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EQ (part 4)

Enhancing the sounds of individual instruments in this way is useful, but watch out when you are mixing that you are not boosting the same frequencies on each one...


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Enhancing the sounds of individual instruments in this way is useful, but watch out when you are mixing that you are not boosting the same frequencies on each one. It is a trap for the unwary to boost every instrument at around 3kHz to help it cut through at a frequency where the ears are very sensitive. This will produce a mix that is very tiring to listen to. The opposite of the enhancement technique is where you lessen the individuality of each instrument and make it more like the ‘average’ instrument. Find the instrument’s strong frequencies with the mid EQ set to boost as before, but then cut these frequencies, by as much as you feel appropriate. This won’t make the instrument sound better in isolation but it will help it blend in with the other instruments in the mix. Many aspiring engineers do not appreciate how useful EQ cut can be, but the expert will skilfully share the frequency spectrum among all the instruments so that each has its own space and doesn’t have to fight with the others for attention. Using EQ in this way can result in a powerful and full sound from a small number of tracks.

Mixing consoles differ in the usefulness of their high and low frequency EQs, and it is often necessary to bring in an outboard EQ that can do the job better. I would say that it is the purpose of the low frequency control to add ‘weight’ to the sound without making it ‘boomy’. These are subjective terms I know, but I think we can all appreciate the difference between a sound which is firm and solid in the bottom end, and one which has plenty of bass but gives the impression of being out of control. In the other direction, the low frequency control should cut low frequencies that are not contributing anything useful to the sound, while retaining the depth and body of the low mid. At the high frequency end, you should be able to cut any ‘fizz’ from the sound while still leaving it clear and incisive, and you should be able to make the sound brighter without the extreme top becoming aggressive. If you can’t achieve all this with your console’s EQ you may have to spend a thousand pounds or even a lot more for an outboard unit that can.

When you have explored all the possibilities your console’s EQ can afford and you have visited your local hire company for outboard units that perform the same function but better, you’ll be keen to get your hands on a graphic equaliser, which is a rather different animal. Graphic equalisers seem to offer the ultimate in flexibility: just raise or lower the frequency bands you are interested in for quick and precise control. Unfortunately, you will find that precision is lacking because each individual band alters frequencies over quite a wide range on either side of its nominal centre frequency. This doesn’t mean that graphics are useless - far from it. Graphics are great for EQing an entire mix so that you can shape the sound as a whole, even after you have processed the individual elements. You can do this - if you know your way around - by taking a couple of outputs from the console back into two channels and using the console’s EQ again, but you’ll only really be applying more of the same, and doing it the graphic way really is much more satisfying. Graphics are also great for adding bite to a sound: just raise one or two sliders somewhere in the upper frequency region and you will make the sound more cutting without lifting the whole of the high frequency range. Experiment at your leisure.

By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004

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