Understanding EQ


New member
I'd like to ask for some help understanding how to use eq when I've got many different tracks. I do get hi’s, mid’s, low’s in general. What I'm not getting is how find the right frequencies for the different tracks/ instruments.
I won't say that my mixes are muddy but things don't seem to be distinct. My vocals don't seem to stand out. I record my vocals usually with either a TLM 103 or an MA 200 usually going through a Neve Portico 5012. Other instruments don't seem to have their own spot in the mix either.
I'm thinking I just don't understand how to eq things correctly. I could be wrong but I believe my recording process is good and my room is ok as well.
So I'm looking for recommendations for where to go to better understand eq and side chain eq. I recently saw a video on dynamic eq and that got me to thinking about how I eq things. I usually eq things (vocals, guitars, etc) by listening to the instrument and adjusting frequencies (generally a 4 band eq). However I'm thinking that after I eq all vocals and instruments this way that they may occupy the same frequencies and that leaves my mixes indistinct. Any feedback is welcome.


It's critical to use a parametric eq. If the eq has fixed bands and/or filter width, it's likely to restrict your options.

With vocals, 3-6kHz is the range that determines definition, how clear they are. If they sound muddy then either they need more in that range or the rest of the mix is too strong in that range. Above that range is "air" or crispness, but it doesn't make the words much more distinct.

When I'm mixing I tend to think in terms of five frequency broad ranges for the overall balance: low, low-mid, mid, high-mid and high. When I'm setting the level on one instrument I might notice that when I get it right in one of those ranges, it's wrong in one or more of the other ranges. That's when I go to the eq. A common example is setting the bass guitar level. If I turn it up to get the definition range (maybe 1-2kHz) sitting where I want it, the low end might be overbearing. In that case I'll have to decide if I want to turn down the lows or turn up the definition.
You answer your own question in some ways.
EQing each instrument/voice in isolation (on it's own - possibly soloed) is a good move, to a point. On some things, you can remove unwanted lows and subs, or boominess in an acoustic guitar, or nasty nasal tones in a voice.
But if you expect doing that is enough to lead to a perfect mix, you'll fail.
The crucial step is to eq everything so that everything has "room". THE most common clash is the bass clashing with the kick, and the most common solution is to carve a gap in one to allow the other through - to allow the other to be audible.
I'm thinking that after I eq all vocals and instruments this way that they may occupy the same frequencies and that leaves my mixes indistinct. Any feedback is welcome.
That's the problem. Eq things to make room ofr each of them.


Well-known member
Don’t be afraid to use your HP filter on many tracks....vocals ....etc. Lows creep in in small increments and build up easily in a mix.

snow lizard

Dedicated Slacker
I agree with the other points made so far. Parametric EQ is great for being flexible enough to do whatever you need it to. You can adjust the Q or bandwidth for the task. Narrow bandwidth can be helpful for surgical things where you're basically correcting problems. Wide bandwidth is usually much better for a more musical control to adjust the tone of a track. Being able to sweep the frequency to zero in on what you want is great.

Again, using EQ on solo tracks can only get you so far. Great for zeroing in on problems. In a broader sense for tone in a mix you really need to hear the individual tracks as they fit in the mix before getting too crazy with it. Balance between track levels is critical. Having a logical order of building the mix can be helpful. I would generally start with drums. Sending the drums to a buss is helpful. Once the kit is balanced you can have an overall level control so you don't need to mess with the individual tracks. Then I'd get the bass to sit with the drums so you have a balanced rhythm section. Then I'd mute that stuff and start with the vocals or lead instrument on its own. This is where the center of attention needs to be. Bring the rhythm section in so it's solid, but not stepping on the vocal. Mix all the other instruments in to suit.

Getting the low end right can be tricky. Low frequencies take a lot of power and space. Using compression can help. High pass filters on things that don't or shouldn't have much if any sub stuff going on can help.

Speaking of compression, I'm not shy about using it on vocals. Vocal dynamics are usually huge, and reducing that dynamic range can help to make sure they're not too thin and have enough power to stay on top.

Also, a lot of the time I'm recording things very dry, with very close mic placement. It doesn't usually help much to enable things to blend easily. Having a mic or 2 with a few feet of space on it in a room that sounds decent can help. You might have to experiment and adjust if you run into problems like excessive comb filtering, but having a collection point that allows you to blend in a certain amount of "space" to the sound can help. Subtle use of delay and reverb might be able to simulate part of the effect to a point. It's easy to overdo it.

I realize a lot of this goes beyond using EQ, but getting things to sit in a mix and be distinct could be an EQ issue, or not. Level balances, EQ, dynamics and ambience all have their own role.


Site Moderator
All good comments so far.

Parametric EQs
High Pass Filtering
Using Zones or Ranges.

Recorded instruments should naturally have their own range of frequencies that help to separate them apart. But yeah, there are times when they need a little help from EQ. So, use tempered adjustments to find what you need. Don't go crazy on turning knobs unless you find you really have to.

One aged-old bit of wisdom is to use a broad wide band to gently boost frequencies if you need to boost; and use narrow notches to cut frequencies if you need to cut.

In rock music, the kick drum and the bass guitar are usually the two instruments that conflict the most. Find the prominent peak for the kick, then narrow the EQ around it, then notch that same freq out of the bass but cutting a narrow band. Or at least use that as a starting point.

Another way to keep instruments separated is the use the stereo field. Spread things out. I think of it as a 180 degree arc in front of me. I always keep lead vocals, kick drum, snare and bass centered, everything else can go where ever....


I don't really adhere to the wide boost, narrow cut thing. Well, not exactly. Most of my boosts and cuts are as wide or narrow as they need to be. Lot's of my cuts are pretty wide. The way it works out is that super narrow eq is virtually never a boost, but in the rare case I use a super narrow filter it's essentially always to cut some ringing type frequency. Good tracking makes that unneeded.

I don't use a lot of HPF. Well, I do when mixing live, but that's a special case. For studio mixes I use a lot of low shelf cuts, with HPF sometimes used on vocals.

I don't really worry about kick and bass interfering tonally. Most of the time they stay out each other's way by having different envelopes. Kick is momentary and bass is sustained. I like the kick and bass to meld into an impulse/decay kind of sound.

The point isn't to say those things are wrong to do, but to suggest taking all of the suggestions and finding what works for you, form your own style. Try out all the "normal" ways of doing things to find the ones that you like.


Well-known member
.. However I'm thinking that after I eq all vocals and instruments this way that they may occupy the same frequencies and that leaves my mixes indistinct. Any feedback is welcome.
Thanks, Don…..

Here I am again countering (mentioning :>) placing too much weight on the whole 'freq overlap' thing.
Sure, do what you need to do. But it's also perfectly natural that a lot of instruments and voices occupy similar bandwidths. This can be seen as shaping their appropriate weight and place in the mix -via contour, and also a factor for density options in the mix.


Here I am again countering (mentioning :>) placing too much weight on the whole 'freq overlap' thing.
Sure, do what you need to do. But it's also perfectly natural that a lot of instruments and voices occupy similar bandwidths. This can be seen as shaping their appropriate weight and place in the mix -via contour, and also a factor for density options in the mix.

I agree with that. You can't segregate different instruments into different frequency boxes. If they overlap isn't really as important as how they overlap. Plus, it's often a matter of arrangement. Maybe one instrument should sit back or sit out a section to avoid stepping on another instrument.


Active member
IMHO the first step is to have a plan for the songs arrangements before eq, compression, etc. I have mentioned this in other threads but what often causes "interference" or "lack of definition" can be from not planning the arrangement ahead of mixing.

IOW: The first step in getting a good mix is knowing where you want to end up. So each part of the song has movement and interest means featuring one or two items in each section instead of trying to make everything heard all the time. So level balancing, section by section is first. Then use the eq and compression etc to enhance or clarify what already sounds good. If it doesn't sound good with just basic balancing then find out why arrangement wise before trying to "fix in the mix" with eq.

In The Studio: “Music 101” For Recording Engineers - ProSoundWeb
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New member
Pretty much all true. But as for which freqs have the key, it still depends on what eq you're using and it's sound in any particular system. Like when I ran live sound I had to retune for every board every venue, every home recording artist has to figure out which freqs work best. And so I ended up finding that I cut ALL below 50hz, but not a shelf drop, all tracks, even master. On the master I find dipping in the 300-400hz range helps separate the bass. But to find the magic freqs on my system I do a lot of sweeping with a steep Q, exaggerated for a quick noticeable effect. But I don't leave it that way. So point being, you need to find what works best in your system.


New member
i tend to cut the lows on almost every channel.
Don't be afraid to do so, cleaning unnecessary frequencies will give a lot more headroom when you get to the final stage of the production (Mastering).


Ill Soul Productions
Eq is actually fairly easy to understand and it honestly sounds like you're just overly complicating things my friend. Don't just eq to eq something, eq it to fix it or improve it in the context of the record you're working on. That's it. I personally love the fabfilter pro q3 because it's an all you need eq that does L,R,Mid,Side and dynamic eq all in one per band with a low cpu footprint. I basically use it as needed and keep it moving so I don't take too much time on a single sound and get stuck in infinite editing like most mixers. Trust your gut and practice practice practice so you start grasping the great concept of eq'ing when necessary, I hope this helps.
Remember to re-balance after a moderate EQ move. You wanted warmth so you low-shelf boosted your track. you got the desired warmth and the highs sound good. But when you rebalance your track again, your top end can get swamped again leaving your desired track sounding too dull/muffled. I will boost less than desired and rebalance, then re-tweak if necessary.

For surgical cuts use a graphical parametric EQ, for standard EQ moves I think it's a good idea to use those more traditional EQ's with no graphical display so you are using your ears only and not letting your eyes distract you from what you THINK you hear.

Don't use hipassing up to 100hz etc if you are only mixing an acoustic guitar/vocals, or an acoustic instrumental unless it's corrective of the instruments low end (boomy rumbly acoustic guitar)

350-450hz cuts are extremely common, I do this in solo before I start my mix sometimes until the track sounds (normal) and even then when I mix all the tracks in together I often find I need to cut slightly more on group busses.

2khz is the magic area, get this right. rarely do I boost here. Sometimes big cuts are needed to get that smooth buttery non-harsh sounding mix. Harshness lives in 2-5k but...... in my experience it is nearly always 2k, maybe my room screwing up my recordings though.

Scooping some instruments is great, 800hz wide band cut, it emphasizes lows and highs and clears a lot of room for the more important instruments. To my ears it emphasises (punch) also but definitely do not overdo it or you will lose the track in the mix.

Once you EQ out the stuff you do not need to clear room for everything to breath, it's just a matter then of balancing for brightness. And then onto the rest - effects,compression,saturation,parallel processing,automations etc.