Better audio in iShowU Instant, Part 3 – Equalization

Neil ClaytonTechnical Articles

Note: The material here has been presented both from my own experiences in recording & mixing, and also from the wondrous land of the internet, notably here & here.

Balancing act

We discussed bands in the previous article on multiband compressors. Now we move on to equalization (EQ) which is more or less a volume knob for 10 or 31 bands of audio. An equalizer lets you adjust the volume of each band independently and is used to balance out audio artefacts introduced by the room or hardware itself. An EQ is different from a compressor in that it is not dynamic. When  you change the volume of a band, that change is applied all the time, regardless. The EQ isn’t looking at the level of the input signal, it’s just modifying the volume at the band statically.

No silver bullet

I’d love to have a single paragraph that says “set your EQ like this”, but sorry; that’s not going to happen. Your voice, the room you’re recording in, your microphone, and even the hardware the mic is connected to all play a part in the overall tone and quality that you’ll hear in the recording. You’re going to have to “play around” to see what you like. Trust your ears, close your eyes! Your goal is to sound both natural and clear (not like Darth Vader).

Preparation

Where would an article on audio be without a preparation section?

As with the other parts, taking into consideration your surroundings before you record can make a significant difference to the final outcome.

  1. Distance to microphone: How far away are you? This is why the built-in mic often sounds bad… simply because you’re quite a way away from it. Generally you want the microphone no more than a hand’s width away from your face, and not directly in front of your mouth (unless you’ve a pop shield).
  2. The room: Does your room have a natural echo? If so, then it’ll be recorded and you’ll be working harder to remove that from your final mix (if you can at all).
  3. Background music: I’m going to assume here that you want the minimal distraction for your listener. In that case background music is going to make your vocal recording “meh” (that’s the technical phrase for “not very good”). Best turn it off!

Magical equalization

Spoiler alert: The EQ isn’t made up of magic gnomes.

It’s useful to know where various sounds sit on the spectrum, so that when you play with the EQ you’re not flying blind and changing it randomly. Here are some common bands to consider:

  1. Sibilance: The harsh “ess” sounds you sometimes hear. Occurring in the 5kHz to 8Khz range. Reduce the volume in this range and see if your audio sounds better while saying “Sally sits sideways on the tennis trolley”.
  2. Roll off the low frequencies: Cut everything below 60Hz. It’s unlikely you’ll have anything useful down there, so cut it to reduce overall noise.
  3. Experiment with:
    1. Boosting 100-250Hz: Add depth, or boominess.
    2. Boosting 1-5kHz: Can improve clarity and intelligibility
    3. Boosting 3-6kHz: Can add brightness
    4. Boosting 4.5-6kHz: Presence. Too much can make the sound thin; don’t overdo it.
  4. Overall volume or gain: increase the volume slightly if the microphone is lacking overall. You can do this by changing the individual bands in the EQ (moving the upwards) or by increasing the master gain in Dynamics.

Here is an example where I’ve added just a little depth:

Subtle increase in 'depth' or 'boominess'

Subtle increase in ‘depth’ or ‘boominess’

Summary

Adjust the EQ so that you get a clearer vocal preview, increasing bass (100-250Hz) to provide depth, (1-6Khz) for clarity and brightness.

Don’t overdo it.