As you dive into music production, you soon realise that EQ is the most meaningful and vital effect you can use! Some say that 90% of mixing is EQing.
While the concept of what an EQ is is fairly simple, maybe you’ve read about different types of Equalizers. ‘M/S’, ‘linear-phase’, ‘minimum-phase’, ‘dynamic’, ‘parametric’, ‘graphic’, etc… Does it matter which EQ I use? If so, How much? What are the differences?
Does it matter which EQ I use?
Yes, but not that much, specially if you’re getting started in the world of production. In the beggining you can’t even tell if different EQs sound any different, but as you mix and mix some more, you start noticing that some EQs are just slightly better for some things. For example an API560 is better for boosts in high frequencies. You’ll feel that some EQ sounds better for vocals, and others sound awesome for drums. Some sound analog and colorful, and others sound cleaner.
It’s all OK though! It just sounds different, and different isn’t always better! So experiment and find what you like more, and unlike what many will say, it doesn’t even have to be expensive. Many mixing engineers out there are used to working with analog equipment in studios, and they pay big bucks so that they can get the digital version of what they are used to. Although there are EQs that are good for some specialized stuff, you can get by without it. Nowadays you can do great mixing using only the plugins that come together with your DAW. Here are some super cool free EQs I use all the time in my mixes:
My Top 5 Free EQs
Graphic EQ vs. Parametric EQ vs Semi Parametric EQ
Differences: A picture is worth more than a thousand words! Check these out:
On the left, you have a graphic EQ and on the right a parametric one. In graphic EQs you have bands with a fixed frequency, and hence, they are less flexibile. You can find them in your car stereo or in other simpler stereos having only 2 or 3 fixed bands (bass, treble, etc….). More complex ones have 5 or 8 bands, and in the beast shown in the picture above on the left, 30 bands! This great number bands will actually offer you quite a bit of flexibility, but as a rule, this is not the strong point for graphic EQing.
Graphic EQs were very much used in studios before, and because of this, many engineers who’ve worked with older equipment will want to use graphic EQing once in a while since they are used to it, and they do have their analog charm. However, keep in mind that most modern music goes through parametric EQs. Unlike their graphic counterparts, you can move the band around the whole frequency spectrum, increase or reduce the bandwidth of the band, and thus, it offers much more flexibility.
Why should I care? Graphic EQs look simpler to operate since it will usually offers less knobs (not this beast of GEQ by Waves), and many of the analog equipment with all their tricks and quirks are graphic in the end. But parametric EQs will offer you much more flexibility in finding the sweet spots for cutting and boosting. I guess another great difference between one and the other is that it helps you visualize sound in different ways.
When should I use each? Use graphic EQs when you want to make wide but less precise boosts or cuts. Since Analog EQs and their simulators carry their warmth and their own sound, use them for coloring too. Use parametric EQs to do some more precise carving around your track.
- Very simple;
- Fixed frequency adjustment;
- Lower precision;
- Many renowned EQs are graphic;
- Used in cars and simpler stereos, etc…
- More tweakable parameters and hence more complex;
- Adjustable band frequency, bandwidth;
- More precise;
- Most used kind of EQ currently.
- Same thing as Parametric EQ but you can’t change the bandwidth (Q) of the band.
Linear-Phase EQ vs. Minimum-Phase EQ
Differences: If you EQ something you alter its phase, and consequentely affect the signal. Linear-Phase EQ keeps it much closer to the original signal using digital algorithms, in the Minimum Phase EQ, modelled after analog EQs, the phase is slightly affected. In practical terms this means that every time you EQ something, as a side effect, the EQ will change the volume of the track! Minimum-phase EQ make the volume slip much more than a linear-phase EQ will.
Why should I care?: Equalization using a linear-phase eq alters the volume much less than using a minimum phase one.
When should I use each?: Since linear-phase eq is much more transparente and alters the perceived volume much less, it is favored by mastering engineers, and if you’re interested in having a more transparent EQ. On the other hand, since analog EQs are always minimum phase EQs, you might prefer to use those for its analog color.
Linear Phase EQ:
- No phase shift;
- EQing’s side effects on the volume of the signal are greatly reduced;
- Precise and transparent;
- Favored by Mastering Engineers.
Minimum Phase EQ:
- Slight phase shift;
- Greater EQing’s side effects on the volume;
- All analog EQs are minimum phase EQs;
- HINT – Always check if your EQ is adjusting the perceived volume by bypassing the FX, and adjust the volume accordingly. Make it different, not just louder.
Mono EQ vs. Stereo EQ vs. M/S EQ
Differences: As a rule, you’ll use mono EQs for mono tracks unless you want to get a stereo track and make it into mono. On the other hand stereo EQs are generally used for stereo tracks, allowing you for different EQing settings on each side channel. This offers you the chance for some cool effects, or for enhacement of your stereo imaging. You can also slap stereo EQ in a mono track and EQ it slightly differently on each end, tweaking it into something more interesting or different.
Now what about M/S EQ? In this acronym, the ‘M’ stands for ‘mid’ and the ‘S’ for side. In m/s you visualize the stereo field as having sides, the edges, hard right and hard left, and then in between them a perceived middle. M/S EQs will let you work on this perceived ‘sides’ and ‘mid’. For example, when mastering, you might be mixing a song with hard panned guitars, and then on the middle, the snare, the kick and the bass. With m/s EQing you can focus on the hard left and right, and make the guitars brighter while leaving the middle alone.
Why should I care? If you slap a mono EQ into a stereo track, you’re making it mono! It makes a difference which you use. and using different varieties of EQing will help you to achieve different effects.
When should I use each? Use mono and stereo EQs for mixing stage and leave the m/s for mastering.
- Hint – Be careful not to turn your stereo track into mono with a misplaced mono EQ;
- Hint – try slightly different settings on each side in order to achieve different effects
- Favored by mastering engineers;
- It’s not necessarily better than a Stereo EQ. It just helps you achieve different results;
- Try to use it on instruments hard panned like guitars and keys.
Static EQs vs. Dynamic EQs
Differences; Imagine you have a kick drum in your session. You get an EQ and you slap it on your track, and after some masterful engineering on your part, you get that sweet thick spot to get the sound you were looking for. Awesome! The kick plays through the whole song and it sounds amazing.
Why should I care? Static EQs might not do the job for you if there is a huge range of frequencies in your track, unless you automate it. A good dynamic EQ will save you loads of time.
When should I use each? Fetch the dynamic EQs for instruments that go up and down the frequency spectrum such as some vocals or the bass. Static EQ will work just fine for drums and other instruments that tend to focus around the same frequencies.
- Smart EQ that can save you a lot of time.
Transparent EQ vs. Coloring EQ
Differences: The name is pretty much self-explanatory. You can’t even tell that more transparent EQs have been used, where as coloring EQs add warmth and a change to the sound you’re mixing. As a general rule, digital EQs tend to be more transparent, and simulations of analog EQs tend to have a bit more character.
Why should I care: It’s true that you can’t even tell the difference in the beggining, but if you want to take it a step further look for your own sound! Get that EQ that is perfect for boosting your drums! Or get that EQ that really gets your vocals rock! With this step, you just have to experiment a lot on your own.
When to use each: Use more transparent EQing for cuts, and use coloring EQ for changing the character of the sound. Out of the free EQs I added, I’ll use BootEQ when boosting my drums, or when boosting high frequencies. I’ll use the PTEq-X for the bass. Look for your own sound!
EQing is a planet of its own, but in the end is always boosting and cutting frequencies and it isn’t as complicated as many make it sound. It’s true that having some analog EQs in your arsenal is cool and takes your sound to the next level, but you don’t have to spend hundreds on it in order to get great sounding mixes. It’s all about training your ears and knowing what to cut or boost.
Any kind of EQs that I missed? What do you think? Please leave your thoughts on the comments below.