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Get That Pro Sound The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation First Edition
Publication date: February 2013 Published by George Robinson Getthatprosound.com © Copyright George Robinson, All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical or electronic, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission from the publisher. While all attempts have been made to verify information provided in this publication, the Author does not assumes any responsibility for errors, omissions, or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein. Of course, please let me know if you find any errors and I’ll correct them! The Purchaser or Reader of this publication assumes responsibility for the use of these materials and information. Neither the Author nor its dealers or distributors, will be held liable for any damages caused either directly or indirectly by the instructions contained in this book, or by the software or hardware products described herein.

Get That Pro Sound - The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation

Contents 1.

Introduction......................................................................................... 4 The Pitch: Become A Sonic Sculptor What Is Equalisation, & Why Is It Useful?........................................ 4 Frequency Masking........................................................................... 5 Anatomy of an EQ Plugin................................................................... 6 Common Controls & Terms.............................................................. 6 Types Of EQ......................................................................................... 7 Equalisation Strategies: Using EQ In A Mix..................................... 9 A Smart Mix EQ Strategy................................................................... 9 Mix EQ Step 1: Fixing Purely Technical Problems & Deficiencies.................................. 10 Mix EQ Step 2:
Initial Balance; Bringing Out The Characteristics Of Feature Instruments, Diminishing Others.............................................................................. 13

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Quickly Set Up An EQ: Boost, Search And Set.............................. 14 Mix EQ Step 3: Fitting Sounds Into A Mix; Low, Mid And High Adjustments................... 17 In What Order Should I Put EQ and Dynamics Processors?....... 19 Advanced EQ Techniques................................................................ 20 The Fletcher-Munson Effect: 2 Tips............................................... 20 EQ Curves That Give The Impression Of Distance........................ 22 Getting To Know The Frequency Spectrum: Your Sonic Canvas Frequency Ranges Reference Table...................................................... 23 21 Bonus Compression Pro Tips.................................................... 26 Conclusion......................................................................................... 33

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an equaliser consists of a number of electronic filters which allow select parts of the total frequency spectrum to be adjusted – increased. for example. this time by reducing the sounds high frequencies in the specified range. The term ‘equalisation’ came about because the very first equalisers were developed specifically to rectify or ‘equalise’ shortcomings in telephone systems to make them sound more natural. but experienced engineers and producers know how important EQ is to help them skillfully share the frequency spectrum among all the instruments. However. This can be a source of potential confusion at first. Using EQ appropriately.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation Introduction The Pitch: Become A Sonic Sculptor Equalisation. Equalisers are made up of series of filters. can result in a powerful and full sound from a relatively small number of tracks. If you have an audio signal that is ‘dull’. The job of an equaliser is to change the frequency content of an audio signal. the equaliser is often the tool used to fix this – provided that there is some high frequency content in the signal in the first place that the equaliser can bring up. Many aspiring and intermediate music-makers don’t fully appreciate just how useful EQ can be. and can be your greatest enemy or your greatest ally in the quest for a Pro Sound. Let’s get into it! What is Equalisation. Conversely. lacking high frequency presence.you’ll be another large step closer to sonic mastery of your individual sounds and complete mixes. But essentially. ‘sound-sculpting’ tool as it is used for technical troubleshooting. or ‘EQ’. Page | 4 . Through the decades the equaliser has been developed in myriad different ways. is one of the most powerful and fundamental tools in your sonic toolkit. decreased or removed completely. thereby altering the frequency response – the tonal characteristics – of a sound system or signal chain.Get That Pro Sound . but today equalisation (or ‘EQ’) is as much a creative. from the simple bass and treble tone control of the 1950s. in this way. There are few hard and fast rules regarding the successful use of EQ. with practice of the strategic approach to using EQ outlined in this guide. in the 1930s. & Why Is It Useful? The equaliser was one of the first audio signal processing devices to be invented. if the sound is too bright with too much high frequency ‘sizzle’ the equaliser again offers the solution. allowing each its own space without it having to fight the others for attention. through to modern multi-band graphic equalisers and more complex ‘parametric’ types.

Of course masking will occur at any frequency range in the spectrum. then your perception will be desensitised to that frequency region of the other instruments. ‘filters’ can boost frequencies as well as cut them. But don’t let this simple description of the function of EQ fool you: the subjective effect of EQ on a sound is often much more profound than you might suspect. the vocal might sound bright and amazing on its own. you’ll still need some EQ in the mix to compensate for frequency masking between the instruments and keep an impression of each sound having its own space and tone. and mastering the use of EQ is certainly one of the fundamental skills required to achieve a Pro Sound. those other instruments will effectively be masked in that frequency range by the stronger signal. sweetening individual sounds whilst also making them function well in a full mix that takes practice. So you can see that using EQ effectively is a key skill to grasp. patience and expertise. Sometimes you might need to mangle a sound almost beyond recognition to fit it into a crowded mix. This is where EQ comes in. Remember.Get That Pro Sound . not just the high frequencies. ultimately it’s really just a frequency-selective volume control. Of course. or exaggerate those frequencies in the vocal sound. That is. because it’s such a significant aspect of mixing in general. No matter how complicated or sophisticated an EQ device or plugin is. you’ll perceive this frequency range a lot less well in the lead vocal part – the cymbals will be ‘masking’ the vocal above 5kHz. So what do we do? To retain the same apparent vocal sound against the cymbals. For example. if you have a constant cymbal pattern filling up the frequency spectrum above 5kHz. Page | 5 . Frequency Masking: Why We Use EQ To Put Sounds In Their Place To understand why EQ is so vital to creating a good mix balance. so we’ll be covering that later. having an overall strategy clearly makes things a lot easier. You may have realised after that explanation that if you change the frequency content ofparts that sound perfectly good on your own. but the moment the cymbals are added to the mix the vocal will suddenly appear dull. we need to know about a psychoacoustic phenomenon known as ‘frequency masking’. but in the context of equalisation. where two or more sounds overlap. in a sense you’re actually often making instruments sound subjectively ‘worse’ in isolation so that they will do their job better in the context of a complete mix. The effects of masking mean that even when each individual instrument or part in your arrangement sounds incredible on its own. Frequency masking affects our perception of sound whenever we hear several instruments playing together at once: essentially if one instrument in your mix has lots of energy in a certain frequency region.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation as we normally think of a filter being a device that removes something. It is getting this balance right. we would need to either reduce the level of the cymbal frequencies above 5kHz.

Cutoff Frequency The frequency at which a High. through unaffected. Low-Pass Filter (LPF) Attenuates high frequencies. A high Q value corresponds to a very narrow filter.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation Anatomy Of An EQ Plugin EQ Types.or Low-Pass Filter starts to take effect. but they all operate using the same basic principles. whereas lower Qs produce a smoother.Get That Pro Sound . Parameters & Terminology Having a proper explanation of the typical feature set of an EQ plugin goes some way to explaining how EQ is designed to work in practice. more musical sound. High Q values are useful for picking out sounds that occupy a very narrow and precise part of the audio spectrum. Q The bandwidth of a cut or boost i. a low Q corresponds to a wide filter. 12. 18 or 24dB/octave. This is usually measured as 6. High-Pass Filter (HPF) Attenuates (reduces) low frequencies. parameters and terms. where the higher the number the steeper the slope will be. how broad or narrow the range of frequencies around the centre frequency that will be affected. and therefore the greater and more abrupt the level of attenuation beyond the Cutoff. Page | 6 . Common Controls & Terms: Centre Frequency The specific frequency to be attenuated by the EQ. letting the low frequencies ‘pass’ Band-Pass Filter (BPF) Attenuates both high and low frequencies. only letting a selected frenquency band pass through. Stop Band The frequency range that is attenuated.or Low-Pass Filter reduces the level above or below the cutoff frequency. Slope The rate at which a High. Notch Filter A filter that cuts out a very narrow range of frequencies. Gain The amount of boost or cut applied by the EQ at the centre frequency. letting the high frequencies ‘pass’ through unaffected. Pass Band The frequency range that is allowed through.e. There are a few different types of equaliser designed for slightly different EQ tasks.

for example. which control Shelving Filters.Get That Pro Sound . a relatively coarse-sounding Graphic might be more ap- Page | 7 . both vintage and modern. Usually you can also switch the first and last filter sections to be used as high and low frequency Shelving EQs (see below for details). Mid. Don’t let the apparent inflexiblity of Program EQ make you think it’s necessarily an inferior choice: well designed Program EQs on vintage desks.or 3-Band Program EQ (Low. Semi-Parametric EQ You’ll sometimes encounter a Parametric EQ without Q controls. when you want a nice bite to your EQ. making final EQ adjustments to a complete mix at the mastering stage. High) is also found on every channel of most good mixing desks. or for making quick adjustments in a live performance/mix situation where speed and robust control are of the essence. Graphic EQ is best employed where a large number of subtle adjustments to the signal are needed – classic applications for Graphic EQ include equalising a control room’s main monitors. For example. Gain sets by how much. but they are the most powerful and flexible of the conventional EQ types. Graphic EQ A Graphic EQ is usually recognisable by the row of faders across the front panel. but they are not as flexible.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation Types of EQ Parametric EQ The type of EQ most commonly used for studio mixing. are prized and can sound amazing. This ‘Program EQ’ is the sort usually found on most home stereo equipment with controls simply for ‘Treble’ and ‘Bass’. A single parametric EQ unit or plugin will often have several filter sections or ‘bands’: for example a 4-Band EQ allows you to treat four parts of the frequency spectrum simultaneously. Gain and Q. but 2. Graphic EQs are relatively quick and easy to set up. a 30-Band Graphic EQ provides independent control over 30 different bands spaced one third of an octave apart. Other than the highest and lowest faders. each fader controlling its own narrow section of the audio spectrum (the faders are generally set on octave or 1/3 octave frequency centres). and the Q setting affects how narrowly the cut or boost applies to your selected centre frequency in relation to those around it. precise or generally as good-sounding as Parametric EQ.Parametric EQs can be time-consuming to set up properly. each of the filters in a Graphic EQ is a fixed-frequency Band-Pass Filter. However. or which has a switch for setting either a ‘Narrow’ or ‘Wide’ Q – this is a Semi-Parametric EQ. where boost or cut is applied by moving the fader up or down from its centre position. Frequency sets your centre frequency to be adjusted. A parametric EQ give you controls for Frequency. Program EQ Sometimes you only have control over the amount of cut or boost and can adjust neither the frequency nor the Q of the equalisation shape.

you wouldn’t usually attempt to gently shape the tone of a bass guitar with a High-Pass Filter when you had an EQ to make those more subtle adjustments. and there’s no scope to boost any part of the frequency range. see above). and so is not as well suited to more corrective. You can think of filters for cleaning up a signal. Shelving EQ isn’t limited to a center frequency and its associated bandwidth. But conversely. Aim to master both types and you’re covered for every eventuality. rather than for creative sound-shaping. you can’t effectively remove sub-bass rumble with an EQ bass adjustment. ‘clean-up’ duties as it is to more subtle. The Difference Between Shelving EQs and Filters You may be wondering what the difference is between High.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation propriate than a smooth Parametric EQ. For example. as they both operate on the extreme high or low frequencies of a signal. Shelving EQ Shelving EQ applies a cut or boost only to the frequencies above or below the Cutoff Frequency of the EQ (depending on whether the particular EQ section is based around a High-Pass or a Low-Pass Filter.and Low-Pass Filters generally have much steeper slopes (12.and Low-Pass Filters and Shelving EQ. Page | 8 . as the attenuation simply won’t be enough to completely cut out the offending frequencies – this is more of a job for a High-Pass Filter. there are a couple of key differences: EQ is used to boost or attenuate a range of frequencies in order to shape a sound. 18 or even 24dB per octave) than normal equaliser bands (which are typically only 6dB/octave). and the resulting alteration in the frequency response is flat (like a shelf) beyond the selected frequency. creative sound-shaping equalisation. as they only provide attenuation of unwanted frequencies.Get That Pro Sound . High. However. as they are intended for these more purely technical tasks.

so that we can implement our use of EQ in the most effective. using EQ ‘creatively’ to adjust and refine the tone of each sound to our own taste. we want to bring out certain characteristics of our sounds. our aim is to distribute our instrumetns and parts across the frequency spectrum so that each has its own space and doesn’t have to fight with the others for attention. or it may require subtle cutting and boosting on every channel. we want to make sure that everything that needs to be heard. so that important frequencies in other parts can be heard. This can be as simple as using a high-pass or low-pass filter on specific tracks to remove any unwanted noise or hum. And more subjectively. In technical terms. The ease with which this can be done will often depend on how well the track has been arranged. Page | 9 .Get That Pro Sound . let’s look at using EQ effectively and efficiently in your mix. A Smart Mix EQ Strategy In a mix context. can be heard.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation Equalisation Strategies So now we know what EQ is designed to do in principle. efficient and flexible way. Much of this type of EQ is concerned with cutting away unimportant areas of the frequency spectrum from individual recorded parts. 1. Using EQ in this way will mean a powerful and full. EQ has two main functions. With these two objective in mind. But how do we implement EQ smartly in the real-world context of a mix. and how the different types of EQ and their parameters can be used together to enable us to achieve that. which could broadly be described as either ‘technical’ or ‘creative’. Remember. even when dealing with technical issues a lot still depends on creative decisions you made earlier! 2. as well as how well recorded or chosen were the original individual sounds and instruments: of course. Pro Sound from a relatively small number of tracks. and as a creative as well as technical tool? It’s time to formulate a strategy.

Hum Electrical interference from power lines. Diminishing Others Mix EQ Step 3: Fitting Sounds Into A Mix. light dimmers. at 40Hz and below. a low pass filter helps Page | 10 . from the building’s air conditioning to the traffic vibrations from nearby roads outside. the microphone picks up very low frequency rumble. Plosives & Wind Noise In many recording situations. you might find that even a light breeze across the mic can lead to low-end rubbish. Buzz usually effects guitarists more than electronic musicians. Or if you are working outside (doing live sound or collecting natural sounds in the field). High. Rumble. low cut) filter to remove all these super-low frequencies entirely. electrical hum and buzz.and Low-Pass Filtering Mix EQ Step 2: Initial Balance. Bringing Out The Characteristics Of Feature Instruments. Mid And High Adjustments Mix EQ Step 1: Fixing Purely Technical Problems & Deficiencies Removing sub-sonic rumble. 180Hz.This unwanted low-end energy can come from many sources. Buzz Hum can also turn into full-on buzz if upper harmonics of the interference also appear – in the case of a 60Hz hum. Since very little music happens at such low frequencies. as guitar amps and single coil guitar pickups are buzz breeding grounds because of the way they work. it’s often appropriate to insert a highpass (i.e. Again. This usually appears at a very specific frequency – generally either 50Hz or 60Hz. flourescent strip lights and other sources can introduce hum into your tracks. Other low frequency problems fixed by a high-pass filter are the ‘plosive’ pops caused by a breath of air hitting the mic whenever the singer hits a ‘P’ or ‘B’ in a word. power supplies.and Low-Pass Filtering A key use for EQ is to clean things up and get rid of problems that lie within specific frequency ranges. High. you might also get harmonics at 120Hz. You’ll probably want to do this type of correctional work as part of your mix preparation. depending on which type of AC power is used in your part of the world. and 240Hz. electrical hum and buzz.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation We’ll break down the process of applying EQ over the course of a mix into three phases: Mix EQ Step 1: Fixing Purely Technical Problems / Deficiencies Removing sub-sonic rumble.Get That Pro Sound . again a high-pass filter can be used at a setting just above your trouble frequency. before you even get into balancing. Low. To remove hum.

as it means your meters will be showing you only the levels of the useful frequencies on each track. while not being particularly audible – and therefore not very musically useful – will still consume your available headroom. it’s not uncommon to find that you need to take a lot of bottom end out of acoustic guitars or synth pad parts to avoid the mix getting muddy. taking up valuable space in the frequency spectrum that could be more effectively used by another instrument. for example) then you can apply cut with a narrow peaking filter to notch out the 50Hz fundamental and possibly its most prominent harmonics as well . or a steep low-pass filter if you’re after more surgical removal. You might be surprised how much headroom you save with this technique.Get That Pro Sound . try rolling off some of its high end so that it doesn’t compete with the sounds that really need to stand out. if you have an instrument that doesn’t need to be at the front of the mix. For example. You could use a shelving equaliser to do this.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation If you know the frequency of your mains hum (50Hz in the UK. Similarly. If you find you’re having to cut too much/too many notches in your tracks. cymbals for instance. High-Pass & Low-Pass Everything You Can Many instruments which are not known as ‘bass’ instruments nevertheless have a lot of low frequency content. This sort of ‘topping and tailing’ of frequencies with EQ can make a significant difference to the clarity and accuracy with which you go about your mix. Usually you can get away with taking quite a lot of low end away from such sounds before they start to sound thin in context. and this can allow important bass instruments and kick drums to come across much more clearly. This content. headroom which can later be used to make the whole mix louder. or out entirely. 150Hz and 200Hz. those frequencies which are not useful and don’t enhance the sound of each instrument. it can be a really good idea to prepare for your initial mix by cutting down. With this in mind. you might want to try a dedicated noise removal plugin instead for fewer audible side effects. Page | 11 .100Hz.

most EQs also adjust the phase relationship between the track’s frequency components (also known as the track’s “phase response”). the more difficult it is to keep your perspective. so it’s trickier to be sure whether you’ve chosen exactly the right settings. As well as adjusting the frequency balance. the sonic side effects of boosting – those artifacts we just mentioned above – may actually be desirable and improve the subjective tone of the processed track. The greater the boost. For example. which is generally an undesirable side-effect. try applying high-end cut to other sounds in the mix that are conflicting with the vocal. the less obtrusive the processing and the more natural the final sound will be. in reality a combination of cut and boost is usually required or is preferable: clearly there will be some situations where it makes more sense to use boosts than cuts for mix balancing purposes. Any EQ boost will also always make the processed track more audible in the balance. The thinking here is that the less EQ boost you use. Avoiding EQ boosts also reduces the risk of introducing EQ-processing artifacts. whether to cut or boost also depends on the style of music you’re making and mixing. Moreover. If you’re mixing classical music you’ll want to use as little processing as possible full stop. so. the generally accepted wisdom is that it’s better to cut than to boost. rather than adding lots of top to vulnerable sounds such as vocals in order to get them to sit at the front of the mix. then that’ll add an element of bias to your judgments. Making EQ cuts rather than boosts concentrates the phase shifts into frequency regions that you’re reducing rather than increasing in level. so that only settings that really work are likely to sound best when you toggle the EQ on and off. and so won’t matter as much. so any artifacts that appear as a result of the EQ will also be reduced. The human ear is far more tolerant of EQ cut than it is of boost. with some classic EQ designs (and those plugins modelled on vintage EQ units). so if EQ boost makes your overall sound louder. It’s natural to think in terms of boosting frequencies you want more of.Get That Pro Sound . Page | 12 . and whether instruments are ‘acoustically accurate’ barely registers as a concern. it’s a lot easier to handle a peaking boost than trying to implement a similar spectral change using a pair of shelving cuts. but there are other good reasons to restrain yourself to the opposite approach of cutting frequencies you want less of: All of us have a strong tendency to like the louder of any two sounds we’re comparing. However.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation Is It Better To Cut Or Boost? In traditional recording and mixing. and how important it is to you to even have a ‘natural’ sound. or rather biases you against your own ‘in-built’ EQ curve. Sticking to EQ cuts avoids this bias. However. whereas in most electronic and dance music styles you’re after sounds with impact and interest.

The best way to do this is to first mute all channels. Soloing tracks while EQ’ing can be useful for hearing exactly how and where you’re altering the frequency balance. removing an unwanted vocal resonance may need a cut of several decibels. For example. Try to unmute the tracks in order of importance. If each newly added instrument is less important than the previous one. including in the other Ultimate Guides on Reverb and Compression. meanwhile. but with with a fairly narrow bandwidth over a very specific frequency range.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation Having said this. as and when masking conflicts arise. which in modern music will mean starting with some combination of drums. One final tip: Think of EQ cut for solving localised problems. Diminishing Others As we learned when discussing frequency masking. Page | 13 . using a bandwidth narrow enough to achieve the desired effect without unduly altering adjacent frequency ranges. be very careful when you boost to ensure a minimimal amount of degradation to the sound and to reduce the likelihood that you’ll confuse your own perception of the balance. Mix EQ Step 2: Initial Balance. Making quick side-byside comparisons with commercial releases of the same style of music will help you massively in judging the overall blend of instruments and frequencies. then you can be pretty confident about which one needs to be fitted around the other.Get That Pro Sound . then one-by-one unmute each channel as you play back the basic/raw balance of your track. and will save you many hours of trial and error. With all this in mind. these boosting situations are best treated as the exception rather than the rule. The first question to ask yourself is whether a sound would benefit from EQ. but with a much wider bandwidth setting over a broader range of frequencies. Whereas EQ boost should be over wider bandwidths and using as little gain as will suffice. Bringing Out The Characteristics Of Feature Instruments. treat and process your mixes. Generally. bass and Reference Tracks One point which I mention often. there’s little to be gained by making EQ adjustments to a part in isolation. it becomes clear that the best approach to building up your mix balance is to introduce the tracks in order of importance. because you can’t judge the impact of any frequency masking between two instruments unless you listen to them at the same time. adding high-frequency brilliance to a mix needs only about a decibel of boost. but it’s also important that you then validate and refine those EQ decisions within the context of the mix. is the importance of having wellselected reference tracks close-by as you balance. with the solo button on.

First boost the EQ bands Gain by a clearly audible amount. Search And Set The most popular approach to dialling in an EQ setting is quite intuitive: boost. When your answer to either of the questions is no. set the EQ band’s Gain to the desired amount – either cutting the frequency if you don’t like it or finding just the right amount of boost (and bandwidth) if you do. Is this new instrument leaving the balance of the more important tracks (already playing) intact? If the answer is ‘yes’ to both questions. though. Page | 14 . One of the skills of using EQ effectively is knowing when it’s not required. (b) that the ear quickly grows used to changes in the frequency balance of a sound. you want to adjust. The problems with this method are: (a) that if the EQ setting isn’t right then it is wrong and thus needs total reconsideration. Quickly Set Up An EQ: Boost. the EQ gain). As you reintroduce each element back into the mix. you probably don’t need EQ here: move on to the next instrument. it might be time to dial in some EQ to help place the sound into the mix balance. It may not always be appropriate. Can I find a sensible fader level for this new track that allows me to hear all of its frequency regions clearly? 2. At this point it’s also a good idea to mute/unmute the EQ a few times as you listen back to the sound you’ve just processed.Get That Pro Sound . A surprisingly large number of tracks in most productions only require a bit of high-pass filtering (more on this below). perhaps 12dB or more: this will allow you to clearly hear what’s happening at which frequencies in the next step.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation lead instruments. it’s tempting to adjust it very carefully and change the setting in small increments. search. listen carefully and try to answer these two questions: 1. EQ With Boldness When adjusting the amount of EQ to apply (ie. or not the tool for the job. search by sweeping with the Frequency control until you find the part of the sound that Finally. but the next time you want to change the EQ level of a sound. and set. just to check you really are making a positive adjustment: it’s surprisingly easy to loose perspective while you’re sweeping and setting up EQ. Next. Don’t be disheartened if you need to return to the EQ and make further changes – it’s better to resolve it now than to leave it until you’ve built more of your mix balance up on top of it. both in isolation and in the mix context.

Adding EQ adds level. twist it all the way up and all the way down and quickly settle on a new position which will hopefully be just right. for example. lowering the fader will do nothing to solve this. as it’s just as important to reduce these aspects of a sound as it is to enhance the more positive attributes. Every instrument or sound source will have certain bands of frequencies that are stronger and some that are weaker. The sort of critical listening required when you’re EQing and balancing parts tends to numb one’s senses relatively quickly. This is how many mixes end up sounding very harsh and toppy – as your ears and brain get tired. to bring out components of the sound you like. Since the fader comes after the EQ. The human voice. Being aware of. remember to take breaks every now and then. For the instruments and sounds you play or regularly feature in your tracks. Remember that Regular Breaks During mixing sessions. EQing Individual Sounds – Enhancing Or Diminishing Beyond overcoming frequency masking and enhancing mix clarity. regardless of whether it’s male or female. it will pay big dividends to spend some time examining their spectral make-up with an equalizer: Look for the defining characteristics of the instrument and where they appear in the frequency spectrum. you’ll add more and more upper-mids and high frequencies to maintain an apparently ‘well-balanced’ mix.Get That Pro Sound . for example. another natural application of EQ is to enhance a particular part of a sound. is particularly strong around the 3 to 4kHz region. to allow the signal a little more headroom if necessary. and perhaps making some notes on the spectral qualities of your key instruments will save you time in the heat of a recording or mixing session: you’ll know where to look in the frequency spectrum when you want more punch in the snare or more breathiness in the vocal. and it is very easy to boost the signal so much with EQ that you run into clipping and distortion. and can make your ears begin to give you a flase impression of the overall spectral balance.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation grab the control firmly. so each time you adjust the EQ you will have to consider moving the fader to compensate. The answer is to reduce the gain. Warning: EQ Changes Levels One further technical point: changing the EQ of a signal nearly always changes the level. Also look for the less desirable noises that particular instruments. It’s something that will come automatically after a time. but less experienced producers often concentrate more on the change in the sound itself and don’t notice that it has also suddenly become more or less prominent in the mix. Your mix can then sound a lot different the next morning when you’re fresh again! Page | 15 . or which note is being sung.

Now sweep the Frequency control up and down to the limits of its range. Also bear in mind that you can only tailor the sound of an instrument so far without losing its essential character and identity. So. Diminishing Character With EQ The opposite of the enhancement technique is where you lessen the individuality of each instrument and make it more like our hypothetical ‘average’ instrument. It is a common trap to wind up boosting every instrument at around 3kHz to help it cut through at a frequency where the ears are very sensitive (see why this is in the later section on the (Fletcher-Munson Effect). and which you want to reduce. or reduce its individuality and make it more like a hypothetical ‘average’ of this type of instrument. you will either want to exaggerate its individual characteristics and make it more distinctive.Get That Pro Sound . for example.and always compare the changes you’ve made with the original sound to confirm you’ve made a positive difference before moving on. These are the frequencies in which the instrument is rich.it would be extremely tiring and confusing to listen to! Remember to leave some room for contrast. you’re making the clarinet even more clarinet-like. In effect. but watch out when mixing that you are not boosting the same frequencies on each instrument. This won’t make the instrument sound better in isolation. Boosting the instrument’s strong frequencies will enhance its individual characteristics and. by as much as you feel appropriate.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation the strongest present frequencies are not necessarily the ones you want to bring up: you might very well want to enhance a less prominent aspect of the sound. make a clarinet even more dissimilar to an oboe (or any other instrument). but it will help it blend in with the other instruments in the mix. and we wouldn’t really want them to be . When EQing a real instrument. which can often create a more rounded and interesting character to the part. when using EQ at this stage in your mix you’ll be considering which characteristics of the sound you want to accentuate. This will produce a mix that is very tiring to listen to. When you have found the instrument’s strongest frequency band. listening as you go for the frequencies at which the effect of the EQ boost seems strongest and most prominent.the three o’clock position of the knob is usually about right. but then cut these frequencies. bright and full of sparkle all at the same time. not every every instrument can be full. Page | 16 . find the instrument’s strong frequencies with the mid EQ set to boost as before. To do this. deep. Enhancing the sounds of individual instruments in this way is useful. set the amount of boost according to taste . EQing For Character: Walkthrough First set the Gain control to a medium amount of boost .

Another way to find such targeted frequencies is to use a spectrum analyzer plugin inserted across the drum track. In these cases you’re usually just dealing with a single frequency. notches can be particularly handy for simple bass parts where the fundamental frequencies of different notes need evening out. however. and then hunt for the offending frequency by sweeping the filter around in the general area of the frequency spectrum. This where things can get tricky. while doing this. because a fixed frequency notch will inevitably affect different harmonics on different notes. Whether you’re using samples or your own studio recorded drum tracks. Mix EQ Step 3: Fitting Sounds Into A Mix. but to also or instead reduce those already occupying the same frequencies to make space for it. to remove a very particular element of the sound. it’s important not to undo or disrupt any of your previous work by carving out too much or the wrong parts of the established mix so far. so in this next step we’ll look at fitting additional instruments and parts into an already working basic balance.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation Mix Surgery: Notch Filtering Drums Notch filtering is basically applying a very narrow bandwidth/Q and reasonably deep cut at a specific frequency. although you might find you need to attack more than one of the note’s harmonics to achieve the balance you need. One method of finding such drum resonances is to boost heavily with your equaliser bands Q set to it’s narrowest. Any part with a static drone or repeated note within it is also fair game if you want to rebalance the stationary note against any others. For example. Mid And High Adjustments By this stage you’ll hopefully have a good working balance of your key instruments. It’s the same technique we discussed earlier in relation to removing harmonic hum and buzz from tracks with very targeted cuts. and have then balanced these key instruments Page | 17 . as it’s often better not only to EQ the instrument itself. Generally you can do this without affecting the overall tone of the drum at all. which will probably show one or two ‘spikes’ at the appropriate points on it’s graphic display. Nevertheless. there are usually a few dissonant drum resonances that stick out of the mix awkwardly even when everything else appears to be at the right level. so your best bet is to position a super-narrow filter/EQ notch precisely on top of it and just pull the offending resonance down and out of harm’s way. tampering with the levels of individual frequencies doesn’t usually help you when dealing with more melodically pitched parts. If you’ve been clear up to this point about which instruments are the most important and which take precedence over others in the track. Low. Using EQ to carve notches out of sounds where troublesome resonances or undesirable features occur is particularly effective on drums. notching shouldn’t be ruled out if the musical part in question is quite simple and only features a small range of notes. Notch Filtering Pitched Instruments While notch filters are good for dealing with drum resonances.Get That Pro Sound .

and it will tend to overlap with other high-frequency instruments . Spectrally speaking. In the highs. this sort of creative distortion occurs through the addition of some upper harmonic energy. then. find a satisfyingly present midrange boost for the guitar and perform a complementary cut in the mids of the pad. You can expect to apply this strategy in a few critical areas of a typical mix. Mirror image cuts on the other tracks will help ensure all these high frequency instruments are clearly audible in the mix. other distorted sounds! Make distorted sounds fit with the same kind of ‘cut one. The trick is to find a spectral range that highlights the good qualities of the guitar without doing significant damage to the tone of the synth patch. and just serves as a reminder of how important it is to make your EQ adjustments and level balancing in the context of the full mix . This EQ cut on the string pad keeps the sound from competing with or drowning out the acoustic guitar. as almost all instruments have something to say in the mids (see the frequency range chart later for more details on this).between around 500Hz-6kHz . if you want to hear the acoustic guitar while the string pad is sustaining.as a key challenge.in the end. It is very competitive space spectrally. plan to focus on the middle frequencies . the lead guitar has emphasized distortion at around 8kHz. When making cuts to existing balanced instruments in this way. you might notice competition coming not only from obvious high frequency instruments like cymbals and percussion. Page | 18 . Alone. boost the other’ complementary EQ moves we discussed above.Get That Pro Sound . it might sound too thin. this is the only way listeners are going to hear it! For example. Maybe the cymbals get the highs above 10kHz. The acoustic guitar still has the illusion of being a full and rich sound because the bass guitar is playing along. At this stage in the mix. and now there will be spectral room for the low frequencies of the bass because the acoustic guitar no longer competes there. It’ll take some trial and error to get it just right. you’re in the best possible position to move forward with fitting the remaining instruments in between. in the lower range you might be able to pull out a fair amount of low end from an acoustic guitar sound. and the rhythm guitar further below this at 6kHz. it’s also naturally the most difficult place to hear accurately. The mid frequencies are in many ways the most difficult region to EQ. but with the bass guitar playing it will still make sense. providing uncluttered. Moreover. but also from distorted guitar or synth sounds.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation in descending order. but on the path to earning golden mixing ears. For example. but as composite combinations of sounds working together in units or subgroups. We tend to gravitate toward the more obvious low and high frequency ranges when we EQ. This is no cause for panic. full bass for the song – and for the mix. you’re starting to think of your sounds not just individually. you might find that you’re making them sound less good in isolation. or any sound that is processed with creative distortion.not to mention. but you’ll find this approach allows you to layer in several details into a mix.

because you may need one EQ setting to achieve a musical compression sound. then EQ after them. Page | 19 . There’s no rule against EQ’ing at multiple locations in the chain either. it’s not unusual for a frequency imbalance to prevent successful dynamics processing. then try EQ’ing earlier in the chain to see if you can improve things. In the latter case you may need to reassess your dynamics settings in the light of the altered frequency balance. For this reason it makes sense to put EQ last in the chain if you’re already happy with the way the dynamics are operating. However. A cabinet resonance on an electric guitar recording may well cause a single frequency to dominate the timbre only sporadically. because it will act too strongly on the resonant notes. If you compress a recording like this. if you aren’t. but another completely different one to slot the compressed track’s frequency spectrum into the mix balance as a whole. depending on which notes happen to hit the resonance. the compressor won’t be able to even out the subjective level of the part.Get That Pro Sound . Dipping the resonance with a narrowband peaking filter pre-compression would improve this situation.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation In What Order Should I Put EQ and Dynamics Processors? The main issue to consider when ordering EQ and dynamics plug-ins within a track’s processing chain is that your dynamics processors may respond differently if you alter the frequency balance they are fed with. So the general principle is this: if you’re happy with the way your dynamics processors are responding.

there was a much larger disparity between the actual levels of tones of different frequency and the human ears perception of them. the human hearing system finds it 64 times as hard to hear the bass frequencies next to the midrange at low levels. and then dropping the volume right down and listening at a very low level. but the basic principle of the Fletcher-Munson Effect can be stated quite simply: Humans do not hear the low frequencies and the extreme high frequencies as well as the mids at low volumes. for instance. how much bass energy is the correct amount of energy for the mix.Get That Pro Sound . It becomes very difficult to judge. The end listeners will listen to the final product at different volumes depending on where they are. It’s also about 16 times as hard to hear the extreme highs. as it turned out. in comparing the difference in hearing between conversation levels and loud music playback levels. and the overall quality of your mixes: 1. You should endeavor to obtain a mix that sounds the best whether it is played loud. and also whether it’s played in a car. soft or in-between. It sounds potentially abstract or complex. The way to overcome this and be able to truly judge any mix is to listen to it at different volumes. for example. You can experience the Fletcher-Munson Effect right now by listening to any recording loud for a minute or so. you’ll probably find it more difficult to pick out the bassline. into how the ear actually perceives different frequencies. than had been realised until then. Listening Level Partially Determines Perceived Frequency Balance The level at which you listen to the mix makes a huge difference in how the mix sounds. Leaving the volume at one setting while working is pretty-much a guaranteed way to mess up a mix and make something that sounds good one day but bad the next. Another way of expressing the Fletcher-Munson Effect and the fact that the human hearing curve isn’t flat and that we don’t hear extreme highs and lows so well at low volume. in the 1930’s. There are a couple of repercussions of this phenomenon that can have a significant impact on your control. When the mix is played at the lower volume. is to say Page | 20 .The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation Advanced EQ Techniques Creating Impressions Of Loudness And Distance With EQ The Fletcher-Munson Effect The Fletcher Munson Effect is named after the two scientists who did the first research. In fact. what they are doing and how they feel. on headphones or over a huge club soundsystem.

which shows curves of equal loudness on a graph of sound intensity (in dB SPL) against frequency (in Hz). the ‘mid boost’ of the hearing system becomes less. a 1kHz tone at 100dB SPL. will be heard as being subjectively as loud as a 100Hz tone at about 105dB SPL.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation that our hearing is more sensitive to mid-range sounds than to frequencies at the extreme high and low ends of the spectrum. as the level of sound we’re listening to increases. because we’ve heard sounds this way all our lives. and you can see that our ears are noticeably more sensitive to mid-range sounds than to frequencies at the extreme high and low ends of the spectrum (of course we don’t actually notice this because the brain compensates for it). we don’t notice this. However. The lowest points of each red curve on the graph are where the hearing system is most sensitive. for example. Of course.and low-frequency sounds seem proportionally louder. As we can see in the graph above. while a 1kHz tone at 20dB SPL will be heard as being subjectively as loud as a 100Hz tone at about 45dB SPL.Get That Pro Sound . and the result is that high. Page | 21 .

fooling the ear into believing something that isn’t entirely true. EQ Curves That Give The Impression Of Distance Another related psychoacoustic effect which can be manipulated with EQ is the perception of the distance of a sound from the listener. the air naturally dampens highfrequency sounds more than low-frequency ones. Page | 22 . as it’s easy to undo all your hard work with a few inappropriate adjustments at this stage. Therefore. Just remember that it’s often most effective when only treating a selection of the sounds in any given mix in this way. This will help the mix sound loud and powerful regardless of the playback device or volume. if you dial in some EQ to roll off a little high end from a sound. and if you look at the graphic EQs used in a club or PA system. however. we can create the impression of loudness at lower listening levels by attenuating the mid-range and boosting the HF and LF ends of the spectrum. The backing vocals are cut maybe a bit above 10kHz. it seems further away. One key application of this is if we know that extreme high and low frequencies stand out more when we listen to loud music. A Smile-Shaped EQ Curve Gives The Impression Of Loudness Rather than being purely an annoyance to make our listening and mixing more difficult. whilst simultaneously pushing the backing vocals into the near distance behind. In the real world. This technique is often used to bring a lead vocal to the front of a mix. the effect is negligible. but the further a sound has to travel through the air. while the lead vocal is given a slight boost at the same frequency.Get That Pro Sound . the more pronounced is the high-frequency damping effect. In your mix you can build these sort of subtle ‘smile’ EQ curves quite naturally into the fabric of the music with low-level. broad bandwidth/Q EQ adjustments across the entire mid-range of key individual instruments.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation 2. the Fletcher-Munson Effect can also be exploited for our benefit. It’s generally better to leave this kind of adjustment for the mastering stage. you’ll often see them set up with a smile-shaped EQ curve to promote the illusion of loudness and power. The ‘Loudness’ button on some home and car stereos does exactly this. submixed groups of tracks or even the complete mix. If a sound source is very close. to maintain the proper contrast between the different sounds – be very careful whenever making changes to a complete mix.

or some nice weight for the snare drum…’ To help you get into visualizing the frequency spectrum as your amazing blank sonic canvas. this range of frequencies helps bring nice fatness and fullness to a sound or mix. mixing and critical listening in general. Having many sources of sub-bass end up cancelling each other out. what each can bring to the overall sound. individual instruments – the bass or kick – can be boosted below 80 Hz. In dance music. we intuitively know which frequencies to adjust to get any sound we want. here is a breakdown of the key frequency ranges. knowing what each section or even specific frequency can add. Page | 23 . from 80 Hz to 250 Hz. when you think of 250Hz. At first.Get That Pro Sound . you’ll start to automatically equate ‘250Hz’ with ‘possible problem area. as bass frequencies are very susceptible to phase problems. you must listen both loud and soft. This is partly because the fundamental of bass parts usually sits here. Bass Range 80-250Hz Covering about one and a half octaves. The lowest possible pitch of a bass guitar or string bass is around 41Hz. To properly set the amount of low bass in your mix or in your instrument sound. For example. potential muddiness but also body and fullness for vocals. but keep it to just these one or two instruments for clarity rather than mud. But part of the satisfaction of learning about and mastering EQ on your tracks. if your bass drum disappears now and again in the mix. you begin to get very familiar with the entire frequency spectrum. You want the mix or instrument to sound larger and more powerful over large speakers without sounding muddy. it’s probably because another sound is also hitting exactly the same frequency. It’s because of this that adding more bass to multiple things can often lead to a bass loss in your mix. and ideally on large and small speaker systems (see the explanation of the Fletcher-Munson Effect in the Advanced Technique section). Too much energy in this range will make the mix sound muddy on large speakers played loud. it’s just an abstract number. Sub-Bass Range 20-80Hz This region brings the sense of weight and power to the mix. but still sound good on small speakers played at a medium volume. For club music (to be played primarily on a large sound-system) you’ll want to aim for the slightly narrower 4060Hz range for your main sub-bass frequency. from a sound or mix. Rumble below 40Hz can be removed with a high-pass filter for a tight sub-bass sound. and which sounds and instruments can be adjusted in each range for particular effects. or remove.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation Getting To Know The Frequency Spectrum: Your Sonic Canvas As you get more experienced with EQ. This is exactly what we’re aiming for: to know the spectrum so intimately.

Get That Pro Sound . guitars. synths. this means you will need to listen to the mix and instruments at both loud and soft levels. You can gain clarity and between the kick and bass by both reducing the kick and increasing the bass in this range. 100Hz and 200Hz. For example. The fullness of vocals is often determined at around 200Hz. too much energy here makes things boomy.) This range of frequencies is still greatly affected by the Fletcher-Munson Effect. You might also want to add a simultaneous boost at 200Hz to keep the instrument from sounding lumpy. the 100 Hz range can add body and fullness. (The lowest fundamental frequency on a guitar is around 80 Hz. allowing the vocals or lead instrument to cut through and stand out. Key EQ frequencies here are around 800Hz and 1. at the same frequency. synths. shallow cuts across this range will help achieve a generally beneficial ‘scooped mids’ shape to the mix and avoid a ‘honky’ or ‘tinny’ sound.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation Too much in this range can take away from the overall power of a mix. bass and snare drums. piano. reducing at 800Hz on a vocal gives it more body and presence and makes it sound less nasal. Covering about one octave from 250Hz to 500Hz. Too much boost can make higher-frequency instruments sound muffled and give lowfrequency drums like kick and toms a ‘cardboard box’ quality. typical Mid Range instruments like vocals. Lower Mid Range 250-500Hz This could also be considered the Bass Presence Range. Mid Range 500Hz-2kHz The Mid Range of frequencies covers two octaves from around 500Hz to 2kHz. This range is often reduced on overhead drum mics and cymbals to increase clarity and presence on these instruments. For guitars. Within this range. For these reasons. This range can be where the character of many instruments comes across. Boosting between 250-350Hz can increase vocal distinction and fullness. The best strategy to get this balance right often involves EQ around two frequency ‘centres’. On the other hand. but it’s still needed for warmth. if higher-frequency boosts on the vocal have made the sound thin or ‘small’-sounding. this range accents the ambience of the studio in recorded parts and adds clarity to the bass and other lower-string instruments. EQ is most often applied between 300 Hz and 400 Hz. a boost of 200 Hz will restore the missing fullness. Reducing the 100Hz energy on a guitar or synth line will usually bring some distinction between them and the bass part. and again can be reduced to increase the distinction between the vocal and surrounding parts. especially for female singers.5kHz. where some notes stick out or disappear. but it’s not actually especially pleasant-sounding and it’s easy to induce ‘listening fatigue’ and tinniness with too much energy here. but broader. for snare drums a reduction at 800Hz can take the potential tinniness out Page | 24 . strings and percussion are usually reduced rather than accented in this range.

and is also effective on distorted guitars. Guitar lines often get more attack and distinction with EQ in this range. However. boosting at 1kHz can bring out a ‘knocky’ sound in kick drums. and gives the snares more ‘sizzle’ rather than ‘rattle’. Boost around 1. Upper Mid Range 2-4kHz Covering about one octave. A boost at 6kHz can be a good upper point for adding clarity to vocals. It’s the area of a mix which often provides the sense of a polished. their perceived ‘presence’ in the mix.5-2. Increasing 800Hz on a bass sound can bring out it’s ‘punch’. Good levels in this range are what give vocals and other main instruments their sense of sounding closer and more distinct – literally. which can be especially useful for dance music. guitars and some bass sounds. and you can cut here on specific instruments like synths and guitars to dull/soften them to taste (which effectively pushes them further into the background). while a 4kHz boost sounds more like a hard-wood beater. and more attack on lower guitar. quality mix.5kHz to add edge to synths. over-boosting here causes an irritating and harsh sound. This range of frequencies is often reduced on background vocals to give them a more ‘airy’ and ‘transparent’ sound. Increases in this range can also work for accentuating most drums. and the projection of Mid Range instruments. These frequencies can also help to increase the attack sound on toms and snare drums. Increase for more bass ‘pluck’. ‘air’ or ‘brilliance’ and clarity of instruments. even low-frequency ones like the kick – provided there is sound to boost in the given drum sound! Brilliance Range 6-20kHz Covering approximately the upper two useful octaves between 6-20kHz. reductions at around 5kHz can make the mix sound more distant and transparent. A small boost of 1-3 dB to the vocal here will increase projection. EQ can be applied at any frequency in this range but often centres around 3kHz.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation of the drum. Conversely. this band of frequencies is responsible for the sparkle. Key EQ frequency Page | 25 . reduce in this range to soften sounds. synth and piano parts.5-4kHz increases the attack: 2.5kHz sounds more like a soft felt beater. this range of frequencies is responsible for the attack on percussive and rhythm instruments. Adding too much energy in this range makes it hard to distinguish the syllables of the vocal and again can cause listening fatigue.Get That Pro Sound . so be careful! Conversely. cymbals and percussion. similarly. Boosting a kick drum between 2. it’s a really significant band of frequencies. Presence Range 4-6kHz Although this range covers a mere half-octave of 4-6kHz.

Keep carving away until things begin to come together better. if the frequencies are there to start with.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation centres are 7kHz. Boosts at 15kHz can also make sampled synths sound more real. try making a series of cuts in the main frequency range of the principal/lead instruments. as the sibilant ‘S’ sounds in vocals reside at about 7kHz. 1. avoiding accidentally accenting the sibilant S’s in the process. and to bring out high-frequency shimmer and sparkle in pads – again. Simply high-pass filter out the bass element of instruments which are not meant to specifically be ‘bass instruments’. so don’t overdo the sparkle! Cut or filter sounds in the Brilliance Range that don’t need to appear bright. and here EQ can compensate for these imbalances by accenting some frequencies and rolling off others. 21 Bonus EQ Pro Tips The following. to reduce overall noise. Too much energy in the Brilliance Range will sound unnatural.Get That Pro Sound . Be careful though. because the vocal will sound dull very quickly. Many instruments have complex sounds with radiating patterns that make it almost impossible to capture when close miking. it’s amazing how much unwanted junk there is lurking relatively unheard in your individual tracks. shrill and brittle. 2. General vocal sweetening can be achieved with boosts between 6-10kHz. but it bears repeating because it’s pretty simply to do but can have a significant impact on the overall clarity of your mixes. and 15kHz for the sizzle of cymbals. 10 kHz and above is often used as a general ‘brilliance’ range with light EQ boosts. You should also take care in reducing this range to remove sibilance. Remember though that Page | 26 . final section of this guide is dedicated to a range of additional tips. tricks and techniques. 2. EQ When Recording Miking and recording instruments is an art. and EQ can often be used to help you get the sound you’re after at this stage. Boost at 7kHz to bring out the ‘metallic’ attack of drums. Breath sounds on a vocal track are usually found at around 15kHz: a slight boost here can bring a nice bright and breathy quality suitable for some styles. ‘Mix Glue’ EQ If you can’t get your tracks to blend together well in the mix. which nevertheless saps away at your available headroom. High-Pass All Non-Bass Instruments I’ve mentioned this eariler. as well as answers to some common EQ questions. 10kHz and 15kHz.

the ear accepts them as being ‘real’ and a part of the complete sound. the answer might not be to change that sound at all. This is the case so often during the various stages of writing. acoustic guitars and many other instruments can also be greatly enhanced in this way. just because you think you should to get a Pro Sound. In Page | 27 . Boosting high treble on an instrument with little output in that region will do nothing but add hiss. and mixing in general. Just be really clear in your mind of what you’re aiming for when you start cutting holes in other instruments: you don’t want to end up constantly chasing your tail and never actually arriving at a decent blend of sounds and parts that you’re happy with. filtering and controlled distortion) to produce additional high-frequency harmonics designed to augment the existing signal. cymbals. arranging and mixing a track. 5. EQ. High Frequency EQ Treble is often accentuated to increase clarity or to enhance the presence of a vocal or string part that might otherwise be lost in the mix. and should be considered a part of the creative process. Overuse of enhancers will produce harsh or unnaturally abrasive results. Horns.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation the goal is usually to capture the sounds as naturally as possible. but they can often rescue sounds that are not appropriate for EQ to deal with. so it’s never wise to use any processor or effect unless it’s for a specific reason. Don’t EQ! Never insert an EQ into a track that sounds fine. This is where psychoacoustic ‘enhancer’ plugins come in: an enhancer processes the frequencies that are present in the original signal (usually via a combination of compression. but to make space for it by changing the other sounds around it. is knowing when something’s working just fine and to leave it well alone! Apart from that. but sometimes if you’re trying to get a sound to fit better in the mix. 7. 4. Because you can’t ‘boost’ frequencies that aren’t present in the sound to begin with. 6. EQ A mistake often made by newcomers to EQ and mixing is to try to brighten an inherently dull sound by applying large amounts of high-frequency boost. Because the added harmonics are related to the existing signal. so use EQ carefully and don’t overdo it – once a part is recorded with EQ already applied. like many signal processors. this often only increases background noise and grittiness. you can’t undo it later if you want to make adjustments. Part of the art of EQ. EQing A Different Part To Make The Current One Fit Better It’s easy to forget. Brightening Dull Sounds: Enhancers vs. will naturally impart unwanted artifacts to a treated sound on some level. but you must know where the most important characteristic frequencies for the various instruments (known as ‘formants’) lie.Get That Pro Sound .

the differences between each side. the choice of sounds and samples. 8. this is when you might actually reign in the unnecessary high-frequency bandwidth with some high-frequency controlling EQ – done on all the appropriate tracks. the more you enhance the stereo effect. then the image will seem to come from the left. when dealing with such an instrument. 10. away from the listener as well. Reverb is the most obvious tool for this job. mono track to two seperate channels on your mixer. EQ Sweep FX You can use a Parametric EQ to dial in automated sweeps up and down the frequency range for a simple but cool and highly controllable effect. And one way of enhancing the difference between the two channels would be to EQ them differently. you not only have the option to pan things into their horizontal position. For example. and the musical arrangement instead. it might be time to go back and readdress the original recordings. Overuse Of EQ Leads To Brittle Mixes If you over-rely on EQ to achieve the sound that you want. Set up a pretty sharp and narrow mid-range boost. it’s image less precise. Consider EQ differences between left and right that are more elaborate and involve several different sets of cuts and boosts so that neither side is exactly brighter than the other. In these cases the image will widen without shifting one way or the other. set your DAW to record your realtime adjustments as automation. and then as the track plays back. more liquid and much more interesting. brighter side (remember. Stereo EQ A stereo sound is essentially created by sending different but related signals to each channel (left and right).Get That Pro Sound . A classic technique for introducing more or less subtle movement and evolving interest to synths and pads in electronic music. If you find yourself using a lot of EQ of every instrument. as fast and across as wide a frequency range as sounds best. however subtly. but you can also achieve the illusion of distance by removing some of the high-frequency content of a sound. Page | 28 . Make Space And Add Distance – Remove Some High-End In composing the stereo or surround image of your mix. 11. but you can push them back into the distance. distance removes high frequencies). sweep the frequency knob up and down.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation fact. you might end up with a mix that sounds cheap. this can make a substantial improvement in the overall signal-to-noise ratio of the mix. EQ each of them slightly differently: if the signal on the left is made brighter than the same signal sent right. just different. A mono sound source suddenly becomes more unusual. and the more you emphasize. unnatural and generally gives people a headache. start by duplicating a single. 9.

Drums are one instrument that can be effectively lifted and cleaned up simply by rolling off the bass. which gives way to more harmonic tones. something is still not right. Page | 29 . Clarity of many instruments can be improved by boosting their harmonics. This can be done in a similar way to how we might EQ out hum and buzz harmonics (except this time we’re boosting): we set up an array of very narrow peaking filters to boost the fundamental and harmonics of the ‘drum note’.sometimes much less. and if you boost the low frequencies too much then the overall level the speaker can achieve without significant distortion is less -. the ear in many cases actually fills in hard-to-hear fundamental notes of sounds. EQing Harmonics vs.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation 12. Often the real culprit here is one or more unpleasant resonances. 15. Finding and eliminating these mid-range resonances with surgical EQ will often improve the sound and minimize a need to boost highs and/or lows. or just by the fact that the instrument itself is out of adjustment or poor quality. Fundamental Frequencies You don’t always have to EQ the fundamental frequency of an instrument to get the adjustments you want in a mix. but you can also use EQ to emphasize the pitched elements in the drums and percussive instruments: some producers find that this can lend these sounds greater punch. you have to consider what other listeners like and what systems they may be playing the recording on. 13. It’s a matter of compromise: the more bass you add. any small or medium size loudspeaker will produce much more sound at mid frequencies than at low. Physical resonances of instruments usually fall between about 100 Hz and 1 or 2 KHz. This also applies to other frequencies in the mixing console itself. you would boost higher frequencies for clarity or presence (the mid-range can affect this too). and bass for fullness or punch. 14.Get That Pro Sound . you can not only transpose them to work harmonically with the other tuned instruments in your tracks. But sometimes it seems that no matter how much top or bottom you add. caused either by microphone characteristics or placement when recording. Seasoning To Taste: Making Things Sound ‘Better’ Generally speaking. In fact. EQing Drums For Power When we consider that drums have a pitch. the lower the overall level can be. but if you are serious about your recording then you will realise that it isn’t just yourself you have to please. provided the harmonics are clear. Why Simply EQing In More Bass Doesn’t Lead To More ‘Powerful’ Mixes Anyone can grab the low frequency knob and wind up the bass to the maximum. so sweeping this frequency range is a good starting point. There is also a good technical reason why you should think before adding a lot of bass: for a given level of input.

but you might want to compensate for this if your vocalist doesn’t need the help. so try and EQ these parts to emphasise different spaces in the spectrum – 2-3kHz is a good place to start. airy voice. So if you want a richer vocal tone. EQ And Panning Stereo mixing can confuse matters slightly when it comes to applying EQ. with a slight cut in the midrange along with slight boosts to the bass and treble frequencies. There are still plenty of environments where playback systems work pretty much in mono. to each one of these elements independently for the most effective sound-shaping. manipulate the vowel range. booming voice you may find yourself cutting the bass and boosting the mids and highs more than with a vocalist with a lighter. 18. every voice is different. Watch out for overly sibilant ‘S’ sounds. with it’s own tonal characteristics: if your singer has a deep. With a kick drum.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation 16. hats and cymbals. Kick Drum The punch component of powerful kick drums lies between about 80 and 100Hz. it can be a good idea to check the tonal balance of your track in mono as well as in stereo. Try starting with cuts in the ‘warm’ Page | 30 . or something similar. as required. The same transient/tail strategy can be applied to any drum. EQing Drums As with the vocal vowels and consonants. and in such cases your mix will lose the benefit of any panning separation and appear cluttered: to take these situations into account. For more intelligibility – clarity to the words and phrasing – manipulate the consonant range. try thinking of drums as being made up of two components. but don’t be afraid to emphasize some of the human expressiveness represented by the singer taking breathes before lines and words. To make space for the fundamental tones of the bass. while the consonants occur further up at about 2 kHz. who might need some boost in the low and mid areas. Many vocal mics can have a slight midrange bias. because panning. the initial transient attack and the body or tail of each hit. you have the click of the beater hitting the drum – this might actually be all the way up in the 3kHz range – followed by the low frequency pulse of the drum itself resonating at around 60Hz. can create a certain amount of separation between sounds that can be deceiving. percussion. you might want to remove some key frequencies from the kick – quite literally making holes for the bass to sit in. 17. EQing Vocals Clearly. The vowels reside at lower mid frequencies (200Hz-1kHz). One trick for effective vocal EQ is to think of the vocal line as a series of sustained vowels and transient consonants. Make your EQ adjustments. Boost the vocal here and cut them in the guitar. toms. including the snare. You very often get frequency masking issues between vocals and guitars.Get That Pro Sound . like EQ. so that you don’t get caught out.

To brighten up high hats. High Hat & Cymbals High hats have very little useful low end information. If you have trouble EQing your kick and bass together.Get That Pro Sound . If the snare sounds small and ‘boxy’. the ringing overtones of crash and ride cymbals can be brought up in the 1-6kHz range – be careful around the 1kHz range not to add too much though. so a high pass at 200Hz can clean up a lot of unusable mud here. Along with any cuts. try rolling off some energy in the 800Hz-1. Drum Overhead / Ambience Mics Ambience/room mics can really help define the overall sound and ‘colour’/character of a tracks drums.2kHz range. say below 150Hz. The mid tones are the most important for defining the overall character of a high hat. A small boost just above 100Hz can bring some fullness to larger/floor toms.5kHz. particularly between 600-800Hz. and possibly some tighter Q cuts at around 160Hz. Toms When EQing toms we’re generally thinking of providing colour rather than power. These mics can be rolled off completely below 150Hz so you don’t get any phase Page | 31 . For a huge-sounding. The sizzle of cymbals can be emphasized in the 8-12kHz range. try transposing the kick around until you get it hitting at the same pitch as the bass – this can solve a lot of subsonic issues. The ringing / resonances of a snare drum reside between about 2-4kHz. like most drums. so a few cuts might be all that are needed. and can be completely high-pass filtered below 100Hz so as not to interfere with kick and bass. has its own pitch. a cut at the magic 5kHz frequency can push it back a little – apply a small boost at 10kHz to brighten it back up.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation 200-400Hz range. look to emphasize the sound at around 250Hz. fat and punchy Dubstep or D&B snare. It’s also worth remembering that the kick. kick drums usually need some subtle mid and/or high EQ boosts – try 2. It can be beneficial to high-pass filter and low end out of snares. Snare Drum Most snare drum sounds are naturally very ‘present’ to start with. and the crispness of the drum’s attack tends to be more in the 4-8kHz range. The clunk of a stick-hit on a ride cymbal or hat can be emphasized at around 300Hz. A high pass filter at 50Hz will also help tighten up the kick. If the snare seems to be poking out of the mix too much. along with removing inaudible sub-bass components that can fool a kick compressor into responding to the wrong frequencies. try a shelving filter at 12.5-6kHz – to emphasize the click/transient and enable them to cut through clearly on smaller speakers.3kHz. Most toms will benefit from a cut somewhere between 300-800Hz to remove excessive ‘boom’. 800Hz and 1.

EQing Bass Instruments: Boost. 19. On the other hand.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation or masking issues with the bass and kick drum tracks. as pronounced resonances are characteristic of both these types of sounds. and they usually benefit from a cut at around 400Hz as well. The extra advantage of using more of the higher frequencies to help define the bass parts is that they will come through much better on small speaker systems. Even if EQ places heavy emphasis on a particular frequency range.5kHz with a shelving filter can provide some air. However. The same principle applies to kick drums – just make sure you’re highlighting different higher frequencies for the different bass parts. one big misconception is that all the important EQ adjustments for bass instruments are at the low end. But Not Where You Think… Bass instruments can be especially tricky to EQ for small-studio producers. The trick here is to bring out some of the higher-frequency components of the bass sound with EQ. Unnatural EQ A quick tip here is that electric guitars and synthesizers usually cope pretty well with being shaped to fit in with the mix in this way.Get That Pro Sound . Page | 32 . You don’t need to be shy here either: it can be surprising just how much top end you need/can get away with to make the bass cut through in a busy mix. Cuts at 800Hz can bring more focus to the ambience. You should especially look to build up a library of digital and analogue (or analogue-modelled/vintage style) EQs because each type suits slightly different applications. 20. and a small boost at 12. meaing that you can make large gain adjustments to particular frequencies much less noticeably. because they have no inherently ‘natural’ sound of their own. and you’ll often find that different models respond quite differently to the same signal. All equalisers sound subtly different even with the same nominal settings. Try Out Different EQ Plugins For Character And Transparency It’s worthwhile experimenting with different EQ types and plugins on various material. resulting in significant tonal changes that can add character and an extra degree of ‘musicality’ to treated sounds. The most highly-regarded analogue EQs induce musically useful phase changes in the audio passing through them. You will often find that your bass part will sound perfectly bright when solo’d. who don’t generally have large enough speakers to hear all of what’s going on at a sub-bass level. 21. straighter ‘digital’ EQs can be designed to leave phase relationships almost unchanged. but once it’s slotted into the mix it all but disappears beneath the other instruments. it may not be a problem. Natural vs.

I hope it serves you well in this regard .Get That Pro Sound . Best of luck. but after that you’ll probably get the most benefit from the text by using it as a quick-reference resource as you develop your abilities. There’s a lot of information packed into this guide.The Ultimate Guide to Equalisation Conclusion Throughout this guide we’ve covered everything you’ll need to quickly get EQ working for your mixes in the most effective and efficient ways possible. to plotting and implementing a comprehensive EQ strategy for a full and busy mix. so don’t expect to necessarily digest it all immediately after the first reading: it will take practice and experience as well as technical knowledge to really master EQ. If you haven’t already. you should check out the other guides in the same series: The Ultimate Guide to Compression The Ultimate Guide to Reverb Page | 33 . From examining and effectively configuring EQ parameters for a number of mixing tasks. By all means read or at least skim the guide cover-to-cover first to get an overall view of what’s covered. put things into practice.let me know how you get on with it at george@getthatprosound. to some more advanced tricks and techniques for creating space. That’s what it’s all about.com. and see how it all works in the context of your own music. experiement with what is discussed. character and power in your productions. print this guide out and put it in front of you while you work on your music (or alternatively have it open in a window next to your DAW): this way you can refer to it as you work through the techniques. this guide is designed to give you the tools and techniques to make an immediate and lasting improvement in the quality of your productions. George Robinson Get That Pro Sound If you found this guide helpful. Ultimately.