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Learning the science of using EQ

Discussion in 'Recording' started by rsp2rsp2, Feb 5, 2009.

  1. rsp2rsp2

    rsp2rsp2 Guest

    The time for me has come to EQ my vocal & guitar tracks. In past recordings (with less powerful DAW’s), of course, I messed with EQ a (but not really knowing what I was doing). Now, I have just completed that best vocal & guitar tracks of my life (& I have SERIOUS audio tools at my disposal, like a UAD-1 with Neve settings & the Waves Diamond bundle). I want to take advantage of my new tools.

    Instead of just pulling frequencies out of my butt (and relying in presets), I really want to understand the science about using EQ with MY sound. As for my vocals, I have a very deep voice (along the lines of STP, later David Bowie, Neal Diamond, Iggy Pop, etc, etc). That being noted, what frequencies on my EQ should I spend extra care with (and what kind of things should I avoid doing)? Thanks!
  2. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Distinguished Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Scotland, UK
    I'll try and get in before the true flamers with a soft post.

    (Spoiler: I'm about to tell you to get more experience, simply put.)

    Basically, what you want to look out for is frequencies that stick out to your ears.
    You want to train yourself to hear frequencies and frequency ranges and then, learn to detect what ones sound too loud. Sounds like too much around 100Hz? Knock off some dB at about 100Hz. Sounds thin? Knock off less.

    TRIAL and ERROR are the cheapest things on the planet (unless you're building very large prototypes of something, but I'm talking about the audio world here) so when you start out, twiddle things. Touch things (not so hard they fall over). Fiddle and mess about with stuff.

    Learn to critique the sound. Too flabby? Get rid of the low end. Really you don't need much energy below 80Hz or thereabouts in a vocal.
    That italicised part is key - it's the "thereabouts" and the "approximately" that stop professionals telling people exactly what to remove - only YOU can tell whether a change makes it sound better, worse, etc.

    But don't go crazy on the EQ and remember to work for the mix! Six awesome tracks put together could end up a horrible mess of presence boosted garbage.

    Experience is a byproduct of mistakes, feel free to get some of it. The whole point in computer editing is that it's non-destructive and relatively fast/easy to do.
  3. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Sep 26, 2005
    EQ can be used in a corrective way or as an effect. Really good recordings can be had WITHOUT ANY EQ.

    EQing for the sake of EQ doesn't make any sense. Moving a microphone before grabbing at a knob (or mouse) is actual audio engineering. Not playing with knob's/mice.

    In fact, low-cost equalization can do more harm than good. For example, I absolutely loath any TRASHCAM equalizers. Don't like them. Won't touch them. If I do? It's just 2 DB at 10kHz or 2 DB at 100 hertz. The mid-band equalizer is total crap. So using equalization varies greatly depending upon quality of your equalization. Be it hardware or software. And remember, LESS IS MORE.

    Now if you have a truly good sounding equalizer, you'll be happier than a pig in $*^t, i.e. API/Neve. Starting at $1000 per channel, that's good sounding EQ. You'll find some good ones in software as well, generally as plug-ins.

    Even with good equalization, you have to know what & how to equalize. And that's simply a judgment call based upon your perceptions. Some of what you're hearing on other recordings isn't EQ at all but highly specialized microphones selection & high quality preamps. I've made recordings for many folks where everything was left flat. They always marvel as to how huge my sound is. Then, they try to mixed everything and tried to EQ what I recorded for them. Their quandary? They inform me that when they try to EQ my stuff, cloudit detracts from the recording". They tell me, cloudyour stuff sounds best when we don't use any EQ". That simply explains what good microphone technique even with cheap Russian condenser microphones when utilized with quality preamps, can deliver, with the right hands.

    No EQ necessary for much
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  4. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Moderator Resource Member

    Dec 18, 2008
    Western Pennsylvania, USA
    The Codemonkey is very wise....

    I agree that it's about critical listening and training your ear to identify which frequencies have grabbed your attention - good or bad. Unfortunately there is no scientific equation. I would also encourage you to grab some knobs and start twiddling. No one here can tell you what specific frequencies to cut or boost, only your ears can make that call.

    EXIT RAMP HERE: or read on if you want to....

    I absolutely appreciate your logical approach, but you're looking for science where I think EQing - and mixing in general - is more of an art. It's obviously a technical art-form, but still largely a matter of taste and preference based on a very specific set of technical circumstances. I know computer programming is full of "if / then" commands, but for sound there way too many variables and judgement calls based on your own unique (and constantly changing) situation to plug in any numerical values. Nobody has been able to come up with an algorithm yet that can do it justice. And I can almost guarantee it, that like any other art-form, as soon as you think it's perfect and put it on display, someone with different tastes will come along and dump all over it. They will be listening to it with varying degrees of hearing loss, special frequency sensitivities, different expectations, and different tastes. So accept the fact right now, that you can't please everybody. Your objective should be smooooth even and natural sounding vocals - as uneffected as possible. Even if you want to do something avant garde, I think you need to practice making a vocal sound like a major-label recording as a starting point.

    And since you're also the performer of the song, I would tell you, concentrate on getting a good performance, it's way more important than having the perfect EQ. Naturally, bad EQ can ruin a mix, but fretting over the minute adjustments, might be best left to a pro if you're trying to showcase a great song. Get the best performance you can get on tape [or harddrive as the case may be] and don't be distracted thinking about post-production work. You're already pumped, because you've got good strong takes of the guitar and vocal tracks - that's what it's all about to me. A strong performance will almost always outshine lackluster production techniques. And if necessary you can always hand it off to someone whose strengths are on the production side. Freeing you up to keep doing what you do best.

    A strong performance / into a good microphone / in a good sounding room / with a clean signal chain - and you're more than half way home.

    That being said - here are some very general recording tips I can give to someone in your position:

    The beauty of working on a DAW is the ability to do multiple saves. My word of advice on that would be, do a clean unadulterated save before you starting mixing and keep doing "Save As" saves before you do anything radical. Especially if you're going to combine any tracks or print/process any effects. Name the new save with something relevant to what you've just done. example: Save As "Drum Edits" This way you'll always have a happy place you can return to if you decide you've made a total mess of something. The raw sound files may be large, but the DAW's save files are very small in comparison. So save early and often.

    For EQing this is my personal rule of thumb, I would always prefer to cut rather than boost. Your voice will have a character that makes it unique, you want to make sure that comes through. If that character is missing, I'd rather correct that by taking away anything that muds up or hides that special quality. [The thing that is mudding up that frequency might be on another track the bass, guitar, keyboards, or drums can all be very thick in the vocal range.] And if boost is necessary on the vocal, only in very small increments - it will start sounding fake quickly to me - especially for a vocal. If I have to boost too much to get it sounding natural, it means I've done a poor job of tracking it and if necessary would record it again paying close attention to mic selection and position. I couldn't tell you the last time I had to start over, but then again... I've been at this for a while. :)

    EQ is very likely going change from song to song, depending on the key of the music behind the vocal. Again, in the final mix the thing that is mudding up that vocal might be on another track- bass, guitar, keyboards, drums, or whatever. So sometimes you have to cut a little here and there to keep the overall mix smooth and the vocal naturally sitting in the pocket. But you can't determine that until the final mix.

    If you're completely new to finding what frequency range to adjust here's what I'd do for the kind of voice you're describing and it will be good practice for your freq. recognition training: AT A REASONABLE VOLUME

    FIRST without subtlety take the sweepable low-mid and boost it 10 or 12 dB

    THEN move the sweepable frequency up and down through the spectrum and when you hit the most obnoxious tone you've ever heard in your life - you've probably found one of those nasty frequencies that wouldn't be missed if you trimmed some of it out. [Make a mental note of the frequency, it may come up next time and you may find a pattern of what works for your voice.]

    NEXT now that you've identified the offending frequency range undo the boost from step 1 and starting at zero slowly start to cut that frequency until you hear an improvement. You'll notice how these adjustments affect the neighboring frequencies. Experiment with taking too much and giving some back. Twiddle man twiddle... This is where you need to be subtle. And in the end, don't cut any more than you absolutely need to. In Waves you'll also have the ability to narrow or widen the swath you're taking (Q width). Again, you'll have to experiment and practice. Sometimes surgical precision is best, other times you want to use broad strokes. Waves will help you visualize all of this if it's new to you.

    Repeat as necessary for hi-mids etc. until you have something that sounds pure and natural.

    Anyway, I hope this is of some help to you. You can take it or leave it, I'm just trying to encourage you to learn and practice your craft.

    I'll be anxious to hear the track if you post it to the Song & Mix Critique forum.
  5. NCdan

    NCdan Guest

    My only advice is: think about each instrument. Should a guitar have lows and subs in it? Don't they make something called a bass guitar? Maybe that should have the lows and subs... Are cymbals supposed to sound boomy? Maybe you should think about rolling off the lower frequencies on the cymbals. A little common sense goes a long way.

    Another good thing to remember is to give each instrument it's own space. Boosting 1 KHz for everything usually isn't a good idea, since you're boosting the same frequency for everything. Good luck with EQ.
  6. Space

    Space Distinguished Member

    Jun 26, 2007
    I went looking for a a specific piece of information and wound up back here. So here it is, before you even ask:


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