EQ Recommendations

The starting recommendation is to use whatever Equalizers your DAW of choice is packaged with. I use Ableton, and can say that their EQs get the job done quite well. Logic also has great EQs. Ableton’s EQ-8 offers a solid parametric equalizer with mid-side and left/right modes. You can also turn on over-sampling for higher audio quality, and there’s even A/B referencing. For moments when you only need a minimal EQ, they offer the EQ-3. It is definitely worth checking out your in-house EQs before branching out to paid plugins.

FabFilter Pro-Q 2

This is one of the best equalizers I’ve had the experience of working with. It’s got all the features one would expect from an EQ, plus much more. You can fine-tune the spectrum analyzer and see how your adjustments affect the sound. You can alter the latency at the filter level rather than the overall plugin level. This allows for a linear phase approach as I discussed earlier. All-in-all, it boasts many features and provides great value.

Waves Puigtec

There once was an analog equalizer called the Pultec. This piece of hardware found its way into many of the best recording studios in the world. Once digital turned into a widely used format, companies began emulating this famous unit. In my opinion, the best emulation is the Puigtec by Waves. Check it out and see if you like it.

Waves SSL G-Equalizer

Another product by Waves, this particular plugin emulates the famous SSLequalizers. It is a four band EQ modelled after the G series EQ292. This unit is perhaps better suited to offering character and colorization rather than problem-solving and mixing solutions.

Voice of God Bass Resonance Plugin by UA

Strictly for your bass, the VOG plugin is as simple as it gets. Trust your ears and tweak the knobs until you have a sound you like. It’s important to note that this EQ’s only function is to boost a narrow area in the low end, while simultaneously rolling off the frequencies below the boosted part. Best way to understand what it does is by trying it.

Voxengo GlissEQ

Voxengo has a decent reputation, and this particular EQ upholds their name. It’s a dynamic EQ, meaning that it applies different levels of processing based on the level of the signal at each particular frequency range. And it helps to have a spectrum analyzer so you can see what is happening.

Stillwell 1973 EQ

This EQ is meant for color and shape rather than mixing and sculpting, much like the SSLG-Equalizer by Waves. It’s a fairly straightforward plugin, with a shelf, high-pass, and peak filter. Perhaps the best part about this is that it’s relatively cheap compared to other EQ plugins. It emulates the Neve 1073 equalizer.

General Guidelines

This section explores some best practices and general guidelines to get you headed in the right direction. These tips and techniques will save you time learning and time practicing.

Boosting vs. Cutting: Everyone says not to boost, but rather cut frequencies. The reasoning behind this is that adding to frequencies is done by adding gain, making it louder. Our ears tend to think louder sounds equal better sounds, but unfortunately that doesn’t remove the clutter or muddiness of your track. Generally, it’s much better to find what area of the frequency spectrum sounds jumbled, figure out which instrument should have prominence in that area, and then cut out the same areas occupied by other instruments. I’ll also combine this tip with another common one: Use narrower cuts and wider boosts. Check the image below to see what I mean.

Check Your Sounds In The Mix: Your intuition might tell you to solo the instrument in question while EQing in order to better hear what you want to cut or boost. While this can be helpful, you’re not getting an idea of what the instrument sounds like in the middle of the whole song. Try making changes while everything else is playing. This gives you a feel for how it will sound in the mix, rather than on its own. And because your listener will only hear it as a full tune, what matters is that it sounds good in line with everything else. And besides, sometimes EQing something when soloed actually makes it sound worse when you play all the channels at once.

Fill Out The Entire Spectrum: The best tracks have the entire frequency spectrum filled out. Listen to any commercial radio song, or even your favorite club tracks, and you’ll notice the full spectrum is used. Often, for newer producers, it’s easy to fill out the spectrum because there is a tendency to add too many elements. When a mix is too busy, of course the spectrum will be filled! The hard part is using all the frequencies with minimal elements, or having a bunch of elements and getting them to sit well next to each other. Unfortunately, this skill is honed only with lots of experience. However, there are two great tips you can start with. One is to make use of ambience. Having an atmosphere or ambience to your track will fill the frequency spectrum, yet it remains blended in the background and, when done well, adds to the mood or vibe of your song. The other tip is to use high-pass and low-pass filters only as needed. For example, while highpassing your snare around 150hz is great for reducing interference with your kick drum, during a break-down where the kick’s low end is cut, try removing the high-pass filter on the snare to retain some sort of low end presence. This is easily done through automation. As another example, if you’ve got a part of your track where there is just a minimal beat and bass line, you can remove any highpass filters from your hi-hats to add more presence where your lead synth would normally be.

Analyze Your Favorite Tracks: This tip is one that really helped me improve quickly. Quite often, I will load up a song in Ableton Live and drop an EQ-8 onto the channel. When you enable the spectrum analyzer in EQ-8, it can show you what changes when a new sound begins in the song. For example, you might notice what space a hi-hat fills when it drops in by watching the spectrum. Additionally, by using high- and low-pass filters, you can hear where certain sounds cut out, which is a great way to figure out where in the spectrum each element sits. In the example image below, I’m using only a single instrument, not a full track, but I’ve highlighted the spectrum analysis button for easy reference.

Making Large Changes: If you find yourself making wide boosts on your master channel, chances are you will get better results by fixing your instruments at the source. This tip applies to many, many areas of sound and music production, and is no different with EQing. For example, if you’re applying 6dB of gain or EQ boost to the 1khz zone on your master, look at which instruments are occupying that space. EQ the instruments individually to make them fit better. Alternatively, switch up your sounds so they fit well enough together that you don’t need to EQ anything. These approaches will almost always provide better results than slapping a giant shelf filter on your master output.

Make A Few Versions: While this particular tip is time-consuming, it’s worth trying at least once. When you’ve got a song ready to bounce, save it and export three different versions. First, bounce your current version. Then, go back and start fresh with your EQs and see how it alters the tone of your final product. Bounce that, and repeat the process a third time. Doing this when you finish a song will help you to learn and better understand how equalization settings affect your music. It will also give you a better idea as to what kinds of go-to EQ settings you will want to use in the future.

High-Passing Reverb And Other FX: Unless you’re going for that reverb bass sound that you hear in many techno tracks, it’s a wise move to run all your reverbs and delays through a high-pass filter. This clears the low end from muddiness and unwanted rumble.

Unintended Results: As hinted at earlier, EQing can result in more than you expect. While you might think you’ve achieved more clarity, it’s not unrealistic to have changed how the entire mix sounds. For example, cutting a few decibels in a certain range will change how the instrument itself sounds, but it can have an effect on your whole song too. Does the song sound hollow or full? If your EQ’d instrument is panned, does it sound more or less panned once EQ is applied? Be sure to make use of the bypass button on your EQs to check your changes every so often!

Correcting The High End

We’ve discussed dealing with the low end, so let’s focus on the high end now. First, as with the bass frequencies, if there are parts that don’t need presence in the higher frequencies, consider applying a low-pass filter on them.

But do be careful – Even slightly overdoing it will result in a dull, flat mix. Another simple solution is to ensure your instruments match up well. If your song has a ride cymbal playing at the same time as an open hi-hat, consider what range each occupies. If they are interfering with each other, try adjusting the pitch of one up or down so that they overlap less. If you suffer from the opposite problem and feel that not enough is going on in your high end, there are a few options.

The most obvious and common method is to gently boost the frequency range in question. A shelving filter will work perfectly for this task. If you want something else though, consider using a saturation, tube, or distortion plugin. Applying these effects to higher frequencies can increase the brightness and clarity – as long as you don’t overdo it. Even subtle amounts of saturation will go far!

Also, and this applies to everything mentioned so far, sometimes the best solution is to choose instruments that fit well together. Choosing the right sounds from the start means less time spent EQing and fixing sound issues. Sometimes the best answer may just be a matter of choosing different samples or tweaking your synths more. The best sounding tracks, in my experience, have minimal EQing because the elements all go together well as they are. For example, let’s say you have both a bass line and a lead arpeggio that overlap.

If it sounds muddy because the harmonics of the bass are interfering with the synth line, shifting your arpeggio up five notes (or semitones) might bring more clarity to your mix. Likewise, a thin ride cymbal that rests in the 5khz+ range will sound better with a chunky hi-hat that sits in the 1khz-5khz range, rather than if both elements are occupying the same space.

How To Keep Bass In Mono

If you’re not sure how to keep your low end in mono, there are three primary ways to achieve this. Since I work in Ableton, I’ll be offering advice for Ableton, though the principle is the same across the board. If you need to keep your low end in mono, the first way is to duplicate your track and highpass the duplicate around 200hz.

Low-pass the original around the same area and add a utility plugin that allows you to turn your channel from stereo to mono. If you prefer to not add another channel, you can drop a multiband dynamics plugin onto your track, and then create an audio effect rack. Create three chains, each with a multiband dynamics plugin, and then each dynamics plugin should have either low, mid, or high soloed.

Make sure to set the Amount knob to 0% so that you’re not actually compressing anything. Finally, a third technique you can use is to apply a mid-side EQ. Ableton’s EQ-8 has this ability. Just high-pass the side EQ band to around 200hz or above and you’re all set! See the image below for reference:

Bass Issues

With electronic music, bass is considered the most important element to a track. It’s what moves bodies, makes you shake your head and dance, and it’s what separates the amazing tracks from the mediocre ones. Put simply, the bass needs to be done well, and done right. An easy way to get a proper start to solid low end is by high-passing all your other song elements around 120hz to 200hz. Many instruments have lower frequencies that you may not even notice or be able to hear. Cymbals often have a low rumble to them. Noise effects and explosion sounds have low end rumble as well. Even your lead synth might extend down to below 100hz depending on what octave your melody is in. It’s paramount to make sure these are all removed and not taking up space that your bass line and kick drum need. Likewise, field recordings and audio samples sometimes have deep bass frequencies that do nothing but reduce valuable headroom. While this is an easy fix to many potential low end problems, it’s also not a one-step magic solution.

For example, you might risk losing the punch of your snare drum. Some fat, crunchy snares have a deep punch in the 100hz – 200hz range, and you might not want to cut that out. If the snare punch is pertinent to your track, try cutting out that frequency spot in your kick drum to make room for the snare.

Alternatively, you might just want to find another snare sample. Another important point when dealing with bass is to consider how much processing you actually want to have. Great bass requires a delicate approach. Clarity in the low end is more desirable than just loud overlapping sub frequencies. Sound systems at festivals and clubs are designed so that the bass roars anyway, so you don’t need to overdo it, but rather sculpt it nicely. One simple solution is to make sure you don’t apply effects to your low end. Keeping this in mind will prevent the need for problem-solving with an EQ.

For example, whereas you might apply a flanger effect or delay on your mid and high frequencies, you don’t want to do that to your bass frequencies. It will sound muddled and messy. Finally, keep your bass in mono. It’s difficult to tell direction with low end, and if you’ve ever been to a club or festival you’ll know firsthand that you feel the bass rather than hear it, at least for the sub-bass frequencies. A good rule of thumb is to make sure all your frequencies below 100hz or 120hz are kept mono, and only introduce stereo imaging or panning to higher frequencies.

Working With The Spectrum

The best way to get better with using EQs is by listening to how EQ adjustments alter a track or sound. I’ve heard some people suggest creating a steep bell-curve (see the image below) and boosting the gain, sweeping the frequency spectrum back and forth to listen for problem areas. I think that this method is actually more useful for simply getting used to what parts of the spectrum sound like. Creating a frequency sweep allows you to hear what things sound like at 1000hz versus 500hz. For easy reference, check out my blog post that discusses the frequency spectrum. Or just check out the guide below.

40-100hz: This is the thud of your sub-bass and kick drum. Boosting this too much and you’ll clip your meters and make a mess of your low end. Keep the sub-bass levels too low and your track will feel like it’s missing something when played over a sound system.

100-200hz: This is your standard bass range. You can boost this area for additional snare punch, or to increase the beefiness of your bass lines. I find that often the kick drum has a ‘knock’ in this range.

200-500hz: The higher end of bass frequencies. Lower synth lines can be situated in this range, and boosting too much can create jumbled sounds. Too little in this area leads to a weak sound. Boosting the bass harmonics in this area can help them stand out on sound systems with poor low end capabilities.

500-1000hz: The range where a lot of things are usually happening. Boosting too much can lead to nasal or awkward sounds. Too little though will make a weak mix. This area is often where lead synths sit in tracks.

1-2khz: An area where the body of clap and snare sounds sit. EQing this area can be tricky because you want your percussion and drum elements to stand out but not interfere with lead synth sounds. But high-passing elements in this area can lead to thin drum sounds. This is also where the lower ranges of hi-hats and cymbals tend to sit. Don’t boost too much in this range though because this is where human hearing is most sensitive.

2-5khz: This is where vocals often sit. They go lower in the spectrum too, but this is where the clarity comes from. Adding a boost will give an edge to your vocals and synth lines, but cutting too much will result in somewhat of a muted sound.

5-10khz: This area contains the crispness of snares, the brightness of hi-hats, clarity of synths and vocals, and the top-most part of bass sounds. Boosting will help these elements stand out more, but too much can lead to an unwanted scratchiness. Likewise, cutting too much will lead to a muted or dull mix. You also have the sibilance of singers, that ‘s’sound. Too much will be harsh on the ears, but too little makes the vocals harder to understand.

10+khz: This is the part of the frequency spectrum that provides breathiness, air, and a certain brilliance or glitter. When you think your mix sounds dull or like something is missing, but you can’t place it, it is often this range of the spectrum. On the opposite end, too much presence sounds hissy and artificial in a bad way

Understanding The Spectrum

The secret to working with EQs and understanding the frequency range is to be able to visualize it. Having a spectrum analyzer is tremendously beneficial while producing. Not only does it show you where different elements are loudest, but you can then compare different channels to spot where overlap is occurring. The frequency spectrum begins at 20 hertz on the far left and continues until 20khz at the far right.

This is considered the typical range of what humans can hear, and by seeing it as a spectrum, you can plop your different sounds into their own space along that spectrum. Hi-hats and cymbals are on the right, bass lines and kick drums are far left. If you can squeeze your sounds in nice and smooth so they don’t overlap much, you’ll be well on your way to a fine-sounding mix.

For the science-minded, I like to imagine a room with different gas elements. The thicker elements are hovering just above the floor, the thinner ones are light and airy, and hang by the ceiling. Your bass elements are the thicker, deeper sounds. They rest near the floor. The hi-hats and cymbals are breathy and light, and they are at the top of the room. The point I’m trying to make is that if you can visualize where your sounds are along the spectrum, fitting them together will make your life a lot easier.

EQ Modes

Depending on your choice of equalizer, there are probably a few different modes available. This section covers the most common ones.

Regular EQ: This kind of EQ is most likely the default setting on whichever equalizer you prefer to use. It’s stereo output and making adjustments doesn’t affect the stereo image.

Left/Right EQ: This splits the stereo image into left and right channels, allowing you to make adjustments on each individual channel. This can be used for creative purposes, like when trying to cut a frequency range in the left side but boost it in the right.

Mid-Side EQ: A mid-side EQ is fundamental for advanced productions. Rather than splitting the stereo image between left and right, a mid-side splits the image between mono and stereo. So all your sounds down the ‘mid’dle are adjusted using the mid EQ, and all your sounds on the ‘side’ are adjusted using the side EQ. This comes in handy when you want to keep your low end in mono, or when you want to duplicate a synth line, but apply a bunch of effects and then take out the mono parts so as to add a bit of atmosphere.

Minimal vs. Linear Phasing: In the days of analog gear, making cuts or boosts with equalizers introduced phase-shifts. This occurred because when you cut or boost a part of a sound, you introduce a very slight latency, or delay, to the signal. So your output would be different parts of the same signal occurring at very slightly different times, thus coloring the sound and shifting the phase. If the sound coloration was desirable, then there were no problems whatsoever. The issue is that it was typically an unwanted effect, and so EQ manufacturers took strides to reduce the phase-shifting that would occur, hence the term ‘minimum-phase’. A linear phase EQ allows you to introduce latency to all frequencies, so that your output is the same across the board and your phase does not shift. Unfortunately, this can cause issues in your low end for reasons that are beyond the scope of this book. Typically, linear phase EQs are preferable for mastering engineers, but otherwise aren’t worth the effort. Stick to a regular EQ and you’ll be fine. You probably won’t even notice any phase shifting that might occur.

EQ Types

As discussed above, the primary equalizer styles seen in action today are parametric and graphic EQs. But there are other types as well.

● Graphic: Graphic EQs have a simple interface. A handful of sliders at specified frequencies that you can adjust up or down to boost or cut the frequency band.
● Parametric: A visual representation of an EQ, usually partnered with a spectrum analysis. Frequencies, Q-values, and gain are all entirely adjustable.
● Program: Program EQs are less common, but you’ve probably seen one at some point. It’s really just the technical term for the bass and treble knobs on your home stereo system. A program EQ is designed so that you only have control over the boost or cut amount, not the frequency band or width.
● Shelving: A shelving EQ is a simple equalizer with a high- or low-shelf filter.

Cutoff Filter: When one thinks of a filter used as an effect, rather than an EQ, this is what comes to mind. It’s typically a high-pass or low-pass filter with a high Q-value.

Filter Types

To start, there are five basic filter types. High- and low-pass, shelving, peak, notch, and band-pass filters.

Low-pass and high-pass filters: These filters reduce the gain on any frequencies below or above the cut-off point. There are different ‘slope’settings that measure how drastic the cut or gain reduction is. Depending on the EQ, it is typical to see a range from 6dB/Octave all the way up to 48dB/Octave. As explained earlier, this means that for every octave, six (or whatever the number is) additional decibels of gain reduction are applied. Also worth noting:The actual cutoff point of a filter is defined as a 3dB reduction, so the reduction actually starts a bit before whatever your cutoff frequency is.

Low- and high-shelf filters: Similar to a low- or high-pass filter, a shelf filter applies gain reduction beyond a certain frequency. But a shelf filter can also be used to boost frequencies too. The primary difference between cutoff and shelving filters is that the reduction is equal at all points on a shelf filter, not gradually increased. So, if you apply a low-shelf filter at 200hz with a reduction of 6dB, there will only be a 6dB reduction at 100hz too, rather than a 12dB reduction from a low-pass filter.

Peak (or bell curve) filters: A peak filter allows one to isolate problem frequencies. This filter type is the kind that lets you make narrow cuts or wide boosts. You can change the width by adjusting the Q-value.

Notch filters: Notch filters make very steep, narrow cuts in a frequency range. Using this filter type is great for surgical cuts, but exercise caution because it can result in a very odd, fake sound. Really, any major cuts or giant boosts can result in your instrument sounding wonky if not done right.

Band-pass filters: Finally, the band-pass filter. This filter type is a combination of both high-pass and low-pass filters, allowing only a specific range of frequencies through, while attenuating the entire range on either ends of the band-pass.