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  Category: Articles » Arts & Entertainment » Music » Article

EQ Tips For Recording

By Michael S. Carpenter

EQ is the production equivalent of makeup - sometimes you might need little or none. Sometimes you need a bit more. If you consistantly need a lot, you may have more fundamental problems. Have you ever seen someone with too much makeup and think to yourself, "Oh, that's much better"? EQ works the same way.

Basically, EQ is the practice of boosting or cutting selected frequencies of audio. Frequency is defined as the number of vibrations per second, usually defining the given pitch or note of what you hear, but also including things such as Overtones, Timbre, etc. This essay will not delve into these terms, except to distinguish between Fundamentals and Overtones later on.

So, when you hear a given pitch, such as 440 (usually defined as the A below middle C on the piano), it means that note vibrates at 440 times a second (indicated as Hertz, or Hz). Going up an octave doubles the frequency, so the A above that is 880Hz. A thousand Hz is abbrviated as a Kilo-Hertz, or 1kHz.

Many home recorders have EQ ranges from 32Hz to 18kHz (18,000Hz). Human hearing generally goes from 20Hz to 20kHz (20,000Hz), altho as you age, you lose sensitivity in the high end. 15kHz to 18kHz is probably a more practical upper limit for most people. The EQ is cut or boosted in decibels, which is a standard unit of energy applied to audio (generally the more decibels, or dbs, the more energy used). You can cut or boost between 24dbs (from -12 to +12). Note that there are two types of decibels - one uses sound pressure, and is the type mentioned in those charts that show you how loud a lawnmower or jet aircraft can be. In this reference, 0 dB is the threshold of human hearing. The other is a measure of voltage (the standard is commonly referred to as dBV), and is the type used by most audio equipment. So when you cut a frequency by -3 dB, you're not actually three decibels below the threshold of human hearing. VU meters give approximate readings of these levels.

The amount of cut or boost does not strictly apply to only the selected frequency - If you can imagine a typical hump-shaped bell curve, the frequency you select in recorder or mixer would be in the center of the hump, but frequencies on either side are also affected. The farther away you move, the less effect. For the more technically minded, this width is known as "Q" and can be made wider or narrower on more high-end audio equipment. Generally it can range from within half an octave (6 notes) to two octaves (24 notes).

One of the most important ideas this essay can convey is that many people new to recording make the mistake that EQ can cover a number of sins. EQ cannot correct for improper microphone placement, or lack of volume when recording, or making something sound like something it's not. The suggestion in the first paragraph about too much makeup means that if you consistantly need to add tons of EQ (say anything +6 or -6 or more) to your recordings, it might be a good idea to revisit how you are recording in the first place. A good microphone, or proper placement and volume, will give you much clearer basic recordings, with only a small amount of EQ needed at mixdown, if at all.

As touched on in the essay regarding bouncing, you can add EQ while recording, or during mixdown. many engineers prefer recording "dry" or without any effects (EQ, reverb, etc.), and adding them on at mixdown. If you do decide to record with EQ (or "wet"), bear in mind that it makes it difficult later to go back and change the sound in any way. Of course there may be certain times when you want to record wet, but generally dry is a safer way to go. If you're new to recording, or don't feel comfortable with the idea, it's probably a good idea to stick with adding EQ only at mixdown. Note the PS5 allows you to add EQ at the input stage as well as the individual tracks.

Another common mistake is to always boost the EQ you add. This can make your recordings sound busy and cluttered, and can lead to distortion in the final mix as everything gets more and more volume (you boost the bass, then you need to boost the guitars, then the vocal, then the bass is buried again). A much better idea is to write down your EQ settings, and check to see if they conflict. A good example of this is with vocals and guitars. Both tend to benefit from boosts in the 3kHz range. But if you boost them both, they fight for dominance in that portion of the audio spectrum. A better idea would be to try boosting one (vocal, say), and then cutting the other (guitar). Because the two tracks are now not competing for the same frequency range, you might find them both actually easier to hear. The mix won't sound so cluttered, and less volume will be required (keeping you from overloading the mix and causing distortion). This also works very well with bass - cut the bass around 50Hz to keep it from getting muddy by fighting with the kick drum. Many pro engineers tend to actually cut frequencies more than they boost. The idea is to get your tracks to nestle together comfortably rather than elbow each other for attention.

Earlier the terms Fundemental and Overtone were mentioned. Basically this refers to other notes that are found in any instrument that colour the sound. If you look at the strings of a piano, you'll see that many of the notes are actually made up of two or three strings that are hit at the same time when you depress a key. What you thought of as a single piano note is actually made up of several notes blending together. This is true of any instrument, and vocals as well. In the example above, it was suggested that you cut the bass guitar around 50Hz to keep it from competing with the kick drum. You could also try a small boost in the upper range of the bass (at 400Hz or 3kHz) to give it clarity or allow it to cut through in a mix. In the other example above with the guitar and vocal, you could boost the vocal at 3kHz, and boost the guitar at 5kHz or 7kHz. Each track has its own sonic space, and overall you need less EQ boost or overall volume to hear all the instruments. Your final mix will be more level as well. Note that when boosts are mentioned here, it's generally no more than +3 or +4. If you're used to boosting everything +7 or more, you might be surprised to find these smaller boosts actually gives you a much better sound.

Listed below are some common frequencies and suggested ideas. Bear in mind that these should be used as starting points for your own mixes. Sometimes you might get better results at 70Hz than 50Hz, or 1.3kHz than 1.5kHz. Experiment.

50Hz - cut bass to decrease "boom", reduce muddy sound with kick drum

100Hz - increase to add guitar fullness, add a harder bass sound, reduce to remove guitar "boom"

200Hz - increase to add vocal or guitar fullness, reduce to decrease vocal muddiness

400Hz - increase to add bass clarity

800Hz - cut to remove "cheap" guitar sound

1.5kHz - increase to add bass clarity, reduce to remove guitar dullness

3kHz - increase to add bass "pluck", guitar attack, vocal clarity, reduce to give background vocals a dreamy sound, disguise out of tune vocals

5kHz - increase for vocal presence, more attack on piano, acoustic guitar, electic guitar, reduce to soften "thin" guitar sound

7kHz - increase for more attack on percussion, dull singer, sharpness on synths, guitars, piano, reduce to decrease "s" sound in singers

10kHz - increase to brighten vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, reduce to decrease "s" sound in singers

15kHz - increase to brighten cymbals, strings, flutes
About the Author
Michael Carpenter is the admin of the Pocketstudio 5 Users Group (PS5UG) - the largest online resource for musicians who use the PS5. And he has an online store that sells children's DVDs and toys, KidVidUK.

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