What To Do First EQ Or Compression

When it comes time for students to mix their final class projects, one frequently asked question is, "Should I put the EQ before or after the compressor?" Which method is correct?" There is no such thing as a right or wrong way. Instead, it's about the sound you want to achieve, the sound you hear in your head. Each position, EQ pre (before) or EQ post (after) compression, results in a distinct sound, tonal quality, and coloration. Generally, using EQ before your compressor results in a warmer, rounder tone, whereas using EQ after your compressor results in a cleaner, clearer sound. So, for each channel in your mix, you must ask yourself, "Do I want to?"

Using EQ before compression is ideal for removing unwanted frequencies before the compressor emphasises them. This can result in a smoother sound because any unwanted frequencies have been removed by the time the compression kicks in.
Because the compressor has no effect on EQ changes, using EQ after compression gives you much more precise control over the tone. This can make some elements stand out in a crowd. Increasing frequencies after compression, for example, produces more consistent results.

In most of my mixes, I find that about 40% of my EQ is post compression. I usually start with all of my channel EQ set up before compression, but in Pro Tools, dragging and dropping the EQ plug-in to a different insert slot and hearing the difference is a breeze. To make this workflow easier, I have my compressor plug-in in slot C (right in the middle of the inserts) and my EQ plug-in in slot B. To hear the EQ after compression, I simply drag it to insert slot D. Even if I've already created my EQ curve prior to compression, I simply drag the EQ plug-in post compression and Voila! I can instantly hear

It's also acceptable to use your EQ before and after compression. However, you should use this technique sparingly because too much EQ can result in a mix that sounds harsh and grating, or the opposite, hollow and dull. A single High-Pass EQ band pre compression to sculpt your signal at a macro level before compression, and a multi-band parametric EQ post compression to really fine-tune the sound, would be an acceptable way to apply EQ pre and post compression.

Of course, I could go on and on about how EQ sounds before and after compression until I'm blue in the face, but that won't help you hear it. Listening carefully to the difference between the two positions will cement the sonic image in your mind and allow you to select the appropriate colour in your mix. To demonstrate the difference, here is a rather heavy-handed EQ job before and after compression. However, don't just take my word for it—especially since some streaming web audio and computer speakers may lack the clarity required to hear this level of fine sonic detail—experiment with these two EQ positions in your own DAW software programme to hear the difference for yourself.