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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.
Have you ever heard a mix with what seems like of impossible amount of reverb or delay, but still remains clear and focused? It's all about clever use of EQ. Many people think that EQs are only useful for directly EQing a signal chain, but they can be just as powerful when used on the tail end of a reverb delay, or any effects return, for that matter. A send and return relationship is a common routing technique, in which a signal is routed out via a mixer's send over a bus, and brought back into the mix via a return track.
Usually with a shared effect applied to the return. Since the effect lives on the return, many tracks can send to this bus to take advantage of this same shared effect. The more output sent to the send, the wetter the balance becomes between the affected and the dry signal. This is ideal with effects like reverb and delay, because it takes up less processing power on the system, and allows multiple tracks to share the same common space. While reverbs, delays, and other time-based effects often have built in EQ's, I find I like the control of applying a dedicated EQ to the return track.
So I can really shape the sound of the effect to fit in the mix. Lets jump into an example of applying EQ to effects returns. Listen to this snare drum with an EQ'ed eighth-note tripled delay applied to it. Now listen again to the snare in isolation. Hopefully, you noticed that the delay tail has a significantly different tonal quality, due to the EQ affecting only the delay effect's return and not the dry snare signal. In other words, the initial hit is left un-EQ'd while the delay taps are filtered through a very strong band pass filter with a resonant peak.
This provides a really cool dub-style delay treatment. Perfect for the song's vibe. Now listen to the snare's delay without any EQ on the effect's return. Because I'm using a digital delay here, the signal that taps out is tonally identical to the original. In contrast, classic delays use tape to record and feed back the signal into a loop that would introduce regeneration artifacts, due to the tape head's bias and mechanical imperfections of tape machine's transport mechanism.
As the tape feeds back into a delay loop, each subsequent tap would gradually roll off the high frequencies, and introduce a bit of pitch modulation, among other artifacts. I'm attempting to simulate that here using the EQ after the delay effect. So I've dialed in some high frequency roll-off, giving the delay a distinct sound all its own, that separates it from the initial dry signal, and creates a unique placement for that instrument in the mix. Now I'll move a step further and automate the EQ to change over time.
Listen as I adjust the cutoff point of a low-pass filter and a parametric filter simultaneously, to create a cool resonant low-pass filter. Using EQ to control your effects returns, is a great way to shake the sound of your effects to better fit the context of your mix and preserve clarity in your low end. Like I said earlier, many delays in reverbs feature built-in equalizers. And those can work just fine, but I personally like the flexibility of a dedicated EQ strapped on to the tail of my effects chain so I can really tighten up a muddy reverb tail.
Or focus a delay into a specific place in the mix. Many times, the EQ I use on the effects returns is made of very subtle, high- and low-pass filters. Set between 100 and 200 hertz at the bottom and 10 to 15 k at the top. In that case I'm just looking to keep any low and high frequency build up from occurring as I extend the sound's decay time, using reverbs and delays.
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