CTA Classroom: Working with Limited EQ

I’ll admit it. I’m spoiled. For the last several years, I’ve had the opportunity to mix on digital consoles. One of the benefits of most digital consoles is the EQ section; typically a full 4-band parametric plus a variable high pass filter. Frankly, I’ve gotten so used to it that it tends to be a bit of a shock when I work on an analog desk that’s not so equipped. It occurred to me the other day that many of you live in that world all the time so I thought I would share some thoughts on making the most of limited EQ. 

The first thing to keep in mind is that getting good sound at the source is of paramount importance. Often times, simply moving a mic an inch or two to the left or right; or closer or farther will clean up 80% of what you need to fix. Choosing the correct mic is also important. For example, if your vocalist has a sibilant voice, perhaps there is a mic in your locker that rolls off some high end. Swap mics and perhaps you no longer need that narrow notch at 8K in the EQ that you can’t have anyway. Sometimes you’d like to get more punch from the kick mic; instead of turning EQ knobs, try a different mic that has the sound you’re looking for.

It’s also important to have the system tuned as well as it can be. The closer the system is to sounding good, the less board level EQ you need to do. I’ve actually walked into churches and seen a cut in the high mids of all the input channels on the console only to look at the room EQ and noted a big boost across that range. Ideally, you want the PA to sound good without any channel EQ, then use the channel EQ to tweak anomalies in the source. Often times the easiest way to upgrade the sound of your system is to upgrade your system processing (either with a new one, or by properly setting up what you have).

The reason this is important is because with just a few bands of EQ, you have to choose your battles carefully. On a smaller board with only four fixed bands of EQ, you really don’t have a lot of options. If you find yourself consistently cutting the high band, make the change at the system level.

Sometimes, you might find that you have a particular source that is tough to get sounding good. You may have a pastor who has a nasal voice, or a worship leader who always sounds muddy no matter what you do. If you’ve already tried different mics and haven’t achieved the desired result, you have one option left, inserting an EQ into the channel. For not a lot of money, you can pick up a new or used analog graphic EQ and simply insert those into the problem channels. We did this a few years ago on our pastor’s channel. He had a really difficult voice and even with decent analog EQ on the board, we needed some external help. It made a huge difference and we finally got him sounding good.

Now, there is a caveat to this; it might be tempting to buy a whole bunch of outboard EQs and insert them all over the board. If you’re going to do that, consider upgrading other parts of the system (perhaps including the console) first. This is a surgical strike, something you do when you’ve done what you can do with what you have. Adding outboard EQ adds complexity and increases the opportunities to really make a mess of the sound. So do this carefully with great consideration. 

With some simple tweaks to the entire audio signal path, you can greatly improve the sound quality of the whole system. 

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