Today I will try to explain how and when one should use an Equalizer. I don´t mean to disappoint you, but: I can´t show you “THE BEST equalizer settings”, as those settings are differing according to the kind of music that comes out of the speakers or headphones. Also, everybody has a different taste, and with this in mind it doesn´t really make sense to declare a certain setting as the best equalizer settings. But there are a couple of guidelines for the most common frequency bandwidths.
When I was thirteen years old, I first got acquainted with equalizers: I played in a band with two guitars, electric bass, drumset and a singer. We were not the only ones, as a few older guys from school also set up a band with similar instrumentation and music style – namely crossover and melodic punk.
As most of people know, a guitar- or a bass-amp already have the basic equalizer functions (or filters) on (most often) rotary potentiometers integrated. It´s not very difficult to adjust those filters on a guitar amp, as everything required is a sound which is not too aggressive or too dull.
Having said this, you oughta know that I am no expert in mixing music, but I know how the music I create should sound like. So, when I am working with a DAW, I know where I want to go and then I can use filters or effects accordingly. One rule that I can tell you though is, when starting out to equalize you should rather cut away frequencies and not add them. Another important thing is that if you change one frequency in your audio signal, it will affect all the other frequencies too.
There are different kinds of Equalizers, the most common ones are Graphic Equalizers and Parametric Equalizers. For professional use, there are also Multiband Parametric Equalizers, which have for example five bandwidths where you can adjust Gain, Frequency and Q. In this article, I focus on the use of Graphic Equalizers. Within the range of frequencies that a human ear can hear (20 Hz – 20kHz), there are the following frequency bands:
The Frequency Spectrum
Sub Bass 20 Hz – 60 Hz
This is an area a human ear technically still can hear, but it is mostly felt in the stomach. A good example for this bandwidth is the subwoofer in cinemas. Cutting away from here will give the music a better clarity, and it is not very often that this part of the spectrum should be boosted. Too much boost in this region can make the sound too powerful.
Bass 60 – 200Hz
Cutting or boosting in this area will make the music sound fat or thin. Most often, a Hip Hop Beat will begin at around 60 Hz. The foundations of an audio signal lie here, because in this region there are the harmonically important and rhythm-defining notes, for example the bass line in a Pop or Jazz Tune. Also, the kick drum and the lower tom drums and lower tones of bass guitar are in this range. Up towards the 200 Hz line, the lowest notes of acoustic guitars, piano, lower brass and strings are being heard. Adding something here, the music will become more heavy, subtracting a bit of the frequency will make it lighter.
Low Midrange 200Hz – 800Hz
The middle of this region affects the lower end of vocals and deeper notes from synthies, piano and low brass, and the lower notes of for example acoustic guitars. Subtracting frequencies in this range can give the music more space and open up the sound.
Midrange 800Hz – 2kHz
This area is very sensitive. If pushed, it delivers a more metallic sound, which can easily strain your ears. Subtracting from here can lower the amount of chapped instrumental sound.
Upper mids 2kHz-4kHz
This section is the most relevant to a human ear. When you want to affect for example a trumpet sound or a snare drum, then you are in the right area. Adding a littlebit here can give more clarity to vocal consonances, acoustic and electric guitar and the piano.
Presence Register 4kHz-7kHz
This area is often called the presence zone. It gets into the highest range of the most natural instruments. Adding something to the lower end of this area can make sound the music as if pushed closer to the listener. Taking away some would open the sound and push the sound away from the listener, giving it more depth. The upper end of the presence zone gives you sibilance, how the hissing “s” of vocal consonants is called like. If the sibilance gets too much, subtracting a little from about 5-7kHz will make the sound more enjoyable.
Brilliance/Sparkle Register 7Hz-12kHz
The upper regions of this register are beginning to move from what a human ear can hear to where you feel the sound. Raising the frequency in the bottom of this area, will make it sound clearer and more pure, also giving it a sharper attack. So if your ears are a littlebit too worn off, taking something away from this register can help out.
Open Air 12kHz -16kHz
The bottom registers of this region are affecting the overtones of an instrument. Also, the synthesizers of electronic music are here. Upside of the bottom registers of this frequency band, you will be getting a more open sound when adjusting an equalizer. From 14 kHz up, an older listener won´t even be able to hear the audio.
I hope these general recommendations will help you in using EQs. If you have enjoyed this article and if you have questions or want to add some of your personal experience, please comment below!