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Using harmonic generators to excite frequency content

From: Foundations of Audio: EQ and Filters

Video: Using harmonic generators to excite frequency content

We learned that spectrum analyzers can be used to take a peek at the frequency content of a signal, but what happens if I boost a frequency range of a signal that just doesn't have any energy in it? Take a listen to this 808 kick drum and watch the output on the spectrum analyzer. Notice that there isn't much going on in the mid-range frequency space. (music playing) If you are listening on small speakers or even ear bud headphones, you might not even hear the kick drum, but you can see in the spectrum analyzer that there is indeed energy in the signal, way down below 100 Hz.

Using harmonic generators to excite frequency content

We learned that spectrum analyzers can be used to take a peek at the frequency content of a signal, but what happens if I boost a frequency range of a signal that just doesn't have any energy in it? Take a listen to this 808 kick drum and watch the output on the spectrum analyzer. Notice that there isn't much going on in the mid-range frequency space. (music playing) If you are listening on small speakers or even ear bud headphones, you might not even hear the kick drum, but you can see in the spectrum analyzer that there is indeed energy in the signal, way down below 100 Hz.

If you hadn't seen the spectrum plot, you might think, "No problem. I will just boost some of the low mids to fill out that 808 a little bit more." The problem with this strategy is that there isn't enough energy in that frequency range to support a boost. You can't boost what isn't there. Well, you can, but you're just going to bring up noise and unrelated nasty frequencies that you generally want to avoid. So what can we do? In scenarios like this where I want to give the ultra lows a little more mid-range extension so they fill out on smaller speakers a bit more, instead of using EQ, I will use harmonic generators to excite the harmonic series of the signal.

You see, I can tell by the FFT that this 808 is primarily a sine wave playing at a fundamental of around 60 Hz, without much harmonic content beyond that. To excite additional frequencies beyond the fundamental, I can use a few different techniques. Running the signal through some sort of distortion will usually drive the harmonic series fairly well, but this can quickly get out of control and start to destroy my ultra-low lows. Take a listen.

(music playing) To better illustrate what's going on here, let's look at a pure 60 Hz sine wave running through the same effect. Notice the additional harmonics pop up as I raise the distortion control. (music playing) Another technique is to use either tape or tube saturation.

Tape simulators can warm up the signal by driving the odd harmonics. Listen and watch that same low- frequency sine wave on the FFT as it passes through tape simulation. (music playing) Here my signal around 60 Hz is being driven at 3 times 60 and 5 times 60, or the odd harmonics.

I want to be aware that a lot of tape bias could start rolling off my ultra-low lows, which I may or may not want. In hip-hop and R&B I generally like a very clean low-end extension without the rolloff that tape usually imparts. But that's just my taste. A third technique to excite additional frequencies will be to use a dedicated harmonic generator like Waves' MaxxBass or Renaissance Bass. These tools are designed specifically to excite harmonic content from a signal in a cleaner, more controlled way than using distortion or tube and tape tricks.

Using MaxxBass I can raise or lower either the fundamental or the newly generated harmonics and blend to taste. I'll be sure to lower the input control to avoid any clipping. Take a listen. (music playing) Ultimately, I like to shoot for a balance between different listening systems.

In other words, I don't want to completely compromise a full frequency listening system by driving a ton of low-end harmonics for ear buds, and vice versa. Adding too much harmonic distortion can cause the low frequencies to become exaggerated on speaker systems with subwoofers or greater low-frequency extension. In the end, there isn't a single ideal way to add additional frequency content. Whether it's pure distortion, tube or tape saturation, or specialized harmonic generation tools, the technique you use depends largely on your specific goal and desired outcome.

I've shown you a few ways in which I approach the dilemma and will often try a few different approaches until I find what works best for each unique scenario I encounter.

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This video is part of

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Foundations of Audio: EQ and Filters

36 video lessons · 14081 viewers

Brian Lee White
Author

 
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  1. 3m 28s
    1. Welcome
      1m 36s
    2. What you should know before watching this course
      35s
    3. Using the exercise files
      58s
    4. Using the "Get In the Mix" Pro Tools and Logic Pro session files
      19s
  2. 15m 46s
    1. What are frequency and amplitude?
      2m 27s
    2. Measuring frequency
      1m 48s
    3. Measuring amplitude
      1m 58s
    4. The perception of frequency and amplitude
      4m 18s
    5. Frequency and pitch
      5m 15s
  3. 36m 10s
    1. What is an equalizer?
      4m 14s
    2. Hardware and software EQ
      1m 58s
    3. Understanding frequency and gain EQ controls
      3m 41s
    4. Using the bandwidth, or Q, EQ control
      5m 35s
    5. Parametric equalizers
      2m 36s
    6. Shelving filters
      5m 11s
    7. High- and low-pass filters
      5m 42s
    8. Putting it all together with multiband EQ
      3m 43s
    9. Using graphic EQ
      3m 30s
  4. 46m 13s
    1. Creating focus
      3m 47s
    2. Get in the Mix: Using EQ to fix problems and place elements in the mix
      8m 30s
    3. Get in the Mix: Creating complementary EQ curves
      9m 7s
    4. Get in the Mix: Creative EQ with the telephone effect
      5m 30s
    5. Get in the Mix: Frequency bracketing with filters
      5m 44s
    6. Get in the Mix: Automating EQ
      6m 18s
    7. Learning to listen
      3m 10s
    8. Balancing expectations from the recording process
      4m 7s
  5. 41m 14s
    1. Get in the Mix: EQing FX returns
      4m 29s
    2. Using common vintage-modeled EQs
      5m 2s
    3. Using frequency analyzers
      3m 44s
    4. Using harmonic generators to excite frequency content
      5m 44s
    5. EQ or compression first?
      3m 3s
    6. EQ and room acoustics: Is your room lying to you?
      6m 15s
    7. Boost or cut? The relative nature of EQ and headroom
      4m 0s
    8. Building healthy EQ strategies
      8m 57s
  6. 19s
    1. What's next and EQ summary
      19s
  7. 5m 51s
    1. A session with Brian Lee White
      5m 51s

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