The two essentials of Audio Production, EQ and Compression, play a significant role in shaping sound. Although both are powerful techniques that can enhance the audio quality and balance the mix, Sound Professionals need to know if EQ should be applied before or after compression. In this blog, we are talking about EQ, Compression, their relationship, and which one to use before and why!
EQ, short for equalization, is an extremely important tool in Audio production that allows Sound Professionals to manipulate the frequency content of any audio signal. EQ involves adjusting the balance, clarity, and tonal characteristics of individual tracks, instruments, and even the overall mix, which can greatly help achieve a polished and professional sound.
If used correctly, EQ allows professionals to have a higher level of control over the frequency response of audio signals and shape the final sound by boosting or attenuating specific frequencies. From enhancing the warmth of a vocal to adding presence to a guitar, EQ can do it all. All you need to have is to know the right things and patience to practice.
One of the primary reasons for using EQ is its ability to improve clarity and separation in a mix, which you can achieve by selectively boosting or cutting frequencies and creating space for each element to shine.
Reducing the frequencies that conflict with the lead vocal can make the vocals more pronounced and prominent within the mix.
EQ allows Sound Professionals to emphasize or diminish desired instruments or frequencies, improving the mix's overall balance and clarity by cleverly addressing frequency imbalances.
Room Resonances and other unwanted frequency buildups often occur in recordings. These issues can be addressed using EQ and adjusted to achieve a more accurate and pleasing sound. This will also make the sound more transparent and natural-sounding.
EQ often gives a certain shape, character, and mood to sound. Technicians can do this by boosting or cutting specific frequencies, allowing them to manipulate the tonal qualities of individual elements, which can also evoke certain emotions in the audience.
Compression is mostly used to reduce the dynamic range of an audio signal by attenuating the louder parts of the signal and, if needed, boosting the louder parts of the track to produce a more controlled and consistent sound. Compression also allows you to enhance vocals and tame excessive transients.
EQ, if done before Compression, will allow a Sound Professional for precise shaping of the frequency balance of a sound source. Once you learn to move around with the EQ settings, you can enhance or attentuate specific frequencies to achieve the desired tonal balance.
Tweaking the EQ settings before Compressing a sound signal will allow you to shape the dynamics within the frequency ranges you desire.
If you perform the EQ before Compression, you can effectively address frequency-specific problems. For example, you can attenuate resonant frequencies causing unpleasant peaks, giving you more control over dynamics without exacerbating problematic frequency areas.
If you start using EQ after Compression, it will give you space to fine-tune the tonal characteristics and texture of the compressed audio signal, as the dynamics of the signal will have been controlled by compression, allowing you to make the EQ adjustments needed to shape the overall sound.
You can also add warmth, brightness, or clarity to the compressed audio by boosting or attenuating a specific set of frequencies.
Balancing the mix is one of the most crucial steps of Audio Production. Drawing from our experience, using EQ after Compression has enabled us to do so effectively and with great precision. Adjusting individual tracks and the overall mix will allow you to achieve a better balance in the mix where the elements are in complete cohesion.
Often you will notice that post-compression, certain frequencies become more prominent or recessed. This issue can be resolved using EQ after Compression by highlighting or softening the unwanted elements.
If you ask any Sound Professional, you will know that Compression can sometimes emphasize harsh frequencies or resonances that can occur due to multiple factors during the Audio Recording.
As a sound technician, you can address these issues simply by reducing or notching out the particular problematic frequencies, producing a smoother, more pleasing sound without compromising the dynamic control achieved during Compression.
Based on our experience, we can say that one of the best reasons to do EQ after Compression is because it will allow you to shape the frequency response of each element by making surgical adjustments to individual instruments or even vocal tracks.
For example, boosting the presence frequencies of a lead vocal will allow you to make it more prominent in the mix without hampering the dynamic control.
With our years of experience, we have learned that each project is unique and will need a different approach, but there are a few points you can consider to conclude which route is the best to produce the desired outcome.
The first thing you should do before you start working on fixing the sound you should always stress your ears and understand the characteristics of the source material, as they are going to have an extremely critical role in determining the optimal approach.
See if the material needs to be worked on significantly around dynamic control. If yes, then you can start with Compression before EQ.
And if you feel that the material requires tonal shaping, then from our personal experience, we suggest that you do the EQ before Compression as it will provide you with certain flexibility.
Each Sound Professional we have come across has a unique working process. You will have to consider your workflow and creative intent when deciding which processing order you should opt.
While some engineers prefer to work on the tonal balance first and then switch to manipulating the track's dynamic range, others find the opposite more convenient and effective.
After working for years in the Sound Industry, one practical consideration that we suggest to everyone new to this is to look out for the impact of EQ and Compression on the dynamic range of the audio. You will realize that EQ Adjustments before Compression can affect the level differences between soft and loud passages.
On the other hand, doing the EQ after Compression will allow you to have a higher level of control over the frequency response without affecting the dynamic range. See which of them has a higher priority, and go for that.
Before jumping to a conclusion after hearing the first outcome, we suggest that you always compare the results of EQ Before or After Compression after you have made sure that the levels of both outcomes match properly.
You should always adjust the output gain of each processing chain to maintain consistent loudness levels to compare both levels properly. The perceived difference in sound quality can be because of the volume variations, not the processing order itself.
One of the most important factors in choosing EQ Before or After Compression is the desired artistic outcome, as each genre, style, and mixing philosophy has its unique approach. One should always consider the context of the Audio Production and the character they are looking for in the outcome before making the decision.
Last but not least, Regarding Audio Production, you should not trust your ears. In the beginning, you might have to experiment with both EQ Before and After Compression and figure out what is giving the better results and which one you find more suitable. Look for the impact on the tonal balance, dynamics, and overall feel of the mix to make an informed decision.
The debate about EQ Before or After Compression has no definitive answer. Both approaches have their merits and considerations. While EQ Before Compression will allow you to have a precise tonal balance shaping, dynamic control within frequency ranges, and address the frequency-specific issue, EQ after compression offers the opportunity to fine-tune the tonal characteristics and texture of the compressed audio.
Whether it's enhancing clarity, improving balance, addressing resonances, or shaping the overall sound, the right application of EQ and compression can elevate the quality and impact of your audio production. Ultimately, we feel that the decision should be based on certain factors, but more than anything, you will be in charge!