Equalization Basics

Last updated on 3/31/2016

Equalization (EQ) is the process of increasing or decreasing signal levels of specific audio frequencies. Most sounds produced in the real world are complex, meaning they contain audio signals at many different frequencies. Adjusting frequency levels requires a specialized tool, and thus the EQ was born.

Tip:The EQ plug-ins included with most Cakewalk products include several presets, exploring some of these might help you get a better handle on working with EQ.

Low Shelf – functions like a bass control knob on a stereo. Low Shelf EQ’s adjust the level of signal at the set frequency and all frequencies below it.

High Shelf – functions like a treble control knob on a stereo. High Shelf EQ’s adjust the level of signal at the set frequency and all frequencies above it.

Peak – Adjusts the level of signal at the set frequency, and some surrounding frequencies. The Q setting determines how many surrounding frequencies are affected.

Q – Also called Resonance or Bandwidth. Sets the amount of surrounding frequencies that will be affected. The width of the Q is usually expressed in terms of octaves. Here is a useful reference chart:

Q Setting

Width

0.7

2 Octaves

1.0

1 1/3 Octaves

1.4

1 Octave

2.8

? Octave

General Guidelines:

Don’t boost when you can cut instead! It sounds more natural when you reduce unwanted sounds, rather than boosting the desired frequencies.

EQ can be used to enhance a recording, but it cannot fix a poor recording. Sometimes it’s best to rerecord using different microphone placement or using another microphone with different tonal characteristics.

Human hearing is most sensitive to midrange and upper midrange frequencies. Because of this sensitivity, large boosts in this range can make your project sound harsh or shrill.

Harmonics

Boosting an instrument’s harmonic frequencies will add what many engineers call presence, clarity or brightness. Here are some specific settings we’ve gathered. Use these as a starting point and adjust accordingly. Use the lower frequency for punch or presence; use the higher frequency to accentuate clarity or brightness.

Instrument

Lower Harmonic

Upper Harmonic

Bass

400 Hz

1500 Hz

Guitar

3 kHz

5 kHz

Kick Drum

400 Hz

5 kHz

Snare Drum

7 kHz

100 kHz

Vocals

5 kHz

10 kHz

Example:

To add clarity or brighten a vocal part use a moderate boost at 10 kHz. Try +2 db, or possibly +4 db boost.

Because many instruments use overlapping frequency ranges, experiment with complimentary EQ settings. Try this little trick: Use a –4 db cut between 3 kHz and 5 kHz on backing vocals. Add a 4 db boost at the same frequency to your lead vocal to fill in the sonic space.

Remember that the numbers above are general guidelines that should give you a head start. The only way to know what works for your project is to experiment with gradual EQ changes, and let your ears be the judge.

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