When it comes to mixing, the aim is to get the best sound from each instrument while making sure they all play nice with each other, ask a number of engineers how they begin working on their sessions and you can be pretty sure they will kick everything off with an equaliser. If you have already read our article on filtering here you will probably be aware of how equalisers can benefit your productions, if not then do not fear as this tutorial will take you through everything you need to know.
What is it?
An equaliser or ‘EQ’ is a tool used to control the amplitude of frequencies, they come in a variety of formats but are all used for the same thing.
You have probably already made use of an equaliser at some point, most likely on something as simple as a car stereo which offers a gain control for both low and high frequencies, mixing applications require much more precise values and this is where it is necessary to understand what each of the controls mean…
For the purposes of this tutorial we will be using the 7-Band Parametric Equaliser which comes included with Pro Tools, don’t worry if these terms are confusing as we will be explaining them a little later on, all you need to be aware of for now is that this equaliser is perfectly adequete for handling mixes at a professional level.
This window may seem daunting to those who have not worked with the effect before so let’s first break it up a little…
The first thing you will notice in the top left hand of the window is an input/output meter and gain control, this may not seem important at first but remember that boosting and cutting frequencies will cause gain changes which eventually may need accounting for…
Next you will notice two sections labelled HPF and LPF these are specific shelf filters of which you can read about in our previously mentioned article here.
The main area you want to be looking at in this tutorial are the lovely coloured boxes at the bottom, these each represent a group of frequencies or bands:
(Low Mid Frequencies)
(High Mid Frequencies)
Learning how these bands sound is simply a case of playing around with an equaliser and listening to what happens as you change various values, the more you get used to ‘the sound of frequencies’ the quicker you will find your frequency adjustments, and more importantly the quicker the instruments within your mixes will begin to gel.
You will notice that each of the coloured band boxes feature the same three control options, this means that once you have an understanding of what they do, you can apply the same techniques across an entire frequency spectrum.
‘Q’ refers to range or bandwidth of frequencies affected either side of the set frequency of the band, the value ranges from 0 to 10 (0 being the widest bandwidth, 10 making a narrow selection). The images will give you a better understanding of what this value is changing within your mix.
Generally speaking, a wider Q bandwidth is used when wanting to boost frequencies, and a narrow Q bandwidth should be used when cutting frequencies such as precisely removing problematic resonating frequencies for example.
This control, sometimes refered to as the ‘center frequency’, allows you to set the frequency you wish to adjust, remember however that while this value is set to a single frequency, many more frequencies may be manipulated depending on your Q bandwidth setting.
This control allows you to adjust the amplitude of the chosen frequencies. While talking about amplitude in equalisation, now is a good time to state one of the most important rules when using the effect which is:– When possible, cut frequencies as opposed to boosting them –
The reason being that if you were to boost frequencies on every instrument within your session, you are quickly going to increase the overal gain which can of course lead to clipping which we want to avoid.
Instead of boosting frequncies you want to keep, get rid of the frequencies you want to lose…if you want more top end in your snare drum for example, then try reducing some of the lows first. There are of course occasions where boosting is necessary but my point is simply to use it as a last resort and if so, use a gain increase with caution of how it will effect your mix as a whole.
As stated earlier, the process of understanding how an equaliser will sonically change your instruments comes down to having a play and training your ears to detect areas you wish to manipulate.
The aim of this tutorial was to hopefully give you an understanding as to what each of the controls mean as well as considerations to keep in mind while making use of the effect.
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