The Power of Equalizers

Written by Patrick Brunner

· video production,audio,audio mixing,sound,sound design

Equalizers (EQs) have the versatility of being used as both a utility and creative tool. This makes them an integral part of any mix. 

Whether it's a music recording studio, or a sound design studio for a feature film, EQs are everywhere.

How Do EQs Work?

Equalizers allow you to adjust the gain of specific frequencies (Hz) of a recording. They do this through the use of "bands." The more bands you have, the more you can fine tune and craft the sound you are trying to create.

Here is a default EQ on Ableton with eight bands.

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The red lines I marked represent the range of the human ear; 20-20,000 Hz. By default, Ableton sets the bands on both ends into the shape of a shelf. 

The yellow circles are our points of reference (bands), and the highlighted blue line is our gain (volume).

Each band has its own individual settings that can be adjusted. These are the three dials on the left side: Frequency, Gain, and Q.

  • Frequency is measured horizontally
  • Gain is measured vertically 
  • Q is the outreach, or bandwidth of the band

Frequency and gain are fairly straightforward.

Think of the stereo in your car. 

On average, car stereos have three bands: Low (Bass), Mid, and High (Treble). In this case, the frequencies you can make louder are already preset for you. This leaves you only with the ability to adjust the gain.

When it comes to professional sound design and mixing, EQs allow us to pick and choose our own frequencies we want to make louder, or quieter.

In our example with Ableton, the Q setting isn't as easy to understand, but a visual example will help make sense of it.

Let's turn off most of the bands in our EQ to paint a clearer picture.

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Here, we have three bands in use. I greatly increased the gain of band #5 for visual purposes, and the Q was left at its default setting. 

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Next, I turned the Q all the way up. As a result, the range of frequencies being affected is significantly smaller.

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Lastly, besides turning the gain all the way down, I turned the Q setting all the way down. This results in a much larger range of frequencies being affected by the change in gain.

When it comes to a mix, EQs are just one piece of the puzzle. They are simply tools that can help you reach your desired goal. Through a combination of these settings and bands, you'd be surprised at the sounds you are able to create from a simple recording; be it music or any other sort of audio.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to your ear and what you think sounds good. Don't let anyone tell you that there's only one way to do things. Get out there and try it for yourself!

Thanks for reading.

Till next time,

Corner Media