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EQ Masterclass

Although there are many equalizers that have been created over the years, the parametric EQ houses the majority of possible EQ functions. With a comprehensive parametric EQ you can emulate any shelving EQ, graphic EQ, or semi-parametric EQ - so unless you have a preference, parametric is the best option.


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Parametric EQ

Let’s start by covering the eq you’re most likely going to use - a parametric EQ; with this one in particular you can choose from 9 different filters. These are Bell, low shelf, high-pass, high-shelf, low-pass, notch, bandpass, tilt shelf, and flat tilt.

The slope of these bands is measured in dB per octave, and the Q value can typically be made proportional to the amplitude of the band (notice how the Q changes as I increase the amplitude of the band.)

Various parametric EQs will have different features, be it analyzers, eq matching, mid-side imaging, and more.

Now I’d show you a semi-parametric EQ, but it’s more or less a parametric EQ just with a missing function. Additionally, sometimes an EQ has both parametric bands and semi-parametric bands.

For example, the Weiss EQ1 is parametric, but the highpass filter is just about semi-parametric since I can barely control the slope.

Additionally, I’d show you a shelving EQ, but as we covered, shelves can be created using parametric EQs, so I want to spend more time on info I think will be of real value to you.

Let’s listen to the FabFilter EQ using various filters and Q values.

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Natural Sounding EQ vs. Digital

Now that we understand some of the features of a parametric EQ, let’s cover how we can use them to achieve either natural or unnatural sounds when affecting our signal. Let’s start with the Natural phase response, which will closely emulate the phase and magnitude of analog equipment.

Then let’s enable proportional Q, and stick with 12dB/Oct or less. The lower our Q value, the more natural the sound.

For a digital sound, let’s use a low-latency linear phase, which I’ll cover more in a later section. Then we can use higher slopes and Q values to make our EQ surgical. This may sound aggressive, but it’s helpful when trying to pinpoint frequencies.

Let’s listen to these different settings.

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Should I Use Linear Phase EQ?

Linear Phase EQ is best used to solve specific problems; for example, if you have a parallel signal that you’re equalizing, but the original isn’t being filtered, use low-latency linear phase to avoid phase cancellation. Also, if you’re using high-pass filters, it can be helpful.

At high settings, it can cause a pre-ringing effect, but in my opinion concerns about this are often exaggerated.

Personally, I stick to zero-latency, natural phase, or low-latency phase modes. I find low-latency to be great when I want as accurate of equalization as possible without affecting transients.

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Graphic EQ

Odds are you’re not going to use a graphic EQ in many circumstances, but let’s cover them regardless - with them you can easily visualize the curve you're making. You typically get fixed bands, but some digital models and emulations allow for adjustable center frequencies, as well as some distortion features.

For example, Logic’s stock Graphic EQ which emulates an API lets you introduce harmonic distortion.

Voxengo’s Overtone GEQ also introduces harmonics, but without the ability to control them.

Whether or not you use a graphic EQ will probably come down to preference, since there’s no real advantage to using one over a parametric or semi-parametric EQ.

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Equalizing with a Compressor

Next, let’s talk about some more obscure topics that are important nonetheless - like how compressors can be used for equalization in multiple ways. The main way is with the attack and release function - for example, let’s say we’re compressing a strummed acoustic guitar track.

With a quick attack and a long release, we’re going to attenuate that initial transient of the guitar. That transient as you know has a frequency and amplitude, and when we attenuate it we ultimately change the guitar’s frequency response.

With the long release, we’re also going to affect other transients and content in the signal, again reducing the frequency of the percussive elements of the guitar.

Then we have to consider how a short attack will distort the signal, adding harmonics which will also affect the guitar’s frequency response.

So in short, a lot more effects are equalizing your signal than you may think.

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Equalizing with a Saturator

The effect a saturator has on the frequency response is a lot more noticeable than a compressor. Let’s run a sine wave through a saturator and observe all of the additional content that it creates - as you can imagine, all of these harmonics have a huge effect on the frequency response.

If we want we can measure the response of Softube’s saturator knob with an analyzer and see just how drastically it can shift the frequency.

So, it doesn’t matter if you’re making these shifts with an EQ, or if another processor type is causing them - the changes are happening nonetheless.

Keep this in mind when you’re using various processors.

Let’s listen to this saturator, and pay particular attention to how the frequency changes.

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Dynamic EQ or MB Compression?

Dynamic EQ is another important equalizer to be familiar with, but it’s often compared to a multi-band compressor - so let’s look at the 2 and see what the main differences are. A dynamic EQ offers more control over the band with more Q and slope values.

Also, it often offers more available bands - for example, the Pro Q 3 can have 26 dynamic bands, whereas the Pro-MB offers 6.

But it lacks some of the traditional dynamic processing elements you’d expect in a compressor. You mainly get a threshold that’s manual or automatic, and that’s about it.

Conversely, the Pro-MB offers attack and release controls, lookahead, knee, and other functions more closely associated with compressors.

So ultimately what it comes down to is how much control do you want over your dynamics processing. Do you prioritize pinpoint control over the frequency or more control over the compression elements.

If you care more about the first, use dynamic equalization; if you care more about the latter, use multi-band compression.

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Advanced Mid-Side EQ

Last up let’s talk about mid-side equalization, which is great for combining equalization with stereo imaging - let’s cover some more advanced topics about it. Specifically, I want to show how you can dynamically alter your frequency response and image based on an external source.

So say I was mixing a vocal and an instrumental, and I wanted the instrumental to have specific frequencies dip whenever the vocal was sung.

For my external side chain, I’d insert the vocal.

Then I’d create multiple bands and center the bands on the frequencies I want to cut - then I’d make these bands dynamic.

If I select the band and go into the dynamic settings, I can click on an external side-chain icon, which now makes the band’s threshold measure the external signal or in this case the vocal, rather than the instrumental.

So now my bands are dynamically responding to the vocal. If I want to take this a step further, I’ll change the stereo placement of my bands.

For example, I could make one band attenuate the mids, and another the sides.

I know this is a specific example, but I like it because it covers almost everything we’ve talked about so far - we have our parametric EQ, we’re affecting our Qs and slopes, we’re using dynamic equalization, and mid-side equalization.

Furthermore, we can use linear phase equalization if desired.

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