On Episode 31 of the Recording Lounge, we talked a lot about EQ and how to use it to our best advantage. The big moral of the story that I said about ten times was "take out what's bad, don't add more of what's good." This is SO SO TRUE and I practice this every day of my job. The more you add EQ, the worse things tend to sound. By worse I mean unnatural, digital, and all other sorts of things. Our ears are much less sensitive to cuts than they are to boosts, so that causes us to naturally boost more than we need to, while a cut of maybe half that would do the trick.
Some of my favorite plugins for the "corrective EQ" plugin that I put as the first plugin in the chain are:
Oxford EQ - Sonnox
Neve 1084 EQ - URS
Channel Strip Pro - URS
Linear Phase EQ - Waves
Q10 - Waves
None of these are super fancy plugins by any means. They are very basic, very clean sounding EQs that do what I need them to. I like the sound out of all of them and they are all within purchase of most of you, especially the Waves Q10, which comes with some of the cheapest Waves bundles, and it's amazing! Very clean, you can get very surgical with it and take out tiny single frequency resonances (like snare drum ring) or you can get very wide and make subtle shelves. I prefer the Oxford a little bit on some things, but in general the Q10 never fails as a corrective EQ. If I have to EQ something a LOT, for example something that was really recorded poorly and was sent to me, I will use the Linear Phase EQ from Waves. This is an ultra clean EQ that adds no phase shift during the EQ process. All other EQs add a little bit of phase shift to each band you add, actually making it sound a little less like the natural sound. Some argue that this is essential to some sounds and absolutely detrimental to others. In general, you want to EQ as little as possible; things just always sound better without it.
After my initial EQ to remove any "problems" or unneeded information, I'd reach for a compressor before I'd reach for another EQ. My favorite compressors in the box are:
C1 / Audiotracks - Waves
Punch - MSI (cheap plugin!)
1176 - Waves
LA3 - Waves
API 2500 - Waves
L1 - Waves
CL1B - Softube
If I have those plugins I can pretty much complete an entire mix. I'm not a huge fan of a lot of the Waves compressors, but in so many cases, the most basic C1 comp that comes with the cheaper Waves bundles will beat out some of the nicest plugins I've purchased. We did an A/B test with the C1 and my Distressor (hardware piece from Empirical Labs) and we matched them to where neither of us could tell which was which on acoustic, vocal, and snare. It was amazing!
In the end, if you can make each track just 5% better, you can really improve the quality of a 50 track mix. Every little bit counts. Mixing is not a singular skill - it is a collection of hundreds of tiny little decisions that all work together symphonically. Trust your ears and never stop learning!