Have you ever been overwhelmed with EQ? Me too. Just when I think I have a good grasp on it, there is something new to learn.
This is especially challenging for the volunteer sound tech. A few hours a week behind the mixer is simply not enough time to master EQ. Good news is, there are a few simple EQ techniques that can really improve your sound without having to become the EQ master.
The EQ Golden Rule: Cut frequencies, don’t boost.
When you are looking to get more clarity out of a vocal, your first inclination might be to boost high frequencies…don’t do it. It is time to reprogram the way you think through EQ.
Let your first thought always be, “What frequency range can I cut to solve this problem.”
For example, to get more clarity from a vocal you need to remove the muddiness (cut low frequencies), not boost the high frequencies. The same principle is true if you need to get more warmth from a vocal or instrument: cut high frequencies instead of boosting low frequencies.
Of course, there are times when boosting is the answer to your EQ problem, but they are far and few between.
When setting EQ, listen for what frequencies you need to cut, not boost. Tweet Quote
Don’t EQ just because it is available.
Digital mixers have become extremely affordable, thanks to the Behringer X32. Now, church sound techs have the ability to EQ every input and output channel to their heart’s desire. But I caution you to use self-discipline.
If you EQ just to EQ, you are going to have a mess on your hands. Every use of EQ should be well thought out and backed by solid sound principles. There is no need to pretend that you know what you are doing. Instead, take the time to learn how to properly use EQ (like reading this post) and then practice and test what you learn, one principle at a time.
Always use a low cut filter on vocals.
Looking for more vocal clarity? The low cut filter is your answer. Adding a low cut filter (aka high pass filter) on vocals will clean up your mix more than you could ever imagine. This keeps your vocals out of the subwoofers and reserves this space for your bass guitar and kick drum.
On an analog mixer, the high pass filter button is usually located by the gain knob and looks like /100. On a digital mixer (like the Behringer X32), simply activate the low cut filter and set the frequency around 120Hz.
Depending on your sound system and room acoustics, you may need to remove even more low frequency noise from the vocals. On an analog mixer, cut using the low frequency knob. On a digital mixer, increase the frequency position of your low cut filter until you get a nice, clean sound that still has plenty of warmth.
You might also enjoy: A Short Guide to Mixing Vocals
Use frequency sweeping to find troublesome frequencies.
The best way to train your ear to pick up on what frequency range is causing a problem is to use a technique called frequency sweeping. Here is how you do it.
How to Frequency Sweep on a Digital Mixer
- Activate a peaking filter (PEQ), set the Gain to +12dB and the Q value to around 4.
- Use the Frequency knob to slowly sweep through the full frequency spectrum, listening for when the sound is most annoying.
- Now that you have found the annoying frequency range, set your Gain to about -3dB and keep decreasing until you achieve the desired sound.
- Now, adjust the Q value to dial it in just right. If you can fix the problem with a more narrow frequency band (higher Q value), that is the way to go. But, don’t be afraid to use a wider frequency band (lower Q value) if needed.
How to Frequency Sweep on an Analog Mixer
- There are two mid-frequency knobs. Turn the level knob up to about 3 o’clock.
- Use the other mid-frequency knob to sweep through the frequency spectrum, listening for when the sound is most annoying.
- Now that you have found the annoying frequency range, use the mid frequency level knob to cut out the annoying frequency by starting at about 10 o’clock and decreasing until you get the desired sound.
Most importantly, keep EQ simple.
Just because you have four filters available for each channel does not mean you should use all of them. Every EQ setting should be well thought out and used to solve a problem.
I recently visited a church that was using EQ all over the place. Most of the EQ filters were boosting frequencies…which was an immediate clue that the sound tech wasn’t quite sure what they were doing, and the sound reflected it.
Bottom line, if you don’t understand what is going on with the EQ on your mixer, level it out and start over. Use the minimum amount of EQ filters possible to fix the problems at hand.
I can’t say enough, don’t EQ just to EQ. At the same time, don’t be afraid to experiment with EQ during rehearsals (this is how you learn, after all), but make sure you are putting in the time to study EQ beforehand.