High/Low Shelving before OR after mid-range eq work?
Old 8th April 2013
  #1
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High/Low Shelving before OR after mid-range eq work?

Hi Folks,

I'm sure this going to garner the usual mix of "depends on the source material" and "you-must-only-do-it-this-way" responses, but I've been recently experimenting with various mastering techniques for material intended for film trailers (and this is extreme stuff, no mid-scooped orchestral stuff, but hard, in-your-face sound design electronic stuff where each sound has loads of high and low spikes in it). I'll preface this by saying I'm not a mastering engineer, but I've read a lot and asked a lot of questions of some serious mastering engineers, so I'm not a mastering idiot either...

Here's the question: if you're dividing up eq duties between a dedicated high-low shelving eq (Pultec style, lets say, though in this case, it's a mastering eq plugin) and an eq boosting and cutting specific frequencies in the mids and low-mids, would you typically put the Pultec-style before or after the mid/low-mid eq? And compression: before or after eq (which eq)?

My instinct WAS to run my chain like this: compressor (parallel comp)>eq mid & low-mid>Pultec "smile">limiter.

However, I recently rewired my studio and discovered I liked this set-up better: eq boosting (API 5500)>API 2500>parallel blender RJR custom>DDMF LP10 eq plugin set to low-phase setting/ Pultec-style low-high boost/shelf> FabFilter Pro-L limiter to just barely control peaks.

This set-up "sounds" good to me, but I'm concerned there may be issues I'm introducing through some lack of knowledge on my part. (BTW, I do know that an API 2500 is not a typical hardware comp choice for mastering, but if used lightly, it still sounds better to me than any plug-in I have, including Massey's or Cytomic The Glue or well, definitely than so-called "mastering" chains like Izotope's Ozone, all of which I have licenses for and have used extensively.)
Old 8th April 2013
  #2
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I, like you, always hated the "depends" answer, so I'll try to be a bit more specific with it and discuss how I approach it. Keep in mind, I am ITB, so routing processors in different orders is easy for me.

Usually, if the track has really large frequency imbalances - for instance, the low end entirely is way too prominent - I'll start with the shelves and/or "broad strokes" EQ. I find it quite difficult to start tweaking smaller bands when there is such a large imbalance, so applying a basic correction is the priority.

If the track is well-mixed, I'll probably go with a normal EQ and start fixing the smaller issues, apply compression, and then hit the "broad strokes" EQ. One advantage I've found in this approach is when one of the processors colors the sound in some way and you can make a slight adjustment with the EQ. For example, I use the PSP MasterComp, and when I engage FAT mode, the low end changes. If I like the quality FAT mode offers, but the low end bumps a bit too much, I can tweak it with the EQ.

Not only is the source material important, but the processors and how you are playing them off each other can help shape your decisions.
Old 8th April 2013
  #3
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Thanks, NotchOnTheRocks (fellow scotch drinker?!)! I've actually got my hardware wired into my patchbay so that my most common routings can be called up in Pro Tools as inserts. So, short of the latency introduced (not really a problem for mastering), I can reorder hardware and software as I see fit. Super useful and easy, though it took me a couple of days to get it all wired up!

I'm glad to see that somebody else does the eq into the compressor thing. I'd always thought I should put all my eq after the compressor, but then, that didn't make sense to me, since you might, as you say, want to "correct" the mix in some way before compression. I feel like I'm on to a strategy that works for me and might have some more knowledgeable adherents, too...

Some day soon, I hope to replace my DDMF plugin with a Dangerous Music Bax, but that's a chunk o' change, so it'll have to wait...
Old 8th April 2013
  #4
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Yeah, I usually put compression after most of my EQ, but not all the time. I use compression extremely lightly anyways, sometimes not at all. A lot of mixes I get have already been compressed, so any compression I apply is usually to attain some certain coloration or quality (FAT on PSP plugins, for example) more so than controlling unusual dynamics. That is for an entirely separate conversation, though!
Old 8th April 2013
  #5
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Originally Posted by DanGo View Post
BTW, I do know that an API 2500 is not a typical hardware comp choice for mastering
where did you hear that? You see the api in mastering studios all the time.
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Old 9th April 2013
  #6
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Jack, you know, I guess I made a silly assumption based on visiting three mastering studios. I'm glad to know my API 2500 is worthy of being in a mastering studio! I do like using it!
Old 9th April 2013
  #7
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Originally Posted by DanGo View Post
Jack, you know, I guess I made a silly assumption based on visiting three mastering studios. I'm glad to know my API 2500 is worthy of being in a mastering studio! I do like using it!
yep, if you have a 2500, you could get away with that being your only mastering compressor. but as I'm sure you know, it does have its "sound", which may not be ideal for every song.

anyway, regarding your original question, I really don't see a difference in using a shelving EQ before or after your mid EQ. But when it comes to compression, I personally always use EQ afterwards, for a few reasons: 1. your EQ changes will effect how the compressor gets triggered, so if you change the EQ later on, you may also have to change the compressor threshold. 2. compression softens transients, so you will likely need to boost those mid to high freqs afterwards to bring that back. and 3. heavier compression can even begin to "undo" the EQ changes you made previously, especially if you're doing tight cuts.

but as always, its really just personal preference so long as you know what you're doing.
Old 9th April 2013
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jackbraglia View Post
yep, if you have a 2500, you could get away with that being your only mastering compressor. but as I'm sure you know, it does have its "sound", which may not be ideal for every song.

anyway, regarding your original question, I really don't see a difference in using a shelving EQ before or after your mid EQ. But when it comes to compression, I personally always use EQ afterwards, for a few reasons: 1. your EQ changes will effect how the compressor gets triggered, so if you change the EQ later on, you may also have to change the compressor threshold. 2. compression softens transients, so you will likely need to boost those mid to high freqs afterwards to bring that back. and 3. heavier compression can even begin to "undo" the EQ changes you made previously, especially if you're doing tight cuts.

but as always, its really just personal preference so long as you know what you're doing.
Everyone's workflow is different but it is worth noting that if you are doing a lot of corrective eq on a track, if you compress before the eq, the compressor may be reacting to frequencies that are being removed from the track after the compression and this can sometimes lead the some pumping or unpredictable compression artefacts.

So as always you need to consider the track you are working on and to critically think about your work flow. There really is no right or wrong approach, but you do need to be aware of what you are doing and why, to achieve the best results. Having a decent mastering console where you can easily change the order of gear in chain is really useful in this respect.
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Old 9th April 2013
  #9
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With pure EQs it absolutely doesn't matter which one you put first.

Since hardware Eqs (or emulations) aren't pure EQs, especially your Pulltec style EQ, which will act like EQ + Saturation, it does matter.
It seems to be more logical, to use the corrective EQ first, and then saturate+eq the corrected signal with the pultec.
But in practice it may sound better the other way round. .... depends :D
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