I was taught these EQ “rules of thumb” when I first started out as a trainee, to help learn the art of mixing – each EQ band influences different qualities of a mix or instrument, and I thought you might find it useful if I shared them.
Later in the post I’ve also embedded another great video by Joe Gilder. Like the one in my using compression post recently, it gives an excellent introduction to the different EQ settings and parameters, plus some great real-world examples of using EQ in Pro Tools, although the ideas are applicable to any DAW.
Before we get to the tweaks, I want to stress that these are just ideas, guidelines and starting points. Always remember the golden rule of EQ:
Balance is everything
You can’t just add a load of 100Hz and expect your bass to sound rich – the key is to get each area balanced with every other, so that all the instruments complement each other, and don’t fight. This may even mean cutting out some frequencies to stop them clashing with other instruments – you can probably lose everything below 1kHz on a hi-hat mic, for example.
Balancing the mids – roughly 200 Hz to 2 kHz – is particularly important, since the 2K area is the most sensitive region of the ear, and getting the mid-range right is essential for things to sound warm, natural and real.
Some crucial EQ bands and what they sound like
- Thump in a kick drum
- Boom in a bassline
- Essential in dub, dubstep and reggae !
- Too much and you’ll have flapping speakers and a flabby mix
- Too little, and the mix will never have enough weight or depth
- This EQ band adds punch in a snare
- Gives richness or “bloom” to almost anything
- Too much makes things boomy or woolly
- Too little sounds thin and cold
- Crucial for warmth and weight in guitars, piano and vocals
- Too much makes things sound muddy or congested
- Too little makes them thin and weak
- One of the trickiest areas
- Gives body and tone to many instruments
- Too much sounds hollow, nasal or honky
- Too little sounds thin and harsh
- Gives edge and bite to guitars and vocals
- Adds aggression and clarity
- Too much is painful!
- Too little will sound soft or muted
- Adds clarity, open-ness and life
- Important for the top end of drums, especially snare
- Too much sounds gritty or scratchy
- Too little will lack presence and energy
- Can add air, space or sparkle
- Almost too high to hear
- Too much will sound artificial, hyped or fizzy
- Too little will sound dull and stifled
How EQ works – settings and parameters
As promised, here’s Joe’s video introduction.
The only thing I would add to this is to underline what he says about judging final EQ settings in the context of a mix – solo first to get in the right region, then listen with the track to see if it works. And, be cautious when using low cuts in the way that he demonstrates – you risk overdoing it and losing some of the natural sound of the instrument. Finally:
Newton’s 3rd Law (of EQ)
Of course all this is only the tip of the iceberg – every one of these comments has exceptions, caveats and alternatives. Returning to the idea of balance, bear in mind that
For every (EQ) action there is an equal and opposite (EQ) reaction
For example, if you add too much to the 2 kHz EQ band, eventually anything will sound thin and harsh. If you compensate by adding some 100 Hz to warm it up, you’ll end up with “scooped mids” and the sound will be thin and lack body. So you add some 500 and suddenly you’re back where you started, but it all sounds a bit processed and un-natural.
So I’ll finish with a final rule of thumb for you:
Less is more !
- and an outstanding resource, to an interactive frequency chart with even more rules of thumb and suggestions for the best EQ band to use eachinstrument. I don’t agree with all of them, but as Joe said in his video, there are no rules in audio – use your ears !
If you found this post useful and are interested to find out more about using EQ, you might like to check out my video tutorial pack Home Mastering EQ – to find out more, click here. It was written specifically for mastering, but lots of people have told me it’s helped them in mixing, too.
To see exactly why EQ is so crucial in mastering, check out this post: