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Extreme EQ (part 1)

A post by David Mellor
Thursday January 01, 2004
What goes through a mixing console designer’s mind when he starts work on the EQ section. Is he thinking, “How can I give the engineer more power and control?”, or is it more along the lines of, “I’d better not give the engineer too much power and control - what might he do with it?”.
Extreme EQ (part 1)

How do you get your excitement: Bungee jumping? Snow boarding? Beach volleyball? Or maybe Extreme EQ!

What goes through a mixing console designer’s mind when he starts work on the EQ section. Is he thinking, “How can I give the engineer more power and control?”, or is it more along the lines of, “I’d better not give the engineer too much power and control - what might he do with it?”. The more consoles I listen to, the more I am inclined to think the latter. OK, it is important for an EQ section to be musical, and to allow very fine differentiation in settings for when just subtle changes are required. But what do you do when you want to rip a sound apart, tear out its entrails and shove the bleeding mass in the face of the listener? If you’ll excuse my metaphor, you could turn to an outboard EQ but I think you will find it still a little too polite. In all probability these days an outboard EQ will just be part of a mixing console channel taken out and put in a rack mounting box, although there are exceptions. For Extreme EQ, we have to look outside the cozy world of what we consider to be audio equipment into what is known to the trade as the MI - musical instrument - market. Here we will find hardware and software that will go far beyond the capabilities of most of the EQ units we would normally consider. Of course, conventional EQ units can do lots of things that MI systems cannot, but we already have lots of fine control, subtlety and musicality - we need raw power! I have chosen examples of filters which I can guarantee will amaze you if you have never heard anything but a conventional EQ before, one a traditional piece of hardware with knobs and switches, the others being software plug-ins that run with Steinberg’s Cubase VST.

Mutronics Mutator

The Mutator is basically a two channel low-pass filter, with LFOs to modulate the cut-off frequency and envelope followers to allow the envelope characteristics of one sound to be superimposed upon another. The filter really is the essence of the Mutator. Basically all it is is the filter circuitry of a traditional analogue synthesiser brought up to modern standards of noise and distortion performance. As simple as that, and in fact you could think of Mutator as an analogue synth without oscillators - just plug in your own sound source. It is a low-pass filter meaning, as you already know, that high frequencies are attenuated, in this case with a slope of 24dB/octave. In a 24dB/octave filter, above the cut-off frequency, as the frequency doubles the output voltage is reduced to a sixteenth. This is the first and major difference between this and standard EQ. With conventional equalisers the slope will be a mere 12dB/octave or 18dB/octave which reduces the levels of higher frequencies but still leaves them audible. A slope of 24dB/octave chops them off with an axe. The result is that you can input a signal with a fizzy irritating high end and reduce the cut-off frequency to leave only the useful components. With a 24dB/octave filter the result can still be sharp and incisive, whereas with a 12dB/octave or 18dB/octave filter by the time you have eliminated the fizziness the sound will just be dull. Another difference between the Mutator’s filter and the filter you would find on a conventional EQ is that where the conventional designer would only allow you to filter frequencies down to, say, 2kHz with a low-pass filter, the Mutator goes all the way down to subjectively nothing at all - the cut-off frequency is so low that the only signal left is a vague rumbling in the distance. Don’t conventional EQ designers trust us?

A post by David Mellor
Thursday January 01, 2004 ARCHIVE
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)
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