Equalizers

I’ve been reading a book called Mixing Audio: Concepts, Practices and Tools by Roey Izhaki.  I finally got up to equalizers.

Like Mr. Ishaki says,

Understanding frequencies and how to manipulate them is perhaps the greatest challenge mixing has to offer

I’ve only ever used an equalizer on software, never on a board.  Here’s what I think an equalizer looks like:

And THIS is what an equalizer looks like on an analog soundboard.  In this case, the Neve at Jason’s studio, which he refurbished himself two summers ago:

So you can imagine my confusion. It’s not that bad though.  I just had to take it step by step.

First, I learned that the ability to mess with any and every point on the frequency spectrum is a relatively new phenomenon.  In the analog times, you could only change the EQ at certain set frequencies.  That’s what the numbers are around the knobs.  I get that– it means that only a few points on the plot (that I’m used to seeing) are changeable.

Second, each knob is really two knobs.  The outside (clicky) one sets the frequency that you’re going to change.  The inside one makes the change (boosting or cutting the gain at that frequency).  The type of change you make to the frequency is called a filter.

Third, the symbols found on the knobs are symbols that are also found on the Live equalizer.  These represent the type of filters you’re going to use for the frequency.

One of the names for this filter is the bell, or peak filter.  This is the easiest one to understand, because you just turn it up or turn it down.  The button for it looks like this:

Each of these buttons represents what happens visually on the plot if you either turn it up OR turn it down.  And may I say, I wish I would’ve learned that a little earlier so those damn buttons wouldn’t have looked like hieroglyphics to me for so long.

On the Neve, the third knob down is the bell, or peak, filter.  And on Live, it’s in the middle.

The second type of filter is the low- or high-pass filter.  This one is pretty easy to understand, too.  It means that you’re cutting off all frequencies after a certain point.  It’s the very bottom knob on the Neve and the far left and far right buttons on Live.  They both look kind of like this:

The one on the left is the low-pass filter (because the low frequencies get to pass) and the one on the right is the high-pass filter.  It’s easy to get these mixed up (or I should say it’s been easy for me in the past).  The low-pass filter cuts the highs and vice versa.

And then finally there’s the shelving filters, which are just like changing the treble or the bass.  They’re different from pass filters because (1) they can boost frequencies, too; and (2) the cut can be adjusted (unlike the all-or-nothing high-and low-pass filters).  The low-shelf button looks like this:

Like with the bell filter, the button shows what happens if you turn it up or turn it down.  I know it’s a low shelf filter because the button shows that the up-or-down action is on the left hand side of the frequency plot– the low side.

Here’s the high shelf filter.

I know the button is a high shelf filter because the action is on the right hand side of the frequency plot– the high side.

Seeing and understanding these buttons made me understand what an analog equalizer can look like, if there’s no frequency plot.  I can’t wait to try and mix with it.

After learning about equalizers the proper way (and not just messing with the buttons), I’ve come to the conclusion that equalizing first on a plug-in makes it much harder to learn.  First of all, the bell button is the easiest button to understand, but really the last one you should learn.  Second, having an infinite number of points you can play with means that it’s much harder to train your ear to what frequency boosts and gains sound like, because the point you’re applying at tends to change.  Third, with that plot you tend to equalize by sight instead of sound, which can really mess you up.

If I were to start over again, I would have learned how to equalize on an analog board.  That way, I would have trained my ear first to passes and shelves (which are easier to hear for a newbie), instead of boosts and cuts at extremely variable frequency points. I would have benefited from a pre-selected and limited number of frequencies to play with.  I had too many choices too early.

But, I’m close enough to the beginning that I don’t think I did any permanent damage.  LOL!

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