Thoughts on Equalisation (EQ)

Equalization is one of the most essential tools for audio professionals. It controls the tonal balance and timbral quality of a sound. From fixing problematic frequencies to adding character, a nicely executed equalization can enhance the sonic experience effortlessly yet remain sounding natural.

Audio professionals who work in the postproduction segment usually have a slightly different approach to equalization to ones who work in the music recording segment. Since most sounds are recorded outdoor and exposed to the element, for example from a film set, most of the effort is spent on taming unwanted frequencies and retaining the original clean sound.

There is no surprise that frequency attenuation or cutting is more often used than boosting. Subtraction, in most cases, is a more effective approach for audio equalization.

From a technical point of view, there is a good reason to attenuate frequencies first before boosting. For example, a raw ambiance recording of downtown city traffic contains some low-end rumble, some whoosh-like vehicle pass-bys, and pedestrian walla. It sounds dark and lacks clarity. Rather than boosting the mid-high frequencies, attenuating the low-end ( i.e 250Hz and below) will give the same outcome and yield more dynamics headroom. The benefit of this approach becomes very obvious when dealing with loud and dynamic sound effects which the raw recording is already peaking at -6 dB or even 0dB, for example, car engines, exhaust, firearms, explosion, etc.

Years ago, I started my career in the audio postproduction industry and slowly discover this way of equalization. Later it becomes the standard workflow and rule for sound effects editing.

Fix the sound before you “enhance” it. Attenuate first, boost afterward only if needed desperately, sometimes there is no other choice. Often, swapping to other sound effects probably give a better result than over-equalizing your sound. Maybe this field-recording is just badly recorded which you have to discard.

The way a sound is perceived as powerful and “full” comes from its clarity and focus. In other words, the lack of redundancy, obstruction, and imbalance.

This gunshot is lacking punch. The guitar track is lacking body. The vocal is lacking some air. Looking at the problem from an opposite perspective can be useful sometime.