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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.
Applying EQ is all about listening to an audio signal and asking yourself, where do I want to take this and why? Approaching every track as if it needs some sort of EQ applied to it without really having a reason why is a solution in search of a problem, and that's not how you want to approach EQ. Define your goals and work toward them. Try to hear where your signal needs EQ before grabbing the knobs. It'll be hard at first, and you'll need to practice.
But in time, you will be surprised at yourself saying things like that guitar has a bit of resonance around 300 to 400 Hz, and it needs to be carved out a little. What you won't find in this course is a laundry list of frequencies for every instrument telling you how they should be boosted or cut. Why? Because I don't know what your specific instrument sounds like. For example, is your acoustic guitar a Jumbo Dreadnought Martin, a cutaway Taylor, a three-quarter sized guitar? They all sound very different.
What type of strings does it have? What key are you playing it? Are you playing high up on the neck? What other instruments are in the mix? Not only that, every genre of music has a different approach to what is considered ideal sonicsm so relying on a specific list of frequencies for anything other than a rough guide of where to look is a mistake. Don't get me wrong. Presets and rough guides are fine. I am sure your EQ came with a bunch where you could find such a list easily on the Internet, but I want to encourage you to listen, first and foremost.
For example, where is the body or roundness of the bass instrument in your mix? Pull up an EQ, grab a parametric band, and boost, sweep, and listen. Play around with it, run it through a high-pass or a low-pass filter, and listen to the different parts of the signal. Know what frequencies make up the sounds you're hearing. My sense of roundness might be different than yours. It's just an adjective that's loosely trying to describe a feeling.
When you're first starting out using EQ, experiment with your signals a lot. I recommend using EQ sparingly. If you find that you're using a lot of EQ, say more than 6 dB of boost in any one band on basic EQ tasks, take a step back and see if you're dealing with a level balance issue. Maybe turning up or down the entire track will get you where you want to go instead of using EQ. If you still find that you're using that much EQ, think about re-evaluating your source material, mic placement, and arrangement.
Ultimately, all these ideas are just a rough framework to give you a place to start, so if using 6 or 12 dBs of boost really gets you where you want to go and you feel it in your gut, do it. While everyone hears audio differently, the sooner you trust your own ears and stop looking for a magic-bullet list or a recipe of EQ tricks, the sooner you will be in control of your EQ and ultimately your mixes.
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