Mastering EQ for Podcasts: A Comprehensive Guide for Podcasters and Content Creators 2023
If you're new to audio, EQ can be tricky to understand and implement on your audio and video recordings. In this article, you'll discover a few tips and tricks to help you make better decisions when you reach for that EQ.
Identify and Fix Issues Before Recording
Identify and Fix Issues Before Recording
It is vitally important that you don't see EQ as a repair tool but rather a tool to make subtle improvements to your audio and video recordings.
If you're not happy with the way your recording sounds before EQ, compression and limiting, this is a good indication that there's room for improvement in your recording process.
90% of the results you get will come from testing your setup in different rooms, eliminating excessive background noise and trying different microphone positions.
Using References for Better EQ Decisions
Find content creators and podcasters with great audio you'd like to emulate. You'll be able to use them as references to make your EQ decisions.
I love using episodes from Twenty Thousand Hertz as references for my work.
Once you've built your own list, start making comparisons between your references and your recorded audio. Before making these comparisons, make sure you closely match the volume of your references and your own recordings. This will make it easier to identify the differences without volume playing a factor.
Ask yourself questions like:
Does my recording have too much bass? Is my recording a little too harsh? Could my recording do with a little more clarity?
Frequency Ranges of the Human Voice
Sound frequency, measured in Hertz (Hz), refers to the number of vibrations that occur per second. In audio production, different frequencies are associated with different auditory characteristics. The human voice spans a wide range of frequencies, from about 80Hz to 14,000Hz, and each segment of this range has unique characteristics that can be adjusted with EQ.
Low Frequencies (80Hz - 250Hz)
The lowest frequencies in the human voice are primarily responsible for the "bass" sounds. For male voices, fundamental frequencies typically fall between 85Hz to 180Hz, while for female voices, they are between 165Hz to 255Hz. Boosting these frequencies can add richness and warmth, but too much can lead to a muddy or boomy sound. Conversely, reducing these frequencies can help eliminate unwanted rumble or hum.
Mid Frequencies (250Hz - 2,000Hz)
Mid frequencies are critical for the overall tonality of the voice and are often where the majority of the vocal content resides. Lower-mid frequencies (250Hz - 500Hz) can add body to the voice, but excess can result in a boxy or muffled sound. The upper-mid frequencies (500Hz - 2,000Hz) are where consonant sounds and vocal clarity sit. Boosting here can improve intelligibility, but too much can make the voice harsh.
High Frequencies (2,000Hz - 14,000Hz)
The high frequencies are where the "air" and "sparkle" of the voice reside. Frequencies between 2,000Hz and 4,000Hz carry a lot of the articulation and intelligibility of speech. Too much of this range can lead to sibilance, which is the harsh "s" and "sh" sounds. Boosting above 4,000Hz can add a sense of openness or breathiness, but excessive boosting might result in a harsh or thin sound.
Understanding and adjusting the various frequency ranges in the human voice can greatly enhance the quality of your audio content. By keeping these guidelines in mind, you'll be well on your way to creating podcasts and other content with clear, engaging, and professional-sounding audio.
Understanding Parametric EQ for Podcasts
A parametric equalizer is one of the most versatile and useful tools for content creators and podcasters. It allows you to adjust the three primary parameters of sound: frequency, gain, and bandwidth (or 'Q'). For demonstration purposes, I'll be using pictures of the Parametric EQ in Adobe Audition but most equalizers will have the same controls. Here’s a breakdown of these key controls and how to use them effectively in your EQ process.
This control allows you to select the specific frequency you want to adjust. Each frequency has a different impact on the sound of your audio. For instance, lower frequencies (20-250Hz) are associated with bass and warmth, while higher frequencies (4000-20000Hz) can affect sibilance and clarity.
Gain is essentially the volume level for a specific frequency range. When you adjust the gain control, you are either boosting (increasing) or cutting (decreasing) the volume level of the frequency range you've selected. This allows you to emphasize certain frequencies or diminish others to achieve the desired sound.
Bandwidth or Q
The Q control affects the range of frequencies around the selected frequency that will be adjusted with it. A low Q value means a wider range of frequencies will be affected, leading to a more gentle and broad adjustment. A high Q value will affect a narrower range, allowing for precise surgical adjustments to specific problem frequencies.
When using a parametric EQ, the general workflow is to first select the frequency you wish to adjust, then decide whether to increase or decrease its level using the gain control, and finally set the Q to determine how broad or narrow your adjustment will be.
Bell, High Shelf and Low Shelf Filters
Common types of filters you'll encounter on a parametric EQ are bell, low shelf, and high shelf filters. Understanding these can further expand your EQ capabilities.
Named for their bell-like shape on an EQ graph, bell filters are the most commonly used type in a parametric EQ. They allow you to boost or cut a specific frequency range, with the most significant effect at the center frequency and decreasing effect as you move away from the center. The width of the bell shape is controlled by the Q factor. A bell filter is particularly useful when you want to address a specific problem area without affecting the entire frequency range.
Low Shelf Filters
A low shelf filter adjusts all frequencies below a certain cutoff point by the same amount. This is unlike a bell filter, which affects frequencies on either side of a center point to a lesser degree. When you apply a low shelf filter, all the frequencies below the chosen point are boosted or cut uniformly. This is especially handy when you want to adjust the overall 'warmth' or 'bass' content of a recording.
High Shelf Filters
A high shelf filter is the opposite of a low shelf filter. It adjusts all frequencies above a certain cutoff point uniformly. When you apply a high shelf filter, all the frequencies above the chosen point are boosted or cut in a similar manner. This can be useful when you want to adjust the overall clarity of a recording.
In summary, bell filters are great for making precise adjustments to specific frequency ranges, while low shelf and high shelf filters are useful for broader adjustments that affect all frequencies below or above a certain point. As with all EQ decisions, your ears are the ultimate guide. Use these tools to shape your sound in a way that best serves your content.
High-pass and low-pass filters
Parametric EQs often come equipped with high-pass and low-pass filters. These are very handy tools for managing unwanted frequencies at the extreme ends of the frequency spectrum.
High-pass Filter (HPF)
Also known as a low-cut filter, a HPF allows frequencies above a certain point to pass through while attenuating frequencies below that point. It's controlled by selecting a cutoff frequency - everything below this frequency gets progressively quieter. This is incredibly useful for eliminating low-frequency noise such as hum, rumble, or plosive sounds in a vocal recording. For most vocal recordings, setting an HPF at around 50-80Hz can help clean up your audio without affecting the voice's natural tone.
Low-pass Filter (LPF)
Also known as a high-cut filter, a LPF allows frequencies below a certain point to pass while attenuating frequencies above that point. Like the HPF, it's controlled by selecting a cutoff frequency - everything above this frequency gets progressively quieter. LPFs are less commonly used in podcasting, but they can help remove high-frequency noise or hiss that can be distracting to the listener. If you choose to use an LPF on dialogue, a typical setting might be around 16kHz, which removes ultra-high frequencies that aren't essential for understanding speech.
Both high-pass and low-pass filters are useful tools in your EQ toolkit. Use them wisely to cut unwanted frequencies and clean up your audio recordings.
Remember, while these controls give you a great deal of precision, it's essential to use them judiciously. Always aim for subtle adjustments that enhance the quality of your audio, rather than drastic changes that can degrade it. As with all aspects of audio production, your ears are the best judge, so trust them and make adjustments that sound good to you.
Additional EQ Techniques
Beyond the above, there are a few more EQ techniques that can further improve your audio.
Subtractive EQ: This technique involves cutting problematic frequencies instead of boosting the good ones. It's often better to cut what's not needed than to boost.
Narrow Notch Filters: These can be used to remove specific problematic frequencies, such as electrical hums or ringing.
De-Essing: This is a specialized type of compression aimed at reducing sibilance. De-essers work by compressing the level of the 's' and 'sh' sounds when they get too loud.
A/B Comparison: This involves frequently switching between your processed and unprocessed signal to make sure the changes you're making are improving the sound, not making it worse.
Common EQ Curves
Here are a few common EQ curves that I use for my clients and projects.
In conclusion, EQ is not just a tool but an art that can substantially enhance the quality of your audio. As we've seen throughout this article, the effective use of EQ is a multifaceted process that begins with the right recording environment and techniques, continues with understanding the frequency ranges of the human voice, and culminates in the careful application of various EQ tools, techniques, and filters. Furthermore, using high-quality audio references can serve as a helpful guide to inform your EQ decisions and help you achieve your desired sound.
The ultimate goal of EQ should always be to improve the listening experience. This means making subtle adjustments that preserve the natural tone and clarity of the voice, while removing any unwanted frequencies or noises. And while it might take some time and practice to master, the end result will be a professional-quality audio that keeps your listeners engaged and coming back for more.
Whether you're just starting out in audio production or looking to take your skills to the next level, I hope this article has provided you with a deeper understanding and appreciation for EQ.
Need some more help?
Mastering EQ can be a complex and intricate process. Perhaps you're feeling a little overwhelmed with all of this information or you're unsure where to start. Maybe you've tried to implement these techniques but aren't quite seeing the results you want. Don't worry - I'm here to help!
If you're looking for personalized advice tailored to your unique needs, book a consultation call with me. Let's discuss your specific challenges, explore your current audio setup, and strategize about how you can elevate your audio quality.
Don't let technical difficulties hold you back from producing the high-quality audio your audience deserves. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned pro, there's always room for growth and improvement.
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule your consultation call today. Let's take your audio to the next level, together!