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Thinking inside the Box: a complete EQ tutorial

Tutorials  26th November 2010 | 136,930 views    Comments (57)
Contents


This article was originally written and published on dnbscene.com in 2003.

Part One: Intro

To begin: an anecdote.

I started making music with Impulse Tracker. After a few years of gaining decidedly unprofessional results with that, I moved onto Buzz. Yippee! Effects! I happily threw my sounds into a ton of reverbs, filters, delays, distortions, phasers and so on. In some ways, of course, this was an improvement. My sounds at least had a bit of depth and character. But somehow the real fundamental problem, an "unprofessional" sound, was still there. My tracks sounded weak, thin, and simply a lot quieter than professional stuff; the mixes always sounded wonky, elements not really fitting with each other.

Slowly I came to realise the problem. I was not really using, or even being aware of, any EQ or compression. After all, they were both a bit scary, I didn't really understand them, and besides - they were boring, compared to my funky range of drastic FX processing. Silly me. I should have realised that...

EQ and compression are simply the two most important tools in music production.

Think of it this way. You are building a house. Exciting things like flangers and filter-delays are like the designer purple wallpaper or expensive thick-pile carpet. They make your house look welcoming, or fashionable, or comfortable to live in. EQ and compression on the other hand are making sure the bricks are mortared together and the walls are strong enough to support a roof. And at the end of the day, sure, your designer wallpaper may be lovely, but if the kitchen has collapsed into rubble and the bedroom door is only three inches wide, your house won't be much cop.

My mistake - and, I think, the mistake made by many learning producers - was to be tempted by the more exciting task of choosing the colour schemes and leather sofas, when my walls could be knocked down by a sneeze and my roof was made of paper. Get the fundamentals sorted first! Otherwise the frilly stuff actually just gets in your way and makes it harder to even work out what your problems are!

Hence this tutorial.

Now I could simply do a lightning quick tutorial on compression - I could say, for example, "for basslines it's best to compress at a ratio of 3:1, threshold -6db" or whatever (that's a totally fictional example by the way). But this is only so much use. Of course, I encountered a lot of advice and information about EQ and compression while I learned. But I know that I never began feeling truly confident in such engineering matters, never really felt I understood any of it, until I put all the pieces together, joined the dots, and worked out that these 2 subjects, and so much more, are all deeply inter-related. So, it is my ambitious aim to map out this whole territory. I present not a strictly practical tutorial, but rather a way of thinking, which I personally found led to a greater understanding, which in turn had many practical benefits.

My central concept is that producers in the digital domain are effectively working inside a box. In this tutorial I will define the box, explore a few fundamental concepts and highlight some of the limitations of digital audio.

A word of warning. I have no qualifications. I don't know the difference between dBu and dBv. I don't understand Fast Fourier Transforms. So if you want rock-solid theory and maths, you may be let down. I aim instead to explain the basic concepts, such as they are useful to the practical matter of producing dance music. Naturally, being dnbscene.com, this will relate to drum&bass, but it relates just as well to any form of dance music. In fact, it pretty much relates to any kind of music whatsoever, although you wouldn't want to treat a folk ensemble recording in the same savage fashion you can get away with in techstep.

Anyway - enough disclaimers... Let's discover our box (no sniggering at the back please)...

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Permalink: http://www.dnbscene.com/article/88-thinking-inside-the-box-a-complete-eq-tutorial

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Comments on this article (57)

Marc on Saturday 27th November 2010, 11:38pm

Even after all these years, this is still the best EQ tutorial I've read anywhere. It's the only one that made sense, and I still think of mixing in terms of splodges on the rare occasions when I do actually put down a track.

Maybe one day the infamous compression tutorial will materialise too? Hope so, but this is great for now Fuck yeah!!
pdahtyrw on Monday 29th November 2010, 11:00pm

mindblowing read tbh. It is opening the eyes of so many newcomers who's mixes aren't that good. I approve of this
CyanoType on Wednesday 1st December 2010, 3:15am

Wow, lots of great advice.

Id really like to see a faux- 3D spectrum analyzer plugin that displays sound as being in the "Box" you described, that would be immense.
kindafunky on Thursday 2nd December 2010, 4:21pm

@CyanoType: Try voxengo glisseq
doearfunk on Thursday 2nd December 2010, 4:55pm

good stuff !
Marc Crouch on Thursday 2nd December 2010, 5:22pm

Quote
@CyanoType: Try voxengo glisseq


That looks like a complex parametric EQ with helpful visuals but I couldn't see any 3D representation. Does it do that?
kindafunky on Thursday 2nd December 2010, 7:27pm

Got to admit i didn't read the question properly! But being able to show several sounds in the same analyser while being able to eq is about as close as any analyser gets afaik
Noah on Friday 3rd December 2010, 11:26am

Mucho thank you.
Fishy on Thursday 30th December 2010, 6:19pm

Great article:)
nigol on Friday 7th January 2011, 12:45am

You've just made a huge positive change in the world by putting this tutorial out. Thanks to you I've now come back to tracks that I was about to delete because I couldn't equalized them properly and have now finally mastered those compositions to perfection. Overall, your tutorial works for more than just drum and bass music since, I’m more of a minimal ambient artist. Thank You!!!
SLASH on Friday 4th March 2011, 7:30pm

Great article. Nicely written.  
Epik on Tuesday 3rd May 2011, 4:52pm

"sound-munging tool"! awesome. In all serious I agree altogether the best article I've ever read on EQ I'm sure it will help a lot of people
uncle tom on Friday 26th August 2011, 3:23pm

you are a fucking legend
recon on Friday 2nd September 2011, 2:58am

The best in the internet for learn !!!
uncle tom on Thursday 29th September 2011, 4:40pm

http://www.voxengo.com/product/glisseq/
rocks
etwomenkejacke on Wednesday 3rd October 2012, 4:06am

etwomenkejacke on Wednesday 3rd October 2012, 4:06am

aldwashmanregin on Monday 19th November 2012, 1:15pm

aldwashmanregin on Monday 19th November 2012, 1:15pm

aldwashmanregin on Friday 18th January 2013, 1:00pm

aldwashmanregin on Friday 18th January 2013, 1:00pm

aldwashmanregin on Wednesday 13th February 2013, 6:34am

aldwashmanregin on Wednesday 13th February 2013, 6:34am

Wobzor on Thursday 16th May 2013, 8:14pm

Had fun while reading :D Awesome
houston10 on Friday 28th June 2013, 2:12am

houston10 on Friday 28th June 2013, 2:12am

houston10 on Friday 2nd August 2013, 1:47am

houston10 on Friday 2nd August 2013, 1:47am

houston10 on Sunday 11th August 2013, 12:23am

houston10 on Sunday 11th August 2013, 12:23am

aldwashmanregin on Friday 27th September 2013, 10:34am

aldwashmanregin on Friday 27th September 2013, 10:35am

aldwashmanregin on Monday 30th December 2013, 10:06am

aldwashmanregin on Monday 30th December 2013, 10:06am

aldwashmanregin on Saturday 25th January 2014, 1:34am

aldwashmanregin on Saturday 25th January 2014, 1:34am

aldwashmanregin on Friday 7th February 2014, 10:17pm

aldwashmanregin on Friday 7th February 2014, 10:17pm

aldwashmanregin on Wednesday 12th February 2014, 8:19pm

aldwashmanregin on Wednesday 12th February 2014, 8:19pm

houston10 on Thursday 1st May 2014, 7:17am

aldwashmanregin on Saturday 10th May 2014, 2:25am

aldwashmanregin on Saturday 10th May 2014, 2:25am

houston10 on Tuesday 17th June 2014, 5:06am

houston10 on Tuesday 17th June 2014, 5:06am

houston10 on Monday 23rd June 2014, 12:39am

houston10 on Monday 23rd June 2014, 12:39am

houston10 on Friday 4th July 2014, 9:14pm

houston10 on Friday 4th July 2014, 9:14pm

aldwashmanregin on Wednesday 9th July 2014, 12:37pm

aldwashmanregin on Wednesday 9th July 2014, 12:37pm

aldwashmanregin on Saturday 19th July 2014, 6:28pm

aldwashmanregin on Saturday 19th July 2014, 6:28pm

aldwashmanregin on Sunday 20th July 2014, 10:50am

aldwashmanregin on Sunday 20th July 2014, 10:50am

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aldwashmanregin on Saturday 26th July 2014, 9:11pm

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