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In this installment of the Foundations of Audio series, author Brian Lee White shows producers and audio engineers how to properly apply equalization (EQ) and improve the sound of their mixes. The course covers the use of parametric and graphic EQs—and filters such as the high/low pass filters and shelf filters—in a variety of musical settings. These principles can be applied to any digital audio workstation platform, including Logic and Pro Tools, as well as analog workflows.
I'm sure you've heard a mix where the lead vocal or another instrument sounds a bit low-fi. Or purposefully low bandwidth that creates a unique mood and enhances the contrast of that element in the mix. Ecu curves are not always about correcting an instruments tonal balance but are sometimes used for a creative effect or placing an element in a unique space within the mix. To me, there's nothing that represents this usage more than the classic telephone effect.
Let's take a look at applying this effect to a vocal track. First, let's listen to an example of a telephone style filter in action. Listen again, as I automate the effect in and out of the mix. lyrics. Aptly named the telephone effect makes it sound like the signal is coming across on a telephone connect hopefully you notice that the effect sits the vocal in a very unique place in the mix not necessarily in the foreground of the mix. But definitely not in the background. The filter effect gives the vocal a cool low-fi quality that grabs the ear, yet takes up very little frequency space.
Therefore allowing all the other instruments around it to fill out the spectrum. Let's take a look at how it's done. First I start with the low pass filter and sweep down until I find a nice spot around two to three K where I can still hear much of the harmonics that make the vocal intelligible. Then I will sweep up with a high pass filter to remove all the low frequencies up through around 400 hertz. The combination of a low and a high pass filter creates what's commonly referred to as a band pass filter. And this lays the foundation for my telephone style effect.
Intensify you will hear on the dance floor when the DJ plays your favorite song, this is when we lose it. Notice that I'm using a very aggressive slope or que of 24 DB per ovtive here. This allows the high and low pass filters to restrict the frequency range and box in the vocals energy to just the frequencies I've selected. To take the effect even further it is often common to include a resonant bump somewhere around the low-pass frequency's cutoff.
This narrow cued boost can really make the effect pop and extend the low-fi feel even more. Check it out. Hopefully you notice that when I add almost 12 DB of gain to my parametric boost, I'm nearly eating up all of my head room and even starting to clip when I sweep into certain frequency ranges. To counteract this, I can simply trim down the output of my EQ to regain some of that head room and prevent clipping. When using this radical of a filter effect, it is not uncommon to have to re-address your signal's relative volume anyways.
You may need to either raise or lower the volume of the track in the mix after the effect has been applied, as it really changes the perceived level of the track in the mix. The telephone filter effect is an excellent example of how taking away frequencies rather than boosting them, can actually provide greater contrast and make a track stand out more in the mix. By catching the listener's ear in a unique way, they're more drawn to that specific element in the mix. So the next time your working with equalization think about not only how it can solve your frequency problems or how it can help you creatively place elements in the mix by alternating their frequency makeup and unique and artful ways.
Well something like this could be classified as purposefully distorting the original signal and making it less audible. Sometimes you have to dirty things up in order to make other things appear clean. And that contrast is what makes for an interesting mix.
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