Plug-In Order

Discussion in 'Microphones (live or studio)' started by Doublehelix, Feb 25, 2002.

  1. Doublehelix

    Doublehelix Well-Known Member

    Oct 7, 2001
    <NOTE: I screwed up this original post, and have edited it to correct my error. The error was in the placement of the distortion. Originally, I placed it *before* the should have been *after*. I fixed it here...>

    Plug-in order is a topic that should be considered when mixing or mastering. There are general guidelines, then there are lots of rules to be broken!

    Here is what I understand to be a generally accepted all-purpose plug-in order:

    1) Noise Gate
    2) Compressor
    3) EQ
    4) Reverb/delay

    If distortion is to be used, generally it should come *AFTER* the compressor. Also, swapping the compressor and the EQ can add some interesting effects...

    Once again, there is a great article in the February Sound On Sound magazine on this topic, with some really great explainations as to why this order makes sense. Check them out at:

    I'd like to hear some comments from some of the pros around here as to rules that they have effectively broken, and then more importantly...why???
  2. Ang1970

    Ang1970 Well-Known Member

    Sep 5, 2000
    DoubleH, that site will only let you see the article if you have a subscriber identification number. For the benefit of our readers here, would you be so kind as to briefly paraphrase (not copy!) the reasoning behind that order?

    Thank you. :)
  3. Doublehelix

    Doublehelix Well-Known Member

    Oct 7, 2001
    Yo Ang!!! The article is quite lengthy, but I will try my best to at least give some brief explanation:

    [I would recommend this magazine to is really a great resource, and well worth the subscription price. It is a U.K. publication, but I am getting the International Edition here in the USA. Check it out! Plus, by subscribing to the magazine, you have complete access to most of the back issues via the internet...what a great resource!!!]

    For example...Gate vs. Reverb:

    Gate first, obviously. If the reverb was first, you would run the risk of clipping the reverb tails off, and would negate some of the sustain effects, plus it would clip it off fairly quickly and would sound unnatural. Plus, the reverb would be applied to the "unwanted noise" and would be stretched out by the reverb. If you gate first, the reverb is only applied to the desired sounds. There are times when folks want to create a "gated reverb effect", and then obviously in that case, the reverb would go first...but as a rule...gate first, reverb second.

    Gate and Compressor:

    This *can* work in either order, but gate first is better. When you are setting the threshold on a gate, your hope is that the gated sections (line nose, buzz, humm) are much quieter than the the non-gated sections. When you use a compressor, the most common use is to reduce the level *difference* between the lowest and highest placing a compressor before the gate makes it much more difficult to set the gate correctly and make it sound musical.

    Compressors vs. Reverbs:

    Ok...gates before reverb and compressors, but what about compressors *and* reverb together? Either way will work, but the most natural sounding results will come from putting the compressor first. This will reduce the dynamic range (compression) before the reverb, but if the reverb is first, you will compress the reverb tail itself, which will have the effect of trying to pull up the reverb level itself as the reverb decays!!! This obviously defeats the purpose of setting your decay parameters, since the compressor is going to screw it up anyway! This makes for some strange sounds. What happens is that the compressor will alter the shape the of the reverb decay curve, which the article points out could add some artistic flair to the mix...just not natural.

    EQ vs. Gate:

    OK...the *big* question..."Where do I put the EQ???" You would think that putting it before the gate would help because if you are boosting a lot of high-frequency stuff, the gate can help to get rid of any hiss that is generated as a result, however, if the plug-in is of a good quality, it won't produce any noise on its own, and the *last thing you want is to have the EQ enhance a hiss that is already present!!! Remember that an EQ is really just a volume control for specific frequencies, so once again boosting certain frequencies will make the volume difference between the low peaks and the high peaks less, making it harder to set the gate correctly (same problem as with the compressor before the gate).

    EQ vs. Compressor:

    This is a tougher decision, since changing this order produces very different results. What if you EQ a low frequency part so that the kick drum is a lot louder than it was before? If you now add compression to the already EQ'ed part, it will do its job by trying to squash the loudest parts of the music, in this case, the kick. The compressor is trying to "level out the sound", and therefore is undoing some of the work that you just created with the EQ!!!

    There are times when the EQ can do some cool stuff by putting it before the compressor, but in most cases, it sounds best to put the compressor first. In this way, you are EQ'ing the already compressed sound without effecting the way that the compressor works, so the effect of the EQ is likely to be clearer.

    Distortion vs. gate and compression:

    Distortion dramatically reduces the the dynamic range of a sound, so gate first (same reason as with EQ and compression). Compressing before distortion will increase the average level of the signal, so decaying sounds will tend to distort for longer with pre-compression, whereas compressing afterwards may do very little, as the signal is already heavily squashed. In fact, compression following distortion may only have an audible effect at the starts and ends of notes when any noise will tend to be further exaggerated.

    Distortion vs. EQ:

    Distortion adds lots of new harmonics, so EQ and filtering will have more effect if placed after the distortion than before it. (The classic exception is the wah-wah which is traditionally used before distortion)


    Here is the generally accepted order:

    1) Noise Gate
    2) Compression
    3) Distortion (if any)
    4) EQ
    5) Reverb

    The problem with rules however is that we tend to paint ourselves in a box, and eliminate our creativity. By trying to break some of these rules, we can create some unique sounds, and break new ground. Look at Opus' signature on this reads, "Learn some rules...then break them". Well put Opus!!!
  4. Bob Olhsson

    Bob Olhsson Active Member

    Feb 13, 2001
    Nashville TN
    Home Page:
    I've found the effect of placing eq. before a compressor to be very different usingplug-insthan it is with analog gear where you almost always want to brighten a compressed signal up a little .
  5. Doublehelix

    Doublehelix Well-Known Member

    Oct 7, 2001
    I was just reading another article that said the same thing...EQ first, then compression, although it was referring to mastering. I wouldn't think that it would matter if was for mastering or mixing, unless I am missing something...

    If I understand your post, when using outboard (analog) gear, you recommend EQ first, but for digitalplug-ins compression first???
  6. As regards EQ vs. compression, my personal philosophy: generally I compress and then EQ, because boosting will end up fighting the compressor. If I am trying to cut an ugly frequency from the signal I EQ the frequency out before the compressor. Of course I reserve the right to go back on my statements at any time.
    Whatever works, right? Cheers, Doc.
  7. Bob Olhsson

    Bob Olhsson Active Member

    Feb 13, 2001
    Nashville TN
    Home Page:
    In analog I generally used an eq after the limiter but I go both ways with digital depending on what it sounds like.
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