Pro Audio Files

How to Record – Lesson 9: Equalization (EQ)

Transcript
Hi, it’s Warren Huart here. Hope you’re doing marvelously well today.

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Okay, so today in lesson 9, we’re going to talk about EQs! That’s equalizers, or equalization. Now, there are many, many different types of EQs. The main ones that you’re going to come across in the hardware world are going to be parametric EQs, semi-parametric EQs, passive EQs, active EQs, and of course, high and low pass filters.

Now, that sounds like a lot of different things. Well, let’s go through step by step, and we’ll show you what they do, and I will show you the hardware ones, and I will also show you the plugin equivalents, so that when you’re using your plugins, you’ll get an idea of what the originals look like, how they work, and how you can mimic them using plugins.

Okay, so let’s get started. So what I’ve got here is a pair of heavy guitars. So let’s just take one of the heavy guitars and listen for a second.

[guitar]

That’s a Gibson Les Paul, going through a Pro Junior with a Big Muff pedal on it. Let’s turn on an EQ here that I’m using. Now, this is a FilterBank McDSP EQ. If I bypass it for a second, everything perfectly flat. Let’s listen.

[guitar]

Now, I can unbypass it, and I can just turn off all of these, and we can engage them slowly. Okay, so the first thing I’ve done is I’m using the high pass filter. That’s what this HPF stands for. So that is the most basic form of EQ would be high and low pass filter.

Now, a high pass filter means the high frequencies pass through. High pass filter. A low pass filter means the low frequencies pass through. In real terms, what that means is — let’s engage it.

You see here? If you look to the left where the low frequencies are situated, they are being cut off. So if I go up like this, you’ll see that I’m cutting more and more low frequencies, and allowing high frequencies to pass through. Hence high pass filter.

What I’ve done on this is just go down to 70, which is kind of out of the way — out of the way of the kick drum, because most of my kick is happening at about 60Hz or so, and I’m just cutting. So I’m cutting any kind of low rumble, which is the first thing that I would do on many, many instruments that don’t require the low lows, I would just use a high pass filter, and cut the low lows out.

[guitar]

Now my guess is, unless you’re listening on like, a huge PA, you’re probably not going to hear that much of a difference. On a pair of headphones or earbuds, you’re not going to hear this.

[guitar with filter]

It’s pretty subtle, but trust me, that kind of subtlety means a lot when you’re talking about a lot of instruments, lots of guitars, lots of instruments with like, keys and stuff that have maybe some low rumble. If you go in there and just clean up the low lows and just leave it for the kick drum and the bass guitar, maybe a bass synth, your mix will get a lot cleaner and a lot louder. It’ll be louder because low frequencies take a huge amount of energy.

For instance, if you’d went to a show and they had a 10,000 watt PA, so say a 10,000 watt PA, about 300 to 400Hz and below, which is like, low, low mids and low end is probably going to use about 6,000 watts. So about 60% of the volume that you’re hearing is coming out of the low end. So one way to get your mixes really, really loud — so they sound loud and aggressive is just to clean up.

I mean, you can get really high and go up here, but what — you know, go up very high, but just in general, if you use a high pass filter when you engage your EQ, you’re going to create a lot of volume and a lot of clarity in your mix, because lows get very muddy down there.

Okay, so that’s the first thing that I’ve done. Use my high pass filter on this guitar to cut at 70. The second thing I did was boost some low mids.

[guitar with low mid boost]

Put it in. Out. Back in. It just gives it some real guttural guts. I love it. And usually around about 350ish is where I cut a lot out of the drums. I’m sure you’ve seen me talk about that in many videos. So what that’s going to do is give it some girth, but it’s not going to get muddy, because I’ve cut a lot of that out of the drums. That kind of 200 to 300 to 400 area is a little bit scooped out.

I do like 100, 110 on the bottom of a snare, and we’re probably catching a little bit of that with the guitars, but that’s fine. A snare is a very short — you know, it’s not a continuous sound that’s going to muddy up. The next thing I’m boosting here is just the top end of 5kHz.

[guitar with top boost]

Out. Back in. I like that. That little “zzz” that little 5kHz. That to me gives me like, the fuzz. It sounds like a fuzz pedal. So I’m exaggerating what I like about the Big Muff distortion pedal with this guitar. It’s very easy with a big guitar sound like this to hear the boosts and cuts.

So now, what you can do — and this is getting a little bit more in depth — what you can do here is you can control, you know, your EQ quite consistently, and you can see, like, you see this little thing here? This little diagram? That’s the dip and the peak, and that — basically what that is doing, if you see me adjust it, like this, you see what it’s doing here when I take the peak down? Take the peak up.

What I do like about plugins in general is they give you a visual representation, so you can understand what you’re doing, which is really, really important. The slope here, you see what that’s doing? It’s basically taking the EQ and it’s making the EQ kind of narrower or wider like this, so it literally is the slope, like this.

So if our boost point is 5kHz here, if we narrow our slope, like this, and then we widen it like that, see how much softer it’s getting? It’s basically doing this. So it’s catching a lot.

Now, that’s not quite the same as a parametric EQ, specifically. You can look at that in — you can look at that later, but it’s doing a very similar thing where it’s basically widening and softening the reach. So you’ve got 5kHz in the peak here, and it’s softening how much it pulls up around. So if you’ve got that slope very wide like this, you’re not just pulling up 5kHz, you’re pulling up a lot of stuff around it. See what it’s doing there?

And that’s nice if you want a generic kind of top end boost, then do that. You know? Do a little — widen your slope, because sometimes, you don’t have to be surgical. You might just want to brighten your guitar sound, or brighten something up. It doesn’t necessarily have to be this very, very detailed thing. Sometimes you just want a generic boost.

Okay, so that’s a basic — one of my favorite plugins. It sounds really analog to me, it’s modeled on analog EQs. It’s not a surgical EQ, you’re not going to get in there and pull out frequencies, but it’s a very generic kind of way of doing really, really good sounding EQ.

Okay, let’s try a different plugin EQ, so we’ll just turn that off. I do that by hitting Control+Command on my keyboard here and then clicking on it.

So let’s go and find another EQ. The Q series here, let’s do a Q3. This is a parametric EQ. Now, we can do some similar things, but let’s have a little bit more fun with this. Now, this engages the EQ here. The fixed points are 30, 62, 125. That’s just where it defaults to, but — so let’s just say I want to boost, I don’t know, 110. I could just select 110 by clicking on it there, and let’s do this.

[guitar]

So that’s my gain. You hear it’s adding a lot of low, 110 there. Now, my Q control, and this is what makes it a parametric, is I can widen, or I can — I can narrow the Q. Have a look at physically what it’s doing. Let’s boost it really high like that so you can see it. Set it back at 110.

So then let’s watch this Q here. See this? Look how much that’s narrowing. So that’s what parametric EQs were initially designed for. They were very popular in PAs, because if you’ve got some feedback, you could go there and you could find the specific feedback frequency, then narrow the Q so you were just getting that frequency, and then tuck it out.

I find personally, parametric EQs, more personally useful for cutting frequencies rather than boosting them, because if you finesse and get a very, very tight Q, you can pull that out with you barely noticing that it’s gone.

So here’s a boost.

[guitar, Q3 boosting]

Let’s go somewhere really obvious. That. I can really hear that 660. Now let’s — let’s do the opposite. Let’s pull that out. Bypass. Back in.

Now it’s slightly different. It’s slightly different, but considering that there’s 18dB of cut, but with a Q set to 100 on here, it’s basically really not that big of a deal, so if that was a horrific, horrible frequency, which it kind of is. It’s kind of an offensive frequency.

[guitar]

I mean, it’s… That’s pretty horrible. 795. You can pull that out. You see? In and out. Here’s in. Bypass the EQ. I mean, there’s a difference there, and it’s subtle, but there is a difference there, but the point is like, if that was a really horrific frequency that I wanted to get rid of, you can see how much you can pull it out, and with the Q set that fine, you could really get rid of an annoying frequency.

So parametric EQs are fantastic for getting rid of things. I mean, obviously they’re nice if you want to boost something specific. I find if I’m doing a bunch of guitars together, like, let’s have a look. So let’s put this guitar on here, and let’s put another guitar that goes over it here.

[guitars]

So what I’m going to do is I’m going to pull this Q down here, and let’s double it up so there’s one on each. I’m going to pull this Q down here and have a listen. It’s kind of — it’s adding kind of a metallic — that 801 there. So what I’ll do is I’ll press Option, click on it, drag it over on top of here, and now I’ll do the reverse. I’ll cut that.

So what I’ve done is I’ve taken 800 and boosted it heavily, very heavily, using the Q function, made it very narrow, and cut it from one guitar and added it to the other.

[guitars]

Bypass them both. That’s a bit of separation, it’s nice, but let’s listen now. So, what it’s effectively done there, and obviously, these are very, very exaggerated, but what I’ve done there is I’ve boosted and cut the same frequencies. So I’ve taken a very, very narrow amount out of the heavy guitars, and that same narrow amount I’ve boosted in the other guitar.

Now, obviously, this is very exaggerated, and I’d probably would never do quite as much boost and cut like that, but you can see how that can help create a little space, because you’ve got layers and tons of guitars. You can sort of start just carving little pieces out just to fit them into each other. You can get very surgical.

It’s tough, if you get extremely surgical, your mix can sound a little lifeless and too put together, so don’t be afraid to be a little wrong and have things struggle a little bit with each other, but it shows you very effectively how a parametric EQ can work.

Okay, great, so those are like two of the main types of EQs that I can use here in Pro Tools. Obviously three if you count a high pass and low pass filter, because of course, we could do the same thing if we got a — like, let’s go to a more — you see here, on this one here, we have a low pass filter as well.

So I can engage that, put it on 12 dB per octave, which is basically the most aggressive one, and I could come down to maybe like, I don’t know, 10 here? 10KHz? Let’s have a listen.

[guitar]

Let’s boost more. So I’m really brightening my guitars, and then I’m narrow — I’m bringing my low pass in. It’s nice around there.

So what I’ve got is around about 8kHz here, and I’ve got a 5kHz boost. Now you might ask, why would I want to do that? Well, the thing with using the low pass filter is like, now, 8kHz and above is gone. On those guitars. They still sound loud, they still sound crunchy, they still sound aggressive, but I’ve now got all of that room now for my vocal to have some air on it. I’ve got some room there for my cymbals to breathe, and I don’t have to boost the cymbals over the top, I’m cutting high end and low end out of the guitar sound.

It still sounds big.

[guitar]

It still sounds, you know, rock, but it doesn’t have this extra superfluous high end and super low end that’s going to get in the way of the cymbals, and the vocals, and the bass guitar, and the kick.

So there’s your low pass filter as well as your high pass filter. Okay, great, let’s look at some hardware EQs.

Okay, so this is a passive EQ. So let’s just — the bulb is blown, but it is working. So let’s just turn everything off for a second. Let’s just select 100 for our super lows, so engage the EQ. Here’s a boost at 100. Pretty drastic.

Now, the way the attenuation works, and when I say attenuation, that’s actually turning it down, well, the way it works in a passive EQ, with a Pultec like this, is it focuses the 100. So at the moment, the 100 is quite wide. I’ve got a very wide slope. So I bring the attenuation on… Off. On. It’s just focusing that 100 better.

That’s really nice. Probably a lot. Blow your speakers up. I’d probably do something a little more like this. Off. Low mids. I’d probably do this and use the high pass filter as a plugin and combine the two together.

Now let’s go for some 5kHz like we were boosting on the plugin and boost that. Here, see, the bandwidth, I can make it pretty broad. Again, so it’s like, sharp and broad, it’s this, and you know, sharp, broad boost. That’s nice. And there’s all our top end, our aggression on the guitars at the top end.

And again, we can attenuate it and focus it a little bit more. Probably something like this would sound fantastic.

So that’s a passive EQ. Out. In. It’s pretty awesome, I mean, that’s exaggerated, I would never go quite that crazy. So when you’re using your plugin, you can see what that really does.

So let’s go back to the plugin and hear one of those.

Okay, so let’s look at a plugin version of it. Of a passive. Let’s go to EQ, there’s the PuigTech ones I believe, which are a simulation of what we were just looking at.

Now, it’s important to understand the way that active and passive EQs work. A passive EQ was, first of all, these EQs, these passive EQs, came out long before active EQs came out. I still think, like, the original passive EQs are kind of the holy grail of EQs. They’re very expensive, very well made, they use tubes, etcetera. That’s the thing about those Pultecs, those Pulse Techniques EQs. They’re wonderful, but obviously, they didn’t have the finesse of active EQs.

We’re going to look at some more active EQs on the console and other places in a second, but the reason why a lot of engineers, mixers, producers, etcetera, the reason why we love passive EQs, the way they sound, is because they affect the whole signal.

Now, hopefully, this makes some sense, but imagine you’ve got the signal traveling from A to B. It comes in the unit, and it comes out of the unit at the other end. A passive EQ takes the whole signal, and applies EQ to it, and then it comes out the other side.

Now, you might say, isn’t that how they all work? No, it’s not how an active EQ works. An active EQ sidechains it. It takes a piece of the signal, then boosts part of it, then folds it back in.

Now, the purists will say the problem with that is it shifts the phase align. Now, again, that might be well above where you’re at at the moment, understanding phase and all that, and to be honest, it doesn’t matter if you do or don’t, but traditionally, the reason why engineers, producers, mixers love the passive EQs is because of the way they don’t seem to affect the sound in quite the same way.

They affect it in a musical way, but they don’t seem to — you ever heard that phrase, “It sounds too EQ’d?” I think that’s when people get too aggressive on EQs and it just starts to sound unnatural. Passive EQs aren’t that aggressive, can’t really do that, but when you do use them, they don’t seem to sound as much EQ’d.

Sorry, hopefully that makes sense. Okay, so here is a simulation of what we just used.

[electric guitar]

So you’ve got the 100. Here’s the attenuation. I mean, you’d have to go back and compare, I’d be intrigued. Put some headphones on and compare the two. I don’t think that sounds as lovely, and as low, and as rounded as a real one.

[electric guitar]

However, it does sound good. I mean, they’re great EQs, but it would be interesting for you to give me your opinion when you’re listening to the video in those two places.

[guitar]

So let’s do the same thing, we’ll go to 5kHz, boost here. I feel like I’m having to give it a little bit extra boost to sound like the other one. Set the attenuator. That’s good. It sounds really good, and now, as to whether it’s exactly the same as what we’ve just used, I’ll let you be the judge of that. We can make it a little broader on the EQ.

[electric guitar]

It’s definitely adding a lot more level, and there is a gain control. This is a nice feature that they’ve added which isn’t on the originals.

[guitar]

So I could adjust — that’s the only problem is the gain. Here you go. Pretty comparable gain. Close enough. There’s a bit more of a boost, but you see, I’m probably down by a little over 3.5dB by the looks of it.

So what that’s done is that’s — that’s a feature only on the plugin, which isn’t on the real ones. What it’s done is it allows me to boost the EQ, which will make it perceptibly louder of course, and then I’ve cut that additional gain that’s done that, so I can sort of check between the two.

So that is a plugin simulator of a Pultec — A Pulse Techniques — passive EQ. Um, it’s great. Does it sound exactly the same? I don’t know, you tell me, you’ve got to hear both of them together there.

Okay, so now we’re coming back into the rhythm guitar channels on the SSL here. EQ is out. So we’re engaging it, and we’ll see what it’s doing.

[electric guitar]

So there’s no plugins on. There’s no passive EQ on. Let’s just engage here. Now, what I’ve done, if we go up to the top here, I’ve used my high pass filter and my low pass filter.

See, I’m cutting around about 8kHz. So it’s only letting 8kHz and below come through. This is cutting at about 70. It’s only letting 70 and above. So I’ve now narrowed my guitars between 70 and 8kHz. So again, same thing, just allowing some room for the vocals and cymbals, and on the other side, it’s getting rid of enough low end rumble so it’ll let the bass and kick come through.

That’s the first thing I’ve done. Second thing I’ve done is I’m going to about 200 here, and I’m doing another 4 to 5dB boost at 200. Take it off. Put it back on. Hear that? Off. On.

Now, I’m doing a little cut. Here’s at 800. A little tiny cut. Now this is a parametric EQ, it’s an active EQ, but it’s a parametric, and it’s doing — that’s the width of the Q there. So it’s doing it relatively tight. The left hand side is the tight EQ, to the right hand side it’s a wider EQ, and I’m cutting that 2dB at about 800.

Off. Hear that nasalness? It’s back off. Okay. Now I’m doing a little — actually I’m not doing anything there. Just cut a little bit at 2.5. Do a tiny bit of cut at around 2kHz. Now, at 5kHz on these guitars, I’m boosting a lot. Before, a little cloudy sounding. After, look at that.

Okay, so everything engaged now, let’s bypass. It’s a good guitar sound, but now it’s a better guitar sound. So what I’m doing with the EQ on the console is I’m doing all of the same tricks that I was doing in there. I’m cutting 70Hz and below away, I’m cutting 8kHz and above out of it, so I’m left with the guitar this wide rather than this wide. I’m then boosting the lows at about 200, and I’m boosting about 5khz and above.

I’m also cutting a little bit of low — well, midrange, at 800, a little bit at 2kHz. Just a tiny, tiny amount. That’s giving me room for other things to breathe. I like the 800 on the bass, sometimes to give me that kind of nasaly — that nosey sound. I’m cutting a little bit of 2ish, because there’s some parts of the snare, and there’s definitely the kick pedal hitting at 2.5 that I’ll put out a little bit just to allow that through.

But anyway, this is not just necessarily about guitars, but showing you what I’m doing with a sound. Before. After. Before. After. Great.

Okay, so let’s just briefly touch on one other thing. We’ve done the basics of all the different EQs that are available as far as types, but look, there are so many different EQs. If I go to EQ III one-band here, this comes with Pro Tools. There’s different versions of it, and you can see, it can do everything we’re talking about.

So, I don’t know, let’s go to, what one do they have, here’s a seven-band EQ. So here’s the free seven-band one, it does everything we were just talking about.

[guitar, no EQ]

So we can sit there, we can go, okay, we can select 70 here. So let’s just do 70Hz here. Let’s engage in by pressing In here. Let’s increase the slope to 12 dB an octave, which basically just means it’s more aggressive. So there’s a 70 cut. So now let’s go to our next low pass filter here. Sorry, go to our low pass filter here, let’s engage it. Let’s do one, two, three, eight thousand. 8KHz. More aggressive.

So now we’ve done the same kind of slopes. Okay, let us go to our low frequency. Let’s select 220. We’ll do a nice low boost. Bypass. In. Nice. That sounds great.

Okay, let’s go to 5kHz here. Let’s boost it there. Bypass. Good guitar sound, a little mid-rangey. Great guitar sound, nice and aggressive and horrible. In a good way.

So you know, that’s just using the one plugin. That does everything we want to do. It’s got a high pass filter in it, it’s got a low pass filter in it, they’re parametric so I can widen and narrow those. For instance, look at the top.

[guitar, with EQ]

See what it’s doing? That’s our Q control. So it’s adjusting the slope and the dip. It can be surgical if you want it to be. Get it to its narrowest. Widest there, narrowest there.

So you don’t have to buy all the expensive simulation EQs. With the basic ones that come with Pro Tools, or whatever your DAW is, you can get creative. I will find — I do find that I like the analog simulated ones, just because they may not be as surgical, but they have a sound to them which I find pleasing.

Having said that, if you gave me just those plugins, those EQ plugins, I would mix the same way. Maybe I wouldn’t be as aggressive using some of the ones, but I can tell you, you can mix and make great sounding music using those plugins that come with the DAW. And I work with a lot of very, very well known mixers that use a lot of just those plugins that come with it.

Not everything is esoteric and expensive. You know, those are good sounding plugins. The — for instance, the Avid reverb that comes with it, the plate in that is a really, really good plate, and myself and many other mixers use that plate sound, because they really like it, and it comes free with Pro Tools.

So don’t be under the delusion that you have to buy some of the more esoteric ones. I will say for me, the FilterBank ones, I just like the way they sound. They’re not as surgical. I like the Waves ones and those kind of plugins, because you can get very surgical with the Q, but the EQs that come with the DAW, with this particular one, Pro Tools, can do most of that stuff as well, and it won’t stop you from making good music.

Anyway, thanks ever so much for watching. I really appreciate it. Please, as ever, subscribe, go to producelikeapro.com, and sign up for the email list, and you’ll get free access to the Vimeo stuff, you know, behind the scenes at Sunset Sound, some drum recording tips, some piano recording, and of course, there’s always competitions running, and you can win great prizes, and thank you ever so much for watching!

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Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at producelikeapro.com.

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