Knowing how to use an equalizer is an integral skill for anyone working in audio, yet knowing how and when to use one isn’t always easy. Here are some practical tips for using your equalizer more effectively.
1. Use Peak Filtering to Find The Frequency:
Peak filtering is a method of identifying problem frequencies using the 3 main components of an EQ; the Gain, Bandwidth (also known as Q or Resonance), and Frequency knobs. Follow these steps to find problem frequencies:
- Increase the Gain +10db on a given frequency band. (see image 1)
- Increase the Bandwidth so that you’re only effecting a small range of frequencies (in this case with the Q knob). (see image 2)
- Move the Frequency up and down the spectrum to identify the problem frequency. When you hear it, you will usually know by the harshness of the sound or unnecessary muddiness of that frequency. Let your ears guide you. (see image 3)
2. Use Subtractive EQ – LESS IS MORE!:
Now that we’ve found the problem frequency using peak filtering, we can remove it using Subtractive EQ.
An example of Subtractive EQ is demonstrated below.
- First, find the problem frequency using peak filtering demonstrated in #1 above.
- Once identified, turn the gain knob down to lower the volume of that frequency or remove it altogether. (see image 4)
Subtractive EQ can be combined with all other parametric shapes including bell (seen in figures 1, 2, 3), low shelf, high shelf, low cut, high pass, etc…
Here is an example of using a high shelf filter to turn the high frequencies up > 1500Hz using Subtractive EQ
- Use a Low Cut filter (also known as High Pass) to identify the cutoff point in which you want to turn the frequencies up. In this case we want to turn up the frequencies above 1500 Hz. (Hint: You can also use a stereo spectrum analyzer in conjunction with your ears to help guide you.) (see image 5)
- Turn your Shape to Low Shelf, and turn the gain down accordingly. (see image 6)
Notice that I used Subtractive EQ to turn down the frequencies below 1500Hz instead of turning up the frequencies above 1500Hz. In effect, this is the same as turning the frequencies up on all frequencies above 1500Hz. This saves me DB while getting the same desired effect.
Remember, Subtractive EQ should be your first instinct, while additive EQ should be used sparingly.
Note: Most amateur producers will use EQ to boost frequencies they want more of, known as Additive EQ. However, doing so will add unwanted DB to your mixes. Instead, you should focus your efforts on removing unwanted frequencies to make other instruments stand out.
3. Give and Take. IT’S ALL ABOUT BALANCE:
It is very common that you will have many instruments competing for the listener’s attention. For example, in electronic music you will have a kick and bassline that take up a lot of the same frequencies, causing them to sound muddy together when no processing is applied.
A solution to this problem is the give and take technique. If you boost EQ on one instrument, ask yourself what other instruments might be competing with those frequencies.
In this case, if you boost your kick (below 80Hz), try lowering the EQ on your bass below 80Hz to make room for the kick frequencies you boosted. You want every instrument to have their own space in the frequency spectrum allowing your instruments to breathe and move around each other. Not competing for the same space.
4. Use Your Ears:
Your ears are the most important tool you have, above all things. Let them guide you. Don’t make changes unless your ears tell you they’re needed.
Sometimes I will find myself closing my eyes when turning a dial to force myself to hear what I’m actually doing. When I’m happy with the sound I’m surprised to find the setting I end up on is one that I wouldn’t typically choose if I had been watching the knob being turned.
5. Remove Bottom End From Instruments That Don’t Need It:
When it comes to the bottom end of a track, you’re looking for clarity rather than just lots of ‘woofing’. Apply a high-pass filter to instruments that have no real low-end content. For example, filtering below 50Hz from guitars will remove cabinet rumble to the mix. Filtering below 80Hz from a vocal will remove any rumble from the mic stand (or a tapping foot).
Mastering the use of EQ isn’t something that just happens overnight – it takes lots of time and practice. Don’t be afraid to experiment by mixing multiple versions of your tracks in order to discover how different EQ treatments affect the end result. Eventually, you’ll instinctively know how to get the sound you want.
7. Don’t Be Seduced By Thinking Louder Is Better:
If you add 10dB at 150Hz, 10dB at 1kHz and 10dB at 3kHz, all you’re really doing is boosting the volume of the track by 10dB. Just because the volume is louder, you might mistakenly perceive the track as ‘better’ – don’t be seduced.
Conclusion: Following these tips will help your mixes sound tighter and ultimately lead to better recordings.
Did I leave anything out? Feel free to let me know in the comments! Also, if you enjoyed this article please share using the social network buttons above.