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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.
A graphic EQ is a special type of EQ that has fixed frequency and Q values and is arranged in a multi-band, almost mixer-like presentation. The only control in a graphic EQ is gain, which can either be boosted or cut to alter the amplitude of a fixed-frequency spectrum. Graphic EQs offer a fixed number of frequency points, or bands, that can be altered. This simplicity, along with the inherent visual presentation of the total EQ curve, makes them very simple to use and especially effective at certain tasks.
Because they can contain many unique bands, sometimes over 30, graphic EQs are a popular choice for calibrating playback systems to a specific room or space. They are often used to compensate for a venue's acoustics in live sound systems and can also be found performing the same task in many recording studios. A large number of unique bands can help an engineer neutralize very specific room modes or points of resonance in a space. Sometimes I like to use graphic EQs for normal everyday EQ, tasks such as EQing a guitar or vocal, because of their simplicity.
The limited number of frequency points can really help you stay focused on the creative side of things and get sounds quickly, without getting mired in the details of sweepable frequency and Q. Here I'm using the Waves API 560 EQ, a model of the API 560 hardware unit. This is a 10-band graphic EQ that is divided into one-octave increments. I can use it to quickly get this vocal to sit in the mix without worrying about Q settings or center frequency since those are already set for me, so I can focus more on the specific areas I want to boost or cut. Let's take a listen.
(music playing) So here I'm removing some of the low- mids to get rid of that muddy resonance that usually builds up in a vocal and a little bit of the harmonics on that mud.
I am also cutting heavily on the lowest two bands to remove any rumble or unrelated low-frequency content that would just add up and cloud the low end. I might also improve the clarity a bit by boosting some of the high-mids around for 4k and add a bit of air at 16k for good measure. So I hope you can see in here that by using the graphic EQ in this scenario I can focus on what really matters, getting the vocal to sound how I want it to without worrying about if I picked the exact right frequencies or following some sort of recipe.
While they aren't perfect for everything, if you have access to a graphic EQ plug-in or hardware unit, try it out on some different material. Mixing is just as much about creative flow as it's about precision movements and critical thinking, so sometimes fostering forward motion by using simple, even restrictive tools that allow you to quickly move on to the next idea can be just what's needed to get the mix sounding great.
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