Firstly, the frame of reference. This is not an article for people who work in professionally-designed studios. It's for musicians and producers who work at home, where professional-quality acoustic treatment would be far too expensive to be practical (remembering that first-class acoustic treatment isn't just something you can buy, it has to be professionally designed to suit your own individual room).
So the question is, in your own room, with or without acoustic treatment of any kind, would it help to use an equalizer in the monitoring chain?
To be clear, when I say 'monitoring chain', I mean the sound that *you* hear, not your recording or your mix. This is so that you can make frequency balance decisions accurately and your recordings and mixes will be good *without* EQ. That's important – EQ in the monitoring chain is to help you make better decisions and is not printed into your recordings or mixes.
What's wrong with your monitoring?
That's a good question. Is anything wrong with it? Well let's make a little test. Grab your favorite song, or a bunch of your favorite songs, preferably in WAV versions so that they are authentic to the original studio masters. Play them through your studio monitors. Do you like what you hear?
If you like the frequency balance in what you hear and can't imagine anything that sounds better, then there is no problem with your monitors. Not concerning frequency balance at least (though there may be other issues that are outside of the range of this topic). If you aim to imitate the frequency balance of your favorite records in your mixes, then you're on track to successful productions and you don't need EQ in your monitoring chain.
But if you don't like what you hear, or you think there could be improvements, then it's worth considering this issue further.
There could for instance be a lack of bass, or a boomy bass. Perhaps the high frequency region is a little dull, or a little too harsh. Perhaps there is a hump in the midrange response that could benefit from smoothing out. It could be your monitors that are at fault, or the acoustics of your room, or a combination of the two.
At this point you might consider EQ in the monitoring chain. There are plug-ins that will do this for you – you can measure the frequency response at your listening position and the plug-in will provide an automatic correction. But you can do it by ear as well, and that's the way I'd like to go today.
There are two ways to include EQ in your monitoring chain. One is to use a hardware equalizer. This should be inserted between the outputs of your audio interface and the inputs of your power amplifier (or the inputs of your active monitors).
This is the easiest way to work because you can set the equalizer once through an extended listening session comprising of your favorite records and a few of your own recent mixes.
Then you never need to touch the equalizer again, and in fact you should not – you should commit to your decision and not change the settings unless after some weeks or months of work you feel that you could do better.
The other way is to insert a plugin into the master track (or call it the master channel if you like) of your DAW.
This works just as well, and you can use the free equalizer that came with your DAW.
The only problem here is that you have to remember to switch the plugin to bypass, or remove it, before you bounce your mix. Remember that it is only for YOUR benefit while you are recording or mixing. It's there to help YOUR judgment and, with its assistance, your mix should be perfect without EQ.
Should you try it?
I'd say why not? It's going to be a learning experience and part of getting great recordings is to learn how to listen to your monitors in your own acoustic environment and correctly interpret what you hear. Equalization in the monitoring chain might help, or it might not. But if you give it a go, your aural appreciation will certainly improve and you will find that you can listen much more closely to the sound coming from your monitors than you ever could before.