PreSonus Blog

Make Better Mixes with “Selective EQ”

By Craig Anderton

Good mixes often depend on carving out a unique sonic space for each instrument, so you can hear them clearly. Sometimes carving out that space involves level, like making an instrument softer so that another instrument seems louder. A more sophisticated approach involves EQ, like dipping a piano’s midrange to make more room for the voice.

This tip dives deeper into using EQ to carve out space. It combines spectrum metering with either static or dynamic EQ to make sure two instruments support each other, rather than make one instrument subservient to another.

The four short audio examples have lead guitar and slide guitar playing together. I wanted the lead to be the highlight, but didn’t want to lose the importance of the fluid, aggressive slide guitar in the background. Here’s how I convinced them to coexist.

The first audio example plays the lead solo and slide guitar together. You can almost hear them fighting to try and be the top dog…but we’ll fix that.

Meet Team Spectrum Meter and Pro EQ

The top of Fig. 1 shows the spectrum analysis of the lead guitar part. Unlike the EQ’s spectrum meter, the plugin’s FFT mode can average the level, and retain an infinite hold time. This is key, because the curve unambiguously shows which frequencies are more prominent in the lead guitar part.

Figure 1: The top image shows the lead guitar’s spectral response. The lower image shows the compensation EQ curve applied to the underlying slide guitar part. The upper row of EQ controls isn’t shown, because its controls aren’t used.

The second audio example uses the static EQ curve in fig. 1 to reduce these frequencies in the slide part. This opens up space for the lead. Now there’s more differentiation between the lead and slide, but the slide still comes through well.

Next, we’ll take this further with dynamic EQ (fig. 2).

Figure 2: Settings for dynamic EQ. Again, the upper row of EQ controls isn’t shown, because its controls aren’t used.

The next audio example uses dynamic EQ, so the slide guitar becomes more prominent in the spaces between notes played by the lead guitar. Now instead of fighting with each other, the lead guitar and slide take turns sharing the spotlight.

Using dynamic EQ is not necessarily better than using static EQ. It depends on the musical context. If you want only the lead to be more prominent, the static EQ sounds better. Because I wanted both parts to be equally important—just better differentiated—I preferred the dynamic EQ.

The final audio example takes the old-school approach of simply lowering the slide guitar part’s level, without any EQ changes. The lead is more prominent, but the overall sound is less interesting and lively compared to how it sounds with EQ (especially dynamic EQ).

But Wait…There’s More!

There’s also a bonus audio example. I posted an Atmos binaural mix of the complete song (headphones only), and a conventional stereo mix (speakers or headphones), on my YouTube channel. These let you hear the tracks above in context, but the examples also provide a follow-up to previous posts about how modest home studios with no surround system can take advantage of Atmos.

The mix is denser than the previous Atmos vs. stereo example mentioned in the blog postRelease Your Music in Stereo and Immersive, and uses the technique described in Make Stereo Downmixes Feel More Immersive.  If you haven’t taken advantage of Atmos yet, listen to the binaural Atmos version for headphones, then listen to the conventional stereo version.  Despite my efforts to make the stereo version  sound as much like the Atmos version as possible, the Atmos mix is fuller, bigger, and has more depth. Remember, all you need to get started with Atmos mixing is Studio One Professional and a set of headphones. Give it a shot!