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That Airy Pop Sound: EQ and Compression

Hi Bill: I want to get that pop-airy sound in my home recording studio. I read your last column and I have a style suited to this. I also have a good, large diaphragm mic. Can you give me any tips about EQ and Compression?


Hi Daryl,

Proper compression is fundamental to an intimate and airy sound because it keeps the track right up in your face in those intimate moments and backs the level off when the singer’s volume exceeds the compression threshold. You’ll need pretty quick attack and release times, too, so that the listener can’t hear the compressor turning down and then back up again. Exactly where you set them depends on the singer and the song. Listen!

Using EQ can help create an airy sound by simply boosting the “airy” frequencies (typically somewhere between 6- and 10-kHz) but the real way to achieve a high-quality vocal sound has much more to do with everything else in this post than simply EQ boost.

Reverberation provides a cue to the brain that the sound is in an acoustical space. Applying more reverberation makes the sound feel farther away from the listener within that space. If you want the vocal to feel very close to the listener, either don’t use reverb or use a little of a warm hall just to add some subliminal polish. It should typically be just enough so that you can tell when it goes away but not so much that you’re aware of it. Also, don’t use a patch with much high-frequency content because it conflicts with the intimate components of the vocal sound wave.

In a live application all of the above considerations are in play. However, you need a mic with a condenser capsule that’s capable of reproducing the complexities of the vocal sound accurately. The mic also should not induce a lot of rumble, handling noise, low-frequency feedback. There are really great condenser mics available from all the major microphone manufacturers. The mic you choose depends on all of the variables that are unique to your situation.

Mics designed for live application typically have a presence boost somewhere in the high-frequency range and a roll-off in the lows. To accentuate the airy quality in an individual voice, the presence peak that is built-in to the mic needs to accentuate that individual—that’s why it’s important to try different mics.


Bill Gibson is the author of 30+ books about recorded and live sound, including his most recent six-book series, The Hal Leonard Recording Method by Bill Gibson

  • garymckinney

    Since I purchased a VoiceTone Correct pedal, all the guesswork has vanished. I set my eqs at flat on the PA and let the pedal become my sound engineer. None of the mixer tinkering I did previous can match the eqs I get out of this one pedal not to mention the compression.