EQ seems straightforward, so it’s hard to imagine why so many myths have developed around this popular audio processor. But they have—so let’s debunk 12 of the most prevalent myths!
By Craig Anderton
People tend to theorize that some myths once had a basis in reality but became embellished and distorted over time. While I’m not sure that some dude named Zeus could take the form of different animals and have love affairs with nymphs and mortals, many audio myths do seem to fit the theory.
So, while we bust some EQ myths, let’s also recognize the elements of truth in some of them.
1. It’s Better to Cut (Subtractive EQ) than Boost (Additive EQ)
This started as a reality, persisted even though technology changed, and became frozen into pro-or-con camps by people who are allergic to nuance.
Here’s the backstory: With analog electronics, headroom and gain-staging were more of an issue than they are with virtual digital technology. “Cutting is better than boosting” was like shorthand for “you’ll have more headroom and less hassle with gain-staging if you cut instead of boost.” For example, instead of boosting the highs and lows, it often made more sense to cut the midrange.
Because of the huge dynamic range inherent in virtual digital technology, there’s no significant technical reason to prefer boosting or cutting—simply pick the right tool for the right job. If there’s a resonance that gets in the way, cut it. If you need a high-end lift, boost it. And if you want less lower-midrange “mud,” it remains simpler to cut in that range, not boost the highs and lows. You still need to be aware of headroom and gain-staging, but you no longer need to be its obsequious servant.
2. Vintage EQ Emulations Are Just Marketing Hype
The person reaching this conclusion has usually set up a curve on a vintage analog EQ, then spent a considerable amount of time tweaking a digital parametric to come up with settings that can mostly pass a null test…which misses the point.
Due to the nature of analog circuitry, vintage EQs often had specific curve shapes, stepped frequencies, interactions among bands, boost/cut amounts, and other characteristics that were chosen specifically for musical reasons. This is why so many people say they can nail a vocal or drum (or whatever) sound within seconds when using modeled vintage EQs: they were designed to make finding the right settings easy. Sure, you can spend 20 minutes tweaking a parametric to re-create a similar curve…but why?
3. Non-Linear-Phase EQs Don’t Have Pre-Ringing
While it’s true non-linear-phase EQs aren’t subject to pre-ringing (artifacts that occur before a transient), they can exhibit post-ringing, which creates artifacts after a transient. People don’t care about them because they’re usually masked by the audio, but they still exist.
4. Pre-Ringing Makes Linear-Phase EQ Unacceptable for True Professionals
Pre-ringing becomes most significant with low frequencies at high gains and even more so with high Q. So, if you’re cranking the bass boost on a kick drum, a linear-phase EQ might not be the best choice. But in other cases, the freedom from phase shift can be exactly what’s needed. Besides, you have more important issues to worry about—like whether the kick drum pedal should have been oiled before you clicked record…
5. Tuning a Room with EQ Solves Acoustic Problems
Room tuning doesn’t solve acoustic problems; it changes your perception of the acoustic problems. Equalizing a room with horrific acoustics just gives you a heavily-equalized room with horrific acoustics. With good acoustic treatment, you won’t need a lot of EQ to compensate for the remaining anomalies.
6. Pros High-Pass Tracks to Open Up Space for the Kick and Bass
Some instruments have low-frequency components that are below their actual note range; sometimes they’re desirable (room sound components), sometimes not (plosives on vocals). The pros use high-pass filters on a case-by-case basis, not as a one-size-fits-all solution.
7. It’s Bad to Sweep Frequencies to Find Out What Needs EQ
This is kind of like saying that driving a car is bad—and it is if you don’t know how to drive.
Aimlessly looking for frequencies to EQ will not end well. However, there are situations where you need to address certain issues—like the bass boom on a classical guitar designed for the stage or a resonance in an amp sim. When you hear something wrong, sweeping EQ with an excessive amount of boost or cut (depending on the nature of the issue) can help you zero in on the precise frequency quickly.
8. Insert EQ Before Compression
Reality check: EQ is an amplifier that lives in a certain frequency range. So, changing amplitude prior to a compressor means the compressor will interact with those amplitude changes. Conversely, a compressor won’t interact with amplitude changes that occur after compression. So, there’s no rule because depending on the mix, one approach can be more appropriate than the other.
9. Boosting Above 20 kHz for “Air” is Pointless Because People Can’t Hear That High
…but they can hear below 20 kHz, and the filter’s roll-off will affect frequencies below 20 kHz. So, it’s not necessarily weird that when set above 20 kHz, an analog EQ can create a response that’s heard as subjectively pleasing—but it’s not because of what’s happening above 20 kHz. The effect can be emulated within the audio range, using digital EQ.
10. All Constant-Q EQs Have Non-Symmetrical Boost/Cut Curves
Either symmetrical or non-symmetrical equalizers can have a constant-Q or non-constant-Q topology. Constant-Q equalizers have a constant bandwidth regardless of the boost/cut amount, and non-constant-Q equalizers don’t. It really is that simple.
11. The Pultec EQ Is Great for Mastering Because It Does Gentle Tone-Shaping
This is almost true…just re-arrange the sentence to say, “Using EQ to do gentle tone-shaping is great for mastering.”
Granted, the Pultec (PuigTec EQs) does have a somewhat unusual control configuration that allows for the infamous low-end trick, but you can simulate that curve reasonably well with a good parametric EQ. What makes the Pultec so special is because it’s like that one synthesizer preset that sounds awesomely amazing…maybe you could program it yourself, but the preset got the sound right, and that’s why you use it.
12. Use EQ Presets from the Pros—They Know What They’re Doing
However, they don’t know what you’re doing. EQ doesn’t exist in isolation. How you EQ the piano relates to how you EQ the guitar, which relates to how you EQ the vocals, and how much space the drums take up in the mix.
I will admit there’s a preset that I use all the time: “full reset.” If you start with a flat response, then you won’t have to undo the elements of an existing preset that don’t apply to you!
Want more audio myths BUSTED? Read 11 Compression Myths Busted here.
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