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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Magic Frequencies

I was recently given a mix to evaluate and as I listened, it soon became apparent that the mixer wasn't aware of the "magic frequencies." Magic EQ frequencies are something that every mixer should know in order to obtain the biggest, best sounding mix.

Before we can discuss the specific "magic frequencies", keep in mind that the audio that we hear can effectively be broken down into six distinct ranges, each one having enormous impact on the total sound. The following is an excerpt from The Mixing Engineer's Handbook, but was originally written by Leo di Gar Kulka in the November/December 1972 issue of the sadly missed Recording Engineer/Producer magazine entitled, “Equalization.......The Highest, Most Sustained Expression of the Recordist’s Heart.

"• Sub-Bass - The very low bass between 16 and 60Hz which encompasses sounds which are often felt more than heard, such as thunder in the distance. These frequencies give the music a sense of power even if they occur infrequently. Too much emphasis on this range makes the music sound muddy.

• Bass - The bass between 60 and 250Hz contains the fundamental notes of the rhythm section so EQing this range can change the musical balance, making it fat or thin. Too much boost in this range can make the music sound boomy.

• Low Mids - The midrange between 250 and 2000Hz contains the low order harmonics of most musical instruments and can introduce a telephone like quality to the music if boosted too much. Boosting the 500 to 1000Hz octave makes the instruments sound horn like, while boosting the 1 to 2kHz octave makes them sound tinny. Excess output in this range can cause listening fatigue.

• High Mids - The upper midrange between 2 and 4kHz can mask the important speech recognition sounds if boosted, introducing a lisping quality into a voice and making sounds formed with the lips such as ‘m”, “b,” and “v” indistinguishable. Too much boost in this range, especially at 3kHz, can also cause listening fatigue. Dipping the 3kHz range on instrument backgrounds and slightly peaking 3kHz on vocals can make the vocals audible without having to decrease the instrumental level in mixes where the voice would otherwise seem buried.

• Presence - The presence range between 4 and 6kHz is responsible for the clarity and definition of voices and instruments. Boosting this range can make the music seem closer to the listener. Reducing the 5kHz content of a mix makes the sound more distant and transparent.

• Brilliance - The 6 to 16kHz range controls the brilliance and clarity of sounds. Too much emphasis in this range, however, can produce sibilance on the vocals."

For those of you who have an easier time visualizing the audio spectrum in one octave increments (like those found on a graphic equalizer), here’s an octave look at the same chart.
31Hz = rumble, "chest"
63Hz = bottom
125Hz = boom, thump, warmth
250Hz = fullness or mud
500Hz = honk
1kHz = whack
2kHz = crunch
4kHz = edge
8kHz = sibilence, definition, "ouch"
16kHz = air
This last list is really helpful for neophytes (pros too) when EQing. We can extend the magic EQ frequencies to specific instruments and really zero in on the particular bands that make that instrument speak, but the list above is a good start and easy way to remember.

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