITB. Once ITB, stay ITB. No rules apply.
  14. FlyBass

    FlyBass Active Member

    Generally speaking, EQ first then compression on a track -- compression first then EQ on a bus. But even my rules are meant to be broken by me. If it sounds right, it is right.
  15. Ledger Note

    Ledger Note Active Member

    EQ first or you run the risk of frequencies you don't even want in there tripping the compressor threshold. You can always go back and do some touch ups after the fact, but I almost never find that to be necessary, but I'm also not doing this crazy compression of today's pop music either. And really, you can always make adjustments to the EQ while listening to the compressed result.
    ChrisH likes this.
  16. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    I bet nobody uses eq after the mastering limiter.
  17. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    I can't say I ever have
  18. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I don't know about "anybody", but speaking for myself, to the best of my recollection, no... I never have.

    Then again, I printed many, many mixes over the years with no limiting on the 2-bus at all - especially if it was going to be sent out to a mastering facility.

    There were occasional times when I would insert a limiter on the 2-bus at a producer's or client's request, so that they could get an "idea" of what it might sound like, post-mastering - but in those cases, it was only for monitoring and the mix wasn't printed with the limiter on the mix. This even included working on some desks that had limiting built-in to the console's 2-bus.

    I'd wager to say that, back in the days of consoles and tape, I probably ended up printing more mixes without master bus limiting than I did with it inserted, and even for those times where I did print with GR on the 2-bus, it was generally very light amounts.

    And, there were also times where I would insert a limiter on the 2-bus with no actual GR dialed in, ( a trick taught to me by my audio mentor) just to pick up the "sound" of the device, such as a pair of LA3's, which were commonly found in most studios during those days.

    One thing I will mention, though .... IMOE ... is that if you are going to use a functioning limiter on your 2-bus, it's best to insert it at the very start, so that you are mixing into the GR, as opposed to throwing it on the 2-bus after your mix is done.

  19. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    My point is that the mastering limiter (not limiting on the main bus at mixdown) is compression and it comes last. Microphones don't have perfectly flat frequency response, therefore they are eq, and they come first. Pretty much every track gets eq first and compression last regardless of who's working on it.
  20. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Well, there were desks that had channels where the order of EQ/GR -> GR/EQ could be swapped.... SSL's were like that.

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