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General Studio Tips

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How to use equalizers

An Equalizer is one of the most important audio tools a a sound engineering has. Without it would be similar to being on a row boat without any paddles.

It can be used to remove unwanted frequencies that might be to harsh sounding or that are interfering with other sounds in the mix. It can also be used to reduce tape hiss from cassette tapes (see High Shelf EQ).

For instance if there is a low rumble in the recording, caused by being to near a truck roadway, you can easily get rid of it through the use of an EQ. Use a low shelf eq to remove the rumble.

To use your eq(s) effectively you should map out the sounds you currently are trying to mix together. You can take a look at this chart for a reference of instrument type and frequency range.

An equalizer allows you to change the frequency content within the audio signal. By adjusting the knobs or sliders you can boost or cut selected frequencies. This is useful to make areas of the audio more audible (eg. boost someone's voice), cut out sounds (eg. take out electrical hum), or mix with other sounds (eg. Take out the high frequencies in the bass so they mix better with a guitar).

EQs can be found on mixing desks, effects processors and audio software.

Low Shelf / Low Pass Filter (LPF) only allows low frequencies through. It behaves similarly to a bass knob on your stereo. Low Shelf EQs effects (boost or cut) the amplitude of frequencies starting at the selected frequency and then everything below it.

High Shelf / High Pass Filter (HPF) basically only allows high frequencies through. It behaves similar to a treble knob on a stereo. High Shelf EQs effects (boost or cut) the amplitude of frequencies starting at the selected frequency and then everything above it.

Peak Type/ Band Pass Filter / Notch Filter: (Most Normal) only allows a range of medium frequencies through. Boost or Cut a selected frequency of a sound. You can't isolate a particular frequency exactly but you can get pretty narrow. For instance say you wanted to cut the frequencies around 250 Hz. You would effect the frequencies from about 200 to about 300 hz for the most part. The amount of frequencies effected by the eq is what is called it's 'Q'. Adjusts the level of signal at the set frequency, and some surrounding frequencies. The Q setting determines how many surrounding frequencies are affected.

What the controls do:

Input (gain): adjusts the volume coming into the EQ.

Frequency / Sweep: selects the frequency to be effected.

Gain: boosts or cuts (decreases) the volume within the selected frequency area.
 

Q / Width This setting is what determine how large or small the frequencies around the eq's frequency are affected (the size of the bump, or hill in the EQ graph). This is also called Resonance or Bandwidth. Sets the amount of surrounding frequencies that will be affected. Octaves are used to help define more easliy how many frequencies the eq is effecting.

Q setting reference chart:

Q Setting
Width
0.7
2 Octaves
1.0
1 1/3 Octaves
1.4
1 Octave
2.8
Octave
 

 

How to use the EQ:

First you should know what sounds (Instruments) are going to used in the mix. You can get the guitar for instance to sound really great but when you add the bass it sounds really muddy.

I generally go through each sound and apply eq (if it needs it) to remove low end rumble or high end noise. This is a SUBTRACTIVE process where there is NO boosting of any frequency. If you are removing more than -6dB at any frequency then the problem should have been taken care of by moving the mic or added baffles when it was recorded. None the less you have to deal with what you've got.

While going through this initial survey of the sounds I will try to make them sound better (without hearing any other instrument) and also knowing already what frequencies of sound, the guitar, interfere with other sounds, the bass.

I then find a place in the song where ALL the instruments or as many instruments are playing at the same time.

What is the most predominant sound? The Voice? The Guitar? Start with that sound. Make it sound as good you can by using EQ only (no reverb, no delay, no chorus, no effects). This is to get the overall sound correct. Then you can do levels and effects.

Next add next most predominant instrument. Listen and see how it interacts with the most predominant sound. This is where your ears need to be used. Listen for jumps in volume or for the annoying frequencies, the ones that really stand out. Reduce those frequencies. You will note that no frequencies have been boosted. At this point you want to create a DRY and balanced mix.

Next add the third most predominant sound and continue as previously. Obviously if you have many tracks this process can seem too complex but it isn't. Just break down the tracks in to groups or sub-mixes. Minimally do this to instruments that have a similar range (Piano, Guitar, and Bass and Kick Drum).

At this point you can add Compression to help even-out the peaks even more. The main thing is to get a balanced mix by using EQ only. Do this without using any Reverb, Delay, Chorus etc... The effects do colour the sound it is true but you need to start with a good sound to make the effects sound good.

Instruments - Sound Frequency Chart

below 20Hz- This is below what most humans are capable of hearing. At very high volumes of the this frequency you feel it.

below 40 Hz- These are very low frequencies that are responsible for most muddy sounds. This frequency uses up most of the bandwidth (power) of a power amp and speakers. Use this frequency sparingly, also watch your meters. You see them get louder but you won't hear a vast difference in the volume of your mix.

60Hz - kick drum, bass, hum. It's true that in the US the frequency of 60 Hz really interferes with kick drums and bass guitar frequencies. You boost this frequency and you boost the AC hum.

80Hz - bass guitar

120-180Hz - tom drums

200 Hz - the sharp attack sound of a bass guitar

250-300Hz -that annoying "cardboard box" sound you get when recording things in a room, especially drums.

1000Hz (1kHz) - first boost section of the human voice. good for boosting voices in a film.

2000Hz (2kHz) - "Click" of a bass drum.

3kHz - best boost area of human voice, and great for pushing a sound through a small speaker, use this to boost voices for TV.

5 - 8 kHz - Sibilance (the "Sssss" sounds produced by the voice).

above 10kHz- very high frequencies and main part of audible hiss.

Above 20kHz- out of human hearing range (but not bats, cats or dogs)

A note on hiss: Hiss is a sound that happens across all frequencies at once. Therefore it is very hard to get rid of with a EQ, you really need a special noise reduction processor or plug-in to do it. But because of the way frequencies work there is more energy in the hiss in the very high frequency area, so cutting this area will make the hiss less obvious.

You can also try these articles on "How to Use an Equalizer"

EQ And Mixing Made Easy

Sound system equalizing advice

The Art of Equalization - a good basic introduction

Understanding EQ and its Effects on Signals

Basics of Equalization and Feedback

Constant-Q and Equalizers - information on different equalizers, pdf document

Constant-Q Graphic Equalizers - paper in pdf format

Crossovers, Equalizers & Compressors - article in pdf format

EQ - some history of equalizing and tips on using equalizers

Equalizing Bass - bass does not usually translate to smaller speakers very well without rolling out too much bottom

Signal Processing Fundamentals - crossovers, equalizers and dynamic controllers

 

 
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