Should you EQ Before Or After Compression?
When it comes to mixing their final projects for class, students frequently ask me “Should I put the EQ before or after the compressor? Which approach is right? There isn’t really a right or wrong way to do things. The sound you’re aiming for, the sound you hear in your head, is what matters. Each setting, EQ pre (before) or EQ post (after) compression, results in a sound, tonal quality, and coloring that are radically different. Generally speaking, applying EQ prior to your compressor results in a warmer, rounder tone, whereas applying EQ following your compressor results in a cleaner, sharper sound. Therefore, you must decide whether to EQ the compressed signal for each channel in your mix.
I discover that roughly 40% of my EQ is after compression in the majority of my mixes. In Pro Tools, it’s easy to drag and drop the EQ plug-in to a different insert slot and hear the difference even though I typically begin with all of my channel EQ set up prior to compression. My compressor plug-in is located in slot C (the middle of the inserts) to help with this workflow, and my EQ plug-in is located in slot B. Then, all I have to do is drag it to insert slot D if I want to hear the EQ after compression. Even though I already had my EQ curve constructed prior to compression, I can still achieve fantastic results by dragging the EQ plug-in after compression. When I EQ the compressed signal as opposed to the EQed signal, I can hear my signal’s tone right away.
Inserting your EQ before and after compression is likewise acceptable. However, you should utilize this technique more carefully because using too much EQ might result in a mix that sounds hollow and lifeless or loud and unpleasant. Employing a single High-Pass EQ band before compression to shape your signal at a macro level before compression and a multi-band parametric EQ post compression to truly fine-tune the sound would be a respectable method to apply EQ pre and post compression.
Naturally, I could go on and on about how different EQ settings sound before and after compression until I was blue in the face, but it won’t help you hear it. You may make the sound image stick in your head and choose the right hue in your mix by carefully listening to the differences between the two spots. Here is a fairly clumsy EQ job done before and after compression so you can hear the difference. You should experiment with these two EQ values in your own DAW software program in order to hear the difference on your own system, though, as some streaming web audio and computer speakers do not have the clarity required to hear this degree of fine sonic detail.