First off, there’s really no correct order. It’s all about preference, what you want to achieve and context. Although some effects do seem to work better in certain places of the signal path than in others. Still, feel free to experiment.
Inserts and Send Effects
Effects are chained in either series or parallel. For parallel processing, use send effects to process a copy of a signal (without affecting the original). Use auxiliary sends for time-based effects, such as reverb and delay.
No rules, but in most situations it makes more sense, and saves processing power and setup time, if for example reverb and delay are shared between all channels, rather than inserting a new instance of each effect in an insert slot on each channel.
Use insert effects to change the signal completely, e.g. dynamic processors like compressors, expanders, noise gates, transient shapers.
In terms of signal flow, the channel insert connections usually come before the channel EQ, fader and pan.
Daisy Chain Effects
It is possible to daisy chained effects into the signal path. The order of the effects determines the sound and have different impacts. Here’s a suggestion:
- Noise gate
- Subtractive EQ
- Dynamics (compressors, limiters, expanders)
- Gain (distortion, saturation)
- General EQ
- Time-based modulation (chorus, flanger, phaser)
- Pure time-based (delay, reverb)
To clean up the signal, put the gate first, and it will work better with a wider dynamic range (than for example after a compressor).
Then use an EQ to cut away the unwanted frequencies; do this to avoid enhancing them with later effects. (Also maybe roll off frequencies below 30 Hz.)
Then place a compressor to adjust the dynamics of the signal.
After that, put on some overdrive boost or tape saturation effect. Also, such effects can work well in the beginning of the chain – as part of the initial sound – due to the harmonics generated by a distortion device, which bring richness to the effects that follow.
After gain effect, EQ to shape the tonal balance, but be careful when boosting.
At the end of the chain, modulation effects are usually placed after gain-related effects and before pure time-based effects.
Pure time-based effects such as delay and reverb usually come last in the signal chain.
The Mastering Chain
This post is mainly covering effects chain for channels and buses, but when entering the mastering stage, a conventional order of the mastering chain is:
- Post EQ
- Harmonic exciter
- Stereo imaging
- Loudness maximizer
Read more about mastering, http://palsen.tumblr.com/post/76108679797/mastering-bedroom-style.