Article: Beginners Guide to Using EQ

Beginner’s Guide to Using EQ

If you think of some of your favorite albums of all time, surely a big reason that they had such a profound impact on you is because something about the songwriting affected you in a deep way.

But, there is something that you probably don’t realize made you like it so much. That is the overall sound of the album.

This article gives you the why behind EQ, along with some practical tips you can start using on your own mixes today.

Intro to Equalizers

EQ is an abbreviation for Equalization – a process that every producer and engineer implements in their workflow in order to get the sound they are going for. The way the producer and engineer mix an album is a huge determining factor in whether or not people enjoy the music.

EQing is one of the most important aspects of mixing great sounding music that serves the intent that the songwriter wanted when the music was written.

At its very core equalization is a method that either boosts or cuts out certain frequencies in a sonic spectrum. This can be done over an entire mix or to an individual instrument to help it mesh better with the other instruments in the mix.

Helping Instruments Work Together

When an engineer first starts to mix a rough recording of their project, many of the instruments in a mix will have frequencies in their sonic spectrum that cause them to clash with one another. Sometimes it will cause one of the instruments to dominate the other in a mix.

By cutting or boosting certain frequencies of instruments that are clashing, room can be made for both of the instruments so that they can both be heard more easily in the mix and help the music have a better sound without having to be annoyingly loud to allow everything to be heard as it is intended by the producer.

There is a limited amount of space in the sonic landscape of a recording. Many instruments will have frequencies that cross over and interfere with the frequencies of other instruments in the overall mix of the music. EQing sort of acts as a give and take for the different tracks in the mix.

Sometimes you have to take some frequencies out of the mix of one instrument in order to give that space to another instrument. It’s important to not get emotionally attached to any particular instrument in a mix and think of the work as whole while mixing an album. The best engineers and producers always have the greater good in mind when they are equalizing.

Types of Equalizers

Now that you know some of the basics of equalizing during a mix we should discuss the actual equalizers themselves. Before you start mixing, you want to be sure that you are choosing the right equalizer for your approach. There are two different common styles of equalizers, graphic and parametric. They each have distinct advantages and disadvantages when compared. They both can be implemented as both hardware or a software version also referred to as a virtual plug in.

Parametric and Graphic Equalizers are similar in that both help shape the sound the changing the amount of each frequency used in the sound spectrum. Their main differences lie in how they achieve that. The parametric EQ is a little more flexible than a graphic EQ. It can effect more pinpointed frequency ranges, or bands as they’re usually referred to in this context.

Graphic EQ

Graphic EQ

Example of a vintage style Graphic EQ in Logic Pro X

A Graphic EQ is an equalizer that is fixed with a certain amount of filters spread across the whatever the bandwidth of the equalizer is. Each band controls a certain frequency range. Each filter band on a graphic EQ is equal in proportion to all of the others. This is why you will often hear the phrase 27-band graphic or 31-band graphic EQ to describe what kind of graphic EQ you are getting. That is the amount of filter bands on the equalizer. The more bands there are the more control you have over the mix.

Obviously, the more bands you have on your graphic EQ, the more control you are going to have over the sound. Each band represent a frequency range and it only acts by boosting or cutting the range within that band. It is much more simple than a parametric EQ. It is still is used in studios everywhere and has many applications when it comes to mixing. A graphic EQ is used a lot by engineers and producers when they are dialing something in by ear. It is easier to this with a graphic EQ because each band is very accessible instantly so it can be done more quickly and organically.

Parametric EQ

Frequencies on a parametric EQ

Frequencies on a parametric EQ

A parametric EQ acts in a much different way than a graphic EQ. A filter on a graphic EQ only controls one aspect of a frequency range, the boost/cut. A parametric EQ controls 3 different aspects of the frequency range.

Gain – The gain determines how much boost or cut is given to each frequency range.

Frequency – This control determines what the center point for each frequency range is going to be. This is predetermined on a graphic EQ but can be adjusted on a parametric EQ.

Sharpness a/k/a “Q” – A parametric EQ has control over how wide or narrow the frequency range that is being filtered is. This is sometimes referred to as “quality,” but more often “Q” for short. This means you can even pinpoint an exact frequency and cut it completely out of the mix. This is why parametric equalizers are more likely to be used to get rid of feedback in a microphone or too ring out a room in a recording studio. They can get rid of just the offending frequency without taking away frequencies that are still wanted.

As you can see, the parametric EQ gives the engineer a lot more control of the sound. This may lead you to think that it will take up a lot more processing power in your system. This is not true. Each filter on a parametric EQ and a graphic EQ takes up the same amount. So if all things are equal when it comes to the amount of filters the units will each take up the same amount of power.

EQ Basics and 5 Tips to Start With

There are some basic rules that everyone should know when they first start mixing music for the first time. While music is a subjective art form. There is a science to it and some tried and true methods that producers and engineers have been using for years to get their mix started in the right direction. Follow these tips when you first start mixing and you will be headed in the right direction. These tips can save you a lot of trial and error in the beginning and get you on the road to finding a unique sound much more quickly than just jumping right in with not education on the matter.

Tip #1 – Take before you give

When you are trying to adjust the sound of your music it is a much more effective method to take away certain frequencies in a mix before adding frequencies to adjust the sound. For example, let’s say you have a lead vocal that you need to brighten up a little bit so it shines and cuts through the mix on the chorus. Instead of adding higher frequencies to brighten it, it is better to take away frequencies in the lower end of the spectrum. Also, by taking away frequencies instead of adding it leaves more room for other instruments.

Tip #2 – Keep the bandwidth wide

When you are selecting the frequency range that you want to cut or boost use a pretty wide grouping. This area that you have selected in the bandwidth of the EQ. By choosing a wider bandwidth the instrument will sound more natural after it has been adjusted. A more narrow band can be effective too if you are merely trying to take out one specific frequency that is feeding back or supremely interfering with the sound of another instrument somewhere else in the mix. It is especially important to use a wider band when boosting a frequency range. Smaller bands are usually used to cut out a pinpointed frequency in the sound.

Tip #3 – Start in the low-mid Range

The lower middle range of the sound spectrum of a recording is where most of the overlap occurs between the instruments. This is because almost every instrument in a mix has some frequencies in the low-mid whether it is the lowest range of the instrument or the highest range. The Low Mids are where most instruments get their rich and full sound. If you start out by cutting frequencies of certain instruments in this range of the mix you will have a great start towards a clean, but still rich sound.

Tip #4 – Visualize your mix

As stated earlier, cutting certain frequencies is the best way to make space for all of the instruments in a mix. Sometimes it can be hard to tell what and where you need to cut in order to help the instruments all work together. A great way to be more successful in this process is to actually visualize the mix as a physical space. Within that physical space are all the instruments. Each instrument takes up a finite amount of space and you should try to keep them from overlapping to suit your tastes. Use your mind’s eye in order to help your ears through the process.

Tip #5 – Mix at a Low Volume

A lot of engineers make the mistake of mixing their album at much too high of a volume. Try mixing your music at a low volume. First of all, all mixes sound better in the studio when they are being played loudly. Everything hits harder and it makes the low end really hit harder. When you mix at a low volume, you get a much more honest representation of what each of your instruments sounds like. A higher volume also causes certain instruments to pop out and stick out more. Also, because the volume range is so much smaller, each adjustment that is made is heard more drastically so its overall effect can be judged more accurately.

Those five tips are a great way to get started when you are first learning how to mix. By sticking to those rules, you will have a good base of knowledge to work with. After that, you can tinker with some of your own techniques and ideas to get a more individual sound for your overall mix. These tips are all time tested techniques that are used by some of the top engineers in the world and are proven to work to help you get the mix that you desire.

EQ Plug Ins

More and more producers and engineers are going digital when it comes to mixing their work. This has really made equalizer plug ins gain a lot of popularity in recent years. A plug in is basically a software version of a hardware equalizer. They can be installed and used with whatever workstation you are using to help mix your sound. Here are a couple great options when it comes to EQ plug ins if you are just getting started with your recording studio or live mixing rig.

ReaEQ – This is one of the best free EQ plug ins on the market. Some people complain about its design. It’s not the prettiest piece of software on the market. But, it totally makes up for its average design by being one of the most functional EQ plug ins on the market that comes at no cost. It is a parametric EQ with an unlimited number of bands available to help you pinpoint and eliminate pesky frequencies that you don’t want in your mix. If you are interested in this EQ plug in, you can download it here:

Waves Plug Ins – If you are just getting started on your studio and want to get some solid EQ plug ins at an affordable price, Waves EQ plug ins are a great option. The company makes a lot of different styles of plug ins to fit the needs of just about any producer. They have vintage style Equalizers, graphic equalizers, and parametric equalizers. Some of them can be found for as little as $39. Most of them are under $200. If you are looking for some great equalizers to add to your tool chest at an affordable price Waves plug ins are a great place to start. You can learn more about their products here:

It is important to learn all the basics when it comes to mixing and equalizers. The rules given earlier are a great place to start towards getting an adequate mix. After that, make sure to mess around with your equalizers and try some stuff out. This is how the best engineers and producers find the mixing techniques that work for them. Constantly exploring is also a great away to work towards getting a signature sound in your mixes.

This overview should get you on a great start towards choosing the equalizer that is best for you. Most studios and live mixing rigs have multiple different EQ’s in them to perform different tasks. They use both parametric and graphic equalizers based on the specific task that they need performed at that moment.

As you get more and more into mixing you will begin to realize that you seem to be collected gear at an alarming rate. You will know that you are truly a professional studio engineer when you have more equalizers than you know what to with and you aren’t exactly sure where some of them came from.

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