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EQ (part 1)

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The next time you make a recording, as an experiment set all the EQ controls
of your mixing console to their centre positions and leave them there until
you have finished the final mix. Don’t be satisfied with anything less
than perfection, and don’t give yourself the excuse that you can’t
get a good sound because you were not able to use the EQ. EQ is a very powerful
and effective item in your toolkit, a bit like a circular saw in fact! But you
wouldn’t use your Bosch or Black and Decker for a fine carving. You would
use basic hand tools, and most importantly your skill and judgment. As a recordist,
it is your own abilities which are going to be most important to the degree
of success of your recording, and you will use the appropriate tool for the
appropriate situation.


It is always best to make sure that you get as good a sound as possible from
the microphone, or from your synth or sampler, coming into the console. If you
start off with good sounds, then a good result is almost inevitable. It is becoming
increasingly popular to use microphones for recording, even when DI (direct
injection) is possible, because of the wider variation of tonal qualities available.
Even small variations in microphone position make vast differences to the sound
picked up, and it is a sign of an expert recording engineer that he or she will
listen carefully to the sound from the mic and adjust its position and angle,
and even try out several microphones, rather than pretend that it is possible
always to get it right first time. Once you have built up your skills in this
area then you can think about using EQ. I could give you all sorts of proverbs
about the things you can’t make silk purses out of and the things you ought
not try to polish, and these proverbs apply especially to EQ. You should always
aim to use EQ to improve an already wonderful sound. If the sound isn’t
good without EQ, then you will never end up with anything but second best. The
only time you should ever use EQ to ‘save’ a sound is when you have
been given a tape to work on that was recorded by a lazy engineer.


Just as there is an art to creating a brilliant sound, there is an art to
bringing that sound to perfection, and also blending several sounds together
to make the perfect mix. Van Gogh didn’t learn to paint overnight, and
no-one is born with the inbuilt ability to EQ. It’s a skill that is learnt
by experience and a good deal of careful listening. As a first step (although
I know you have used EQ already!), let’s see what EQ is and what it does,
then I’ll move on to looking at the machinery and techniques. Figure 1
shows one of the parameters you would expect any item of sound equipment to
aspire to – a flat frequency response. This, or at least a very close approximation,
will be the frequency response of your mixing console with the EQ controls set
to their centre positions, or with the EQ buttons switched off. Here, the balance
of frequencies of the original signal is preserved in correct proportion at
the output. It is just as trebly, tinny, harsh, nasal, honky, bassy or boomy
as it was when it left the microphone, or just as perfect perhaps. Notice that
the frequency response indicates what the EQ does to the sound. A cymbal for
example will have strong high frequencies, and that emphasis towards HF will
be preserved by a flat EQ setting. Likewise, a flat EQ will reproduce perfectly
the boomy bottom end of an undamped bass drum.

David Mellor

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David Mellor