I talked about dynamic EQ yesterday in my overview on the types of EQ, and it got me thinking. Dynamic EQ and multiband compressors oftentimes get confused with one another because they perform very similar tasks. Let’s talk the differences between dynamic EQ vs multiband compression, and when to use each.
Dynamic EQ vs Multiband Compression
Admittedly, dynamic EQs and multiband compressors are becoming more similar every day. You can find specific features which were once unique to one on the other now on certain plugins. Still, let’s break each one down individually.
What is Dynamic EQ
A normal EQ is static. If we make a 3dB cut at 4k on a track, that track will have a 3dB cut at 4k for the duration (unless we manually automate it).
But let’s say we only have a build up on that track at 4k occasionally. Maybe it’s a hi-hat which gets a little too grating in those upper mids when hit with a certain velocity.
A uniform, static cut isn’t ideal, as it will take away the clarity of the hi-hat needlessly for most of the performance (btw, check out my hi hat EQ settings guide).
Instead we can reach for a dynamic EQ (or just make that existing EQ band dynamic if we’re using my favorite EQ, FabFilter’s Pro-Q).
We tell the EQ to only make a cut when the 4k exceeds a certain threshold. We get a nice attenuation by adjusting the threshold and dynamic range, and it only triggers when there’s that harsh buildup at 4k.
4k is untouched for most of the performance, so we keep that clarity while taking care of the problem.
That’s dynamic EQ.
Of course this sounds quite similar to multiband compression.
What is Multiband Compression
Multiband compression is a compressor which allows you to target specific frequency ranges.
Aside from the fact that it lets you designate a specific frequency range to affect (leaving everything else untouched), it acts just like a compressor.
This means that you can set a threshold, ratio, attack, and release just like you would if you were compressing the entire track.
The only difference is that you’re only affecting that one designated band.
Multiband compression is a great tool to use on your master bus, or specifically in the mastering process.
Mastering engineers use multiband compression to break the mix into specific bands for the lows, mids, upper mids, and highs. They can then control the entire sound of a piece of audio just by compressing the more aggressive parts of the spectrum which in turn allows the other frequencies to come out more.
Finding the right balance in an otherwise completed mix can be as simple as dropping a multiband compressor on and making some slight adjustments on each band.
Dynamic EQ vs Multiband Compression Differences
As I mentioned earlier, the makers of dynamic EQ as well as multiband compression plugins are constantly adding features which increasingly makes them more similar.
That said, multiband compressors generally have more controls as they have all of the standard settings you’d find on a compressor.
Dynamic EQs on the other hand (with some exceptions) don’t have attack, release, or ratio settings.
Splitting bands like both of these do introduces slight delays which introduces phasing issues which can affect the sound itself.
While oftentimes, particularly today, both dynamic EQ and multiband compression plugins have linear phase settings, multiband compressors are generally thought to affect the color of the sound more than dynamic EQ.
Dynamic EQs are generally cleaner because they don’t split the band until that threshold is reached.
It’s subtle, especially with linear phase correction, but still worth mentioning.
The bandwidth controls on a multiband compressor can’t get as tight as a high Q setting on a dynamic EQ. Therefore, for precision cuts or boosts, a dynamic EQ is the way to go.
Generally if you want to boost a signal dynamically, you need to reach for a dynamic EQ. So if you want to bring out more 5k on your entire drum bus only when the snare hits to get more of that stick on skin “crack” (see my snare EQ guide), a dynamic EQ boost works well.
Note that many multiband compressors have an “expand” setting, the opposite of compressing a band. Generally speaking, the dynamic EQ is the tool when you want to boost a frequency on and off during a track, but it depends on what you want to do.
Number of Bands
Multiband compressors are for more macro changes to a track or bus. Therefore they limit you to typically three or four bands, typically for the lows, mids, upper mids, and highs.
Dynamic EQ usually allows for more bands. FabFilter’s Pro-Q lets you create 24 per instance of the plugin.
Side chaining is typically specific to multiband compressors. Just like you’d side chain a compressor to only compress a track when another track passes a threshold, you can use side chaining on a multiband compressor to only compressor a certain frequency of a track based on the behavior of another track.
When to Use a Dynamic EQ
Dynamic EQ is better for precision adjustments. I talked about how to remove plosives from a vocal recently. Plosives, or those popping sounds on certain consonants like “P” specifically pop up around 150Hz.
A dynamic EQ is great for smoothing these out with little effort. Just drop a dynamic EQ band at roughly 150Hz (sweep around to find the frequency peak of the pop), then set the threshold to only trigger at the “quietest” plosive you want to attenuate. The body of the vocal is left intact and the plosives are pulled out for a natural effect.
When to Use a Multiband Compressor
Multiband compression is ideal for making macro level decisions on a mix. Putting a multiband compressor to slightly alter the overall tone of a bus, even your master bus, can be all you need to get your entire mix or master right where you want it.
If the mix is too bright, create a band on the mid high and high frequencies with a gentle ratio and threshold to rein it in a bit.
If the mix is too dark, do the opposite to let the highs shine through.
If a particular frequency range is too dynamic, smooth it out with a multiband compressor.
Then of course you also have side chaining. Say you only want to compressor the lows of your bass when the kick plays, leaving the higher percussive string sounds untouched. Creating a band on the multiband compressor on your bass and chaining it to the behavior of the kick will accomplish this.
Multiband compressors are great for taming sibilance, as well, which can occur from 5-10k.
A de-esser is a essentially a multiband compressor specifically designed to detect and control the annoying sibilance associated with S and T sounds.
Dynamic EQ vs Multiband Compression
- The differences between dynamic EQ vs multiband compression were once more stark than they are today.
- Both allow you (generally speaking) to pull up or down a signal on a track at a specific frequency range at a dynamic rate, triggered by a threshold.
- Dynamic EQ is better suited for smaller adjustments and precision cuts or boosts.
- Multiband compression is better for bus (even master bus) level adjustments to control the overall tone of a mix/master, as well as side chain compression at certain frequencies rather than the entire track.