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EQ or compression first?

From: Foundations of Audio: EQ and Filters

Video: EQ or compression first?

One of the most common questions I get from my students is whether they should EQ their tracks before or after compression. And the answer I always give them is, that depends. I like to consider an addition- subtraction approach when deciding whether I want to EQ or compress first. What am I going to get rid of, and what do I want to play up or add? In the case of subtraction, I think about what part of the signal's frequency response do I not like or what I want to remove before the signal goes through a compressor or limiter. Why? Because I don't want the compressor's threshold to be triggered by material that I want to get rid of anyway.

EQ or compression first?

One of the most common questions I get from my students is whether they should EQ their tracks before or after compression. And the answer I always give them is, that depends. I like to consider an addition- subtraction approach when deciding whether I want to EQ or compress first. What am I going to get rid of, and what do I want to play up or add? In the case of subtraction, I think about what part of the signal's frequency response do I not like or what I want to remove before the signal goes through a compressor or limiter. Why? Because I don't want the compressor's threshold to be triggered by material that I want to get rid of anyway.

For example, if I have a loop with a ton of low end that I don't need, I might use an EQ to filter out all the bass frequencies before hitting the compressor. Since those bass frequencies will likely make up most of that signal's amplitude, they would likely influence the compressor's threshold in an undesirable way. Sometimes what happens when you use a lot of compression or limiting is that a signal's frequency response or tonal characteristics can get a bit flattened out, especially in the low and high frequencies.

In this case, if I want to do additive or boosting EQ, I might consider saving that for after I add compression. That way I can restore some of the tonal response or shape to the signal post- dynamics-processing. When you first start mixing a song, don't worry too much about what order you add your effects. I generally reach for whatever processor that I think will take me in the right direction. However, sometimes I do find it helpful to apply my compression before I start adjusting the EQ curve.

It helps firm the track's dynamics up in the mix and gives me a better sense of what kind of EQ it's going to need to sit with the rest of the tracks. Otherwise, trying to EQ a dynamically wild track can be a bit like trying to hit a moving target. Remember, this adding or subtracting ideology is just a framework that you can use to think through your processing chain. It isn't a hard-and-fast rule that you have to religiously follow. In many cases the order just won't matter all that much.

Like if I'm going to do a few dB of gain reduction on a vocal track, I don't always have to use two separate EQs before and after compression to achieve my ultimate goal. With DAWs and plug-ins, it's so easy to play with the signal chain that it's almost a no-brainer to try out different approaches, just to hear what they might sound like. So experiment, listen, and think about how the compressor might react to different frequency material if you reorder the effects. And if you want to learn more about compressors and dynamic processors, be sure to check out Foundations of Audio: Compressors and Dynamics Processors in the Online Training Library.

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Foundations of Audio: EQ and Filters

36 video lessons · 12812 viewers

Brian Lee White
Author

 
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  1. 3m 28s
    1. Welcome
      1m 36s
    2. What you should know before watching this course
      35s
    3. Using the exercise files
      58s
    4. Using the "Get In the Mix" Pro Tools and Logic Pro session files
      19s
  2. 15m 46s
    1. What are frequency and amplitude?
      2m 27s
    2. Measuring frequency
      1m 48s
    3. Measuring amplitude
      1m 58s
    4. The perception of frequency and amplitude
      4m 18s
    5. Frequency and pitch
      5m 15s
  3. 36m 10s
    1. What is an equalizer?
      4m 14s
    2. Hardware and software EQ
      1m 58s
    3. Understanding frequency and gain EQ controls
      3m 41s
    4. Using the bandwidth, or Q, EQ control
      5m 35s
    5. Parametric equalizers
      2m 36s
    6. Shelving filters
      5m 11s
    7. High- and low-pass filters
      5m 42s
    8. Putting it all together with multiband EQ
      3m 43s
    9. Using graphic EQ
      3m 30s
  4. 46m 13s
    1. Creating focus
      3m 47s
    2. Get in the Mix: Using EQ to fix problems and place elements in the mix
      8m 30s
    3. Get in the Mix: Creating complementary EQ curves
      9m 7s
    4. Get in the Mix: Creative EQ with the telephone effect
      5m 30s
    5. Get in the Mix: Frequency bracketing with filters
      5m 44s
    6. Get in the Mix: Automating EQ
      6m 18s
    7. Learning to listen
      3m 10s
    8. Balancing expectations from the recording process
      4m 7s
  5. 41m 14s
    1. Get in the Mix: EQing FX returns
      4m 29s
    2. Using common vintage-modeled EQs
      5m 2s
    3. Using frequency analyzers
      3m 44s
    4. Using harmonic generators to excite frequency content
      5m 44s
    5. EQ or compression first?
      3m 3s
    6. EQ and room acoustics: Is your room lying to you?
      6m 15s
    7. Boost or cut? The relative nature of EQ and headroom
      4m 0s
    8. Building healthy EQ strategies
      8m 57s
  6. 19s
    1. What's next and EQ summary
      19s
  7. 5m 51s
    1. A session with Brian Lee White
      5m 51s

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