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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Equalisation in Mastering (Part 2)

This is Part 2: 'Equalization' of the new video-blog series in which Jonathan Wyner of M-WORKS Mastering will be discussing various aspects of the mastering process. Let us know your thoughts, questions and opinions! Next week, compression.

Part 2: Equalization

Why were equalizers created?

Equalizers were invented to compensate for deficiencies in recording mediums (for example, to increase intelligibility over phone-lines). This idea of a corrective equalizer is very much at play in mastering.

An example is if a mixing engineer is perhaps mixing in an overly dull environment. In this case, he will produce overly bright mixes (to compensate). It is then the mastering engineer’s job to try and figure out the inverse EQ to get the mixes sounding more like the mix engineer thought they sounded.

To Cut? Or to Boost?

I think mastering engineers in general find themselves cutting more than boosting.

Listen for areas that sound cloudy, or that contain unpleasant harmonic content and don’t contain much of the fundamental frequency of the instrument. These areas can be gently and carefully carved out.

Older-style equalizers tend to have narrow-bandwidth cuts and broader-bandwidth boosts. This tends to sound better and is a safe, general rule to follow when EQ’ing.

Are there common areas you (the Mastering Engineer) find yourself working on?

There are no set-rules. However, if you find yourself doing the same thing for each master you work on – you may be compensating for a deficiency in your room/listening environment. So try be aware of this.

There are a few common areas that one can focus on, though:

· Usually some clearing out (cutting) can be done in the low-midrange (focus on the relationship with the bass and the vocal, or try to reveal the bass more clearly for example).

· Low-frequency information also tends to be a common area that requires attention at mastering (focus on the relationship between the kick drum and the bass, for example).

· Use small adjustments, and constantly check back with the original. The goal is simply to make the recording sound better! If you improve it, even slightly, then you are doing well!

Small EQ moves to make Big changes.

Most of the boosts and cuts that I am doing are no more than 0.5-1dB. The reasons for that are:

· You are working with a complex waveform that is a balanced recording. Thus, big changes are likely to alter the balance in a way that may not reflect the artist’s intention.

· An EQ filter sounds better – that is, it has less distortion and less ringing – if you use broad bandwidths (‘Q’s) and are making small moves (in dBs) with it.

So sometimes in mastering you will use up to 12 different EQ filters, but each one will be doing just a little bit. That is pretty typical of a mastering engineer’s use of an equalizer.

Join us next week for Compression!

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