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EQ Technique

June 9, 2022
3 min read
Music console equalizer

Using EQs properly when mastering audio will save you time and make your mixes sound great! There are several topics to cover here, I'll attempt to give you an overview of several aspects with details in other posts.

Corrective EQ

The first step in any mix or master is to listen to the elements and see where the issues lie. It makes sense to get rid of the harsh elements before doing any additive EQ. You don't want to increase the volume of harsh frequencies before making those corrections. So listen, identify what is 'harsh', what is 'muddy', and what frequencies 'don't support' the element or song? To correct these issues I use subtractive EQ - notching out unwanted frequencies, usually with a fairly tight "Q" (narrowband). EQ plugins I use for this would include the MAAT Digital "thEQOrange" or the Fab Filter "ProQ3", both are excellent transparent EQs and very flexible in their settings. Both also offer great visual feedback to help fine-tune your adjustments as well as a 'Solo' function so you can isolate the frequency you're working on and and hear exactly what you're removing. Pulling some 'boxiness' out of the 250-600 Hz range will open up your mix and take a little mud out of an instrument track that sounds a little 'too much'. The adjustments should be done sparingly, just enough to correct an issue without damaging the overall feel of the track. I usually use 1-3 dB cuts on a very tight Q for these corrective measures.

De-Essing

De-Essing vocals is often a necessary step to clean up a vocal track. There are many ways to do this, the previous 2 EQ plugins mentioned in the paragraph above are excellent choices. Another excellent choice and tool I use quite often for this task is the Sonnox "SuprEsser". It helps to be able to 'solo and sweep' the suspected frequency range. Typically you'll find the sibilance somewhere between 4 kHz- 7.5 kHz, however occasionally outside that range, but that's a good place to start. Here again, just enough correction to remove the harshness without destroying the feel of the vocal.

Bass Support

If your mix is sounding a little 'thin' and you feel like it needs some low-end support, a nice wide Q bell curve centered around 90 Hz - 125 Hz might be a good place to start. Kick drums live between 65 Hz - 90 Hz usually and bass guitar could be between 32 Hz and up into the lower midrange. So, experiment and see what works for you. As mentioned in previous articles, I'm in favor of HPF on every channel set at about 25 Hz. Don't force your speaker to reproduce ultra-low frequencies that are neither musical nor audible. By following this simple rule, you'll actually tighten up your bass and low-end transients.

Adding Warmth

If needed, adding warmth to a vocal part or to a mix, in general, will be in the 150 Hz - 500 Hz range. Again, not a hard and fast rule, but a great starting point. A little goes a long way 1 - 1.5 dB on a wide Q usually does the trick. Experiment, see what center frequency sounds best in your situation.

Enhancing Vocal Intelligibility

Vocal intelligibility is important in most genres. Subtracting the very low-end frequencies from a vocal track and giving a little boost to roughly the 1 kHz - 2.5 kHz range on a vocal track will do wonders. It also helps to leave some space in that range by keeping keyboards, guitars, etc., from overrunning the vocals - this can be enhanced by some automation of those other tracks when the vocalist is singing. Of course, it all depends on your song and what serves the track best.

Adding 'Air' to Your Track

The term "adding 'air' to your track" means to add a bit of intimacy, kind of a top-end polish that helps your track to stand out and draw the listener in. It's almost kind of a feeling more than an audible thing. One way is to add a high shelf starting at about 12 kHz - 15 kHz and extending beyond where humans can hear. This can only be done once you have cleaned up your top end everything else sounds good. Once again, a little goes a long way. Experiment, do A/B comparisons...subtlety is the name of the game.

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