Why do home studio mixes sound muddy or harsh in comparison to the way the pros do it?  Exactly what is the distinction between the two?  Is it costly plugins? Much better acoustic treatment? A console?

The distinction, in my viewpoint, is how they utilize EQ.

The most powerful tool an engineer has is their equalizer. It’s the best option you can use to get clean and clear mixes.  If you want to mix like a pro than you have to use an EQ just like the professionals do.  So in this article I am going to try and teach you how to better use the equalizer.

It’s a Better Volume Fader

To me, the EQ is just a more advanced version of a fader.  You can turn things up or down but only at specific frequency ranges.

Volume faders help an engineer place a track into general places in the mix in hopes of getting a good starting balance.  This is great for a starting point.  The problem is though that you want to be able to hear the frequency spectrum of the tracks.

This is why an EQ is so great because it allows you to focus on the taking out the things you don’t want an then replace them with the things you do.  AWESOME!  let’s keep rolling

Some Things You Should Know

Although EQ’s look different when you compare all the different versions that are out there.  They actually all do pretty much the same thing.  I’m going to show you the things that you really should be focusing on.

Even though an EQ can be as basic as one band or as intricate as 7 (or even more) bands, all that matters is that you comprehend how a simple one band EQ works. By having more bands, you do have access to more settings, but that will be for another day.

Due to the fact that of all the faders and knobs, it is frightening when looking at a mixing console for the very first time.  That is until somebody carefully mentions to you that as soon as you can comprehend one channel strip from top to bottom, you will understand the whole console since they are all just the same thing as each other.

Let’s get into it!!!!

The Frequency Knob

This is the most evident and crucial knob you have to understand. It merely permits you to choose which frequency you wish to boost up or cut by turning it down.

Do you need to boost the thump of a kick drum? It might be way down in the 60hz range. The frequency knob will take you there. Need to remove some harshness in that lead guitar riff? You can use the frequency knob to get up to that 2khz or so range and to cut what’s hurting your ears.

The frequency knob can certainly take you where you want to go. Like if you want to remove some harshness in the elecetric guitars, you can utilize the frequency knob to hit the 2kHZ region and take out what you feel is hurting your ears.

Keep in mind, merely turning the frequency knob does not change or influence your audio in any way. It just puts the EQ into a range so that you can manually manipulate it with the GAIN knob.

The Gain Knob

Now that you have the FREQ knob zoned in on the problem frequency, it’s time to turn this knob up or down and this is where the gain knob comes into play.

This knob truly is as simple as it sounds.  It’s literally the volume knob for your frequencies.  I wish I could teach you more about it but it’s just too simple to screw it up.  When you turn it it will either increase or decrease the volume – simple!!!

The Q Setting

“Q” is an odd name with an even weirder number value. I’m not truly wise or interested to find out why you can crank up the “Q”.

I believe a much better name for what “Q” does would merely be “width,” since that’s how I perceive it in my mind.  So if you wanted to affect a certain frequency like 100Hz for example, you could effectively narrow the Q so it only affects that frequency.  You could also WIDEN the Q so that if would still be affecting the 100HZ but it is also affecting other frequencies around it.

So once you can identify the frequency that you want to affect, all that the Q does is allow you to tweak how much you want to affect that frequency.

EQ Shape

Most EQ’s are either a bell or notch filter, by default. A bell is exactly how it sounds, it looks like a little bell that you can either boost or cut.  A notch is sepcifically a cut filter that is really tight in it’s cue.  Basically allowing you to “notch” out a frequency.

On the other hand, most EQ’s have a something on either ends of the unit.  Something that is called a shelf.  Sometimes you can switch between the shelf filter and to a bell or notch.  It is called a shelf filter because it looks like a shelf.  It allows you to boost or cut a frequency range where multiple frequencies are affected.

Shelf EQ’s can be helpful for “opening up” the top end of a track, without a crazy extreme or targeted boost.

Don’t Over Think it

So at this point you should know all the ins and out of how an EQ works on a basic level.  Try not to over think this and actually using the EQ is completely different than knowing about it.

The EQ can be your best and worst weapon.  Too much is never a good thing and too little might also be a bad thing.

Just make sure you are constantly practicing.