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EQ Or Compression First? We Finally Put This Question To Rest

October 4, 2022 
BY DAN SPENCER
EQ Or Compression First Blog Cover Image
Last Updated on May 24, 2023

The debate of whether to use EQ or compression first has been around for as long as these two processing types have been used in recording and mixing. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and there are proponents of both methods.

So, which is the right way to do it? Is there even a right way?

In this blog post, we’re going to put this question to rest once and for all. We’ll go through the pros and cons of both EQing and compressing first, and we’ll give you a definitive answer on which method is the best.

What Is EQ?

Rainbow color equalization bars.

Equalization is the process of adjusting the balance between frequency components in an electronic signal. The purpose of equalization is to improve the overall sound quality of the signal. EQ can make things sound more exciting, clear, and most importantly more balanced.

Equalization can be used to correct the tonal balance of an audio signal, to compensate for changes in the response of the recording medium or playback system, or to adjust for deficiencies in the original signal. Equalization can also be used to enhance the sound of an audio signal, by increasing the level of certain frequency components or by cutting those that are problematic.

Equalization is typically accomplished by using filters to boost or attenuate (reduce) the level of specific frequencies. Equalizers typically have a number of different controls that allow the user to adjust the level of each frequency band independently. Equalization is the most common tool to dial in a sound.

What Is Compression In Music?

Teletronix compressor representing what is compression in music.

Compression is an important tool in music production that is used to even out the levels of sound in a recording. The process is achieved by reducing the level of the loudest parts of the recording, which gives the overall sound a more even level. Audio compressors come in many different sizes and flavors, but they all mostly do the same thing in the end.

A typical audio compressor will contain an attack, release, ratio, and threshold control. These are the 4 basic parameters of any compressor. Some compressors will have more options and some will have fewer. How you set these controls will determine if you have a smooth or punchy sound and how compressed the signal will be.

Compression can be used to achieve a variety of different sounds and there are many different ways to use it. It's important to experiment with different settings to find the sound that you're looking for. Next to equalization, compression is probably the most important mixing tool in music production.

Related Article: An In-Depth Guide To Parallel Compression: When And How To Use It

The Great Debate: EQ Or Compression First?

As we mentioned, there is a great debate surrounding this topic. So, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of both EQing and compressing first. Let's first start with EQ.

EQing first:

The main advantage of EQing first is that it allows you to shape the sound of the track before it is compressed. This means that you can sculpt the perfect sound, and then use compression to add subtlety and control. It also allows you to cut any frequencies you don't want that may trigger the compressor to react. These are typically low frequencies you would cut with a high-pass filter.

The main disadvantage of EQing first is that it can be difficult to control the sound once it is compressed. This is because compression can change the way that EQ affects the sound. Compression can bring out frequencies that may need to be tamed or cut.

Compressing first:

The main advantage of compressing first is that it can help to even out the sound of the track and make it easier to control. This is because compression can even out the levels of the track, which can make it easier to hear the different elements. This gives you a clearer picture for when you are ready to apply EQ.

As mentioned above, the main disadvantage of compressing first is that it can make it difficult to shape the sound of the track.

So, What’s The Verdict?

Judges gavel representing the verdict in whether or not to use eq or compression first.

So, what’s the verdict? Well, the simple answer is that there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to EQ or compression first. It all depends on what sound you’re going for.

If you want to have more control over the sound of the track, then EQing first is the way to go. This is because you can sculpt the perfect sound, and then use compression to add subtlety and control.

If you want to even out the sound of the track and make it easier to control, then compressing first is the way to go. This is because compression can even out the levels of the track, which can make it easier to hear the different elements.

Here's What I Do

I didn't want to leave you hanging with an answer that was undefined as I promised some definitive. Even though there isn't a right or wrong answer, there is still something that I do every time. If you follow my instructions and guide below, you will be on your way to more professional-sounding mixes.

First off, I always EQ first. I love to EQ into my compressors as it seems to create more character and excitement. I also have more control of my gain staging when I need to go back and make minor EQ adjustments knowing that the compressor is going to grab most of the gain boosts. Overall, it just creates a better workflow and sound to EQ into your compressors.

Second, on important instruments are you actually only using one EQ and compressor? I know I'm not! For example, on lead vocals, I use multiple compressors in my plugin chain and at different stages. I only use one actual EQ but I use other plugins that act like an EQ throughout the chain. The point is that after your first EQ and compressor you can do whatever you want to shape your sound.

In summary, EQ into your compressors and you can't go wrong. After your initial EQ and compressor do whatever it takes to achieve the sound you are going for. In the digital realm, you can use as many plugins as your daw and computer will allow you to use.

Related Article: The 4 Steps To Properly Applying Compression On Vocals

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it. The great debate of EQ or compression first is finally put to rest. Though there isn't a right or wrong way to do it, you at least have my way to go off of. I hope that this blog post has helped to clear up any confusion and that you now have a better understanding of which method is best for you.

If you found this information helpful, consider subscribing to my blog for more music production tips, tricks, and advice. Now, go try EQing into your compressor!

"Some of the links within this article are affiliate links. These links are from various companies such as Amazon. This means if you click on any of these links and purchase the item or service, I will receive an affiliate commission. This is at no cost to you and the money gets invested back into Audio Sorcerer LLC."

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