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Mix Recipes: Bass EQ and Compression

The bass guitar is an important element of every contemporary mix even though it rarely plays a prominent role. Sometimes the bass is felt rather than heard while other mixes have the bass in a much more audible sonic space. Your home recording studio is well equipped to shape your bass tracks as long as you have a basic equalizer and compressor.

The bass big three: girth, definition, attack

Girth is a good description for the lowest fundamental frequencies of your bass track. These frequencies give your bass most of its low end energy and sustain. Too much girth will make your mix muddy while not enough will leave a thin sound or give an unnatural relationship as you try to make other instruments fill in these key frequencies. Start your search in the 80-100Hz range while looking for girth. A low to moderate boost will typically do the trick if your bass needs some help in this range. If you find yourself needing to use a more extreme boost to enhance girth then you would do well to also use a high pass filter to keep from adding too much in the sub-bass frequencies.

Definition helps the listener to pick out the melodic structure of the bass line. Our ears have a difficult time determining pitch at low frequencies. While the girth allows the listener to feel the power of the bass line, definition allows the shape of the bass line to come forward. The midrange frequencies are most important while trying to define a bass sound. A good start is a healthy boost aound 800Hz, but sweep around to find the sweet spot.

Attack is the result of either the pick or the fingers plucking each note. A strong attack will provide your bass track with its rhythmic percussiveness. The attack helps draw the ear to the beginning of each note. Dense mixes where the bass lacks attack tend to give the bass a sound of sliding around from note to note without any real rhythmic excitement. This might be fine if you are specifically going for that effect but is generally not what we want. Look in the 3-5kHz area to find your attack. Your bass track will cut through your mix more as you boost this range. Be careful not to boost too much unless you want your bass to come right to the front of the mix.

There are a few frequency ranges you can work on if you find your bass taking up too much sonic space in your mix. Some gentle cutting in the 200-500Hz window can work wonders for cleaning up the track. Be very careful though because the on the low side you could affect the important girth of your instrument while the high side gets perilously close to hurting your track’s definition.

Bass big three eq quick chart

More girth +6dB at 80Hz
More definition +8dB at 800Hz
More attack +4dB at 3.0kHz
Less mud -3dB at 220Hz

Bass eq recipes

Start here for a modern slap and pop type sound

  • Band 1: +8dB at 60Hz
  • Band 2: -3dB at 350Hz
  • Band 3: +9dB at 850Hz
  • Band 4: +8dB at 5kHz shelf

Start here for a vintage R&B sound

  • Band 1: +9dB at 100Hz
  • Band 2: +6dB at 1.6kHz (narrow)
  • Band 3: +5dB at 2.5kHz
  • Band 4: 4kHz low pass

Start here for a very punchy low end with plenty of cut

  • Band 1: 60Hz high pass
  • Band 2: +6dB at 80Hz
  • Band 3: +8dB at 900Hz
  • Band 4: +7dB at 3.4kHz

Bass compression

Compressing a bass is not always necessary but it can really help to smooth out the dynamics on an otherwise uneven track. It is very important to listen closely to the attack of your instrument after compression. A carelessly tuned compressor can do a lot of harm to the important first transients of your bass sound. This will leave you with a bass track that seems to lack all ability to be heard above other instruments. The attack setting on your compressor is the control to focus on while you are tuning the attack of the compressed bass sound.

Reduction level is the amount your bass track 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 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 3-6dB of gain reduction for when compressing a bass track. Reduction level is not adjusted directly. It is adjusted by lowering the threshold control until you are getting your desired reduction level.

Bass compressor recipes

Punchy bass compression

  • Ratio: 4:1
  • Attack: 50ms
  • Release: 50ms
  • Threshold: adjust for 3-6dB gain reduction

Smoothing out dynamics

  • Ratio: 6:1
  • Attack: 0.3ms
  • Release: 660ms
  • Threshold: adjust for 3-6dB gain reduction
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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.

Your home studio is your playground, have fun!

26 replies on “Mix Recipes: Bass EQ and Compression”

Hey, I love your site. Lots of great info. Especially the “recipes” that you prepare. What a great way to get someone started in the right direction.

Locking down the bass track is fundamental. Spending time on the bass will not only make the track sound better but the bass player will be amazed that he has such value, for a change !

hi ben how can i stop the amp turning itself off on patches when changing from a button to b button then returning to the a button amp is showing off thanks great site

That is not supposed to happen! I recommend getting in touch with Line 6 tech support, or you can try resetting to factory defaults along with reinstalling the latest flash memory.

What about cutting fundamental frequencies to boost harmonics? Complimentary eq? Less is more? Most of your advice is boosting which adds phase issues. Not a very helpful article… hurtful, in fact. People–buy the Mixing Engineer’s Handbook (2nd edition) by Bobby Owsinski. Watch Dave Pensado’s videos on youtube. You will find that most of the “tips” online are posted by amateurs like us.

The beautiful thing about mixing is each one of us gets to take our own journey and discover what works for our individual tastes in sound and music. If boosting was so generally destructive then pro audio manufacturers would have stopped putting “boost” on their units a long time ago. Around Metallica’s “black album” Bob Rock said he hated cutting EQ and favored using only boost. I think that is an amazing sounding album from a production standpoint, notwithstanding one’s personal opinion of whether it is accurately representative of any particular genre. These are only starting points and not meant to be advice for pro engineers who already have their own opinions. You already have your own opinion and are welcome to express it here. Hopefully my readers will consider your points and make up their own minds, they are also free to disregard everything I write and consider me a kook. I don’t mind :)

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