The EQ and compression combo (Pt. 3)

After going into details with regards to EQ and compression, in this post I’ll cover some practical tips on how they work well together. I’ll try to also clarify why many engineers will tell you that all you need is these two tools to accomplish most of the work in mixing and mastering.

Here are a couple terms and ideas that have to do with this topic:

  1. There are no rules for how to use EQs or compressors. You’ll read many different views online, and some people will affirm loud and clear that their point of view is right, but after 20 years of trial and error, I still feel that I’ve accomplished a lot of great things when I knew less than now. Relying on your ears is really important. Some of the most innovative trends involve people who have no idea what they’re doing else than following their gut feeling.
  2. Substractive correction. It involves only cutting the junk out.
  3. Coloring correctives. This usually means that you’ll boost frequencies. Sometimes, cutting might necessary.

To start with, I’d point out that in mastering or mixing, one of the most common chain would look like this:

[Corrective EQ]  –  [Compression]  –  [Color EQ]

There’s precise logic behind this. Basically, you want to take the rogue frequencies out first, compress and readjust the good ones with the compression, and finally adjust the tone or highlight details with a coloring EQ. My personal preference for better results would be that whenever I cut, I do it with a pretty narrow Q (resonance) on the EQ. A great starting point is to start with 2 or 3 and then adjust. Don’t hesitate to use visual reference of the FFT that is often included in the EQ’s display, especially if this technique is new to you. Then, I’d cut about 3dB at first, up to 5. You see how this changes your sound by bypassing the EQ and comparing.

When it then comes to compression, there are a few different things you could do here. For instance, if you go with an aggressive setup, then you’ll beef up what you have “open” by cutting away the bad frequencies. I’d suggest starting with a more exaggerated approach to see what will pop as annoying. It might not be possible to hear what’s wrong if you don’t push the sound to its limit.

Once you see and hear issues more clearly, you can cut again, then you roll the compression into parallel mode to have some of the incoming dry signal mixed with the compression.

If you haven’t explored the side-chain frequencies, this is an option where you can decide that your compressor won’t apply anything starting at the target (ex, anything under 100hz). With this, you might want to filter only a part of your song with the EQ and then compress to accentuate the part you want to put to front.

The last process in the chain is the color EQ. You can take any EQ you like but ideally, I’d go for either an analog emulation or a shelving EQ. Those will provide a nice enhancement to complement what the compressor has been doing. For coloring, you can explore. One way to approach it is to completely exaggerate one band to see how it sounds, and then roll down. This is not only very interesting for sound design, but also for mixing more subtly annoying details. It can help build body for a sound that feels week too.

Examples of where to start – EQ and Compression

A pad that that lacks body and roundness. In this case, it’s most likely that a resonance is poking through too loudly and that good frequencies are hidden behind it. You could start by checking if there is one peak on the spectrum and with your corrective EQ, with a not so wide Q (ex. 1.5 to 3), try to bring that peak down pretty severely with a cut of 5-6dB. Get the threshold of your compressor to meet the highest peak and then adjust the output to be the same as the input. With the shelving EQ, bring the mids up but 2-3dB.

A kick that lacks bottom. This might be related to the mids of the kick that are too loud. You could lower them by 4-5dB, then compress with a ratio of 8:1. The shelving EQ should then bring the lows under 100hz up by 4db. If that doesn’t do, cheat by using the corrective EQ to notch up a bell curve at 50hz.

Percussion that are harsh. This is usually because one frequency is resonating around 4 to 8khz. It’s hard to say but try to cut by 8dB and scan around to see if there’s at any point, something more comfortable. Bypass to double check and then adjust your cut so that you can make the resonance almost there. Compress with a fast attack to control the transient and glue them. The shelving EQ could be used to lift the highs.

EQ suggestion: The TDR SlickEQ GE will do a great job for correcting.

Compression: The new SphereComp is super lovely and affordable. I tested it in sound design and it does really nice gluing.

Shelving EQ: I tried the demo of EVE-AT1 and I think you’d like it just like I did. The price is incredibly good for what it offers!

SEE ALSO : Saturation Tips and Hacks

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