If you’re a music production beginner, you’ve probably heard the term EQ being bounced around here and there.
In music, EQ or Equalizer is a process in which you mix different frequency components to produce a clear and amazing sound.
When it comes to producing the BEST sound possible, EQ easily comes to mind.
And though it might seem pretty simple for a typical person, it’s a huge FACTOR that is quite complex and nuanced when you try to break it down to pieces.
To help you get a good grasp of how EQ affects the entirety of the sound quality, we’ll break it down for you.
- EQ stands for Equalizer, a process of mixing frequencies to create a clear and coherent piece of audio.
- There is an entire process on how music is recorded, and the EQ is one of them; it is responsible for how the audio is supposed to sound like.
- There are many terms to remember when dealing with EQ, like the mids and highs of an audio sample.
So, What Exactly is EQ in Music?
In music, EQ works by removing unwanted frequencies that may alter sound quality.
In simpler terms, it is ADDING/REDUCING certain frequencies or manipulating the frequency content of your recordings or audio signal.
The human ear can detect a broad range of frequencies up to 20khz.
You use EQ to manipulate different frequencies so that everything is clear, balanced, and sounds good when the music is produced.
When we equalize, we rely on HUMAN HEARING. When working within the audio spectrum, audio engineers break it down into different frequencies when EQ-ing.
Refer to the following sections to see what the division of frequency spectrum looks like.
Sub Bass (20-60Hz)
The sub-bass is the LOWEST frequency a human ear can hear. Sub-bass frequencies need proper utilization to blend well with the high frequencies.
However, hearing these lower existing frequencies without a subwoofer can be extremely hard.
So, to fine-tune these lower frequencies, always have a subwoofer connected to the entire speaker system.
Low-Mids are simply the warmth and touch in a mix! You can hear the low-mids and other flat frequencies in synths, vocals, guitars, and keyboards.
A well-tuned low-mid can make the sound production great without doing much. However, it takes some getting used to before getting out in the mud.
In human hearing, this is the CENTER of the show!
Any individual instruments that boost the mids can easily give you that presence. However, other instruments with a boosted mid can feel overwhelming and bland.
Try to lower the EQ settings if you find that the mids OVERPOWER the fundamental frequency of other instruments, such as the kick drum or a bass guitar.
Upper Mids (250Hz-1.5kHz)
Each instrument can stand out if its upper mids are well-tuned; it gives clarity and presence with a simple tweak.
However, like with the mids, boosting the upper mids far beyond the normal frequency range can make your audio hard to listen to.
Also known as treble frequencies, high frequencies are where you find air and brilliance.
Tweaking treble frequencies and other EQ plugins can make an acoustic guitar shine or vocalizations be on top of the mix.
However, you’ll deal with lots of high-frequency noise in this spectrum. We suggest toning it down where you find it more audible rather than distorted.
How Does EQ Work?
While there are tons of EQ utilization and plugins worldwide, they all follow the same concept, and it is a process of changing the range of frequencies with different settings.
We’ll discuss more on a stock parametric EQ than a graphic equalizer because it has more controls.
Most common controls in Parametric EQ:
The Parametric Equalizer is a special filter application. The quality of your filter depends on the sound you want to produce. There are five filter types:
- High-Pass Filter/Low-Cut Filter: These filters are named after frequencies that don’t change. A low-cut filter cuts out the low frequency while the high frequencies are left unchanged. It can easily tame the corner frequency because of the steep drop-off.
- Low-Pass Filter/High-Cut Filter: On the other hand, a low-pass filter cuts out high frequencies while the low frequencies are left unchanged.
- Notch: Also known as EQ band-stop filters, the notch filters remove a small amount of frequency range.
- Sound engineers often use this type of filter to remove any unwanted resonance that the audio achieved because it was recorded in an untreated room or environment.
- Shelf: Between a chosen point, a shelf can cut or boost frequencies above or below a certain point or below the corner frequency.
- Sound engineers often use this filter if they want the vocals to stand out more. It is one of the best ways to broaden the tone of your sound; that’s why they’re great for vocals.
- Bell Filters: A bell filter is your best tool if you want to cut or boost a certain frequency. Using the Q control, you can adjust the number of frequencies a bell filter can affect. A bell filter is a great tool for sculpting your sounds and tone to achieve a more specific sound of your liking.
Slope filters are often associated with high-pass and low-pass filters; the slope of a filter allows you to tweak where you want to cut off a specific frequency.
The ‘cutoff’ doesn’t happen outright. Instead, it happens at a given slope, usually measured in dB or decibels of a gain reduction per octave.
You can define the cutoff point by choosing a gentle or severe slope. A severe slope has higher decibels compared to a gentle slope.
3. Q Value
Q value or quality factor is the bandwidth of an EQ band.
When your Q value is greater than “1”, it allows you to be selective on your cuts and boosts because it gives you a NARROW bandwidth.
On the other hand, a Q value that is less than “1” will provide a much BROADER bandwidth.
Using a broader bandwidth for boosting and a thinner bandwidth for cutting a narrow range is highly recommended.
The primary target of your EQ band is controlling the frequency.
For example, if you’re choosing a 1 kHz frequency, you can immediately tell where you want to make your cuts and boosts.
When equalizing your track as a whole, the EQ will always impact the entire track, especially the surrounding frequencies.
With the gain control, you can regulate how much volume boosts or cuts using your filter or band.
It is often measured in decibels. A positive value indicates a boost, whereas a negative value indicates a cut.
It is also one of the reasons why a parametric EQ is better than a graphic EQ because it has more control over frequencies.
There are two types of gain:
- Subtractive EQ: As the name suggests, subtractive EQ is a method in which you REMOVE unwanted frequencies from the source. Filtering, notching, and cutting fall into the subtractive EQ process.
- Additive EQ: On the other hand, additive EQ BOOSTS certain frequencies of the audio source. It is a way to accentuate frequency bands that you want to stand out in a mix.
4 Tips on How to Use EQ
Learning how to use EQ can be confusing from the start; we’ll give you some quick and easy tips when using equalizer settings.
1. Be Intentional With Your Music
Always remember every mix is different. Be intentional in every part of your mix.
Specific frequencies may give you a hard time, but it’s all worth it in the end. While every mix is different, some mixes might require TONS of tweaks, whereas some might be with a push of a button.
It should be up to you how you want it and what it should be. Being a beginner means you are bound to fail, but don’t let failure define your journey. Experience is a beautiful thing!
Sound mixing is a trial and error process, you might cut out some of the muds, but another frequency range may rise and give it a beautiful boost.
Don’t be afraid to mix and match. Once you’ve got the hang of it, everything will be easy-peasy!
2. Save Your EQ Settings
Whenever you set frequency mixes, SAVE IT because there are some instances where a particular mix is amazing for a certain song.
It’s not your average set-it-and-forget-it EQ application.
The range of frequencies may vary from time to time, but working on a few things and getting accustomed to them will give you an idea that one mix might work with the other.
Saving your EQ settings will always come in handy if there’s a scenario where the bass sounds pretty good but was barely even heard when other frequencies came in.
A saved EQ setting can do wonders in this scenario!
3. Use Mono When Equalizing Your Sounds
To achieve the best clarity and sound quality, always use mono. Mono, which means “one sound,” gives you a better outcome if you mix the sound.
Equalizing your sounds in mono gives you the necessary space for each instrument to sound better without disturbance of stereo panning.
When we say it is important, it is REALLY important.
4. Always Include the Context of a Mix
During your sound mixing, always include changes that make the entirety of your sound production better.
For example, we say you reduce some of the low-mids your electric guitar produces so other frequencies blend well.
If you find it hard to mix and match because you can’t hear your music clearly, turning the volume level up can give you a clear representation of your mix.
This way, you decipher those changes and other things that need to be done!
How Can You Achieve a Good EQ Setting for Vocals?
A parametric equalizer is the best tool for setting good equalization for your vocals. Here’s a beginner’s guide to achieving good EQ settings for your vocals.
Step 1: Start by Rolling Off the Low End Around 90 Hz
This is important because low frequencies are noticeable due to the proximity effect or the closeness of your mouth to the microphone.
The closer you are to the mic, the greater the proximity effect.
Use a wider Q parameter to ensure it goes into a smoother transition that would be hardly noticeable. In addition, don’t cut or boost way past six decibels.
Step 2: Muddiness Should Be Reduced 250 Hz
Muddiness occurs because sounds bounce off in the room, affecting your voice recordings. To avoid this, you want to reduce this muddiness to around 250 Hz so it won’t be noticeable.
Step 3: Use High-End Roll-off and High Shelving Filter
This step is where the vocals should shine!
You should have two goals in mind, the first is adding some spark, and the second one is bringing out some high-pitched variations.
In this step, we’ll use the high-end roll-off and high-shelf filter to make the vocals stand out.
The high shelving filter boosts the upper frequencies, and the high-end roll-off cuts down the piercing frequencies.
TAKE NOTE: You may want to be cautious here, as too much boost will cause intense sharpness to the recordings that may be too intense for the listener’s ear to hear.
Step 4: Adding Presence to Your Vocals
The sweet spot for making your vocals felt is around the 4kHz to 5kHz range. When you set your vocals in this range, the song being sung is more audible and clear.
So, start with a 4 kHz frequency and increase until you find specific points harmonious to the ears.
Always tweak until you find it pleasant to hear with your ears!
Step 5: Boost Core Vocals
While this is optional, it pays to be more attentive to your overall sound recordings.
Boosting other frequencies may result in a smoother vocal quality. However, this also depends on whether the signer is male or female.
To boost your vocals, start using a wider Q parameter of around 1.2, so the boost can be smoother.
Sweep around the 1 kHz to 2 kHz range to find the best frequency of your voice. Don’t boost or cut above or below two decibels.
What Effects Make Vocals Sound Better?
If you want to take your vocal recording to the next level, here are some things you need to know.
If you want to mimic a professional audio recording, you would want to use pitch correction to improve the intonation of the vocals.
It is also an alternative to creating harmonies.
However, correcting the pitch is a matter of taste, and it’s almost often up to you. Before equalizing your audio, you must do pitch correction first, as equalizing makes it hard to correct pitches.
High-pass filters are fantastic EQ tools to make your vocal recordings sound more professional.
As we mentioned a while ago, high-pass filters let the high frequency pass and cut low frequencies. Removing low frequencies is important if you want your vocals to sound better!
Plosives are quite prevalent in the low frequency, especially if you are recording without a pop filter and the proximity effect where you are too close to the microphone.
De-essing is the process of removing or reducing the “s’s” (a.k.a sibilance) or the gushing or hissing of the sound in your audio processing.
You can hear the gushing and hissing using a condenser microphone, which is especially irritating to listeners.
The threshold is the decibel the sibilance has to reach for it not to be audible during the recording of the vocals.
A lower threshold means the sibilance is hardly noticeable.
Cutting and boosting frequencies can be a little overwhelming initially because you aren’t accustomed to new frequencies.
Applying EQ is the best way to produce high-quality audio most people will enjoy listening to.
With our information above, you will most likely have a smoother time along your music production journey.
These steps are important in the same way most sound engineers outline their EQ vocals.