Sculpt the space and balance with grace, stop any Frequency fight to create a clean and focused mix.


EQ is a powerful audio tool that allows you to finely tune the balance of various frequencies and customize the tone to your preference. Whether it’s vocals overpowering the mix or an overwhelming bass, music producers and sound engineers turn to EQ to sculpt the space and balance with grace to create a clean and focused mix.

In this post, we'll explore the art of using EQ, delving into its intricacies to help you understand the full potential of this staple tool. 




What is EQ?


EQ, or Equalization, is a fundamental tool used to shape the sound of audio playback. It can increase or decrease the volume of selected frequencies, improving the clarity and tone of music. 

EQ is a vital tool for music professionals, including producers, performers, and engineers alike. it allows you to adjust the balance of different frequencies, lowering the volume of unwanted sounds and noises and shaping the sound's characteristics. In a live setting, EQ is used to control feedback by reducing resonant frequencies caused by the instrument and the acoustics of the environment. In the studio, EQ is used to enhance the sound of individual instruments and help multiple sounds fit together in a mix. 


Types of EQ; 


Graphic EQ: This type of EQ allows you to adjust the level of different frequency bands independently. It is often used in music production and live sound to balance the sound and eliminate unwanted and resonant frequencies. 


Parametric EQ: This type of EQ allows you to adjust the center frequency, bandwidth, and gain of each frequency band. It is more precise than graphic EQ and is commonly used in recording studios for mixing and mastering audio. 


Shelving EQ: This type of EQ boosts or cuts all frequencies above or below a certain frequency. It is useful for adjusting the overall tonal balance of a sound. For example, enhancing high frequencies will give you a brighter sound whereas reducing them will give you a warmer sound. 


Low-Pass and High-Pass Filters: These types of EQ cut off frequencies below or above a certain point, respectively. They are often used to remove unwanted noise such as low-end rumbling on non-bass instruments, or to help shape the tonal balance of a sound. 


Dynamic EQ: This type of EQ automatically adjusts the level of a frequency band based on the level of the input signal. It is useful in a mixing environment when multiple instruments share similar frequency bands. For example, a dynamic EQ could be used to control the guitar, triggering a reduction in the guitar volume when the vocals are sung. 


Linear-phase EQ: Applying EQ can introduce latency delays that may cause phase issues when mixing similar sounds. Linear-phase EQ can maintain the phase relationship between different recordings. This can be useful for preserving the natural sound of acoustic instruments and vocals when using multiple microphones. 


Mid/Side EQ: This style of EQ allows you to adjust the level of the MONO and stereo signals independently. Here's how it works: 


The "mid" channel contains the audio information that is panned to the center of the stereo field, this is where you will normally find instruments such as vocals, bass, and drums. 

The "side" channel contains the audio information that is panned to the sides of the stereo field, typically guitars, keyboards, and background vocals. 

With Mid/Side EQ, you can adjust the frequency balance of the mid and side channels separately.  

A good use of this might be to boost the low frequencies in the mid-channel to make the kick drum and bass guitar more prominent while cutting the high frequencies in the side channel to reduce sibilance and harshness in the guitars and vocals. 


EQ controls 


Some digital EQ’s can look confusing depending on the user interface; however, you will find these same controls or parameters on every EQ. 

  • Frequency - To select which frequency you want to manipulate using the other controls. 
  • Gain - Where you decide whether you want to increase (boost) or attenuate (cut) the frequency you’ve selected. 
  • Q - Where you decide how much you want to affect the frequencies surrounding your chosen one. In other words, it defines how wide or how narrow the selected frequency bandwidth will be. 


Best practices for using EQ 


There are multiple EQ tasks that producers routinely carry out on nearly every session, such as eq'ing out frequencies that aren't necessary for the instrument, fixing ringing and resonant frequencies, and cutting out unwanted environment noises, keeping the mix clean and tidy.  


More details and ideas on implementing these best practices:


- Cutting out unwanted noise and sounds (subtractive EQ, LP and HP Filters) 

It is best practice to use a low and high-pass filter to roll off low or high frequencies that aren't needed. This can help to clean up the mix and make it sound more focused and punchier. When using EQ to reduce unwanted sounds or frequencies, it is recommended to use a narrow Q as this allows you to be more surgical focusing in on the problem frequency without taking away important frequency content. 


- Cutting resonant frequencies (subtractive EQ) 

You may find your audio has some harsh frequency areas, or that certain frequencies resonate louder. This can be due to the instruments itself, or the environment it was recorded in. To find harsh frequencies you can use a few different techniques as follows: 

    1. Solo the track, raise the gain, and sweep the frequency: Set the EQ to a narrow bandwidth and slowly sweep through the frequency spectrum, listening for harsh or unpleasant frequencies as you go. You can     use a broad sweep to cover a wide range of frequencies, or you can focus on specific frequency ranges that are known to be problematic (such as the upper mids or lower highs). 

    2. Solo-selected frequency bands so you're hearing that band  only.

    3. Use a spectrum analyzer: Many digital audio workstations (DAWs) and EQ plugins come with a spectrum analyzer that can help you visualize the frequency content of a track. This can make it easier to identify     harsh frequencies that may not be immediately noticeable when listening to the track in context. 

    4. Use a reference track: If you have a reference track that you know has a smooth, well-balanced frequency response, you can use it as a guide to help identify harsh frequencies in your own track. Play the     reference track and your track back-to-back, listen for any frequencies that stand out or sound unpleasant in your track. 

    5. Once you've identified the harsh frequencies, you can use the EQ to attenuate (reduce) or cut those frequencies to smooth out the sound. Just be sure to use a narrow bandwidth and make small adjustments,     as making large cuts or boosting certain frequencies too much can lead to an unnatural or unbalanced sound. 


- Enhancing desired sounds (additive EQ) 

The way you approach this will change drastically from one instrument to another, but essentially you want to work with a wider Q/EQ bandwidth to increase frequencies which bring out the instrument's best characteristics.  

One commonly employed technique involves infusing "air" into a recording. This is achieved by applying a high shelf to boost frequencies at 10k and beyond, this process imparts a lively quality to the instrument. The result is a more pronounced presence within the mix, creating an overall perception of higher-quality sound. 



Using EQ to Mix 


Before reaching for the EQ I would recommend thinking about frequencies that represent that instrument the best, what instruments do you need bright and in your face vs further back in the sound stage. 

You can look to create space by cutting frequencies from instruments that overlap. This allows you to achieve a louder mix that has clarity.  

It’s important to ensure the instruments aren't fighting for the same frequency ranges at the same time. Using clever instrument arrangements, and sequencing the instruments so they are not playing at the same time can combat the need for heavy EQ cuts.  

Making use of the stereo image is a great way to make room in a stereo mix. If you have 2 guitarists playing similar frequency ranges, then panning 1 guitar left and the other right will stop the frequencies competing for the same space. 

Because EQ settings can vary massively from one instrument to the next, or even from one production style to the next, then it is important to experiment to find out what works best for your sound. Having said that, I have included some basic settings EQ settings and ideas on how to approach different instruments or mix scenarios using EQ. 



EQ setting ideas 


Every Instrument, Microphone, Environment, Pluck, and strum is different so one preset will not fit all, however, I hope this gives you some ideas on what to look out for. Most of all, with all modifications and FX, don't use it for the sake of it.


Vocals 




When working with vocals, it's especially important to pay attention to the presence and the clarity of the audio, as well as the sibilance (the "ess" sounds) and any other problematic frequencies caused by the vocalist, or the recording environment. These problems can be addressed using EQ or a de-esser to cut specific frequencies. It's also a good idea to use a high-pass filter to roll off low frequencies that aren't needed, as this can help to clean up the mix and make the vocals sound more focused and intelligible. 

The frequencies that are most important to focus on will depend on the vocalist and the other instruments in the mix.  


Vocal EQ Tips and Tricks


High pass filter everything below 50hz to take out unwanted sounds and rumbles 

100-250 Hz - Can add body and warmth to the vocal. When recorded in large rooms, sometimes room resonance can be heard in this range. 

250hz to 550hz – This range can reduce the boxy, or typical room size resonance in the audio. 

600hz to 1Khz – Can add body to the vocal but also can increase the boxy room resonance if a smaller room was used for recording. Lower male vocalists can reduce an over nasally vocals 

1k to 2.5k - Add presents and clarity but can also increase honky and nasal sounds 

2.5 - 3.5 - Nassal, Honkey sound in a vocal but can also add clarity and presence. 

4k - 6k - Adds clarity to the voice but can also add harshness. 

7k-10k - sibilance and de-esseing which adds clarity but can make the vocal sound harsh. 

10 - 16k - brings out breath sounds, realistic and brightness sizzle but can add harshness. 

17k to 20k - Vocal air, brings out breath sounds, realistic and sizzle 






Snare EQ Tips


The most important frequencies will depend on the specific snare drum sound, the production style, and the other instruments in the mix. In general, this frequency guide should give you some idea; 

200-500hz - The body and fundamental resonance 

These are often the most important frequencies as this range is where the drum's fundamental resonance is. This frequency range adds warmth, body, and thickness of the snare drum sound, so cutting or boosting these frequencies can have a significant impact on the tone and character.  

1-3 kHz - Snap Attack 

Boosting these frequencies can help to add more presence and definition to the snare drum. 

8-10 kHz – High-end Sizzle 

Boosting these frequencies can add more brightness and sparkle to the snare drum.  

As always, it's important to use EQ subtly and surgically, so do some experimentation to find the right settings for your specific mix. 


Kick 


Like any instrument, Kick drums can sound vastly different from one style of music to another. A kick drum in a country track will be very different from a kick drum in a house track, so processing it is very much a matter of taste. 

60-120 Hz - Bass 

Some of the most important as this is where the low-end power and the low punch of the kick drum is most prominent, so cutting or boosting these frequencies can have a significant impact on the impact and depth of the kick drum sound.  

200- 500hz Round definition 

The body attack and definition of the kick drum is often found in the 200-500 Hz range, so cutting or boosting these frequencies can help to add more body, tone and presence to the kick drum sound.  
 

5-8khz – The Click 

The high-end click. Boosting these frequencies can add more definition, presence, and attack to the kick. 

Try here for more information on Kick drum sound design.



Bass 


The frequencies that are most important to focus on when using EQ on bass will depend on the specific bass sound and the other instruments in the mix. In general, however, the frequencies around  

 

60-120 Hz – Down Low 

Often the most important to pay attention to when working with bass. This range is where the low-end power and rumble of the bass is often most pronounced, so cutting or boosting these frequencies can have a significant impact on the depth and volume of the bass sound.  

 

120-250 Hz - Boom 

Cutting these frequencies can reduce muddiness and the amount of boom.  


200-500 Hz - Definition 

The clarity and definition of the bass is often found in this range, so cutting or boosting these frequencies can help to add more presence and articulation to the bass sound.  

 

1-3 kHz - Bite 

The attack and bite of the bass is often found in the 1-3 kHz range, so boosting these frequencies can add more clarity and punch to the bass sound.  



Guitar 


The frequencies that are most important to focus on when using EQ on guitar will depend on the specific guitar sound and the other instruments in the mix. In general, however, the frequencies around  


250-500 Hz - Tone 

Often the most important frequencies to pay attention to when working with guitar. This range is where the body and warmth of the guitar is often most pronounced, so cutting or boosting these frequencies can have a significant impact on the tone and character of the guitar sound.  

1-5 kHz - clarity and definition 

 The clarity and definition of the guitar is often found in this range so boosting these frequencies can help to add more presence and articulation to the guitar sound.  


5-8 kHz - Attack 

Bosting these frequencies can add more definition and crispness to the guitar sound.  

As I have said throughout this article, every instrument and mix situation is different so I would recommend listening to your mix and having a plan on what you are going to do before reaching for the EQ. As the saying goes, if it isn’t broken, don't fix it. 


Conclusion 


Equalization is an essential tool that allows music producers to shape and balance the tone of audio recordings. Mastering proper EQ techniques takes time and practice but having a solid understanding of the different types of EQ, important frequency ranges for instruments, and general best practices provides a strong foundation. When used judiciously, EQ can resolve problems in a mix, bring out the best qualities of each instrument, and help craft a professional, polished sound. With the guidelines and techniques outlined here, producers can gain confidence in wielding this powerful mixing tool to dial in the perfect tone.