For a while now I’ve been practicing with subtractive EQ while mixing my own music and I wish I had looked into it more earlier. I have used this technique to some extent yeah, but only recently I have been paying a more close attention to it and I must say this has been a kind of eye opener to me.
Subtractive EQ is an equalization technique where you cut frequencies instead of boost to let specific sound or sounds to stand out better in the mix. Its an opposite to additive EQ (boosting).
Lets take an example: you have a Sound #1 & Sound #2 in your mix. Sound #1 sounds sweet and you want to preserve its sweetness throughout the mix, but Sound #2 has frequencies that overlaps badly with it making that sweetness to become more indistinct. Now, instead of boosting those sweet frequencies of Sound #1, you CUT the overlapping frequencies from Sound #2. This will make room in the frequency range for the Sound #1 to stand out better again. This is subtractive EQing.
But why cutting is better than boosting in a mixing situation like this? Boosting increases the volume levels of frequencies and it will easily lead to distortion (EDIT: not inherently of course, but if you don’t compensate it by turning down a volume level faders, it may happen – thanks to Kim Lajoie for pointing this out), muddy mix (EDIT: muddiness may occur if you boost too much low or mid-low frequencies, but with higher frequencies the issue is harsh or honky sound and not mud – again, thanks to Kim Lajoie for pointing this out) and cause other unwanted artifacts if you overdo it. Cutting instead leaves more room for the instruments and sounds to ‘breathe’. Its a way to add more sonic clarity to the mix.
Of course this does not mean additive EQ is wrong. It is needed for lots of things. For example, in electronic music, heavy EQ boost may be used as an effect to sculpt a sound into something specific. Or boost in the 10kHz area to add sparkle for hihats and other sounds that work in the high frequency area. And so on. There really isn’t strict rules for EQing, but subtractive EQ is definetely worth trying for when your mix is starting to sound bad.
Alright. Here’s how to use subtractive EQ:
1. Determine, what sound or instrument (or what frequency range of that instrument) you want to stand out better in the mix and try to identify what other sounds are masking it or making it sound in-distinctive.
2. Once you have identified the overlapping instrument or sound, drop Fruity Parametric EQ 2 on to its mixer track.
Next, you need to detect the exact frequency area that is causing the problem. There’s couple of methods for this and the common way is to use EQ sweeping and its done like this: select peaking filter, set the bandwidth to narrow, boost around 8-10dB, press play and slowly sweep through the frequency range until the problem is starting to sound really exaggerated.
3. CUT the problem frequencies by the amount that sounds good to you and also widen the bandwidth to get a more natural sounding result. Also, in the Mixer, increase the volume level of the ‘problem sound’ to make it fit back in the mix again.
The other method is to set the peaking filter already to “cutting position” with a normal bandwidth, check the PEQ2’s spectrum analyzer to locate in what frequency areas the input signal is peaking and sweep in these areas and when the problem comes less obtrusive, cut more/less and play with the bandwidth if needed:
To put it in a nutshell: make sounds or frequencies to stand better out by cutting frequencies from other sounds.
Watch the video below: