Har-Bal Tutorials

Har-Bal is the software that introduces the concept of Harmonic Balancing and the means of achieving it. In this section we introduce the software and the process of Harmonic Balancing as implemented through Har-Bal. For an introduction to the concept, its origins and its benefits over other mastering processes see Harmonic Balancing. Those already familiar with this introductory tutorial and are interested in exploring the fullest potential of Har-Bal should continue on to the Advanced Tutorial for a brief discussion on a different but sonically pleasing approach to equalisation.

Har-Bal Layout
The essential elements of the Har-Bal environment are shown below:

1.

Status and time display
This display shows the live time in seconds of the track being previewed and also display the current state of Har-Bal (Ready, Playback, Record)

2.

EQ Filter related toolbar buttons
These toolbar buttons allow you to open, save and create new EQ filters for the track being harmonically balanced.

3.

Reference related toolbar buttons
These toolbar buttons allow you to open, close a reference track or reference track analysis and swap a playable reference with the current track being harmonically balanced.

4.

Filter design undo/redo toolbar buttons
These toolbar buttons allow you to undo and redo EQ filter design changes made using the gain cursor.

5.

Playback/Record control related toolbar buttons
These toolbar buttons allow you to playback and/or record the current track with or without the EQ filter inline.

6.

HB Air, Filter and reference control toolbar buttons
These toolbar buttons allow you to switch HB Air in and out, switch the EQ filter in and out and switch the reference track in and out of playback.

7.

IntuitQ toolbar buttons
These toolbar buttons allow you to utilised the IntuitQ algorithms to optimise the spectrum content of your track.

8. 9.

Spectrum display control toolbar buttons
These toolbar buttons let you control the spectrum display and design the EQ filter.

Average power figure of merit indicator
This indicator displays the un-weighted average power figure of merit for the current track. This figure is relative to the power of a full-scale sine wave.

10.

Peak power figure of merit indicator
This indicator displays the un-weighted aggregate peak power spectrum figure of merit for the current track.

11.

Volume control slider
The volume control slider can be used to change the playback monitoring level. This has no effect on recorded levels.

12.

Limiter Gain control slider
This limiter gain control slider allows you to apply a gain to the playback and/or recording of the current and/or reference track. This is typically used for normalising tracks. This gain is on the input side of the integrated Har-Bal limiter, which limits the final output to – 0.1dB relative to full scale.

13.

HB Air control slider
This HB Air control slider allows you to apply the HB Air stereo width effect to the recorded and played back tracks. This is typically used when your track lacks a sense of space. Note that it has no effect on mono tracks.

14.

Tips popup
The tips popup gives spectrum context sensitive clues to designing appropriate equalisation filters.

15.

Spectrum display
The spectrum display shows a graphical representation of the overall energy content of the current and/or reference track. The spectrum display shows the average spectrum, the peak spectrum and the geometric mean of the two. We make use of the spectrum display and the gain cursor to design EQ Filter.

16.

Status bar message area
This region of the status bar is used to report context sensitive help on menu items and toolbar buttons as well as general data values from the graphical display.

17.

Cursor focus indicator
This indicator informs you which spectrum trace is being edited when using the parameteric and shelving cursors.

18.

Limiter gain reduction meter
The limiter gain reduction meter gives a graphical indication of the amount of gain reduction being applied during playback by the limiter. The meter is a log scale meter (linear in dB) with full-scale corresponding to –15dB.

19.

View control buttons
The view control buttons can be used to change the visibility of various aspects of the spectrum display.

20.

Cue slider control
This slider control allows you to cue the current and/or reference track to a particular location.

Where to Start?
Har-Bal does its magic on sound files only, so a good place to start is with collecting the source material to harmonically balance. For a list of supported file types consult the Open Command topic. One notable exception from the list is the mp3 format. Due to the licensing arrangements required for the mp3 format we currently have no intention of supporting mp3. It is also worthwhile noting that mp3 is generally not a good format to use for source material that has yet to be harmonically balanced and with good reason. The mp3 format uses lossy compression built around perceptual encoding of the recorded sound. What that means is that if the model believes that you cannot hear a particular part of the spectrum in a recording (because it is masked by an adjacent sound) then it will drop it altogether. This is fine if the recording is already harmonically balanced but if you have a poorly balanced recording and harmonically balance it, normally, much of what is masked becomes readily audible and hence, the improvement in clarity obtained using harmonic balancing. But if you have encoded the source using mp3 before equalisation the mp3 encoder may drop a significant proportion of content that can never be recovered, with or without harmonic balancing. For that reason we only recommend using mp3 post harmonic balancing. Ideally the source material should be arranged such that each track is in a different file. You could, if you wish, perform harmonic balancing on a single file corresponding to and entire album but the outcomes that you will end up with is likely to be less than optimal. This is due to each track in a compilation having its own specific characteristics, which become lost in the other tracks if lumped together. Given a set of tracks that you wish to master we are now ready to start. The first thing to do is to open one of your tracks using the Open Command. The first time you do this on any given track Har-Bal will proceed to analyse the spectrum content. This may take some time depending upon the length of the track and the speed of your computer but once done the result is saved to disk for re-use. If you then re-open the same track, provided it has not been modified in any way, Har-Bal will open it immediately by reading the analysis file of the track and using it to initialise the spectrum display. Alternatively, if you have a compilation of many tracks that you are going to work on you can

Note that we do not condone illegal pirating of copyright protected recorded material in any way. Make note. This is the first time I have opened this track so the analysis progress dialog pops up as shown below. For the sake of this tutorial I shall be demonstrating Harmonic Balancing of a CD compilation using the CD Face Value by Phil Collins (Atlantic 16029-2 © 1981). . The reason for this choice is that the first track we master will become a reference for the remaining tracks. We have a legitimate copy of this CD and are re-mastering it for demonstration purposes only. we have included the analysis files for all of the tracks of this album. Using the Open Command I will open the track 9 (Thunder and Lightning) as the first track as it has a full spectrum and a quite good balance. You can find them in the folder c:\program files\har-bal\tutorial (change the path shown here to coincide with the location that you installed har-bal in).pre-analyze those tracks in the background while you work on another file in Har-Bal by using the File | Batch Analysis menu command. When the analysis runs to completion the spectrum display shows the following result. If you were to chose a slow song it won’t fill the entire spectrum and then you will have some difficulty drawing inferences from your reference if you were to then open a busy track. After doing so pick the track from the compilation that has a broad spectrum (typically tracks with the most instruments and instruments that are played loudly) but also the best sound quality. Beginning a Session Assuming that you are mastering new material or re-mastering old material then the first thing you should do is thoroughly listen to the compilation of tracks to build a mental picture of the sound the producers are trying to achieve. of anything that concerns you. mental or otherwise. For the purpose of following this tutorial in the case where you do not have access to the actual recorded material.

We could set about evening the spectrum out using manual adjustment but with the advent of intuitQ there is a better way.7kHz as illustrated below. and do this. the lower trace is the average energy content of the track at different frequencies and the top trace is the peak energy content of the track. .The spectrum display has three traces. Select this tool. Track 9: Thunder and Lightning Looking at the spectrum we see that it extends from around 50Hz to 10kHz with a subdued midrange and a prominence at 5kHz. We start by selecting the intuitQ cursor and then applying it to the frequency range from 59Hz to 9.

In following this step you will note that intuitQ has significantly smoothed the spectrum by cutting the output at the low frequency end. Doing so will allow you to duplicate the steps although you will not be able to play the tracks. however. We suggest that to obtain a clearer picture of the process that you follow and reproduce all of the steps in this mastering process by loading the corresponding analysis file in the folder c:\program files\har-bal\tutorial. On listening to the result the bass still appears to be masking the mid range somewhat. . As many people who download this software are still on dial up connections we want to maintain a small install size. it is worthwhile checking that the analysis results you get are the same that I did. To do so you need the original source material. which should be easy enough to find.3 as illustrated. As far as I am aware this album has not been re-mastered and re-released so I don’t believe this is an issue.7dB with a Q of 5. cutting the highs around 5kHz and adding some boost around 10kHz. By selecting the gain cursor we apply a cut of about 1. Just keep in mind that for this discussion to be valid it needs to be the original CD master. Select this tool.Note that the illustration above has been cut down in size to keep the help file size small. Looking at the spectrum we note a still quite strong peak at around 116Hz. boosting the mid range. and do this.

Again listening to the result I find the bass still lacking tightness so we use the low shelving cursor to tame it by shelving at 296Hz in the manner illustrated. Select this tool. and do this. .

.Further listening shows that the bass is now under control but the track now sounds too bright. and do this. Select this tool. To tame the brightness we select the high shelving tool and shelve from 1kHz upwards in the manner illustrated.

our first step is to select the intuitQ cursor and apply it to the dominant range of the track spectrum.Now the track sounds like music to my ears as far as the tonality is concerned but the overall level of the recording is quite low (at –17. To make it more consistent with current recordings we can use the gain slider to increase the mastered level. For these reasons I settled on a gain setting of +4dB. if we consider that this compilation contains quite a few rather dynamic tracks (In the Air Tonight is particularly so) it is wise to take a conservative approach so that the more dynamic tracks don’t end up over limited when matching the loudness. Having made the necessary EQ changes and level changes you could also perhaps use the Air slider to add extra space although in this case I found none of the tracks required it so have avoided using any Air. Select this tool. If following the tutorial in Har-Bal you should open the file 1. record the result and open this track and the corresponding filter as a reference for the remaining tracks to be processed. Track 1: In the Air Tonight Now we move on to track 1 (In the Air Tonight). Furthermore.66dB average power). Having designed our equalisation we now save the filter file. . By doing so we can obtain a good level without loss of dynamics. As before. My preference in this process is to increase the gain slider until the limiting meter just lights.anl (or if you have the tracks handy open it instead). and do this. which extends from 65Hz to 9kHz.

Select this tool. and do this. In such cases this problem is easily mitigated with excellent results by applying the intuitNull cursor to the frequency ranges in which the spectrum holes are found. This has the effect of undoing intuitQ for that specific frequency range.07kHz.On listening the result the clarity is significantly improved though there is a hint of low frequency masking and the upper mid range is over-emphasised around 2kHz. So. Both these issues arise out of side effects from using intuitQ with tracks in which spectrum holes exist. . our next step is to select the intuitNull cursor and apply it from 106 to 129Hz and also from 1.07kHz to 3.

.and this.

We can do this easily using the match loudness cursor. and do this.The track equalisation is complete but the loudness does not match well with the newly mastered level of the reference track. Assuming that the original was well match this turns out to be a good result and it is certainly confirmed through listening. The reason for this arises from the fact that the instrumentation of the two tracks is vastly different and this difference is not taken into account by the normal loudness matching algorithm. if we apply the match loudness algorithm so that it attempts to match only over the loudest part of the track spectrum then the results are very good. In this case the spectrum plateau extends from 68Hz to 619Hz and applying match loudness to that range results in a gain of 4. Select this tool. However. Thunder and Lightning.2dB. . We could use the normal match loudness function in Har-Bal but if you were to do so you would find that the results are far from good.

anl. and do this. Once again our first step is to examine spectrum to determine the dominant range and then apply intuitQ to it. which from inspection appears to be from 55Hz to 8kHz. This Must Be Love. Select this tool. We apply the intuitQ cursor to this range. . record the EQ’d version and move on to track 2. Open the file 2.Track 2: This Must be Love Now we have completed the design process for track 1 so we save the filter file.

By also treating those regions we can increase the tightness and clarity of the lower mid range. These edits are illustrated below. To restore the warmth we select the intuitNull cursor and apply it to the frequency range from 960Hz to 3. Similarly there is a natural absence of much sound around 170Hz and 130Hz.As this track is a gentle one with few instruments you will note that intuitQ will have overemphasised the upper mid-range between 1kHz and 4kHz. Select this tool.7kHz. and do this. which has been over-emphasised by intuitQ. This overemphasis if left untreated will result in a slightly metallic and hard sound rather than a warm sound that far better suits this track. .

and this. .

which is once again close to the reference gain increase of 4dB. and do this. . With the track equalisation complete we finish off with loudness matching.and this. resulting in a gain of 4. It would appear that loudness matching is largely agreeing with the level matching in the original master.3dB. We select the match loudness cursor and apply it to the frequency range from 58Hz to 600Hz. Select this tool.

Select this tool. and do this. being more upbeat. write the EQ’d track and move onto track 3.Track 3: Behind the Lines Now we save the filter design.anl. Behind the Lines. . This track. Open the file 3. shows a much fuller spectrum. Once again we start with intuitQ and apply it to the frequency range from 47Hz to 10kHz.

This is easy enough to achieve through applying the edit and then using undo and redo while listening.9kHz to 3. Select this tool. If there are a few peaks that are much larger than the rest that should arouse your suspicion.3kHz. We apply intuitNull to both of these as illustrated. One around 570Hz and the other is the region from 1. immediately after processing with intuitQ we look at the result to see if intuitQ has overemphasised naturally weak parts of the spectrum. and do this. To some extent it becomes quite easy to guess which areas those are but I would generally recommend that you validate those decisions through critical listening. Using these techniques I identified two areas of concern. Another good strategy is to switch to frequency response view and look at the peaks in the response. .Once again. Doing so should make it readily apparent if you are on the right track.

It is clear from both critical listening and visual inspection that the overall tonal balance of this track is .and this.

and do this. Select this tool. Select this tool.markedly different from our reference. We attack this issue with the low shelving cursor by applying it to frequencies below 630Hz in the manner shown. We attack this issue with the high shelving cursor by applying it to the frequencies above 870Hz in the manner shown. The bass is overly prominent. . Now as a consequence the track sounds too bright (the brightness was necessary previously to combat the masking provided by the prominent bass). and do this.

However. Select this tool. and do this. This edit is illustrated below. On playing back the track and toggling the EQ in and out it is clear the track has much better definition and punch than the original mastering.At this point we partake in further critical listening. . To combat this I chose to apply a small amount of parameteric EQ to the mid-range around 1kHz. the original has a warmer mid range. my ears note a rather overbearing stridency in the lead vocal. In particular.

Further listening post edit confirms the edit as a good one and the equalisation job is complete for this track. Once again we now match the levels by selecting the match loudness cursor and apply it to the frequency range from 58Hz to 13.6kHz. This results in a gain of 3.2dB. After doing loudness matching it is worthwhile playing the track and toggling the reference button to verify the compatibility of the track level with the reference and making fine scale adjustments if need be. Listening confirmed the compatibility and I made no further adjustments. Select this tool,

and do this,

Track 4: The Roof is Leaking
Now we save the filter design, write the EQ’d track and move onto track 4, The Roof is Leaking. Open the file 4.anl. This track is an acoustic one with a subdued bottom end and a nasal sounding vocal. Yet again we begin with intuitQ. In this case we apply it to the range from 78Hz to 7.5kHz. Select this tool,

and do this,

Again, after applying intuitQ we look for areas of over emphasis and confirm them through critical listening. I identified and applied intuitNull to the frequency ranges 1.3kHz to 3.3kHz, 450Hz to 540Hz and 108Hz to 145Hz as shown. Select this tool,

and do this,

and this. .

.and this.

and do this. Select this tool.On listening I find the result somewhat pleasing although the absence of lower harmonics in both the vocal and the electric piano does not sit well with the other tracks. To maintain a better tonal consistency we go about restoring some bass with the low shelving cursor. . and this. We apply a boost to frequencies below 470Hz and a subsequent cut for frequencies below 80Hz to maintain clarity and avoid excessive subsonic amplification.

Track 5: Droned Now we save the filter design. Starting with intuitQ we apply it to the frequency range from 76Hz to 7. Be that as it may. Open the file 5. Select this tool. it is time to match the loudness to the reference.3kHz. In this case we apply the match loudness cursor to the frequency range from 560Hz to 1. in my honest opinion.9dB. still holds true to what the producers were trying to achieve. write the EQ’d track and move onto track 5.8kHz. Droned. the track. It is essentially the same recording but with a little added clarity.anl. and do this. I would argue that the nominally extra 2dB over the original master is compensation for the spectrum modification to the bottom end. This figure is seemingly large in comparison to the original master but listening tests confirm it to be a good choice. . This results in a gain of 5.Listening to the equalisation changes made demonstrates a much fuller sound with a complete lack of mid range stridency which was evident in the original mix. Once again.

and do this.6kHz. Select this tool. . We identify and apply intuitNull to the following frequency ranges: 1.Again.6kHz to 2. 70Hz to 138Hz and 460Hz to 579Hz. we look for overemphasised regions.

.and this.

and this. .

It’s not ideal but it is better than being led up the garden path by poor room acoustics. This results in a gain of 3. certainly worthwhile. Critical listening tests demonstrate the appropriateness of both the equalisation and the level matching. On all accounts the . Step 4 : Use the match loudness cursor to match the track volume with your reference. write the EQ’d track and move onto track 6.4dB. Step 3 : Make any further tonal changes to the track as required using the shelving and parametric cursors. though I suspect many will be put off by the challenges posed and most can’t afford to hire a good acoustic consultant.81kHz. listen to your changes as you make them to confirm that you are doing the right thing and if you don’t have a listening environment you can trust then use headphones. This is becoming rather tedious isn’t it? You are getting the picture now aren’t you? The process is simple but effective: Step 1 : Apply the intuitQ cursor to the dominant spectrum range Step 2 : Identify any overemphasised parts of the spectrum and counter them with intuitNull cursor. only appropriate acoustic treatment. Finding out what is appropriate is challenging and time consuming. The complete edit list for the album is shown below and the filter files that I created can be found in the same folder as the sample analysis files (c:\program files\har-bal\tutorial). Hand in Hand. No amount of electronic trickery will fix poor acoustics.Then we perform loudness matching by applying the match loudness cursor to the frequency range from 133Hz to 1. Effective Har-Bal Usage : The Remaining Tracks Now we save the filter design. And above all.

You certainly can achieve equal results with conventional approaches but I very much doubt that you can in the same time frame.5Hz to 11. Q = 0.5kHz to 3.5kHz IntuitNull applied from 483Hz to 599Hz IntuitNull applied from 2kHz to 3.end result far exceeded my expectations and I believe the re-mastering is comparable to anything available from professional mastering houses.5dB @ 10kHz) Match Loudness applied from 58Hz to 11kHz Track 7 : I Missed Again IntuitQ applied from 47Hz to 10kHz IntuitNull applied from 2.9kHz (~ +0. gain = -0.3kHz Low Shelving cut applied to frequencies below 588Hz (~ -2dB @ 100Hz) Parametric cut applied to 1.4kHz IntuitNull applied from 1.1kHz (~ -2dB @ 10kHz) High Shelving boost applied to frequencies above 6.1kHz to 3.7kHz (~ +1dB @ 10kHz) Match Loudness applied from 57Hz to 11kHz Track 8 : You Know What I Mean IntuitQ applied from 58Hz to 9. The interesting point here is that I remastered the entire album in no more that 2 hours through my old Sennheiser HD450 headphones with dodgy ear pads (home made as the originals disintegrated and as a consequence they don’t sound exactly the way they should) and the effects of a cold.4kHz to 3.2kHz IntuitNull applied from 508Hz to 672Hz . Track 6 : Hand in Hand IntuitQ applied from 40.95.7dB High Shelving cut applied to frequencies above 1.24kHz Track 10 : I’m Not Moving IntuitQ applied from 54Hz to 9kHz IntuitNull applied from 1.2kHz.3kHz IntuitNull applied from 121Hz to 165Hz IntuitNull applied from 56Hz to 80Hz Low Shelving boost applied to frequencies below 348Hz (~ +3dB @ 50Hz) Low Shelving cut applied to frequencies below 48Hz (~ -10dB @ 20Hz) Match Loudness applied from 174Hz to 1. Imagine the response if you said to a high-end professional mastering engineer that you want this re-mastered in 2 hours? Do you think that he/she could deliver something as good? They probably wouldn’t even consider taking on the job.3kHz Low Shelving cut applied to frequencies below 215Hz (~ -2dB @ 50Hz) High Shelving boost applied to frequencies above 4.

5dB Parametric cut applied to 130Hz. Q = 15. IntuitQ is a smoothing algorithm that smooths the spectrum in the frequency range you choose with a penalty constraint on curvature.16kHz Track 11 : If Leaving Me Is Easy IntuitQ applied from 56Hz to 9kHz IntuitNull applied from 1. The arguments you hear from mastering engineers in this respect are absolutely correct.3kHz IntuitNull applied from 1.41kHz Why Does intuitQ Work as Well as it Does? If you mentioned something like this to a professional mastering engineer they’d most likely tell you it can’t work.75kHz (~ +0. Simply put.2dB @ 10kHz) Match Loudness applied from 49Hz to 4. gain = -2. Put plainly.1kHz to 3. Let say it again. If you wish to refer to IntuitQ as spectrum matching then you would say that it is a self-referential process but in truth it isn’t even that.6Hz. If they were talking about spectrum matching there argument is absolutely correct but where in the preceeding example did we use spectrum matching? We didn’t! I don’t recommend it. that means that it attempts to come up with a spectrum shape that overlays the original spectrum but has fewest sharp bends. gain = -2. even though Har-Bal has the intuitMatch function capable doing just that.46kHz (~ -1dB @ 10kHz) Match Loudness applied from 61Hz to 1.4kHz to 3.8kHz IntuitNull applied from 121Hz to 145Hz IntuitNull applied from 226Hz to 290Hz Parametric cut applied to 103Hz.7dB High Shelving cut applied to frequencies above 836Hz (~ -1dB @ 10kHz) High Shelving boost applied to frequencies above 6.1kHz to 1. matching only works well in very specific cases. Q = 15. I don’t recommend spectrum matching and nowhere in my recommended use of the product in the preceeding re-mastering. it will compromise your recordings and you’ll never obtain as good results as they could through listening and considered EQ adjustment through their high end gear.8dB Match Loudness applied from 65Hz to 970kHz Track 12 : Tomorrow Never Knows IntuitQ applied from 48Hz to 8kHz IntuitNull applied from 2. did I do so. Q = 15. It is not something you should do as a matter of course.9kHz IntuitNull applied from 140Hz to 165Hz IntuitNull applied from 71Hz to 93Hz Parametric cut applied to 64. or anywhere else for that matter. Q = 3.1dB Parametric boost applied to 71Hz.IntuitNull applied from 56Hz to 80Hz Low Shelving cut applied to frequencies below 483Hz (~ -5dB @ 40Hz) High Shelving cut applied to frequencies above 1. gain = -4. . gain = 2.

In fact. will have some degree of biasing. either partially or fully. It is an interesting exercise applying intuitQ to a well mastered track. Often the resulting changes intuitQ makes is small and inaudible indicating the validity of the algorithm. efficient and effective means of performing equalisation. All studios.What is the significance of that? Masking! If you have a sharp transition in the spectrum then it is indicative of an instrument occupying one part of the spectrum possibly masking another. if you happen to overlay the realised frequency responses to the equalisation filters for re-mastered tracks from one album recorded in one studio a pattern generally emerges. be it from imperfect acoustics or imperfect components or even imperfect engineering (people in all professions have bad days). next. Perhaps a case of damned if you do or damned if you don’t. That bias translates into incorrect equalisation and / or mixing decisions. the tracks from Abacab by Genesis and finally tracks from Elsewhere for 8 minutes by Something for Kate. Subtle variations in frequency response will introduce bias into the perception of the recording by the mixing or mastering engineer. no matter how good. One thing that intuitQ offers that mere listen can never do is objective separation from the acoustic peculiarities of a specific listening setup. It would seem that much of the objection stems from the fact that we don’t offer single button mastering perfection though we never made such claims. Again. After applying intuitQ you typically hear more detail than before though in some cases that extra detail is not desired. The key point here is that these tools empower you with the ability to quickly and easily optimise the track EQ. IntuitQ and the other tools provided by Har-Bal form a natural. Here are three examples of exactly that. Simple application of intuitNull corrects the error resulting in a very good equalisation. Filter responses for tracks from Face Value by Phil Collins . In cases where intuitQ degrades the response it is generally always due to the over-emphasis of quiet content that is normally masked. In those circumstances we can restore that masking with intuitNull. the key issue is that these tools give resulting equalisations that are consistent with the decisions made by professional mastering engineers. The first is a selection of tracks from Face Value by Phil Collins.

These are not exceptional cases.Filter responses for tracks from Abacab by Genesis Filter responses for tracks from Elsewhere for 8 minutes by Something for Kate All tracks demonstrate a curious coincidence of problem areas. though the logistics of making that a reality (for someone in my . Is this mere coincidence or an indication of the acoustic characteristics of the environment where the tracks were mixed and / or mastered. It certainly would be interesting to perform acoustic tests on the studios involved. particularly for the later two cases. In fact. most albums that I have re-mastered (for my own personal listening pleasure – not commercial re-mastering) using intuitQ shows similar consistency between tracks.

Just a Loser. A sceptic may argue that these results simply show biases in my own listening environment and not that of the studio. with the Robert Cray track. This approach did seem to make some inroads into improving the quality of his vocal part in particular. In the latter case the Robert Cray album sounds reasonable on a first listen but as time progresses and on nearing the end of the album the ears are starting to struggle with the overbearing upper mid-range. Where this approach is superior to intuitQ is its ability to preserve the dynamics of a recording. In time and with experience you will discover the best way to use it. Both experiences left me wondering what could possibly be done to improve upon these recordings without the negative side effects. whilst largely cleaning up the muddiness largely destroyed the accuracy and quality of the top end. In many attempts at manual editing using the traditional approach I could get the tonal balance right but not without losing the top end quality or incurring some degree of loss of definition. This is clearly not the case as the Something for Kate album colourations are quite distinct in comparison with the Genesis and Phil Collins cases. this approach is entirely manual and somewhat time consuming to perform.position) is unlikely. both of which failed dismally under intuitQ. An interesting point about the first two examples is that they were recorded and mixed by Hugh Padgham so there is a possibility of common factors resulting in similar mixing biases (and this is no criticism of Hugh Padgham whose recording work I admire). In the future we are confident of being able to codify the approach into an improved intuitQ but for the time being here is the process of Empathetic Equalisation which Har-Bal helps to make possible. unlike intuitQ. The second is the Robert Cray album I was Warned. IntuitQ applied to the Dire Straits album. Advanced Tutorial – An Introduction to Empathetic Equalisation Although intuitQ is a powerful tool that can provide exceptional outcomes to many recordings there still remain quite a few tracks that defy improvement using this approach. and a couple of the tracks are particularly harsh and strident in the mid-range. Should you have any ideas or comments concerning Har-Bal we would certainly be interested in hearing them. The first track. which was mastered by Bernie Grundman. which has no mastering credit. On inspecting the resulting spectrum and comparing with the original it was clear that the overall change in lower mid range content was rather minimal but the lumpiness had increased! That wasn’t entirely surprising though the significance of it in the current approach didn’t really dawn . Be prepared to experiment. To our surprise we have discovered that this approach is superior to intuitQ on all counts even though both approaches end up with similar equalisation curves. The first case was that of the first self titled Dire Straits album. However. You can email us on support@har-bal. Similarly. The approach you are about to be introduced to is one we have developed through trial and error over the past year as a means to combat difficult recordings. Those interested in exploring the fullest potential of Har-Bal should continue on to the Advanced Tutorial for a brief discussion on how to get the best out of your tracks. In the former case I found the Dire Straits album quite reasonable though a tad muddy. Is particularly troubling. Just a Loser. A Tale of difficult recordings This new process has its origins in my attempts to improve upon some commercially released recordings in my collection.com. This concludes our introductory tutorial on using Har-Bal. at least for now. This new approach can tame those nasty peaks whilst mitigating much of the negative impact of savage equalisation cuts. The Robert Cray album sounded rather dry so I did some experiments with the application of idealised reverberation with a specific colour designed to compliment the lack of energy in the lower mid-range. For poorly mixed recordings correction through intuitQ can lead to a stifled or muffled sound as extreme cutting of stridency strangles the sound of adjacent instruments. The counter to that argument is that if this were the case you would expect the common features to be common to all tracks I re-master. I could get a better balance but not without making his vocal sound muffled and indistinct.

taken from the self-titled Dire Straits album. When the resolution was increased to 1/12th octave the quality of the equalisation outcomes became increasingly unquestionable. It is readily apparent that the track is particularly strident in the 2kHz region and less so around 500Hz whilst also showing some weakness around 300Hz and between 600Hz and 1.2 has 1/6th octave spectrum smoothing applied so the degree to which I could read the peaks and dips was limited by that factor. intuitQ was of no help but this time I recalled that earlier result and then wondered what the outcome might be If I were to attempt to control problem areas in a recording by exaggerating or at least preserving of the peak and trough excursion in the spectrum rather than dumbing it down. Furthermore the selectivity of the designed filter was similarly limited. the new approach was producing a balanced average spectrum trend without compromising the track dynamics. So what is Empathetic Equalisation? Empathetic Equalisation can be loosely defined as the process of high Q notching and peaking applied to the tracks peak spectrum in such a way as to produce a uniform envelope of spectrum peaks with a relatively uniform depth of troughs. the name of which stems from the idea behind the technique of preserving the narrow peaks whilst taming the broad average : the equalisation has empathy toward the music. Working with solo tracks requires a more considered and modest approach which we shall not be discussing here.upon me until months later when attempting to improve upon another entirely different album. Whereas before. The problem was that Har-Bal 2. . which can be found on the lower right hand corner of the Har-Bal window. The filter is also constructed conditional upon producing a uniform peak and average spectrum trace when viewed at 1/3rd octave resolution.2kHz. To my pleasant surprise it appeared to work though not as well as I’d hoped. Thus was born Empathetic Equalisation. These problem areas are most apparent in the peak spectrum trace though the average trace shows similar colouration. To view it at this resolution click on the 1/12th resolution button. These problem areas are readily audible though ridding the track of them using conventional approaches (including intuitQ) leads to unpleasing results. To illustrate this process let us consider the track Setting Me Up. remediation was producing a balance but dull recording. Yet again. the 1/12th octave spectrum of which is shown below. Religious application of the Empathetic Equalisation approach to solo tracks will undoubtedly damage the track fidelity. From the outset it should be noted that the Empathetic Equalisation technique is only applicable to recordings containing two or more instruments (as a general rule you can consider the applicability of the approach as a sliding scale from zero applicability for solo tracks to full applicability with an orchestra).

which we shall demonstrate later. Rule 1: If you have a high peak that needs cutting then cut the adjacent troughs to the peak or cut at the mid-points between the peak and the adjacent troughs using high-Q parametric tool edits. Rule 4: In general you should shape the spectrum (peak and average) so that the resultant spectrum flows through the original (particularly when viewed in 1/3 octave spectrum). making the trough depths much bigger. In other words there is as much of the old spectrum above the new as is below. Rule 2: If you have a low peak that needs boosting then boost the peak directly with high-Q parametric tool edits. The reason . For the moment let us just assume that the way to tackle this issue is by the following technique. Rule 3: If you have a broad and solid peak with weak troughs then break up the broad peak buy using high Q cutting of the weak troughs.The essence of Empathetic Equalisation is to produce a smooth envelope of peaks in the peak trace without reducing the adjacent peak to trough depth. A more conventional approach would be to apply a narrow band cut to high peaks but doing so will reduce the peaks far more than the troughs and this has significant masking consequences.

which will often not strictly follow these rules and these unique adjustments are arrived at through trial and error. Please note that these rules are to be interpreted in a loose fashion. They are not absolutes in any mathematical sense but rather a guide on how to approach the problem. Dire Straits – Setting Me Up : A problematic track spectrum . The strong 2kHz output in the example is a case in point and possibly caused by deficiencies in the monitors used at the time.for aiming for this type of shape is that it ensures you are respecting the mix and not attempting to drastically alter it. Every track invariably requires unique processing. Note that the assumption here is that the mix was carried out in a tonally neutral environment with neutral speakers and ears. This is not always the case so the case may arise where you do end up altering the mix composition to compensate for poor mixing conditions. Returning to the spectrum with these rules in mind it can be seen that the peak spectrum needs boosting and cutting in the locations illustrated below.

. Here we exaggerate the depth of the trough in accordance with Rule 3.5kHz.In more greater detail. Step 1 – cutting adjacent troughs to bring down a high peak Next we tackle the double peak around 2. We begin by choosing an adjacent trough and cutting with a high-Q cut to bring down the peak amplitude (note that when using the gain tool the Q can be forced to its maximum setting by pressing and holding down the M key when dragging the mouse). This is an application of Rule 1 above. let us start by bringing down the main problem area : the 2kHz region.

Step 2 – exaggerating trough depths to reduce a broad peak Now we continue to cut dominant peaks in accordance with Rule 1. .

Step 3 – cutting adjacent troughs to reduce peaks .

Those weak peaks we exaggerate in accordance with Rule 2. .Step 4 – cutting adjacent troughs to reduce peaks – continued. After these edits we find our envelope of peaks is beginning to take shape though some peaks are too weak.

Step 5 – boosting weak peaks .

Step 6 – boosting weak peaks – continued. .

Rather than demonstrate this in repetitive detail we simply highlight the peaks and troughs that require adjustment and the direction of the adjustment.Step 7 – boosting weak peaks – continued. Tackling the lower half we apply the same techniques as for the upper half. The upper parts of the spectrum are now taking shape but we still need to tackle the issues in the lower part. .

At this point we could either leave it as it is and obtain a clean but less controlled sound or take it a little bit further to obtain a more polished but less idiosyncratic sound by adjusting the peaks such that they fit a uniform envelope.Step 8 – Illustration of the peaks and troughs to modify Now the spectrum is beginning to show much better uniformity. To do so we would adjust the regions as indicated below. .

However. By keeping them in a smooth envelope we end up with an effect that is similar to the use of compression to control excessive dynamics within particular instruments but without the side effects of compression. you should be cautious not to over inflate low peaks in music that is played with fine touch since in such cases some notes will intentionally be played with less intensity than others and you may end up undoing that artistic intent.Illustration of the peaks and troughs to modify for a more polished sound resulting in the following spectrum. . The rationale for this approach is that the peak intensity in the peak spectrum loosely corresponds to the intensity of notes played by the instruments within the composition.Step 9 .

following the Empathetic Equalisation approach often leads to that uniformity. Note that although this has been possible with this track and many others. You can see from the illustration that the peak power spectrum curve is contained within a uniform envelope. some tracks have spectrums in which producing such a smooth envelope would result in the creating a excessive peaking in the average spectrum (common with tracks that have few instruments) and in such cases we need to relax that interpretation to allow for a more uniform average spectrum. It just so happens that for quite a large number of tracks. In essence. . At this point we now have a complete prototype filter for this track.Step 10 – Illustration of the peaks and troughs to modify–continued. what you should be aiming for is a uniform peak and average spectrum trace when viewed in 1/3rd octave resolution and apply high-Q edits to achieve that end. Where it doesn’t is where you will need to customise your approach to achieve the desired outcome.

.Final spectrum shape showing a relatively smooth peak trough envelope Enabling the original spectrum trace we see that there is a considerable difference between the original and the modified spectrum but importantly all troughs have been retained.

Comparison of final spectrum with original spectrum shape As a final check on the overall balance it is worthwhile viewing the spectrum shape at 1/3rd octave resolution as this more closely corresponds to the resolution of human hearing. Only once I have a near complete filter response do I find it worthwhile listening to the track whilst editing. This raises the question of whether or not to listen to the track whilst editing. is a minor effect if taken on its own. . As such. it is unlikely that you can make an accurate judgement on the effectiveness of each edit in isolation. which can be found on the lower right hand corner of the Har-Bal window. These differences in uniformity are readily apparent when listening to the track. In doing so we note that the peak spectrum trace is much more uniform than the original shape it had prior to designing our filter. Select 1/3rd octave resolution by clicking on this button. In this view strong narrow peaking or dipping is indicative of a filter that possibly could be improved upon. As a general rule I would suggest not to as a complete filter response is composed of many edits and each individual edit. whilst having a significant effect on the overall result.

1/3 octave resolution spectrum shape comparison Another interesting thing to try is comparing the behaviour of intuitQ with Empathetic Equalisation. Also. In the spectrum view we see that a single application of intuitQ has reduced the intensity of the same areas as our Empathetic Equalisation approach but with less severity. as intuitQ fitting is primarily driven off the average spectrum we note that the average spectrum is smoothest for intuitQ whilst in the Empathetic Equalisation case the peak spectrum is smoothest. . If you do so you will find results similar to the ones shown below.

Here we see that Empathetic Equalisation has produced a much more extreme equalisation response though ironically it sounds far from extreme and much better than the intuitQ equalisation. More importantly. it clearly sounds superior to the original mastering. be it with this track or a problem track of your own. . something I’d encourage everyone to try.1/3 octave resolution spectrum shape comparison between intuitQ and Empathetic EQ Turning to the frequency response view the real differences become far more apparent.

In both cases the increased detail of that which you can now hear more than compensates for the minor and . Perhaps a revelation is an appropriate description. The most noticeable side effects (which are rarely an issue) is a possible shift of individual instrument positions within the mix and a loss of some “wetness” in recordings with a lot of ambience. preservation of most of the dynamics. On Listening On Listening to this track and many others processed using this approach is something quite difficult to adequately describe. greater intimacy and increased sense of volume. suppression of (digital) harshness.Realised frequency response comparison between intuitQ and Empathetic EQ The reason why we can get away with such extreme equalisation and yet have a natural sounding recording is because those extreme edits are precisely in tune with the music and span a narrow bandwidth. or lifting the performance out of a box. The typical impression is one of increased clarity. Another way of summarising it in a single sentence is to say it is like lifting a veil on the recording.

Two examples of typical spectrums are shown below (kindly courtesy of Dean Wuksta from his song You recorded in his studio .Purple Room Studio). London Foo Fighters There is Nothing Left to Lose BMG 74321715742 1999 Roswell Records Inc. Suffice to say we feel Empathetic Equalisation is truly a step forward in the art of equalisation but don’ t take us at our word. . It is quite natural to assume that the less extreme the processing the more transparent the sound yet this appears to fly in the face of that common belief. On the other hand. Complete Empathetic Equalisation Examples Four complete analysis and filter sets for commercial releases can be found under the tutorial\advanced folder(ie. We believe the key to understanding why Empathetic equalisation can possibly produce such outcomes is to understand first and foremost.3\tutorial\advanced).largely inevitable side effects (ie. For example. whilst having a tonal aspect to them generally produce a great deal of wideband energy not necessarily confined to a narrow bandwidth. Human voice is a combination of both in different parts of the spectrum with fricative. The albums include: Dire Straits Dire Straits Vertigo 800 051-2 1978 Phonogram Ltd. plosive and sibilance sounds being wide band sounds. there is another precedent for such spectral modifications that is generally accepted as giving superior sound and that is diffuse room ambience. In comparison drums. More specifically we can loosely argue that the sounds produced by instruments contain a combination of toned (confined to narrow band peaks in the spectrum) and un-toned (spread over a wide spectrum) sounds with varying degrees of each for different classes of instruments. doing anything to a recording is likely to effect these in some way). C:\Program files\Har-Bal 2. Above all. London So Why Does it Work? The question remains as to how and why this technique can produce markedly different outcomes than more traditional approaches. Only through such insights do we have any chance of improving. particularly in view of the extremeness of typical realised filter frequency responses. that the frequency selectivity of human hearing is fundamentally limited and that the sounds produced by various instruments can be spectrally quite different. try it out for yourself and should you find problems with the technique then we’d loved to hear about them. a typical guitar track will have a spectrum that is predominantly toned and most of the sound energy confined to the harmonics that the instrument produces. Suzanne Vega Suzanne Vega A&M Records CD 38490 1985 A&M Records Inc. Tears for Fears The Seeds of Love Fontana 838 730-2 1989 Phonogram Ltd.

Spectrum of a typical guitar track .

usually with a great deal of overlap. The presence of the noise will cause a threshold shift in our hearing at that centre frequency of some level (depending on the noise intensity and bandwidth). Consider the case of a pure tone (sine wave) that is being masked by a narrow band noise whose band centre is aligned with the pure tone. then Empathetic Equalisation can help to unmask that sound.Spectrum of a typical floor tom track A typical track is a collage of many different instruments each occupying parts of the spectrum. For those not already familiar with the concept of critical bands in human sound perception we shall introduce it here. When sounds are spectrally close enough or indeed occupy the same part of the spectrum they will excite the same part of the basilar membrane making the two . Now if the masking is of a toned sound by an un-toned one. The mechanism of masking arises because sounds occupying different parts of the spectrum excite different parts of the basilar membrane. However. can hide much of the detail within the recording. With regard to a broad band sound masking a pure tone the critical bandwidth is loosely defined as follows. Because of this overlap masking occurs and if severe enough. Now if we were to increase the bandwidth of the narrow band noise whilst keeping the noise power constant and centred over the tone then there will be an increase in the level of masking. at some noise bandwidth the level of masking will no longer increase with an increase in noise bandwidth and that bandwidth is known as the critical bandwidth. How is this so? Because one of the sounds is narrow band and the other is broadband and the frequency selectivity of our hearing is simply not high enough to hear the spectrum aberrations we are introducing.

which creates a response with deep troughs either side of the 440Hz we wish to cut. Any additional noise bandwidth will not result in increasing level of masking since that increased bandwidth will now be exciting a different part of the basilar membrane producing a distinct nerve response. the point at which we have no further increase in masking with increasing noise bandwidth is the point at which the noise excites all the frequencies that would excite that one part of the basilar membrane. In one filter realisation we use the tradition approach of cutting a peak directly and in the other realisation we use the Empathetic Equalisation approach. The critical bandwidth of human hearing changes with frequency and very roughly corresponds to about 1/3rd octave resolution. To that end.sounds fuse together and become indistinguishable as separate sounds. Doing so it is clear that the typical Empathetic Equalisation filter produces a smooth spectrum and not the very undulating spectrum we see in 1/12th octave view. In the example of narrow band noise masking a pure tone. Conventional and Empathetic Equalisation filter realisations . This can be easily illustrated by a similar contrived experiment using two different Har-Bal filter realisations to attenuate a 440Hz sine wave mixed with pink noise by a nominal 5dB. the way we hear the effect of Empathetic Equalisation is roughly equivalent to viewing the spectrum with 1/3rd octave resolution. The two realisations are illustrated below. This still leaves the question as to why we can reduce masking though.

which is what we would logically expect to see. in the case of the pink noise the amount of attenuation afforded to the pink noise within that same 1/3 octave band is significantly greater for the Empathetic Equalisation approach (see below).If we apply these two filter realisations to the pure tone and the pink noise we obtain the following results. This noise component is not and does not represent the level of the mixed pink noise in this experiment but is simply an added noise needed to allow Har-Bal to function properly with a high level pure tone. Without it added the loudness compensation within Har-Bal applies so much gain that the fixed-point arithmetic used to realise the filter is driven into overflow. Attenuation of 440Hz tone by conventional and Empathetic Equalisation filter realisations In the pure tone case the 1/3 octave spectrum (measured using a separate spectrum analyser on the Har-Bal filtered wave file) amplitudes of the 440Hz peak are the same. Note that the pure tone spectrum measurements show a noise component mixed with the sinusoid. However. .

7dB. with this filter we have reduced the masking of the tone by the noise. The fact that the frequency response looks horribly extreme and lumpy is made irrelevant by the fact that our ears can’t hear that non-uniformity. In the Empathetic Equalisation approach the tone is again attenuated by 4. In much the same way a control room or mastering studio with pleasant ambience sounds wonderful to the ear but looks horribly non-uniform when measured as a frequency response. no attempt has been made to prove this to be the fundamental mode of operation of this technique. To do so would . The theoretical discussion of this technique offers a possible explanation but much is yet to be explained. This behaviour anecdotally agrees with listening tests conducted using the two different approaches to equalisation.83dB. Furthermore. with this filter we have increased the masking of the tone by the noise.Attenuation of pink noise by conventional and Empathetic Equalisation filter realisations More importantly we note that in the case of a conventional peak cut filter response the tone is attenuated by 4.74dB but in this case the noise in that third octave band is now attenuated by 5. those extreme filters do not colour the sound appreciably. In other words. As such.74dB whilst the noise in that third octave band is attenuated by only 2.09dB. when equalisation is performed by peak flattening recordings start to sound muffled and indistinct (presumably due to increased masking between toned and un-toned sounds) whereas when equalisation is performed by the Empathetic Equalisation approach recordings start to sound clearer and better defined (due to reduced masking between toned and un-toned sounds). Hence we have a gain of separation between the noise and the tone with the Empathetic EQ filter by 1. This concludes the advanced tutorial on Empathetic Equalisation. In other words. That is.04dB. Hence we have a loss of separation between the noise and the tone with this filter by 2.

.require careful experimental design with a large statistical sample for which I don’t have the expertise nor the time commitment and resources to conduct. Without these exchanges this tutorial would surely be lacking in substance. I’d like to thank both Earle Holder and Evan Kendon (Htimaker)for many engaging discussions on this new technique and Dean Wuksta for the inclusion of track analyses from his song You. I leave that as a possible research opening for a talented engineer in the field of psycho-acoustics to conduct. Finally. irrespective of the talent of the mastering engineer. As a final remark on Empathetic Equalisation and Har-Bal in general. if indeed anyone is interested in doing so. Just as critical bandwidth in human hearing is the achilles heel to Empathetic Equalisation it is the bane of Mastering Engineers as it makes it impossible for them to hear the peaks that Har-Bal sees. it is interesting to note that such a technique is simply impossible to conduct without spectrum analysis and a tool like Har-Bal.

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