AF’s Weblog

December 10, 2010

Making Equalization Work For You

Filed under: Equalizers — Tags: , — audiofanzine @ 11:31 am

Equalization is one of the most important and powerful tools in the recording enthusiast’s arsenal, yet too many people adjust equalization with their eyes – not their ears. For example, one time after doing a mix, I noticed the client writing down all the EQ settings I had made. When I asked why, he said it was because he liked the EQ and wanted to use the same settings on these instruments in future mixes.

Wrong! EQ is a part of the mixing process; just as levels, panning, and reverb are different for each mix, EQ should be custom-tailored for each mix as well. But to do that, you need to understand how to find the magic EQ frequencies for particular types of musical material, as well as what tool to use for what application.

There are three main applications for EQ:

  1. Problem-solving
  2. Emphasizing or de-emphasizing an instrument in a mix
  3. Altering a sound’s personality

Each application requires specialized techniques and approaches.

Problem Solving

EQ can fix a variety of problems, and the tool of choice is usually a parametric equalizer, which consists of a limited number (typically 1-8) of frequency bands (Fig. 1). For each band, you can change not just the degree of boost or cut, but also the frequency at which this boosting or cutting occurs, as well as how wide a range of frequencies is affected – from very sharp to very broad. (“Pseudo-parametric” equalizers omit the bandwidth control, and the lack of this can seriously hamper the experienced EQ aficionado. Arguably, manufacturers err on the side of too narrow a fixed bandwidth, which makes it difficult to do subtle changes.)

Fig. 1: The PSP Audioware MasterQ is a high-quality equalizer plug-in for digital audio workstations with seven frequency-altering stages. Going from left to right, these are a highpass filter, low frequency shelving EQ, three parametric stages, high frequency shelving EQ, and a lowpass filter.

As one example of how you’d use a parametric EQ, slicing a sharp notch at 60Hz (50Hz in Europe) can knock hum out of a signal; trimming the high frequencies can remove hiss. Another common problem is an instrument with a resonance or peak that interferes with other instruments, or causes level-setting difficulties. Following is a procedure that takes care of this situation.

Several years ago I produced an album by classical guitarist Linda Cohen (Angel Alley, which was re-released on CD). She had a beautiful instrument with a full, rich sound that projected very well on stage, thanks to a strong body resonance in the lower midrange that caused a major level peak. However, recording was a different matter from playing live. If levels were set so the peaky, low frequency notes didn’t overload the recording media, the higher guitar notes sounded weak by comparison.

Although compression/limiting was always an option, it altered the guitar’s attack; while this effect might have gotten lost in an ensemble, it stuck out with a solo instrument. A more natural-sounding answer was to use EQ to apply a frequency cut equal and opposite to the natural boost, thus leveling out the response. But there’s a trick to finding problem frequencies so you can alter them; the following works like a charm.

  1. Turn down the monitor volume – the sound might get nasty and distorted during the following steps.
  2. Set the EQ for lots of boost (10-12dB) and fairly narrow bandwidth (around a quarter-octave or so).
  3. As the instrument plays, slowly sweep the frequency control. Any peaks will jump out due to the boosting and narrow bandwidth. Some peaks may even distort.
  4. Find the loudest peak and cut the amplitude until the peak falls into balance with the rest of the instrument sound. You may need to widen the bandwidth a bit if the peak is broad, or use narrow bandwidth for single-frequency problems such as hum.

This technique of boost/find the peak/cut can help remove midrange “honking,” strident resonances in wind instruments, and much more. Of course, sometimes you want to preserve these resonances so the instrument stands out, but many times applying EQ to reduce peaks allows instruments to sit more gracefully in the track.

Digital workstation EQ, as found in hard disk recording systems, can be particularly effective due to its precision. In one of my more unusual projects, I needed to remove boat motor noise from some whale samples. Motor noise is not broadband, but exists at multiple frequencies. Applying several extremely sharp and narrow notches at different frequencies took out each component of the noise, one layer at a time, until the motor noise was completely gone.

This type of problem-solving also underscores a key principle of EQ: it’s often better to cut than boost. Boosting uses up headroom; cutting opens up headroom. In the example of solving the classical guitar resonance problem, cutting the peak allowed for bringing up the overall gain to record a much higher overall level.

Let’s take a closer look…

Other EQ Tips

Problem-solving and character-altering EQ should be applied early on in the mixing process, as they will influence how the mix develops. But wait to apply most EQ until the process of setting levels begins; remember, EQ is all about changing levels – albeit in specific frequency ranges. Any EQ changes you make will alter the overall instrumental balance.

Another reason for waiting a bit is that instruments EQ’ed in isolation to sound great may not sound all that wonderful when combined. If every track is equalized to leap out at you, there’s no room left for a track to “breathe.” Also, you will probably want to alter EQ on some instruments so that they take on more supportive roles. For example, during vocals consider cutting the midrange a bit on supporting instruments (e.g., rhythm guitar) to open up more space in the audio spectrum for vocals.

Finally, remember that EQ often works best when applied subtly. Even one or two dB of change can make a significant difference. However, inexperienced engineers often do something such as increase the bass too much, which makes the sound too muddy, so they increase the treble, and now the midrange sounds weak, so that gets turned up…you get the idea. One of your best “reality checks” is an equalizer’s bypass switch. Use it often to make sure you haven’t lost control of the original sound!

To read the full detailed article:  Making Equalization Work For You

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September 3, 2009

Tomo Audiolabs – Lisa Mastering Equalizer

Tomo Audiolabs unveils their new mastering equalizer: Lisa. Don’t miss the demonstration in the the latter half of the video!

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

August 12, 2009

EQ and Compression Techniques Pt.2: Drums

Despite the preponderance of exceptional drum samples and loops on the market, for certain genres of music (notably country and rock) there is no substitute for a great session drummer playing on a well-recorded and mixed drum kit. One thing that samples and loops can’t provide is the great rhythmic instincts an accomplished live player draws upon when responding to a specific song. However, getting a great player (while certainly a significant element) is not the entire story. The appropriate treatment of the drums in a mix with EQ and compression can make the difference between a lifeless, vague sound and an exciting, textured and genuinely rhythmic drum track.

Even though the drummer plays the entire kit as a single instrument, the miking of individual drums and cymbals can make for a very complicated mix scenario. The reason I reference country and rock music specifically has to do with the fact that in these genres the sounds of the individual drums and cymbals are not only singled out by individual microphones placed on each of them but also their sounds are exaggerated to create an even more dramatic effect. Consider, for example, the tom fills in Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight.” By contrast, jazz drums are often treated as a more cohesive, unified sound and it’s not unusual to use a simple pair of overhead mics to capture the sound of the entire jazz drum kit.

In this article, I’m going to go drum by drum providing EQ and compression settings that will, hopefully, provide you with a jumping off point to getting great drum sounds in your mix. Because of its all-in-one mixing board channel approach, I’ll be using Metric Halo’s Channel Strip plug-in with its EQ, compression and noise-gate to illustrate my comments about various EQ and compression settings.

Now lets take a closer look drum by drum…

Conclusion

While I’ve been painfully specific about EQ, compression and gate settings, it’s important to remember that every mix situation is different. Use all of these settings as a jumping off point and then use your ears to tweak the sounds until you’re happy. Good luck!

To read the full detailed article see:  EQ and Compression Techniques for Drums

July 17, 2009

B-band – Model T35 Guitar Preamp

B-Band presents their new T-35 guitar preamp, featuring an LCD chromatic tuner, three-band EQ and drop-in installation, partnered with the B-Band UST 22R or 29R pickup. Don’t miss the guitar playin…

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

June 26, 2009

Charter Oak – PEQ-1 Equalizer

Filed under: Equalizers — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 11:47 am

Charter Oak presents their new PEQ-1 stereo program equalizer.

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

June 15, 2009

EQ and Compression Techniques for Vocals and Acoustic Guitar

As an engineer/producer, one of my biggest early challenges was getting my mixes to sound as polished and balanced as the mixes of songs on my favorite albums. Living in Nashville, I knew the problem wasn’t the players (some of whom had even played on those same favorite albums). I also knew that I was happy enough with the sounds I was recording because when I’d solo a particular track, I liked what I heard. The problem, in a nutshell, was getting all the parts of my mix to fit nicely together. What I’ve learned over time and will describe below are a few simple compression and EQ techniques for vocals and the acoustic guitar in your mixes. These techniques, when used properly, will go a long way towards allowing the vocals and acoustic guitars in your mixes to effectively share the sonic space.

Compression

When I first started reading about compressors I was hopelessly lost. The terminology was technical in an almost mean-spirited way and I couldn’t make heads or tails of what was being written. To keep things simple, I think of compression as a way of evening out the loud and soft parts of any vocal or instrument so that its behavior is a bit more predictable. In other words, compression brings up the really soft spots and tames the really loud spots so that you’re not constantly reaching for the volume fader on your mixing board (or virtual mixing board on your DAW). In its simplest form, a compressor, whether a hardware unit or a plug-in, will squeeze the audio so that its highs and lows are less pronounced. This allows you to do things like bring down the volume level of the compressed track without fear that its softer parts will get lost, or bring up the volume level without fear that the loud parts will jump out. It might help to think of all compression settings (attack, release, ratio and threshold) as ways to squeeze your audio more or less aggressively. Not enough compression will leave tracks that jump out of a mix at inappropriate times or get lost in the sound of the other instruments; however, too much compression can make a track sound lifeless or uninspired. My rule of thumb is to be less aggressive compressing audio on the way into your DAW (because you’re stuck with whatever you do) and more aggressive with my plug-in compression (because you can always dial it back).

EQ

While a wonderful (and essential) tool, EQ is also quite possibly the quickest way to royally mess up the sound of a mix. Overuse of EQ ranks second only to overuse of reverb as the hallmark of an inexperienced mix engineer. EQ should be used to subtly (or not so subtly) color the sound of the particular track you’re working on so that it relates well to and leaves space for the other tracks in a mix. My experience has been that it’s what you pull out and not what you put in that makes EQ work best. For example, even when you’re looking for a boost in the high frequencies of a track, it’s often more effective to pull a few dB from a lower frequency which, in turn, brightens the sound.

Conclusion
Compression and EQ are two very powerful weapons in your mix arsenal, but as with anything, overuse will do more harm than good. I think back to the words of an engineer whose work I really respect who liked to say “I’ll compress until it sucks and then back it off from there.” In other words, knowing when to say “when” is an equally useful skill. A final thought…as far as signal path is concerned, I tend to place compression after EQ because EQ effectively raises or lowers the volume of the track and I’ve found I get a more effective response from the compressor if I hit it with the EQed audio. I would highly recommend using the above EQ and compression settings not as an ironclad rule but rather as a jumping off point. Every mix is different and your ears will tell you what’s working and what isn’t.

To read the full detailed article see: EQ & Compression Techniques

February 6, 2009

NAMM 2009: Video Demo Empirical Labs DerrEsser

Filed under: Equalizers, namm 2009 — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 9:10 am

Dave Derr from Empirical Labs shows us his new DerrEsser, derivated from their LilFrEQ equalizer.

To watch all NAMM 2009 video demos visit us on Audiofanzine NAMM 2009.


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