Does ordering plugins in a string matter? The short answer is yes. The long answer is a little more complicated.
Plugin arrangement. There is a lot of discussion about this on the Internet, with many strongly stating that the order is very important. We tend to agree although maybe not in the way you think. Yes, order is important – but not in the sense that additional type A must come before type B. We’re not fans of hard and fast rules like this because every situation is different.
The sequence is ultimately important because each plugin will affect how the next plugin behaves down the line. Put distortion in front of the chorus and you’ll get intense distortion. Put it after the course and you will get a completely different effect. This is the same for delays, frequencies, EQ, and compressors. The order in which you follow will depend entirely on the results you are looking for. There is no single right or wrong order, only suitable or unsuitable for the objective at hand.
In this tutorial, we’ll look at how to change the order of a pair of plugins to change the effect. We’ll also talk about when you might want to use any command. Note that we used intentionally exaggerated settings in many of these cases to better hear the effect. You may or may not want something pronounced like this in your mix.
distortion and chorus
Let’s start with a pair of influences that we don’t often think go well together, distortion and chorus. You probably haven’t given much thought to this pair (unless you’re a guitarist!). This will help clarify our view that the outcome varies greatly by order.
Here we have a little progression played on analog in Ableton Live. We’ve made sure to turn off any built-in effects to better hear what our plugins are doing.
Next, we tackle it with some distortion using Waves’ MDMX Overdrive. We can hear how the sound breaks down and the frequency response is affected as well, with more activity in the middle.
In contrast, when we run it through a simple chorus patch in a kaleidoscope, we get
Wide and lush sound.
How will the combination of the two plugins affect the sound? First, we put the distortion in front of the chorus. Overdrive amplifies the sound while Kaleidoscopes help expand it.
Now let’s try to reverse it. When we put distortion in second place, all that broad stereo information is distorted along with the body of the sound.
Which is better?” This is completely subjective and will largely depend on what your path needs. Neither better nor worse than the other, they are just two different approaches.
echo and delay
We are now entering a controversial area. The accepted wisdom is to put the delay before the echo in the plugin string. What happens if I switch this order? Is there any time you might want to turn on the echo at a delay? Let’s find out.
We’ve built a fundamental advance to the modulator with Abelton Live’s Wavetable synth. Here without traces.
Next, we play it through Waves’ H-Delay with basic settings for dotted eighth notes in sync with the acoustic working platform, a nice amount of feedback and a dry/wet knob right in the middle. The repetitions are clearly audible.
Here’s the same Wavetable progression that went through Waves’ H-Reverb, with a frequency time of 3.67 seconds and a wet/dry range pretty much down the middle. It added a sense of space to the dry sound.
Now, let’s try the two plugins together. For the first pass, we go in the tried-and-true delay order to frequency. Delay taps are highly audible with the reverberation adding to it smoothness and softness. This arrangement is best when you want to add traditional reverb and reverb effects to an audio without losing a lot of detail, such as the bass or lead vocals.
When reversed, echo is preferred. Instead of affecting the dry signal, the delay now works with feedback tuning sounds. Although the results are similar, it’s generally a less specific sound, although it’s no less useful if what you want is something more explicit. Use this on pillows, sound beds and more experimental sound design.
Pressure and EQ
We now come to what may be the most controversial. Which should come first, pressure or equalization? Again, like the others, the answer depends on what you’re trying to achieve in your mix.
We programmed the 909’s cadence using an Ableton Live drum mount. We have turned off any compression or dynamics in the cylinder mount. We’d like some glue pressure to help all the sounds sit together. We also like to do some equation. Which one should come first?
First, here’s the tempo track as it is. We made the kick extra loud and surprising on purpose to help make our point.
The general consensus is on EQ first, then pressure. This makes sense because the compressor will exaggerate any audio issues, whether it’s due to frequency buildup or unwanted noise in the recording.
Here’s our percussion track for Waves’ H-Comp. All the sub bass in our percussion track makes the compressor work really hard. It focuses almost entirely on the bass and doesn’t get any further. Granted, the settings are extreme but it’s so we can hear what’s going on.
Let’s clean that low end with Waves’ F6 and try again. By evenly addressing the bass issues first, we can send a cleaner signal to the compressor to deal with. The results are more equal. The compressor isn’t working hard to hold down the bass and now has time to pick up the caps, too.
When do we put the equalizer after the compressor? to boost. You may have noticed that we lost some height due to compressor actions. By placing another version of Waves’ F6 after the compressor, we can do a nice boost at the top end and restore some of the lost frequencies.
To summarize, use the pre-compressor equalizer for correction and the post-compressor equalizer for coloring and enhancement. If there is nothing to correct before the compressor stage, you can skip the first equalizer altogether. Again, it’s all about what your mix needs instead.
* Attack magazine supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.
While you are here…
If you liked this tutorial, you might enjoy our book The Secrets of Dance Music Production. It’s available from the Attack Store!