swrs: Mixing in a DAW – Eq and Compression


We are able to add effects to each individual track in a session. These effects are called plugins. They allow us to shape the sound of the recording, and are essential in mixing both for creative and functional purposes.

Dynamic effects like compression and EQ (equalization) are important tools that we use to tame sounds. Along with panning, compression and EQ are the means by which we create sonic space for each instrument in a session. These are often used as insert plugins, meaning that they are applied to the track they are effecting directly via the insert section of the track, though that varies from DAW to DAW.

Other effects, such as reverb and delay, are used creatively to add “space” to a mix. In class we will also explore harmonic effects (enhancer, exciter, distortion), modulation effects (chorus, flanger, phaser), and pitch effects (pitch shifters and vocal tuning) as well as others.


In audio, compression is used to narrow a recording’s dynamic range. That is the range from the lowest to the highest intensity or volume. We monitor compression levels using dB (decibels) as a unit of measurement. Most compressors will have between 2 and 5 adjustable settings.

1. Threshold: This is used to set where the compressor actually kicks in. Once the signal reaches and passes the threshold you have set, compression will occur.

2. Ratio: How much compression will occur. Higher ratios equal more compression. For example a 3:1 ratio will compress the signal 2 dB if it reaches 3 dB over the threshold.

3. Attack: How quickly will the compression occur once the signal crosses the threshold.

4. Release: How long before the compression stops after the signal falls back under the threshold.

5. Make up gain: Allows you to make up for lost signal level. Adds volume.

This video gives some good sound and visual aids.


EQ (Equalization)

Equalization is the process by which we cut or boost frequencies. We often need to use subtractive EQ to create space for each instrument to be heard, or to remove abrasive sounding tones from recordings. On the other hand EQ can be used to boost certain frequencies on a recording in order to make something stand out, or become more present in the mix.

EQ is a tool with many functions, and there are many different methods to cutting and boosting frequencies. The following video does a good job of giving you the information needed to nagivate most types of EQs that you will encounter.