How to use an equalizer?

The audio systems used in cars, phones, audio players and home theater systems have equalizers. It is an excellent tool that helps in shaping the tone. Small tweaks can do wonders for the sound. With a little knowledge of the equalizer, you can tweak the audio so that you have the best quality sound. They are used commonly to balance and change the frequencies of the sound by either boosting or cutting certain frequency areas.

It is not possible to use an equalizer without understanding its functionality. Here is a guide that will give you a basic understanding of an equalizer to solve the frequency issues and improve the quality of the sound.

Using an accurate monitoring system and acoustically tuned room:

If you want to tweak the sound and improve it to have a better experience with listening to certain audio then you have to listen to it properly. It is not possible to understand the tonal deficiencies of the sound if you are listening to it using inaccurate speakers.

If the speakers are bass-light then you will naturally be compelled to boost the low frequencies and when you play the final product on other systems it will have too much boom. If you want to have a perfect final product then you need to get an accurate monitoring system.

The listening space also has an impact on the quality of the final product. In order to apply equalization in the perfect way, you need to have an acoustically tuned room. If the room you are listening to is full of nodes then the low-end frequencies resonate and it will be hard.

It is important that the room has basic acoustic treatments like diffusers, bass traps, etc. Acoustically tuned room and sonically neutral speakers are the key ingredients for applying equalization.

What are the basics?

Almost every equalizing plugin has the same controls so by understanding the basics you can use easily to tune the sound. Here are a few basic plugins that are a part of every equalizer.

There are a number of bands that are provided by the equalizer. Each band can be set to a different frequency. You can use each band to adjust the frequency of the sound so that they can change and tweak a specific frequency.

The highest and lowest bands have other features to offer as well. They can be used for shelving. Shelving means that they have the capacity to roll off frequencies both above and below. These bands can act as high-pass and a low-pass filter. The shelving bands are an excellent feature as it offers slope control and it allows in adjusting the gradient of the sound. It allows you to get the rolls off and achieve the desired result.

Most of the equalizing plugins are parametric. They offer width and “Q” control that helps in widening and narrowing the frequency of the area that you are looking to change.

Using equalizer in the proper place:

In most of the mastering sessions, there are more than one plugins used. There are no rules about the plugins that can be used because each plugin has something different to offer. Every process that you are using interacts with the other one and you should insert and activate all the equalizing plugins that you are using. It will allow you to hear the final product in context and get the best result.

Cutting is always better:

If you are looking to boost the quality of sound then you need to understand which decisions are smarter. To improve the sound quality the subtractive equalization is much better than a boost. If you are looking to increase a particular frequency area then the effective way to do it is to cut the frequency around, above and under the band. It will work much better than boosting because it will ensure that you do not imbalance the sound. If you end up reducing only highs then the mix will have lower end and if you turn down the lows then the sound will have turned up highs and mids.

Avoid overdoing the tweaking:

Tweaking the sound is an art and it is important to understand how much is too much. The key to mastering is subtlety. The professionals keep the boosting and cutting of a frequency area to 1.5dB.

You do not need to make huge changes to tweak the sound because even the smallest changes can do wonders. A tiny bit of change can change the audio tremendously. You should always follow the principle that less is always more.

When you are tweaking the sound it is always better to work on tiny increments like half a dB or less at a time. 0.25 dB is ideal and after each tweak, you should listen carefully to the sound so that you know the exact difference the change has made. The change may seem insignificant but when you listen carefully you will see the difference it makes to the sound.

If you are equalizing more than 2 or 3 dB then you need to rethink because you are clearly doing something wrong with the mix and you should keep the frequency problems in mind while remixing.

Correcting the tonal balance:

If you are looking to make the best of the mastering session then you need to be a good listener. Before you start using the equalizer to tweak the sound you need to shut off all the noise and just listen to the sound that you are going to be working on.

Focus in the frequency spectrum of the sound and make notes of whatever you hear. Observe if there is a balance between the lows, mids, and highs or not.

Here are a few of the problems that any equalizer can solve.

If the sound is muddy, boxy and lacks definition then you can use the equalizer to attenuate the low mids that are in 150-350 Hz. The trick is effective in opening up space and letting more mid-highs to creep in.  The subtractive equalizer cut the certain frequency area so that the adjacent one sounds better.

When the sound mix is lacking midrange frequencies and there are not enough lows and highs then the sound will be thin. The equalizer offers an easy solution and that gives the 500 Hz area a gentle boost. The classic equalizer plugin is also effective in solving the problem.

The boomy sounds can be fixed by rolling off some 100-150 Hz.

If the sound mix sounds toppy then you should try equalizer cut that is around 3 to 8 kHz. You can also solve the problem by slighting boosting the low-end. It will have a psychoacoustic effect on the high end and they will become blunter and you do not have to reduce the high frequencies.

The equalizer can also help in improving dull sounds. With a slight top end shelf boost in the 10-15 kHz area or higher and it will open up the track and add an airy effect to the sound. But it is important to be careful because may end up raising the level of hi-hat and cymbals and throw the mix out of balance. The harmonic enhancer plugin of the equalizer is also an effective tool for dealing with dullness.

The mix can be bland sometimes as the vocals or the guitar solo fails to pop out and everything just sounds jumbled up. You can solve the problem by boosting the 3-5 kHz area slightly. But the action can have a negative effect on the sound as the different elements go out of proportion.

Identifying and fixing frequency problems:

Identifying the problem is the first and most important step to solve the problem. Here is a simple procedure that you can use to identify the frequency issue.

  1. Choosing the approximate frequency band in the equalizer plugin. You need to set a narrow width.
  2. You need to boost the selected band by 5-10 dB and it will only be temporary.
  3. Listen closely to the sound mix and use the frequency controls to sweep up and down.
  4. When you notice the problem becoming more noticeable and louder. As the problem becomes more noticeable you should narrow the Q a little bit more and keep on sweeping until the sounds are loudest.

After you have identified the problem frequency, you should start with small-notch reductions. Make the cut in small increments about half a dB or less at a time and keep doing it until resonance is reduced without affecting the music content overall. You do not want to make equalizing changes that make the sound mix worst rather than better.

Getting rid of rumble:

The mastering engineers set the lowest shelving band of the equalizer so that it acts as a high-pass filter. It can be done by rolling off frequencies that are below 30-40 Hz. There should be a gentle slope of 6dBor less so that you avoid phasing problems.





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