Equalizers, or EQs, are used to boost or cut selected frequencies within a signal. In this video, I am going to show you how to apply an EQ to an audio track, as well as demonstrate some of the more radical EQ plug-ins in Pro Tools. But first I want to talk about the reasons for applying EQ. The first reason is to improve the tonal quality or the timbre of an instrument. You can also use EQ to create special effects, like a telephone vocal sound. You can use EQ to help a track stand out in a mix. You can use it to fix mic choice and placement problems like frequency or leakage or noise issues.
You can use EQ to make up for inadequacies in the recording equipment. You can use EQ to create a better blend of instruments, and you can use it to improve the overall sound of your mix. Most home and car stereos have some form of equalizers. Even the simplest bass and treble controls are equalizers. Their purpose is the same as the EQ plug-ins you use to mix in Pro Tools. However, our Pro Tools mixing EQs are more advanced and give us more control over the EQ parameters, allowing us to alter specific and controllable frequency ranges.
Let me show you how to apply EQ. We'll start by using a stock 7-Band EQ. I have got it already on this track here. This is a parametric EQ, which enables us to control three parameters: the central frequency or FREQ for short, the boost or cut, GAIN down here, and the Q, which is the width of the affected frequency range. The central frequency is the frequency that you want to adjust.
For example, say I want to reduce the low-end muddy frequencies on this acoustic guitar part. So I can adjust this frequency to around 300 hertz, which is where a lot of the mud lives in a mix, and when I move this dial, you will see that this orange circle moves. So I will do that more radically here and you can see it move around. And that's the center frequency. The gain is the amount of increase or decrease in amplitude that you want to apply to this center frequency.
So if you want a slight reduction in your guitar part here, you can cut maybe 1 to 3 DB; for more drastic changes, bring it down to 6, or 9 or even deeper if you want. The third parameter, Q, is the width of the boost or cut region around the center frequency. So it is pretty wide here at one, but if I increase this number, the cut becomes more narrow. So the Q really determines the degree to which frequencies near the center frequency are boosted or cut.
High Q values yield narrow widths for affecting a small range of frequencies, while low Q values provide expanded widths to encompass a large range of frequencies. So let's hear what this sounds like. I am going to solo the guitar part, and I am going to adjust the gain actually back down to 0, and then I will press play and change the gain and we'll see how this affects the sound. (Music Playing) Did you hear how muddy it got when I really boosted the gain? And when I had a low Q value in a cut, a lot of the frequencies were taken out, and it really thinned out the sound of the acoustic guitar.
So you have a lot of control over your sound when using EQ. Now let's talk about the technique of applying EQ. When you are looking for the frequency that you want to adjust, try this technique. We call it the boost-and-twist technique, and what you do is once you have an EQ on your track like this, you increase the gain significantly on one of the parametric bands, and then you make the Q value really high so it's a very narrow value, and then you sweep across the frequency range. So let's play this, and I am going to do that. You'll hear what this does is picks out the frequencies that we want to adjust and make some much more noticeable.
(Music Playing) So let's say that I actually want to get rid of some of the nasally tone that's right around the 600 to 700 hertz area. Now that I know that that's the frequency area, what I can do is just bring the gain down and then adjust my Q accordingly to see how wide I want the bandwidth to be on that cut.
(Music Playing) Now it's a subtle but noticeable change, and it's useful to use the Bypass button to AB this effect, that is, to listen to the track with the EQ in and with it out, so let's try that. (Music Playing) Let's make this more noticeable.
(Music Playing) So use that AB technique with the Bypass button to check out how your EQ is affecting the track. One other thing that you will notice that we are doing here is that we are listening in Solo. This acoustic track is soloed, so we don't actually want to EQ only while we are in solo.
We also need to listen to the track with the rest of the tracks in the session. We could make this track sound amazing by itself, but it might not sound good in the mix. So don't ever EQ in a vacuum by keeping the track in solo. Make sure you listen to what it sounds like in the entire mix. Now let's move on and discuss another common mixing practice called carving EQ holes. For example, let's say that we have this acoustic guitar track and a vocal track as well. Often it's a good idea to cut out some of the mids of the guitar to allow the vocals to have more room in the frequency spectrum where they sound the best, like between 1 and 4 kilohertz.
So let's cut out 3 kilohertz from the guitar signal. We are going to carve a little EQ for the vocals to poke through the guitars in this area. So I am going to dial in 3 kilohertz or thereabouts and reduce the gain, and of course I need to un-bypass this. And actually I am going to take out this low-mid frequency range by clicking this IN button, and that actually takes it out. So now I have only got this cut here, and I will just kind of narrow it up a little bit.
So now we have 4 dB cut at 3 kilohertz with a Q of about 3 to 4. And what this is doing is taking out a little area to let the vocals poke through the mix. And because we have taken out the EQ here, we might actually be able to boost some frequencies in the guitar in another range. So we could do that up here around 6 kilohertz and add a little bit of shine back to the guitar sound in that area. And this frequency range on the guitar is mostly out of the way of the main vocal frequencies anyway.
So let's boost this up. I am going to choose this Peak button right here, and that turns this band of the EQ into a peak filter EQ. So now I'll adjust my Q and move my frequency about to 6 and then add a little gain right there, and I probably will make it a little more narrow too. So now the acoustic guitar will have some shine up here at 6k, and we'll have a little bit of a cut here at 3k. Let's check out what this sounds like. (Music Playing) I will make it more dramatic for you.
Now I wouldn't recommend usually going to this extreme of a gain boost or cut for these frequencies, but I wanted to exaggerate it here for you to hear it. Another thing here. I am not suggesting that each instrument should have its own dedicated frequency range in the mix. Instruments are always going to share frequencies, but clearing a path for the predominant frequencies of certain instruments can make your mix sound much clearer. Also be aware that any EQ settings that you change on a particular instrument will affect not only its sound but also how the sound of that instrument interacts with all the others in the mix.
Now let's take a look at some of the more radical EQ effects you can add to tracks in Pro Tools. I am going to close this up and solo the bass track and then take a look at the AIR Kill EQ. Now this, the AIR Kill EQ, is a three- band EQ with kill switches on each band right here. So we have kill switches on the low, mids, and highs. And with this plug-in you can cut off those ranges for some really cool effects, so let's take a listen.
So I am going to play this track back and demonstrate some of the sonic possibilities for this plug-in, by tweaking the controls as well as loading up some of the presets. (Music Playing) So you can have a lot of fun with this one.
Let's try one more. And I am going to bypass the AIR Kill EQ and open up the Vintage filter. Now a filter is just another word for EQ. The Vintage filter here is basically an EQ that can be manually adjusted or modulated over time using the built-in Low Frequency Oscillator, or LFO, and an envelope follower to create resonances at certain frequencies. I will just put this on here for fun and load up some presets and tweak some knobs, and I encourage you to do the same thing, using some of your own music.
Experiment with all these cool plug- ins to find your own unique sounds. (Music Playing) Well, that was kind of fun.
Now I know I haven't explained what any of these parameters do within this plug-in. I would recommend checking out our Foundations of Audio series to learn more about these types of plug-ins and effects. So now you know how to use the boost-and-twist method to EQ a track and you can also get creative by sonically sculpting your tracks with these EQ plug-ins, available in Pro Tools.
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