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Is Cutting Better Than Boosting with EQ?

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Is Cutting Better Than Boosting with EQ?
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Hey folks, Matthew Weiss here — weiss-sound.com, theproaudiofiles.com.

If you troll about the internet like I do sometimes, you’ve probably read the advice that when you are EQing a source, you should try to cut, not boost, because cutting is smoother sounding or better sounding than boosting on an EQ.

So I’m going to set out to see if that is actually the case, and maybe dissect where that actually comes from.

So in order to do that, we are going to do a little test. I’m going to start with a vocal here.

[vocals]

And what I’ve done is I’ve made a copy of that vocal onto a second track, and the only difference here is that I’m flipping the polarity, and now when I play them together, our little control test should show a perfect null if these are truly the same sound.

Alright, let’s play them both side-by-side.

That sounds like a null to me. So what we know is that these two tracks here are the same. Now, I’m going to EQ them. In this first EQ, I’m going to do a six decibel boost at 1kHz, and I’m just going to use the default slope Q here, and on this EQ, I’m going to do a low shelf cutting 6dB, and then boosting the output.

So basically, I’m doing the same amount of change at the same corner, but the difference is that one I am boosting, the other one I am cutting, and then turning the gain up overall.

Now, let’s first listen to them independently.

[vocals, cut and boost]

Now, before we do a null test to see whether or not those are exactly the same, they certainly sound pretty similar to me.

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Now, let’s find out what happens if we play them side-by-side.

We get a perfect null, which means that if we use the same corner frequency, the same degree of change, and then simply compensate for the makeup, we get the exact same amount of phase change, the exact same output of sound.

It is the same whether or not we cut or boost. Well, this is not always the case, depending on the EQ. Certain types of active EQs, particularly in the hardware realm, do not exactly function the same, because the saturation at the components kind of changes, and sometimes, just the way that the circuit is made, the cut function and boost function are not actually part of the same circuit, they are different, and so there are some differences.

So where exactly does this advice come from if it is essentially not really true? Well, it comes from the thought process. I actually am an advocate of thinking about cutting before boosting when it comes to EQ, but not for the reasons that it technically sounds better, because that’s just simply not the case. The reason why I like to sort of teach that way is because when we’re thinking about how to improve a sound by getting rid of something, it is quintessentially different than how to improve a sound by adding something.

When we hear more of something, we tend to hear it as better. If I am going to take out this boost here and simply play these side-by-side…

[vocals]

On first listen, we hear the second sounds being much smaller because it’s much quieter, but the sound is actually the same. So the question is, how can we take something away, remove energy, and improve it? If we can remove something, take energy out of a source, and still have an improvement on the sound, then we know that when we turn it up to a louder level that it’s going to be much better, and so when we’re thinking about cutting, we’re not adding energy in.

So effectively, the reason why I think that cutting is better than boosting is because it’s forcing us to think about improving the quality of the sound, not improving the quantity of the sound.

Now, boosting is still part of this equation. I do think that there’s plenty of times where it’s just simply easier to boost a signal, or where it makes perfect sense, because we want to hear more of a particular tone or texture.

So there’s really no reason not to do one or the other, but it is worth training your mindset so that we’re thinking about how to qualitatively improve something by finding the things we don’t like, and removing them, versus just simply constantly adding things on, which creates the impression of more energy, and therefore is actually a little bit less accurate, and harder to discern if we’re actually improving something.

Alright guys, if you want to see more about how to EQ, I’ve got an entire full length for sale tutorial called, “Mixing with EQ.” You can find it at mixingwitheq.com. Please hit that like button, hit that subscribe button, and I will see you next time.

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com

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