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Mix Recipes: Kick Drum EQ and compression

There is no reason to settle for lackluster kick drum sounds on your home recording. This article explores some great mix recipes for equalizing and compressing your kick drum tracks. While every kick drum has an individual sound there are some general guidelines you can follow to get a great start in shaping your drum’s sound. Start by trying a few of these eq and compressor settings and tweak them in to suit your specific starting drum sound and desired results. All you need in your home studio is a four band eq to start shaping the kick drum sound of your dreams!

The kick drum big three: boom, smack, click

These are three key elements that can be used to describe the sound of a kick drum.

Boom is where the low end thud of the kick drum comes from. You can find a cleaner, modern sound boosting around the 50-60Hz area. A more traditional, ringing boom will be found a bit higher, perhaps in the 100Hz range. I typically use a normal, peaking band for the boom but you can experiment with a low shelving band here if your kick drum is lacking girth. Be careful not to overdo it with the shelf though, things can get blurry fast in the sub frequency ranges.

Smack is the primary attack of the kick drum. This is the frequency range that helps the ear identify individual kick drum hits. I like to start my search for smack in the 3-5kHz range. Microphones specifically tailored to kick drums will often have a bit of a presence bump somewhere in this range. I always use a peaking band for the smack and keep the Q parameter in the 1 to 1.5 range.

Click is exactly what you think it is. At first thought you might not attribute click as a quality desired in a kick drum sound. Click works in conjunction with smack to help bring a kick drum through a dense mix. This is the sound of the beater actually hitting the drum head. You can find the click up around the 6-8kHz range. A peaking band works well on the click (Q around 1.5) but a high shelf can be used to enhance the bleed of the snare wires in the kick drum mic.

Mud is not one of the big three because it is a bad thing! We want the opposite of mud in our mix, especially on the kick drum. You remove some of the mud and clean up your kick drum sound by cutting a thin band in the 250-300Hz range. I will often use a peaking band with the Q set to around 3.

Kick drum big three eq quick chart

More boom (modern) +6dB at 50Hz
More boom (solid, classic) +6dB at 100Hz
More smack (attack) +7dB at 3.5kHz
More click (beater) +6dB at 6.0kHz

Kick drum eq recipes

    Start here to get a solid, full kick drum sound with plenty of click

  • Band 1: +6dB at 55Hz
  • Band 2: -9dB at 275Hz (narrow)
  • Band 3: +7dB at 3.7kHz
  • Band 4: +8dB at 6.2kHz shelf
    Start here to get a more traditional kick drum sound

  • Band 1: +6dB at 100Hz
  • Band 2: -10dB at 800Hz (narrow)
  • Band 3: +6dB at 1.5kHz
  • Band 4: +6dB at 7.0kHz shelf
    Start here to get a ringy bottom end with less attack

  • Band 1: +6dB at 100Hz
  • Band 2: -5dB at 250Hz (narrow)
  • Band 3: +3dB at 4.0kHz
  • Band 4: +3dB at 10.0kHz shelf

Kick drum compression recipes

If I have a very consistent drummer with great dynamics then I often will skip compressing the kick drum at all. Sometimes you need to bring up the sustain or level out an uneven performance or you might be looking for the ultra compressed modern sound.

Reduction level is the amount your kick drum is being compressed. All good compressors have some kind of meter or way to gauge your signal reduction. This will sometimes be labeled gain reduction or will just be a meter that seems to work backwards, going down or showing negative values on each kick drum hit. You should be able to see the reduction increase (more into the negative range) as you lower the threshold of the compressor. I like to get about -3dB of gain reduction for subtle kick drum compression. I’m not afraid to get the gain reduction up to -10dB or higher when necessary though. You don’t have a reduction level control on your compressor. You adjust the threshold control until you are getting your desired reduction level.

Kick drum compression recipes

    Subtle kick drum compression

  • Ratio: 3:1 or 4:1
  • Attack: 4ms
  • Release: 200ms
  • Threshold: adjust for about 3-6dB gain reduction
    More “in your face” kick drum compression

  • Ratio: 6:1
  • Attack: 3ms
  • Release: 200ms
  • Threshold: adjust for about 8-10dB gain reduction

Drum processing plugins for your DAW

When it comes to plugins I am a big fan of Waves processors. If you are using moderately capable DAW software it probably came with some eq and a compressor. Using those will get you fine results. If you want to step up to what a lot of pros are using and take your home studio recording to the next level then Waves processors will make a good investment. Their software plugins are top notch, stable, sound great, and the company stands by its products and customers.

Waves Musicians 2 Native Software

Waves Musicians 2 Bundle price check

This is the bundle I recommend people use as the entry point to the Waves sound and experience. It includes the Renaissance EQ and Renaissance Compressor which are two of my favorite plugins ever.
Waves Renaissance Maxx Native Bundle

Waves Renaissance Maxx Bundle price check

This is the next step up if you can afford just a bit more. The two main go to plugins you will add above the Mus 2 bundle are the Renaissance Reverb and Renaissance Vox, two of my other favorite plugins.
Waves Gold Native Bundle Hybrid CD Win/Mac

Waves Gold Native Bundle price check

This bundle has a lot more plugins than the other two bundles, but it is a lot more expensive and doesn’t really add any go to plugins that are essentials. The coolest addition is the L1 which is great for mastering. Only you can decide if the extra plugins are worth the scratch.
Waves Mercury Native Software

Waves Mercury Bundle price check

This is the bundle for you if price is no object (costs more than most DAW packages). You get every Waves plugin currently supported by the company. There are a lot of cool, boutique eq and compressor plugins here. The SSL, API, and V-series plugins all have really great, classic sounds to them.

I hope you’ll find some of these kick drum recipes helpful and be able to put them to good use. Feel free to post some links to your results in the comments section below!

55 replies on “Mix Recipes: Kick Drum EQ and compression”

The best advice I can give about compression (until I can write a full article, I’m busy, so don’t count on it soon!) is to always know why you’re trying to compress before you compress. Are you compressing the kick drum to accentuate the attack? Use longer attack, and long release, but short enough that it’s done before the next kick. Are you trying to accentuate the sustain? Shorter attack and shorter release. Reduce attack? Shorter attack, longer release (see above). Try to get “inside” what the compressor will do with each setting and have a plan of attack. Compressors don’t make things sound better. A well planned use of compression can.

Helpful stuff ive bookmarked this page. Someone asked about compression. If your using compression to bring out the pop, try a Compression settings for a kick around 3-5 ms attack. 80-120 ms release. 3.5/1 ratio. Also if you want your drums to have a bit of dynamics range then you might want to use a gate compressor. and set the floor threshhold to -12db and the gate settings to -10 to -7. Compression can either bring your kick to life or kill it so be careful. The settings that sound best will depend on the tempo and timbre of your mix so experiment.

Thanks for this useful information I always find this site of interest. Kick drum has always been a chellenging instrument to compress and get sounding right as there are so many different ways you can make a kick sound. On top of this it is also a difficult instrument to mic and get sound good which all gets compounded into making it a tricky beast. IMO. cheers.

Great article.
My current technique that I use for the bass drum (acoustic set) is a series of chain effects. First in the chain is eq, a boost in the low end. Next in the chain is a noise gate. I applied the eq in the first chain effect so that the noise gate can open and close more accurately. Next in the chain is a compressor. I usually use Nomad’s max warm. I really crank the compressor super hard and sometimes even use 2. next in the chain is more eq. I eq the hell out of it so that I’m just getting the frequencies I want to shine through in the mix. I’ll then sometimes add a leveler and/or another compressor if the bass drum still doesn’t sound where I want it.

I think this technique sounds good for heavier music or a more modern rock/metal bass drum. Not sure how useful it would be for other genres though.

hi,i wonder what are the freq range of a acordeon? i have a cubase 5. what is the eq recipes for it and compressor. i will be delight it if you know. thanks

Hey, thanks for this info!

But one thing, my lecturer taught us never to equalize more than 6db gain on any frequency…

I hope this won’t buck up my mix?

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