8 EQ Tips for Videographers

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Hey, you’re a video person. All you know is the video don’t sound good. Something’s off—but who knows what! Well, read this article, and you will. Or more accurately, you’ll have some tools for identifying what sounds off as you practice your craft. With some time and patience, you’ll get the hang of fixing the issue yourself. Here are eight tips to help you.

1. Get Familiar with the GUI of an Equalizer

GUI stands for graphic user interface. This is what you will interact with while you equalize your signal in your NLE or DAW. The GUI can look different depending on the software equalizer you’re using. When you’re just starting out, try to find one that resembles the image below:

This plot is a great EQ for training your ears, especially if you come from a non-audio background. It’s a simple graph with an X and Y axis.

The X axis—from left to right—corresponds to frequency. Bass is on the left, treble is on the right. As you go from left to right, you increase in frequency (from 20 Hz to 20 kHz in this case), and you go from bass to treble.

The Y Axis—up AND down—is amplitude. Is the vocal too nasal? Break the problem down into frequency and amplitude. “Nasal” usually corresponds to 1.5 kHz, or thereabouts; the frequencies around 1.5 kHz are too loud, so you bring down the amplitude on those specific frequencies. Voilà: equalization!

2. Learn to Identify Frequency Issues

You don’t hear in frequencies right now; you hear in adjective. Boomy, muddy, harsh, nasal, etc. You need to associate these adjectives with bands of frequencies. Here’s a chart—a little cheat sheet for ya:

Here’s a list of rough guidelines for various frequencies. A caveat: you should think of these frequency values as ranges; an instrument or vocal may vary by exponentially larger degrees, depending on the frequency band. In the low range, you’ll have 10 Hz of wiggle room in either direction. As you get into the midrange, the wiggle room increases to as much as 100 Hz in either direction. In high-midrange and treble regions, the variance can be as much as 1000 kHz in either direction.

Up to 40 Hz: Consider filtering this range out to eliminate unwanted low-end rumble.

40 Hz to 60 Hz: Boost slightly to add more bass to the signal; cut to tame unwanted bass content.

100 Hz: Increase to add density to instruments such as bass, piano, and drums; reduce to “thin out” thin out these instruments.

200 Hz: Increase to add fullness to vocals, guitars, snare drums, and pianos,

300 Hz: Reduce to make vocals sound less muffled,

400 Hz: Increase to add clarity to basses, especially over small speakers or headphones; reduce to decrease “cardboard” sound of toms, snares, and kick drums,

600 Hz: Increase to add midrange presence to vocals; reduce to decrease “cloudiness”, “boxiness”, or “honkiness” in vocals,

800 Hz: Increase to add more presence to vocals; reduce to decrease an undesired nasal quality in vocals.

1.5 kHz: Increase for clarity in vocals, bass, snares, and toms; reduce to decrease “sharpness” in these instruments.

3 kHz: Increase for “hardness” on vocals or attack on low piano parts; reduce to decrease “harshness” on vocals.

5 kHz: Increase for high-midrange presence on vocals, or to add “brightness” to guitars; reduce to make vocals seem farther away from you.

7 kHz: Increase ever so slightly to make speech more discernable; reduce to decrease annoying sibilance on vocals.

10 kHz: Increase to add “brightness” to vocals and other instruments; reduce to decrease annoying sibilance on vocals.

15 kHz: Increase to add a feeling of “air” to vocals and instruments miked in a room; decrease to make these sounds feel farther away from you.


3. Learn how to Hunt and Peck

Think something sounds too nasal, but don’t know where in the frequency it is? It’s time to hunt and peck—or rather, boost, sweep, and cut.

An example: You hear a vocal that sounds really harsh. You guess the harshness happens around 3 kHz, but you don’t know for sure. So, you boost at 3 kHz, listening for that horrible sound you hate. Is it now worse? Sort of, but not quite, so you sweep the EQ around 3 kHz, going down to 2 kHz, going up to 5 kHz. You listen to see if you’ve nailed it—if you’ve made the harsh quality worse. Once you’ve centered on the exact worst spot, then you cut at that frequency.

4. Don’t go overboard

It’s tempting to overdo EQ, to cut every offensive thing and hack away at it with your filters.

Don’t do this. You’re going to make things worse, creating weird issues with extra EQ moves you don’t need.

Instead, focus on the one or two problems and move to eliminate these specific issues as minimally as possible.

You can use the technique from above to get the right amount of attenuation: Go too far with the EQ, and then pull back to a reach a subtler cut/boost.

5. Try a dynamic equalizer for issues like harsh sibilance or low-mid boominess

You may find, in your exploits, that you’re having a hard time getting rid of harsh sibilance—ess sounds—without making everything sound dull in general. You may find yourself looking to ameliorate low-mid boominess, only to suck all life out of the vocal.

Sometimes an EQ is not enough: you need a dynamic equalizer—an EQ that only works some of the time, clamping down on the harsh ess, but refraining from action at other moments.

Neutron 3 and Fabfilter Pro Q 3 are excellent dynamic equalizers, if you’re looking for recommendations.

iZotope Neutron 3 Advanced - Channel Strip Software with Mix Assistant for Pro Audio Applications

6. Try a Smart EQ as a Teaching Tool

These days, some equalizers scan your track, analyze it, perhaps ask you some questions about it, and then do the bulk of the heavy lifting for you. Neutron 3, with its Track Balance options and Sculptor module, is one such tool. Another is Sonible’s smart:EQ2.

Sonible smart:EQ 2 - Intelligent Equalizer Plug-In

Use these tools not as cheats, but to see what they get you; use them as teaching tools.

7. High-pass filters: know when to use them

High-pass filters curtail lower frequencies—they allow the high frequencies to pass through. You can assign where the filter starts; 40 Hz, 80 Hz, 100 Hz, it’s up to you.

Typically, these filters are employed to hack out low-end rumble and extraneous noise. Beginners tend to over-use them automatically. Try to determine if you need one or not—if you don’t hear lots of low-end noise, you probably don’t need one! If you do use it, make sure you set the filter at the correct frequency for your needs. You don’t want to accidentally cut some of the speaker’s chest resonance by accident.

Of course, you can’t do this if you don’t hear the low end accurately anyway, which brings us to our next tip:

8. Use the same speakers/headphones and monitoring level

We hear frequencies differently at different volumes. Things appear brighter and bassier the louder you’ve set the volume dial. You should pick a consistent monitoring level and stick to it, so you can make informed choices.

Also, you should use precisely the same playback system every time, whether you’re using speakers and an audio interface, or just a pair of headphones. Develop a working relationship with the same pieces of gear over the course of your work. This will help you make better decisions.

Do make sure your playback system has a full frequency response. If your monitors only go down to 40 or 60 Hz, check your work in headphones that go down to 20 Hz.

Don’t use Beats headphones; use monitor-grade mixing headphones. Something like the Audio Technica ATH-m50x will work, or you can opt for open-backed headphones like the Sennheiser 650s, the Neumann NDH 20, or the Audeze LCD-Xs.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Monitor Headphones

Check your work in these full-range systems, and you’ll have a better idea of whether you need to use high-pass filtering, or whether you’ve gone too far on your equalization choices.

Conclusion

Here’s your final tip: when you’re just starting out, have someone come in and listen to your work. Ask them if it sounds better or worse than the original. Make use of a second pair of ears!

There are undoubtedly more tips to be had, but they give us strict word counts here, and I have to get back to my desk before—oh no… it’s happening… quick, meet me in the Comments section for more tips!

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