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Q: Compression, EQ or reverb - where should I start?

A RecordProducer.com reader is trying to decide the order of his plug-ins. Three plug-ins, six combinations. How to decide...

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Well we think there are six combinations. Let's see...

  • Compression - EQ - reverb
  • EQ - reverb - compression
  • Reverb - compression - EQ
  • Reverb - EQ - compression
  • EQ - compression - reverb
  • Compression - reverb - EQ

Each of these will produce a distinctly different sound quality, and any might be useful depending on what it is you want to achieve. It all rather depends on whether you want to follow standard practice, or be a little more unconventional.

In general, if there are any frequency distribution problems in the signal, you will want to EQ it first to resolve the problem. Then you might consider that the dynamic range is too wide or you want the 'magical sound' of compression. At that point you might consider the signal a little dry, so you add reverb (normally as a buss effect).

It may be however that the frequency distribution of the signal is fine as it is, so you can go straight into compression. Then you might consider that you could improve the signal beyond its existing state with EQ. Reverb once again would be at the end of the chain.

(It may be that you have EQ problems to resolve before compression, then you want to improve the signal with EQ after compression, so there are two EQ stages. That is certainly possible.)

What would be quite unusual however would be to apply reverb anywhere other than the end of the signal chain. And if you had reverb as a bus effect, then any EQ or compression you applied to it would affect the reverb only, not the original signal.

Let us therefore consider using reverb as an insert effect. It's unusual, but you can't go to prison for it.

If you add reverb first, then compress, then you should get some interesting dynamic effects. So the reason for doing this is that you want to go beyond normal boundaries and find new sounds. Where you put the EQ is up to you, because the results will be unpredictable and will depend very much on the actual signal you are using.

So in summary you can play safe...

  • EQ - compression - reverb
  • Compression - EQ - reverb
  • Compression - reverb - EQ (which is fairly safe)

Or you can be more adventurous...

  • Reverb - EQ - compression
  • Reverb - compression - EQ
  • EQ - reverb - compression

By David Mellor Friday January 14, 2011
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