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[Mixing] EQ

category: Music | course: Music Mixing | difficulty:

EQ is short for equalizer. The name comes from the fact that it is used to balance all the different frequencies in a track. Not only is this useful to make a single instrument sound clearer and cleaner, it is also used to make sure certain frequencies from different instruments don’t clash or are too loud/soft.

After compression, this is usually what is applied. However, EQ is a subtle balancing practice, which means that you should always aim for the least EQ adjustments possible. If you don’t think a track needs EQ, don’t use it. If you think a certain frequency is being pushed away by others, you shouldn’t boost the frequency on this one but cut it off from the others.

How does EQ Work?

EQ is an effect that makes it easy to alter volumes of specific frequencies. Humans can hear from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, but that is not the range an EQ can work. Most instruments don’t go that high, so EQs usually work from 20 to 16,000 Hz.

What an EQ can do, is boost or cut one specific frequency point. But, because it is impossible to pinpoint the exact frequencies that are bothering you, moving one point also moves the ones around it slightly up or down. In graph form, that would mean that boosting a point creates a hill, and cutting it a valley. Within the EQ effect you can set the width of those adjustments to determine how much you want to take with you.

There are also special versions of these points, called filters or cuts, that just completely remove frequencies at the low or high end.

Different EQ Options

While the look is different in every DAW, there are still the same options with the same names:

  • Graph. There is always a graph that displays the current EQ adjustments. When you’ve just added the effect, this graph is a perfectly horizontal line at 0 dB. A few circles are on the line, which represent the following ranges:
  • LF, LMF, MF, HMF, HF: These are just abbreviations for low, low-mid, mid, high-mid and high frequencies. These are the five points you can alter and move around. This makes the job a lot easier, because you can think ‘this guitar needs more high frequencies’, and you can just go to that specific range and boost it. Usually this can be done via the buttons/sliders, but also by dragging the points in the graph itself.
    • Freq: this determines the center frequency of a range
    • Q: this determines the width of the boost or cut in that range, but you should remember it as the narrowness of it. That is because a higher Q means a narrower (less wide, more specific) area of adjustment.
  • Enable/Disable: All these ranges have a small button near them, with a minus sign in them or on/off. Don’t forget to turn these on when you make changes (it might not happen automatically). You might think: ‘why is that button there? Why would somebody make changes and then turn off the changes he just made?’. Well, it is just a quick way to test the difference between what the audio used to be and what it is after applying your changes. Turning ranges on/off can help you with quickly determining if a change was needed, if it is an improvement, if it still needs some adjustment, etc.
  • LPF & HPF or HC & HL: These stand for Low-Pass Filter and High-Pass Filter. Their alternative names are High Cut and Low Cut respectively. They mean the same, but the opposite use of low and high can cause confusion:
    • Low-Pass Filter / High Cut: Let’s the lower frequencies pass through, which means it cuts off the high frequencies. By default, its value is 16,000 Hz. You can only move that value down, and it does what you think it does: everything above its value gets cut off. But again, this is done gradually and you should see a smooth curve in your graph at the right-hand side.
    • High-Pass Filter / Low Cut: Let’s the higher frequencies pass through, which means it cuts off the low frequencies. By default, its value is 20 Hz. You can only move that value up, and it works the same as the Low-Pass Filter: everything below its value is smoothly cut off
  • Gain or Input/Output: Decreases or increases volume on all frequencies. This is useful if you want to completely cut off some frequency in the mid-range, or boost a frequency a lot. If you for example lower the gain, there is more room above the 0 dB line for you to boost frequencies. Use it with care though.


Golden Rules of EQ

When you boost frequencies leave the Q low (the boost area is wide and smooth), when you cut frequencies make the Q high (the cut area is narrow and precise).

For everything else than bass, kick drum and sometimes snare you often want to use a HPF (or LC). Most instruments (and vocals) don’t need or even produce low frequencies, but they can still slip in somehow and be more prominent than you like. Using a filter on the LF range removes a lot of noise and muddy sounds.

Equalizing is about balance. If you boost something, something else should be cut to keep the overall sound level the same. Remember that less is more.

EQ Cheat Sheet / Frequency Chart


The (Important) EQ Bands

Here I’ll give you a list of all the different sections within the whole frequency spectrum, including how they sound, what they are useful for, and nasty side-effects they have.

  • 50 – 60 Hz
    • Essential to kick drum and low (booming) bassline.
    • Mostly used in dubstep and reggae
    • If used too much, you’ll mostly hear and feel the bass and not much else
    • If used too little, a song will not have enough depth or weight (no fundamental notes it is built on top of)
  • 100 – 200 Hz
    • Essential to snare
    • Adds a certain richness or warmth to most instruments
    • If used too much, things will sound muddy, too much of the same and dull
    • If used too little, you’ll hear thin and cold sounds
  • 200 – 500 Hz
    • Essential in guitars, piano and vocals for warmth and weight
    • If used too much, things will sound muddy again and like your stuffing too much into a single mix
    • If used too little, you’ll hear thin and weak sounds
  • 500 – 1000 Hz
    • A difficult range to work with
    • Is the mid-range for many instruments: creates some weight, body and tone, but is not essential
    • If used too much, instruments sound pale or hollow
    • If used too little, you’ll hear thin and harsh sounds
  • 1,000 – 2,000 Hz (2 kHz)
    • Adds aggression, urgency and loud clarity
    • Gives some crunch, edge or punch to (electric) guitars and vocals
    • If used too much, your mix will be overaggressive and painful for the ears
    • If used too little, your mix will sound like it is muted, way too soft or lacking of life
  • 5 – 10 kHz
    • Important for the higher parts of a drum kit, especially the very important snare
    • Creates clarity, a sense of freshness and freedom, and life
    • If used too much, your mix will sounds like it is grinding or scratching
    • If used too little, your mix will lack any energy, importance or presence
  • 10 – 16 kHz
    • Very high, nearing the limit of our hearing capabilities, but still absolutely present
    • Adds some areal, sparkling, spacy, heavenly sounds
    • If used too much, your mix will sound artificial, too electronic or like an enormous group of female angels is singing it acapella
    • If used too little, the mix will sound muted, dull, muddy, like it was forbidden to really come to life.
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