The Ultimate EQ guide
The use of EQ in a mix or track can be the difference between an incredibly punchy and clear mix compared to a muddy, pokey or thin final product. But, knowing how to harness this most powerful of tools can be tricky, especially with so many plug-ins and online information available.
With this in mind, we decided to round up our top 20 tips on how to master the EQ, improve your mixes and feel confident when learning how to use EQ in your mix.
- High Pass For Headroom & Clarity
As covered in our previous blog about controlling bass in your mix, sub frequencies can be a real game changer. High passing can remove unwanted rumble, head room sapping sub frequencies and also clear up any potential build up of muddy frequencies. Bottom end rumble also has the potential to trigger compressors, especially when placed on the master causing your mix to duck.
- Don't High-Pass Too Aggressively
Although high-passing can be incredibly useful, it's easy to over cook it and eventually lead to thin mixes. The fundamental frequency of a guitar is 80Hz showing how easy it is to high-pass too aggressively. This leads to our next two points -
- Check Gain Amounts When Removing Resonances
When removing unwanted resonances be careful not too lower the Db level too much. The resonance could easily be the fundamental frequency of the instrument that's being overly exposed due to the bad mic placement. Aggressive removal can make the instrument sound thin and unnatural.
An easy to way to make that decision is to check tip 4.
- Rarely EQ In Solo
Often mentioned but easy to forget. Make surgical movements in solo but check your work in the context of the mix. As mentioned, it's easy to overdo your subtractions losing vibe and style from the mix.
- EQ Your Reverbs
Digital reverbs are often incredibly bright and also have the ability to cumulate lashings of low end rumble. A little EQ can do wonders to clear up your mix.
- EQ Your Aux's
The same applies to all auxiliary channels. Check for low end rumble, aggressive tops, build up of resonant frequencies and any messiness that can get in the way of your beautiful mixes.
- Listen To The Artefacts Different EQ's Produce
When high-passing sub frequencies, listen to the effect different EQ's can have on the resulting sound. EQ's inherently affect the phase relationship of a sound so listening out for what is actually happening can be crucial in getting that solid bottom end. The next few tips all relate to this -
- Look Out For Pre-Ringing In Eq's
Linear Phase EQ's can cause an issue called pre-ringing. This amazing video by Fabfilter does a great job at explaining the smearing artefacts than can often be heard:
- Check For Latency Issues
As mentioned in the video, linear phase EQ's can cause latency in hearing your sounds. With this in mind it explains why they're predominantly used on the master adding latency to the whole track and not just the individual elements.
- Embrace Frequencies Outside The 20-20Khz Range
The word 'Air' is often thrown around when describing great mixes and especially great vocals. It probably defies logic but try experimenting with adding EQ boosts above the usual 20hz-20Khz range. The knock on effect of these high shelves can lift a mix or vocal without adding harsh sibilance. The famous Maag EQ shown below is a prime example of this with it's famous 'Air Band' being available.
- Use Multi-Band Compressors as EQ's
Try exploring using a multiband compressor or dynamic EQ if you aren't getting the results you want. The gradual build up of resonant frequencies can cause havoc in a mix but Eq'ing permanently might not always be the answer. A slow reduction of gain from the compressor can be all your mix needs.
- Don't Over-do Those High Frequency Roll Offs
So much is said about high passing and low passing that it's very easy to think you should apply this type of EQ to everything. Use your ears, dull mixes can seem lifeless and lack top end energy so keep that in mind before cropping off the top frequencies.
- Think When Sweeping EQ's
Although effective in removing horrible pokey frequencies, sweeping a high gain, high Q settling can be cause confusing results. Many instruments sound harsh when a boost of 25db is added to their top end so be selective with your resonance removal.
- Don't Be Too Scared of 150-500Hz
The so called 'muddy' area can be a tricky one to control but cutting all frequencies in this region will leave your mixes feeling thin. A full spectrum of frequencies will make your mixes sound full and professional.
- Check Your Mixes in Mono
Your music will predominantly be heard in stereo but if you produce dance or radio friendly music it's worth quickly checking that the choices you made are working in both stereo and mono. Most sound systems are mono so worth checking nothing is lost through phase cancellation or bad bad EQ choices.
- Think Arrangement Before EQ
Are too frequencies from similar instruments clashing? Do they need to be playing at the same time? Often the best mixes are the ones which have the best arrangement.
- FX Order
Experiment with FX chain order. A traditional order would be:
- EQ > Compressor > EQ – Why compress the things you don’t want in the mix i.e unwanted sub frequencies or harsh resonances. The EQ post compressor can accommodate any unwanted resonances caused by the compressor of choice.
- Don't Just Make It Louder
We all know that louder things sound better but the same applies for EQ. if you've made numerous boosts across the frequency range you may have just increased the level of the signal without making any noticeable tonal changes.
- Break The Rules
If it sounds good, it is good. Don't be afraid to use drastic effects. In the words of Chris Lord-Alge.. 'It ain't going to kill anyone if you do'. The video below shows a prime example of how extreme EQ work can lead to amazing results.
- Think Creatively
Why not try aggressively boosting a quiet signal to see what's in there. You could find an amazing background sound in a room mic recording or spot a gem that was never meant to be heard.
As always, any questions, tips or ideas on this just let us know and don't forget, have fun.
The Touch Loops team.