EQ or compression first, the age old question. The order does matter because depending on which you do first will change the sound. I’ll keep you in suspense no longer, let’s answer EQ or compression first, and more importantly WHY.
EQ or Compression First
The answer: always start with EQ before compression… and I’ll tell you why.
There’s generally three schools of thought when it comes to EQ or compression first:
1 – EQ First So That You’re Just Compressing the Good Stuff
There’s your winner… but there’s more to it than that which I’ll mention in a moment.
2 – Compress First, Then EQ Out What You Don’t Want
Makes sense enough, right? You CAN certainly do it this way, but it’s not ideal and I’ll mention why in a moment.
3 – It Doesn’t Matter Which is First
Nope, it DOES matter, simply because each will yield a different result.
EQ Before Compression
EQing before compression cuts out all of the frequencies you don’t want affecting your compressor. That makes sense and that’s a good way to approach it.
The MORE important reason to EQ before compression is the reasoning you DON’T want the compressor first.
One of the EQ filter types is the high and low pass filter which removes everything above or below a certain frequency point.
One of many reasons to use an EQ is to high and/or low pass your audio to remove unwanted frequencies.
This is especially true when filtering out the low end on most tracks.
Virtually everything outside of bass and your kick drum can be high passed starting around 100Hz.
This removes all kinds of low end rumble from room and ambient noise, and generally just removes all non-musical noise on your track.
Sometimes you get a non-musical boominess (there’s a phrase) on a lot of tracks in this range that you want to filter out.
This can cause a spike on the input level for the compressor that you wouldn’t otherwise have on there had you EQ’d first.
As such, the compressor isn’t being fed an accurate input level of the audio you want it to compress. You can EQ after the compression to remove that boominess that got pulled up or down from the compression, but the fact remains that the compressor wasn’t working as you intended.
At best compressing before EQing is just wasting processing power because you’ll undoubtedly have to drop another compressor after the EQ anyway.
At worst it’s making the EQ process more challenging as certain unwanted frequencies will be more prominent post-compression.
The debate of EQ or compression first will continue to rage on regardless of what I say here.
Nonetheless, remember that you’re better off filtering out the room noise and problem and unwanted frequencies via EQ before you send that signal into the compressor and start bringing the dynamics of your ideal frequency spectrum for that track closer together via that compression.