EQ 4 U2

by Al Peterson

Funny thing about graphic EQs in production studios; they are among the most misunderstood audio tools around. Lotsa folks figure they work much the same as the one on the Kenwood stereo at home -- push everything up to +12dB and it'll sound great.

Well, not always. In fact, not ever. Pushing everything to the upper limit will only succeed in adding subtle distortion (due to internal phase shifting between EQ stages) and more than likely overload the tape.

Since it's likelier to find a graphic EQ in many smaller studios than any other effect -- I've even seen the Radio Shack 7-bander in use -- this trifling monograph will suggest ways to use it to accomplish several handy effects for your production.

First, check to see how many sliders there are on the EQ itself. Units with a great many of them can afford you finer control over the final sound. Some come with only five or six sliders and can tailor sound in great chunks. No matter; these can still prove useful.

Pull up some satellite rush noise on your production console with the EQ out of the signal path (if your console has no satellite pot, send some music through that is very lush and textural). Set all of the EQ sliders to the "0" position (center on most units) and switch it into the signal path. All things considered, there should have been no coloration added to the sound.

Now, start with the lowest fader and bring it all the way up to max. Listen closely. Return it to zero. Do the same with the other faders all the way up and down. Each one you move will suggest a certain description of the sound, Impressions such as "boxey," "wooden," "throaty," "cardboardy," "shrill," and maybe even "purple" should become audible. Combinations of several controls will generate even more impressions of the overall sound. These are EQ settings in their most obvious, grossest positions. The key to EQ is subtlety.

If you need to have a spot or promo stand out a tiny bit, ever-so-gently boost the highs (say, 3500Hz and up). Not a lot, otherwise the sound becomes brittle and resembles a TV soundtrack. In fact, TV audio is deliberately enhanced in the high end to cut through that crappy little speaker. After a while, you'll be able to hear the difference only a tweak will do. Meanwhile, trust me on this.

Do your vocals need an extra dose of testosterone on thin mikes? Only a teeny bit of 200-300Hz to add a little bottom is the cure. Again, not a lot. All you want is a hint of enhancement. Anything more than that, or any lower bands added in, will only give you "mud and rumble" and sound like there's a blanket on yo' face.

Got a dub from another station fulla hiss? Knock out the highs. Kill the 15kHz completely and "slope" the controls downward between 7.5kHz and 15kHz. Since many FM transmitters can't see frequencies that high, it doesn't matter that they're gone. Same goes for de-essing a sibilant voice (like the client's niece voicing a spot). Record the vocals and begin sliding until you hear a difference. It's not elegant, but it's a lot better than nothing.

Graphic EQs are great telephone simulators too. Cut out everything below 300Hz and everything above 3000-4000Hz, then adjust the guys left in the middle until you've got a sound you like. By the way, don't limit yourself to telephone tricks. This also makes a wonderful "doorman" intercom, CB or shortwave filter, or even the vocal trickery from McCartney's "Uncle Albert" or Tull's "Aqualung."

For a vintage seventies "compressed AM" sound, slope the faders so they smile. Curve up both ends with the middle right at zero. You're not really compressing a signal, but the sonic result will bring-it-back-at-ya.

If there's a graphic EQ where you are now and you've been told "nobody uses it anymore cuz everything sounds fake," ask to have it stuck back into the signal path to experiment with it. Set it up through the audition bus so it can be routed in and out with no aggravation. Remember, subtlety with equalization is the key to success with this unit.

And anytime you come across a setting you like, diagram the fader positions so you have a graphic representation of it. How do you think the thing got it's name?