Are all EQ's equal?
I recently uploaded a small tutorial video on my Youtube channel about processing drum tracks with EQ prior to recording (you can also watch it right here). The main concept behind this video is whether we should or not use eq during tracking and if so what should be our approach in order to get the best out of our recorded tracks. If you already watched the video you’ll probably know by know my personal beliefs and preferences…if you haven’t watched it well go ahead and watch it and keep on reading!
To make a long story short, I am a big fan of processing prior to recording for a numerous reasons (you can also read my “Pure, not poor” post). Regarding EQ I divide the processing in this stage in two different categories:
Amending and creative.
Amending EQ describes all the minor fixing moves I take during recording in order to remove or bring forward certain frequency elements like excessive low end or low mid energy, adding a bit of sparkle in the upper frequency spectrum etc. All these moves are either in the form of gentle filtering (low and Hi cut filters with a wide slope) or broadband bell equalising using wide filters but with a small amount of boost or attenuation. Most of the times my amending eq is limited to subtract or attenuating certain frequencies and rarely boosting. So, I could describe this specific category as abstract. Creative EQ, as the name clearly implies, is a more drastic approach in order to shape and reform sounds. This kind of processing can be anything from minor changes all the way to narrow cut offs and 18db boost of wide bell filters. I think you get the picture!
Naturally a question arise… since using eq prior to recording mostly includes hardware analog processors and since there is no undo after we print the tracks, do all EQs offer the same result (assuming we utilise the exact same settings)?
The answer of course is absolutely no! Not only analog (but digital emulations too) eq’s are not born equal but the wrong choice here can lead from simply failing in achieving the desired result all the way to an audible degradation of the processed audio signal. The later is quite easily understood… a poorly designed and built processor will definitely “import” its own problematic footprint to the incoming signal even with minor settings: excessive noise floor, lack of headroom, harmonic distortion but also excessive pre ringing, phase issues etc due to poorly designed filters. If you are planning to eq your tracks prior to recording, using a cheap and badly designed processor will simply result “cheap” and bad sounding audio…. Analog processing is unfortunately a very expensive hobby. In such a case it’s much better to record direct than to compromise and deteriorate your signal. However, not all HQ equaliser processors are equal too… surely in this case our problem is not the degradation of the signal, but the ability or not of the specific processor to deliver the desired results. Analog EQ’s have a unique sonic character based not only on the components used (transformer balance or not, discrete or IC’s etc), their working principle (active or passive, filter design, amplifier stage etc) but also the choice of given frequency cut off points, slopes
Etc. This simply translates to very drastic differences in the sonic behaviour of each design even with the same (theoretical) settings. For example a very famous British eq with its wide slopes and saturated (due to transformers) sound can be a fantastic tool for creative eq decisions however it can be a complete failure to minor amending attempts…and on the other hand a more transparent, transformer less ic design can be the perfect companion for fixing minor issues however failing in deliver a more artistic approach… So, as you can see not all EQ’s are equal.. every design offers a certain approach and it is in our perception to decide if it fits or not our needs.