An argument of whether an equalizer (or EQ) should be used before, during, or after a recording has been around for ages.
Some audio engineers prefer to process an audio signal through an EQ before recording the final output. Others prefer to record the sound and apply EQ after. But what’s the practice? Should you add EQ before or during a recording? Or you should use EQ after recording. Here’s all you need to know.
It is not a good idea to add EQ before recording any audio or sound. This is because adding EQ will alter the frequency of the sound and change its natural sound even before recording. This leaves you with a final sound output whose balance of frequencies has been altered or colored even before you work on them.
Reason Why Some Audio Engineers Use EQ When Recording
This is not common practice, but some audio and recording engineers and music producers prefer to use EQ before or during a recording session. And there are many reasons why they do so.
But the most common reason is that they want to clean up the unwanted frequencies before the audio is recorded into the DAW. They are of the view that some frequencies are not needed from a particular instrument or vocal. So they use EQ to remove all the “unnecessary” frequencies before it is recorded.
Adding EQ before recording was quite popular back in the days when music was recorded in big analog studios. Audio engineers would usually process vocals through EQs like API 5500 or the SSL X-Rack EQ before the signal is recorded.
Another reason why some audio engineers use EQ before or during a recording is to emulate a microphone or a preamp’s sound.
As you may already know, every microphone or preamp sounds different, and they color the audio processed through them. So some audio engineers have EQ presets that emulate the sound of popular microphones or preamps.
So they will put that EQ preset on their channel strip before the audio signal gets to the DAW.
Why You Should Record Before Adding EQ
Although, all of the reasons why some recording engineers use EQ before recording is valid. However, it is not the best idea to do so. And let me explain why you shouldn’t use EQ before recording.
One problem with adding EQ before recording is that you risk losing some important frequencies that define the musical instrument or vocal you’re recording.
Every instrument or vocal has a combination of frequencies that makes it sound the way it sounds. And when you’re recording, you want to capture all those frequencies in your recording.
Recording before adding EQ basically preserves the natural frequency of the sound that is being recorded. In plain terms, the recorded frequency response of the vocalists will sound exactly like their natural voice. The same goes for the drums and other instrumentals.
This is exactly what you want when you record. You want your recorded signal to sound as close as possible to its source. Adding EQ before recording might alter the recorded signal in a way that may be undesirable.
Once you have the recorded audio in your DAW, you can then take your time to cut and boost any frequency you want. Or process it through any EQ preset you’d like to.
And you’ll still have the original recording intact. If your mix doesn’t sound great at the end of the day, you can restart the mixing process all over again.
And honestly, in this day and age, it’s completely unnecessary to add EQ before recording. You can do that after recording, which is the best because you’ll have enough time to tweak it to sound exactly how you want it.
One thing you should note is if your recorded audio does not sound great without EQ, you will have to spend lots of time getting it to sound right.
To get recordings that sound great, you need to pay close attention to the microphone, sampler, or synth that brings the audio signal into the mixing console or audio interface.
Much effort must be put into the microphone positioning, room acoustics, and the singer’s proximity to the microphone. All these are very important because they set the tone right from the beginning to ensure that you achieve great results at the end of the recording process.
Does EQ Reduce Sound Quality?
EQ can reduce the quality of sound if not used properly. When not tweaked properly, EQ can make the final audio output sound bad and not pleasurable to listen to.
The goal of using EQ settings of your console is to achieve a sound that is near perfect and sounds great enough for the musical genre and taste. This is done by cutting or reducing harsh frequencies and keeping or boosting the great-sounding frequencies in audio.
Processing audio through an EQ doesn’t guarantee that it will sound great. In fact, it can sound bad when not done properly. Learning how to EQ the right way to make your audio sound great takes practice.
The truth is, applying EQ to sound can be quite cumbersome to do, even for seasoned mixing and recording engineers. This difficulty can be attributed to the fact that using EQ parameters requires knowledge about how EQs boost or reduce specific frequencies in sound and critical listening.
Moreover, there are a lot of considerations that must be made when adding EQ to any sound. The listeners and the speakers or systems that may be used in playing the recorded tracks must be considered.
When Should You Use EQ?
In order to know when you should use EQ, you need to understand the working principle behind the EQ and how it can be used to solve problems concerning your sound. As you may already be aware, an EQ tool is used to boost and cut audio frequencies to any desired specification. It is also used to change the timbre of a vocal.
There are three important terms that are made frequently mentioned whenever it comes to the adjustment of EQ. These are low-end (30 – 125 Hz), mid-range (250 – 2000Hz), and high-end frequencies (4000 – 16, 000 Hz).
These frequency ranges have specific aspects of sound they affect. High-end frequencies regulate high pitches while low-end frequencies regulate lower pitches.
With this out of the way, when is the best time to apply EQ to your sound? The truth is, the genre of music and the artist you’re mixing for play a huge role in how you apply. Thus, the way and when EQ settings should be applied to a piece of particular music will vary from one music to the other.
However, in general, you should use EQ to remove bad-sounding frequencies, boost great-sounding frequencies, and create space for different instruments and vocals in a song to fit together as one.
You can choose to put it on EQ before or after the recording is done. You need to decide on your preference as a producer or musician. However, recording before adding EQ to the final recordings is best. This is because it helps preserve the audio’s natural frequency.
However, your ability as a recording/mixing or sound engineer is the most important ingredient to the success of your recordings. The EQ toolkit is just one of the tools that help to bring out the best in your vocal and instrumental recordings. However, the ability to apply EQ to sound is a skill that is acquired through experience and a great amount of practice.