Using EQ Frequencies
This is intended as a rough guide, an introduction to the subject of equalization (EQ). It is not a complete guide to EQ or an EQ tutorial. This article is intended as a reference guide, a companion when recording, mixing and producing music.
When it comes to using an equalizer to treat a sound there is no substitute for trial and error and using your ears. That said, some useful notes to use as a reference will help you take a more educated approach to mixing and help cement in the observations you make with your ears.
Tweak and listen!
Table of Contents
Whatever you do, don’t just copy-paste these variables into your DAW. Glance at this article, go away, use your ears to tweak and experiment. Then come back and use it as a reference, to help you be informed. Use it as you go forward to find pointers when you are trying to work out what could be happening in a mix and to give you ideas of where you can go. Do not treat it as a rigid guide for setting up your mix. Bad idea.
2 Simple Tips
- Boosting is less common than cutting frequencies.
- As a general guide, less is more, when it comes to EQ. Try to keep EQ treatments simple.
Boosting EQ, aka Additive EQ, has to be managed and used carefully. This is because by boosting EQ frequencies, you add volume, which can introduce distortion to the track or mix and can introduce issues anywhere in the signal chain post EQ.
As with any EQ treatment, boosting EQ will change the harmonic balance of the track. The original sound is colored, and the character of the sound changes. By boosting an EQ frequency, it can sound like adjacent frequencies have been cut. The exact frequencies that will experience this effect most noticeably are defined by the “Q” of the boosted frequency.
Boosting EQ can also introduce subtle phase issues. The larger the boost, the stronger and more noticeable the phase issues will be.
When boosting EQ, be care to use a broad Q. Boosts often sound strange when they are set too narrow or have a large boost.
Cutting EQ, aka Subtractive EQ, is often used as a correction or fix. Typical corrections solved by cutting EQ include:
- Enhancing clarity by reducing muddiness in a track or mix. Often achieved using high-pass filers in the ow or low-mid frequency range.
- Cutting EQ holes (mostly in the mid-range) in tracks to remove conflict between instruments. This can be used triggered by side chain input from a second, dominant source, to only be applied when the second instrument is played. For example cutting an EQ hole in a keyboard pad to let a lead vocal cut through.
- To filter out a high frequency on one track, making room for another track to shine with some added sparkle
Using a narrow Q (bandwidth) often gets better results with a parametric subtractive EQ. For example, for a lead vocal, a number of narrow midrange cuts may be needed to manage the tone and reduce undesirable resonance.
Cutting one frequency alters the harmonic balance of a sound and can give the impression that adjacent frequencies have been boosted. So, strangely, a cut of one frequency can sound like a boost of another.
Audio Frequency Ranges
It should be noted that a young person will be able to hear in the range 20 Hz to 20 kHz. This range decreases as you age, just how much depends on the individual. For most upper frequency loss tends to be more noticeably reduced. For example, at 40, you may find that you are able to hear between 30 Hz and 15 kHz.
Boost: Add the bottom “boom” common in modern kick, bass line, and tom sounds.
Boost: To thicken up bass drums and sub-bass parts.
Cut: Below this frequency on all vocal tracks. This should reduce the effect of any microphone ‘pops’.
Cut: For vocals.
General: Be wary of boosting the bass of too many tracks. Low frequency sounds are particularly vulnerable to phase cancellation between sounds of similar frequency. This can result in a net ‘cut of the bass frequencies.
Boost: To add warmth to vocals or to thicken a guitar sound.
Cut: To bring more clarity to vocals or to thin cymbals and higher frequency percussion.
Boost or Cut: to control the ‘woody’ sound of a snare.
General: While boost can add warmth to a track, like a thin vocal track, but may also introduce unwanted muddiness.
Boost: To add warmth to toms.
Boost or Cut: To control bass clarity, or to thicken or thin guitar sounds.
General: In can be worthwhile applying cut to some of the instruments in the mix to bring more clarity to the bass within the overall mix.
Boost: To thicken vocal tracks. At 1KHz apply boost to add a knock to a bass drum.
Boost: To make a piano more aggressive. Applying boost between 1KHz and 5KHz will also make guitars and basslines more cutting.
Cut: Apply cut between 2KHz and 3KHz to smooth a harsh sounding vocal part.
General: This frequency range is often used to make instruments stand out in a mix.
Boost: can add presence, bringing a track forward adding definition, but if pushed too far it can introduce a nasal, honking quality.
Boost: For a more ‘plucked’ sounding bass part. Apply boost at around 6KHz to add some definition to vocal parts and distorted guitars.
Cut: Apply cut at about 3KHz to remove the hard edge of piercing vocals. Apply cut between 5KHZ and 6KHz to dull down some parts in a mix.
Boost: Can bring a track more bite but too much in this range can make an instrument sound harsh and unpleasant.
Boost: To sweeten vocals. The higher the frequency you boost the more ‘airy/breathy’ the result will be. Also boost to add definition to the sound of acoustic guitars or to add edge to synth sounds or strings or to enhance the sound of a variety of percussion sounds. For example boost this range to:
Bring out cymbals.
Add ring to a snare.
Add edge to a bass drum.
Boost: To make vocals more ‘airy’ or for crisp cymbals and percussion. Also boost this frequency to add sparkle to pads, but only if the frequency is present in the original sound, otherwise you will just be adding hiss to the recording.
Boost: While boost in this frequency range can add air and sheen to a track, too much boost in this area can make a mix unpleasant
Specific Musical Instruments
General: Roll off below 60Hz – 80Hz using a High Pass Filter. This range is unlikely to contain anything useful, so you may as well reduce the noise the track contributes to the mix. It will remove rumble and unwanted effects caused by the proximity effect.
Boom: Cut 100Hz – 350Hz to reduce the boomy-ness often caused by a small recording space.
Boxy: Cut around 400 Hz – 500Hz to make a vocal sound less boxy.
Nasal: Cut in the 1KHz – 4.5KHz range to reduce nasal tones. Fine tune the frequency and Q to get the optimum results.
Treat Harsh Vocals: To soften vocals apply cut in a narrow bandwidth somewhere in the 2.5KHz to 4KHz range.
Presence: Boost around 5KHz to increase presence, cut around 5KHz to reduce sibilants.
Get An Open Sound: Apply a gentle boost above 6KHz using a shelving filter to get a more open, airy sound.
Get Brightness, Not Harshness: Apply a gentle boost using a wide-band Bandpass Filter above 6KHz. Use the Sweep control to sweep the frequencies to get it right.
Get Smoothness: Apply some cut in a narrow band in the 1KHz to 2KHz range.
Bring Out The Bass: Apply some boost in a reasonably narrow band somewhere in the 200Hz to 600Hz range.
Radio Vocal Effect: Apply some cut at the High Frequencies, lots of boost about 1.5KHz and lots of cut below 700Hz.
Telephone Effect: Apply lots of compression pre EQ, and a little analogue distortion by turning up the input gain. Apply some cut at the High Frequencies, lots of boost about 1.5KHz and lots of cut below 700Hz.
Rumble: Cut below 200HZ to reduce rumble
Get Definition: Roll off everything below 600Hz using a High Pass Filter. Boost between 600Hz – 4KHz to add definition. Fine tune frequency to achieve best results.
Vocal Cut-Out: Cut in the region of 5KHz – 7KHz to create space for vocals
Clarity: Boost in the 8KHz – 12KHz region to improve clarity and brightness. Fine tune for best results (sweep central frequency and adjust Q).
Get Sizzle: Apply boost at 10KHz using a Band Pass Filter. Adjust the bandwidth to get the sound right.
Treat Clangy Hats: Apply some cut between 1KHz and 4KHz.
General: Apply a little cut at 300Hz and some boost between 40Hz and 80Hz.
Sub: Cut below 50Hz.
Punch: Boost 80Hz-200Hz
Treat Muddiness: Apply cut somewhere in the 100Hz to 500Hz range.
Slap: Boost 2.5KHz – 4.5KHz
Control The Attack: Apply boost or cut around 4KHz to 6KHz.
Click: Cut 5KHz – 10KHz
Sub: Use a high pass filter to cut 0Hz – 150Hz.
Body: Boost 150Hz – 200Hz to thicken sound
Boxy: Cut 500Hz – 800Hz to reduce a boxy sound
Attack: Boost 1.5KHz – 4.5KHz for more pop
Sizzle/Ring: Boost 4.5KHz – 8KHz
Sub: Cut below 50Hz using a high pass filter to remove unwanted rumble.
Boom: Cut / Boost to control 40Hz – 80Hz and adjust how boomy the sound is.
Punch: Cut / Boost 100Hz – 200Hz to control how punchy the bass guitar sounds.
Boxy: Control in the region of 250Hz – 300Hz to reduce wooly-ness / boxy-ness.
Snap: By controlling 2KHz to 5KHz you can make the sound more snappy, and/or remove string slap. Fine tune the frequency for best results.
Treat Unclear Vocals: Apply some cut to the guitar between 1KHz and 5KHz to bring the vocals to the front of the mix.
General: Apply a little boost between 100Hz and 250Hz and again between 10KHz and 12KHz.
Add Sparkle: Try some gentle boost at 10KHz using a Band Pass Filter with a medium bandwidth.
Try applying some mid-range cut to the rhythm section to make vocals and other instruments more clearly heard.
Discuss this article in our Music Forum.
Community boards you might be interested in:
Would you like to join in the discussion about recording, music production, or music technology? For that matter, just about any music-related subject? Then join our music community!
You might also find our Music Production and Recording Board particularly useful.
To help you to understand specific terms, take a look at our Music Glossary. It has extensive descriptions of music technology terms and concepts. It also contains entries about music theory and terms from across the music industry including music marketing and music promotion.
Become A Contributor To The Songstuff Music Library
Are you a qualified entertainments lawyer? Or perhaps you have in-depth knowledge about tour management? Are you an experienced band manager? Or perhaps a booking agent? Would you be interested in helping musicians to build their skills and understanding by contributing demonstration videos, reviews, articles and tutorials to the Songstuff music library? We rely upon musicians, and people working within the music industry, being willing to contribute to our knowledge base.
As well as contributions to our music library, we feature contributions in our site blogs and social media portals. In particular, we add video contributions to the Songstuff Channel on YouTube.
Please contact us and we can explore the possibility of you joining our contributors asap.