Achieving a well-balanced midrange in a recording is one of the biggest challenges of mixing. Beginning producers especially tend to struggle in this area. The ranges of many instruments overlap quite a bit, and some negotiation will always be necessary to help them share space in a mix. Muddy room resonances only complicate things further. When we have a session with a busy arrangement and high track count — a pretty common occurrence in digital recording — midrange problems can multiply out of control.
The official mascots of Rational Acoustics. These seven little gremlins like nothing more than to give your sound system their own distinctive voice. Sure, they’re friendly enough when encountered as a balanced group, but hanging out with any one of them for too long can drive you to distraction – or worse. Don’t be fooled by their diminutive stature and (sometimes) cute appearance – these little offenders have a long rap sheet filled with everything from simple charges of disturbing the peace to more flagrant offenses like system hijacking and mix vandalism
It’s almost impossible to walk into any commercial studio and not see at least one Pultec EQ in the rack. In production from the early 1950s to the early 80s, Pultec EQs have played an integral part in nearly 50 years of recording history — from tracking to mixing to mastering. Universal Audio has recreated three classic models from the Pultec line with the Pultec Passive EQ Plug-In Collection: the EQP-1A Program EQ, the MEQ-5 Midrange EQ, and the HLF-3C Filter Set. All offer a ton of practical and musical possibilities.
UAD offered up some settings to show off the Pultec EQs. I made some presets for Logic Pro X ‘Vintage EQ’ plugin. Similar results when I pass the audio through the Logic built-ins.
Pop quiz: How many EQ plug-ins ship with Studio One Pro?
If you answered seven, congratulations! Then you know about the Pro EQ, the three different Fat Channel EQs, Ampire’s Graphic Equalizer, the Channel Strip, and using the Multiband Dynamics as a really hip graphic EQ. But actually, the correct answer is eight.
For mixing engineers and producers alike, it pays to become intimately acquainted with the virtues of automation. Swooping sounds from left to right, enhancing emotion with level boosts, or fixing complicated problems with real-time adjustments—all of these moves separate the quotidian from the marvelous.
But riddle me this: how often do you think about automating EQ? Perhaps not as often as you should, for automating EQ can create both dramatic and transparent effects. Whether creating something truly bespoke for your mix, or cheating an element forward/backward for the master, a bit of active, automated EQ sculpting can be a serious boon, if done well.
Here are some instances where you can employ the practice.
Set internal (or external) triggers on drums
Mixing drums is one of the bigger challenges in a song because we expect them to be many things at once: loud, groovy, punchy, cohesive, clear, etc. Compression and transient shaping are a big help here, but dynamic EQ proves useful when carving a unique space for each drum hit. For example:
If the overhead mics picked up too much snare bite and this conflicts with the close-miked snare sound, use the main snare to trigger a momentary cut in level in the overheads whenever it’s played.
Is your snare struggling to shine because of masking with the hi-hats? Place one node on the snare harmonics and another on the lower end of the hi-hats, then set the sidechain to duck the hi-hats when the snare is present.
Unpitched percussion with considerable low end can conflict with the lower frequencies of a kick drum. To keep that pulse but prevent sloppy collisions from occurring, get your dynamic EQ sidechain to high-pass the bassy parts of the perc only when the kick comes down.
I need to check to see if each node in the Neutron 2 EQ can have a separate side chain. The side chain choices are internal – all the bands – and external (the one set in Logic as side chain). It looks like I can only side chain one external track.
I can do something like side chain the overheads from Logic and set the nodes in N2 to side chain from the different bands…that will have to do.
Also see “7 Tips for Mixing Drums”
A dynamic EQ is a powerful tool that combines the precision of an equalizer with the musical ballistics of a compressor.
I have dynamic EQs – a couple of different ones. I find that I don’t add compression to tracks in a lot of situations.
Used with intention, low pass filters can steer wild arrangements toward more polished results and transform one-dimensional sounds into deeper, darker versions. But employed haphazardly, they have the potential to suck the brightness out of a mix and muddy otherwise pleasant audio. Considering this, we put together the following guide: six ways to use a low pass filter when mixing.
A high-pass filter is a simple, but effective EQ curve that scoops out unwanted low frequencies from an audio source. Like most engineers, I use them at many points in my mixes to clean up woofy signals and tighten up arrangements.
Most of the time the problem comes from misunderstanding exactly what frequencies affect the bass instrument. Too many times we think that it’s the frequencies below 100Hz (especially 60Hz) that provide the bass we need. While it’s quite true that those frequencies are important for what we might call the girth of the sound, they won’t reproduce well on small speakers, and that’s where the problem lies. In other words, EQing too low.
Below 100Hz Girth
120Hz to 200Hz Bottom
250Hz to 320Hz Low-end definition
1kHz to 1.5kHz High-end definition
2.5kHz to 3kHz String noise/buzz
Understanding equalization–probably the most widely used signal processor available to engineers–is essential to making records sound their absolute best. Sometimes it’s as simple as high-passing an instrument in the proper spot, while other cases require a bit more attention and precision. Either way, EQ is fundamental to making mix elements sound more or less defined, larger or smaller, or “better” versus “different.” Having a general reference like an EQ cheat sheet will help get you where you want to go more quickly.
In response to a request at the Produce Like a Pro Academy I went hunting for some easy to access cheatsheets. This is one of a few.
A subtractive approach to EQ
Not everyone’s ethos on EQ is the same, and most people may never see eye to eye on EQ approach. That being said, I come from the camp that subtractive over additive tends to be better for your mix in most cases. Now, I’m not saying to live in a strictly subtractive world; I do make boosts from time to time when needed or appropriate, but it’s probably a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of cuts to boosts.
The question was asked in the Produce Like a Pro Academy. Here is one idea of a “standard” EQ cheatsheet.
As a standard facility of most mixing consoles and DAWs, we all tend to take EQ for granted, even though there are many different types of equaliser with varying levels of sophistication and application. While the true origins of the first audio equaliser are shrouded in the mists of time, two names stand out for me as pioneers of audio equalisation: Peter Baxandall from the UK, and the American, Eugene Shenk. Baxandall was an electronics engineer (and friend of our esteemed Editor In Chief) who came up with a very elegant circuit for an active bass and treble equaliser. He published his design, royalty-free, in 1952 and it has subsequently been employed almost universally in mixing consoles and hi-fi amplifiers, bearing his name as the Baxandall equaliser or ‘tone control’. Amazingly, at around the same time in America, Gene Shenk developed a passive design which has become the legendary studio equaliser — the PulTec EQP-1.
The Pultec is fabled. I use my emulation all the time. This review is an excellent guide to what it is and why it works.