6 Frequency Problems You’ll Need to Know How to Fix
You can never know enough about EQ, in my honest and correct opinion.
When you’ve mastered the EQ spectrum, and you know where to go when you need to fix or enhance your mix you are ahead of the game.
If you can listen to a sound and say to yourself, “Oh that needs a little more 250 Hz,” or “I think a cut at 1.2 would totally do the trick,” then you have something to be proud of.
You’re hearing something nobody else around you hears.
When you’re mixing you’ll find that recurring themes pop up again and again; specific frequencies pop up more frequently than others.
If you train your ears to find these following six frequencies you’re already ahead of the game when it comes to EQ.
Frequency 1 – Thickness/Muddiness
Instruments and sounds that are dominant in the lower frequencies tend to dominate them a little too much.
Too much low-mid buildup can thicken up a sound so that it lacks clarity and definition. The low mids, around 200 Hz, are an excellent area to check for any unwanted muddiness or boominess in your mixes.
Frequency 2 – Boxiness
This is the bane of the bass drum. I hate kick drums that have too much of that cardboard box flavor. If it’s done 100% right, it does have a natural earthy flavor that’s kind of cool but just a little bit too much can kill the sound for me.
It just sounds like a fist pounding a cardboard box.
If you are struggling with boxiness, then the frequency area around 3–600 Hz should be your hunting ground. Boost your EQ all the way up and stop when the boxiness is unbearable. Then swiftly cut down the middle. Don’t worry if your cut isn’t super narrow; it’s OK to cut the kick drum a little more drastically in that area.
Frequency 3 – The Cheap Sound
This is a very annoying frequency for acoustic guitar players that also happen to be engineers.
It sounds like somebody bought a Wal-Mart guitar and brought it to the studio expecting a great sound.
Ok, that might not happen, but sometimes some guitars just sound cheap.
Obviously, you can’t always fix this. But there is cheat frequency that you can use to get rid of at least some it.
The mids around 800 Hz have this characteristic that makes the acoustic guitar sound a little too cheap. So by cutting it a little bit, you can usually bring out a warmer and less biting sound.
Frequency 4 – Nasal Sound
It sucks to record a singer when he has a cold.
Nevermind that you might catch their cold but your vocal track might too!
What’s even worse is when your singer doesn’t have a cold, but he somehow sounds like he does.
Nasally or tinny sound can be a product of too much of 1–1.2 kHz. Too much in that area and your instruments sound horn-like and tinny and your singers sound nasal and congested.
If you feel like you have a vocal that’s suffering from those symptoms, then make sure you check to see if a cut in the 1 kHz area can’t help.
Frequency 5 – Presence
If I had to pick between the frequencies for a favorite one (which sounds ridiculous but bear with me), I would have to choose 5 kHz. 5 kHz brings out the character in so many instruments. Whether you need to put some make-up on a dull vocal or bring out the bite on the electric guitar, 5 kHz really makes it all shine. Just don’t put 5 khz on everything!
Frequency 6 – Air
That final stretch of the spectrum from around 10 kHz and up is sometimes referred to as Air.
As you might think from the name, it lifts up the higher frequencies and opens up the instruments that occupy that part of the spectrum. The high notes of instruments, subtleties of the piano for instance or the swashing sound of drum cymbals.
14 kHz or so onward can be used to subtly brightening things up that aren’t necessarily dull but might need a little….well, air, to make them stand out.
Boosts at the very top of the frequency spectrum won’t affect all instruments because they simply don’t have a presence there. However, when you need a touch of brightness to an acoustic instrument recording, it can open it up.
Know where you’re looking and you’ll mix faster
By knowing what you are looking for and where to go after it, you make your life much simpler and easier.
It’s easy to cut down on muddiness if you know where it lives in the low mids; if your vocalist sounds like the tin man it’s easy to cut that out, and if you need some presence or air to your mixes it’s all possible with a few mouse clicks on the screen or twists on your equalizer.
So far I’ve only touched upon these six frequency areas, but the frequency spectrum is filled with a lot more problems than that. In EQ Strategies – Your Ultimate Guide to EQ, I walk you through all the frequency areas and what you can expect from each part of the spectrum. So whenever you need to find a problematic frequency, you can always reference my guides to know exactly where to look.
It makes your mixing faster and easier. Just read what William had to say about the guide:
“The ultimate EQ guide is written so even I can read and digest the information without skipping over a bunch of technical jargon that I don’t understand and it lays all the info I need at my feet without tripping me up and leaving me flat on the floor with nothing more than I started with. The breakdown of the frequencies have made it a lot easier to follow along. I would highly recommend EQ Strategies to anyone wanting to improve their mixes or just learn more about EQing.” -William Carter
Here’s where you go for more information: