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Will Homden profile image Will Homden

What is EQ (in Music Production)?

An equalizer is like a set of volume controls for different frequencies in an audio signal.

What is EQ (in Music Production)?
Photo by Ivan Jermakov / Unsplash

Equalization, or EQ, is a fundamental process in music production used to adjust the balance of frequency components in audio signals. It's crucial in shaping the tone and clarity of sounds, making it an essential tool for producers and engineers.

How Does EQ Work?

An equalizer is like a set of volume controls for different frequencies in an audio signal. It allows you to boost or cut specific frequency ranges, thereby altering the tonal balance of the sound. Think of it as a sophisticated tone control that can either highlight certain frequencies or reduce others to achieve a desired sonic character.

EQ Parameters

There are several key parameters in EQ:

  1. Frequency. This refers to the specific point in the sound spectrum you're adjusting. Frequencies are measured in Hertz (Hz), with lower numbers representing bass sounds and higher numbers for treble.
  2. Gain. This controls the level of boost or cut you apply to your chosen frequency. Measured in decibels (dB), increasing the gain boosts the volume of that frequency range, while decreasing it will reduce the volume.
  3. Bandwidth/Q Factor. This determines how wide or narrow the range of affected frequencies will be. A high Q factor affects a narrow range, allowing precise adjustments, while a low Q impacts a broader range for more general tonal shaping.

EQ Filters

Equalizers use various filters to shape the frequency spectrum:

  • High-pass filters let frequencies above a certain point pass through, removing lower frequencies.
  • Low-pass filters do the opposite, allowing frequencies below a set point.
  • Band-pass filters allow a range of frequencies around a central point, cutting off those outside this range.
  • Notch filters are used to eliminate specific frequencies, often to remove unwanted resonances.

What is EQ Used For?

EQ plays a vital role in both the mixing and mastering stages. During mixing, EQ helps blend individual tracks harmoniously by adjusting frequencies to prevent clashes and enhance clarity. For instance, reducing low frequencies in a vocal track can prevent it from competing with the bass.

EQ is used more subtly in mastering to ensure the track sounds good on all playback systems. It's about fine-tuning the overall sound, like adding slight brightness to an overall mix or reducing muddiness.

Some examples of specific EQ use cases include:

  • Balancing instruments. If a guitar and keyboard play in the same frequency range, EQ can help separate them in the mix.
  • Removing unwanted sounds. Use a notch filter to remove hums or buzzes.
  • Enhancing vocals. Slight boosts around 2-4 kHz can increase vocal presence.

Tips for Using EQ

Using EQ effectively requires a thoughtful and strategic approach. Here are some practical tips to guide you in incorporating equalization into your music production process:

Listen Before You EQ

Before making any adjustments, take the time to listen to your audio tracks in their raw form. Identify specific elements that need improvement or enhancement, and mentally note the areas you want to address with EQ.

Cut Before Boosting

When making adjustments, consider cutting frequencies before boosting them. This approach can help prevent your mix from sounding overly processed or unnatural. Cutting frequencies that are unnecessary or problematic can yield more transparent results.

Subtractive EQ for Clarity

Subtractive EQ involves cutting frequencies to enhance clarity rather than boosting to bring elements forward. For instance, removing some low-mid frequencies can help clear up the mix and allow individual instruments to shine through.

Use High-Pass Filters Wisely

High-pass filters are valuable for eliminating unwanted low frequencies, but use them carefully. Excessive high-pass filtering can lead to a thin or unnatural sound. Adjust the filter cutoff frequency based on the specific needs of each track.

Embrace Dynamic EQ

Dynamic EQ allows you to adjust the level of EQ dynamically based on the input signal. This can be particularly useful for controlling frequencies that vary in intensity over time, such as controlling sibilance in vocals or managing resonances in instruments.

Consider the Mix as a Whole

EQ adjustments should always be made in the context of the entire mix. Listen to how changes to one instrument affect the balance with others. Strive for a cohesive sound where each element complements the others.

Avoid Over-EQing

It's easy to get carried away with EQ, especially for beginners. Make subtle adjustments and resist the temptation to overuse EQ on every track. A balanced mix often requires less drastic EQ changes than you might initially think.

Learn the Frequency Ranges

Familiarize yourself with the frequency ranges of different instruments and sounds. Understanding where certain characteristics reside in the frequency spectrum will help you make more informed EQ decisions. This cheat sheet from Landr is a handy resource for understanding the frequency range of different instruments.

Experiment with Mid-Side EQ

Mid-Side EQ allows you to adjust a stereo signal's center (mono) and side (stereo) components separately. Experimenting with this technique can provide additional control over the spatial aspects of your mix.

Trust Your Ears

While technical knowledge is valuable, trust your ears above all. If it sounds good, it is good. Use EQ as a tool to enhance the emotional impact of your music rather than as a rigid set of rules.


How important is EQ in mastering?

Very important, but it should be used more subtly compared to mixing. Mastering aims to ensure a balanced, cohesive sound across the entire frequency spectrum.

Can EQ be used to fix poorly recorded audio?

EQ can address certain issues, but it's not a cure-all for poor recordings. It's best used for enhancing, shaping, and optimizing well-recorded audio.

Should EQ adjustments be made on individual tracks or the overall mix?

EQ adjustments can be made on both individual tracks and the overall mix. It's essential to consider how changes to individual tracks impact the entire mix.

Is there a difference between graphic and parametric EQ?

Yes. Graphic EQ has fixed frequency bands with adjustable gain, while parametric EQ offers control over frequency, gain, and bandwidth.

How do I avoid making my mix sound muddy with EQ?

Be cautious with boosting low frequencies and try to cut frequencies rather than boost them when possible. This can help maintain clarity.

Should EQ be used on every track?

Not necessarily. Apply EQ only when needed to enhance the mix or solve specific issues. Overuse can lead to a less natural sound.

Will Homden profile image Will Homden
Sampling nerd with a passion for the intersection of music and data.