Navigating the landscape of audio production can often feel like a journey through a dense forest of technical jargon and complex concepts. Among these, Dynamic EQ stands out as a tool that, while incredibly powerful, is often misunderstood or overlooked.
What is Dynamic EQ?
Dynamic EQ is an audio processing tool that adjusts the level of specific frequency ranges based on the volume of those frequencies in the input signal. It’s like a standard equalizer combined with a compressor, allowing for more precise and flexible control over the tone of the audio.
Particularly when it comes to vocal processing, Dynamic EQ can serve as a potent remedy for various challenges that audio engineers regularly encounter.
In this article, we will discuss the concept of Dynamic EQ and provide a deep dive into its potential applications for vocal tracks. We’ll explore situations where Dynamic EQ can be a game-changer, from taming harshness and sibilance to managing resonances and room issues.
We’ll also provide a step-by-step guide on how to use Dynamic EQ effectively, helping you improve your mixes and take your vocal tracks to the next level.
What Is Dynamic EQ?
Dynamic EQ, or Dynamic Equalization, is a type of audio processing technique that adjusts the frequency balance of an audio signal dynamically, as opposed to the static adjustments made by a traditional equalizer.
In a traditional equalizer, adjustments to frequency bands are fixed. For example, you might cut 2dB at 500Hz, and this cut will be constant regardless of the level of the signal. However, in a dynamic EQ, the amount of cut or boost applied to a frequency band can change depending on the level of the signal.
This can be very useful for dealing with problems that only occur at certain times in a mix. For example, if a vocal only becomes harsh at high volumes, a dynamic EQ can be set up to only reduce the harsh frequencies when the vocal gets loud.
There are many different types of dynamic EQ, each with its own characteristics and uses. They can be used in mixing and mastering to control specific frequency ranges without affecting the rest of the mix, to manage resonances, to de-ess vocals (reduce sibilance), and much more.
In the realm of home theater and audio playback, Dynamic EQ is also a feature introduced by Audyssey, a company known for its room correction technology. Audyssey’s Dynamic EQ aims to maintain the balance of frequencies and surround levels at any volume level, thus providing a consistent listening experience.
This is based on the understanding that human hearing perception changes at different volume levels, known as the Fletcher-Munson curves or equal-loudness contours. Learn more about those from Georgia State. This ensures that even at lower volumes, listeners can still hear all the frequency ranges in the content as intended.
These tools can be powerful, but they are not a replacement for good mixing and listening skills. They are just another tool in the toolbox of an audio engineer or enthusiast.
Do You Need Dynamic EQ?
Whether you need dynamic EQ or not largely depends on your specific needs and context. Here are some scenarios where dynamic EQ could be beneficial:
- Mixing and Mastering: If you’re an audio engineer or music producer, dynamic EQ can be a powerful tool for solving mix issues that only occur part of the time. For example, if a certain frequency range of a vocal track becomes too harsh when the singer hits high notes, a dynamic EQ can help tame those specific moments without affecting the rest of the performance.
In the mastering stage, dynamic EQ can help adjust and fine-tune the frequency balance without overly affecting the parts of the audio that don’t need adjustment.
- Home Theater or Music Listening: If you’re a home theater enthusiast or a music lover, a system with dynamic EQ (like Audyssey’s Dynamic EQ) can help maintain the right balance of frequencies at all volume levels.
Our ears perceive different frequencies differently at different volumes, and a dynamic EQ system can adjust the sound to compensate for this, providing a more consistent and enjoyable listening experience.
- Podcasting or Broadcasting: If you’re producing content for podcasts or broadcast, dynamic EQ can help ensure a consistent sound by automatically adjusting for variations in the sound of different speakers, or changes in a single speaker’s voice over time.
Dynamic EQ is not a cure-all and should be used judiciously. It is another tool in your audio processing toolbox, and like any tool, it can be used well or poorly. It’s also worth noting that good results with dynamic EQ often require a solid understanding of audio fundamentals and careful listening.
Here are some of the things that dynamic EQ can be used for:
- Taming unwanted resonances: Dynamic EQ can be used to attenuate specific frequencies that only pop out in the louder moments of a performance. This can happen on any highly dynamic source, but it’s especially common for vocals and acoustic instruments.
- Enhancing specific frequencies: Dynamic EQ can be used to boost specific frequencies that are too quiet or that are getting lost in the mix. This can be a great way to make your mixes sound more balanced and clear.
- Correcting tonal imbalances: Dynamic EQ can be used to correct tonal imbalances in your mixes. For example, you could use dynamic EQ to reduce the muddiness in the low end or to brighten up the high end.
If you are looking for a way to improve the sound of your mixes, dynamic EQ is a great tool to consider. It is important to understand how dynamic EQ works and to use it effectively. If you are not sure how to use dynamic EQ, I recommend that you consult a specialized resource, such as this article from Waves.com. Waves is a creator of many plugins, including Dynamic EQ.
Not every situation calls for dynamic EQ. Traditional EQ is often more than sufficient for many audio tasks, and in some cases, it may be preferable for its simplicity and straightforwardness. Some people also prefer the sound of certain traditional EQs due to their specific coloration or character.
Here are some of the reasons why you might not need dynamic EQ:
- Your mixes are already sounding good: If you are happy with the sound of your mixes, then you probably don’t need dynamic EQ. However, if you are looking for ways to improve your mixes, then dynamic EQ could be a helpful tool.
- You are not comfortable using dynamic EQ: Dynamic EQ can be a difficult tool to use effectively. If you are not comfortable using dynamic EQ, then you might not want to use it.
- You don’t have the right plugins: Dynamic EQ is a feature that is not available in all audio plugins. If you don’t have the right plugins, then you might not be able to use dynamic EQ.
So, whether or not you need dynamic EQ will depend on your specific needs, the problems you’re facing, and the results you’re after.
When Should I Use Dynamic EQ?
Dynamic EQ should be used when you need to apply equalization to a specific frequency range, but only under certain conditions.
Dynamic EQ is a great tool for taming unwanted resonances, enhancing specific frequencies, and correcting tonal imbalances. It can be used on any audio track, but it is especially useful on tracks that are highly dynamic, such as vocals and acoustic instruments.
Here are some scenarios where it might be helpful:
- Vocal Processing: Dynamic EQ is commonly used in vocal processing to manage issues like harshness or sibilance (excessive “s” sounds). These problems often only occur at certain times – for example, when the vocalist is singing loudly or hitting certain notes. A dynamic EQ can be set up to reduce the harsh or sibilant frequencies only when they become a problem, leaving the vocal untouched the rest of the time.
- Managing Resonances: If certain frequencies resonate too much in a recording due to the acoustics of the recording space, dynamic EQ can help control these resonances without affecting the rest of the audio.
- Balancing Frequencies in a Mix: If certain frequencies are too prominent in a mix at certain times, but not others, dynamic EQ can help balance them out. For example, if the bass frequencies in a song become overpowering during the chorus but sound fine during the verses, a dynamic EQ can be used to reduce the bass during the choruses without affecting the verses.
- Correcting Tonal Imbalances: If your mix is sounding muddy or bright, you can use dynamic EQ to correct the tonal balance. This will help to make your mix sound more balanced and cohesive.
- Preserving Dynamic Range: If you want to preserve the dynamic range of a track while controlling certain problematic frequencies, dynamic EQ can be a good choice. Unlike multiband compression, which affects the dynamic range of the entire frequency band it’s applied to, dynamic EQ can make more surgical adjustments to specific frequencies.
- Mastering: Dynamic EQ is often used in mastering to make subtle adjustments to a mix. For example, if a song sounds great overall but certain frequencies become too prominent at high volumes, a dynamic EQ can be set up to reduce those frequencies only when they get too loud.
The key to using dynamic EQ effectively is to listen carefully and make adjustments based on what the audio needs.
Here are some general tips for using dynamic EQ effectively:
- Start with a narrow bandwidth: When you are first starting out, it is a good idea to start with a narrow bandwidth. This will help you to focus on the specific frequencies that you are trying to affect.
- Use a high threshold: The threshold determines when the dynamic EQ will start to act. If you set the threshold too low, the dynamic EQ will be constantly engaged, which can make your mix sound unnatural.
- Use a low ratio: The ratio determines how much the dynamic EQ will attenuate or boost the frequencies when they exceed the threshold. A low ratio will give you a more subtle effect, while a high ratio will give you a more dramatic effect.
- Listen carefully: The best way to learn how to use dynamic EQ effectively is to listen carefully to the results. Make sure that you are happy with the way that the dynamic EQ is affecting the sound of your track before you move on.
What Is The Difference Between Dynamic EQ And Multiband Compressor?
Dynamic EQ and multiband compression are both audio processing tools that allow for frequency-specific control over a signal, but they operate in different ways and are used for different purposes.
A dynamic equalizer allows for adjustments to specific frequency ranges, but these adjustments are only applied when the signal within the specified range exceeds a certain threshold. The amount of EQ applied (gain reduction or boost) can change dynamically based on the input signal level. This means a dynamic EQ can remain inactive and only engage when it’s needed, making it a somewhat more subtle and surgical tool.
A multiband compressor divides the frequency spectrum into multiple bands, and applies compression independently to each one. Compression reduces the dynamic range of the audio signal, meaning it reduces the difference between the loudest and quietest parts. When the signal in a specific band exceeds the threshold set for that band, the compressor reduces its volume. This can be a more aggressive form of processing, and it’s often used to shape the tone and dynamics of a mix in a more broad and impactful way.
Here are some key differences:
- Threshold Triggering: In a dynamic EQ, the equalization is triggered when the level of a specific frequency band crosses a set threshold, whereas in a multiband compressor, the compression for each band is triggered when the overall level of the band crosses its threshold.
- Processing Effect: Dynamic EQ applies gain changes that are equivalent to boosting or cutting specific frequencies, whereas multiband compression reduces the dynamic range within specific frequency bands.
- Precision: Dynamic EQ can be more precise as it can target very specific frequencies, whereas multiband compression works with broader frequency bands.
- Usage: Dynamic EQ is often used for surgical fixes in a mix or master, such as taming harsh frequencies that only occur at certain times. Multiband compression, on the other hand, is often used for broader tonal shaping and controlling the dynamic balance between different frequency ranges.
Here is a table that summarizes the key differences between dynamic EQ and multiband compressors:
|Feature||Dynamic EQ||Multiband Compressor|
|How it works||Uses a compressor to control the gain of specific frequency bands||Splits the audio signal into multiple frequency bands and compresses each band independently|
|Strengths||Very versatile, and can be used to tame unwanted resonances, enhance specific frequencies, and correct tonal imbalances||Can smooth out the dynamics of a track, add punch to the low end, or brighten up the high end|
|Weaknesses||Can be difficult to use effectively, and can sound unnatural if not used correctly||Can be less transparent than dynamic EQ, and can add a pumping or breathing sound to the track|
|When to use||When you need to control the gain of specific frequency bands in a dynamic way||When you need to smooth out the dynamics of a track, add punch to the low end, or brighten up the high end|
In practice, there can be some overlap in the use cases for these tools, and the choice between them often depends on the specific needs of the material you’re working with and the result you’re trying to achieve.
Sometimes, a combination of both might be used. Both of these tools require careful listening and a good understanding of audio to use effectively.
Should I Use Dynamic EQ On Vocals?
Dynamic EQ can be an effective tool for processing vocals, but it’s not always necessary. Dynamic EQ can be a great tool for taming unwanted resonances, enhancing specific frequencies, and correcting tonal imbalances.
Whether you should use it depends on the specific needs of the vocal track you’re working with.
Here are some situations where dynamic EQ might be useful on vocals:
- Controlling Sibilance: Sibilance refers to the harsh ‘s’ or ‘sh’ sounds that can sometimes be problematic in vocal recordings. A dynamic EQ can be set up to reduce these frequencies only when they become too prominent, acting like a de-esser.
- Taming Resonances: If the vocalist has certain notes that resonate more than others, causing uneven frequencies in the vocal, a dynamic EQ can help manage these resonances without affecting the rest of the vocal.
- Managing Harshness: If the vocal becomes harsh at high volumes or on certain notes, a dynamic EQ can be set up to reduce the harsh frequencies only when they become a problem.
- Correcting Room Issues: If your vocal recording has issues caused by the room acoustics, such as room resonances or a build-up of certain frequencies, dynamic EQ can help correct these without making the voice sound overly processed.
Dynamic EQ is a tool, and like any tool, it needs to be used appropriately. If you can achieve the sound you’re aiming for with a traditional EQ or other processing, there’s no need to use a dynamic EQ.
While dynamic EQ can help fix certain issues, it’s always better to address problems at the source if possible. For example, if a vocal is consistently harsh, it might be better to address this with a different microphone, a different mic placement, or a different vocal technique, rather than trying to fix it with processing.
How Do You Use Dynamic EQ On Vocals?
Using a dynamic EQ on vocals involves several steps. Here’s a general process you might follow:
- Identify the Problem: The first step is to identify what problems you’re trying to solve. Are there certain frequencies that become harsh or resonant only at certain times? Are there sibilant ‘s’ or ‘sh’ sounds that need controlling?
- Choose the Right Dynamic EQ Plugin: There are many dynamic EQ plugins available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Choose one that fits your needs and your workflow. Some popular dynamic EQ plugins include FabFilter Pro-Q 3, Waves F6, and DMG Audio Equilibrium.
- Set the Frequency Band: Once you’ve identified the problem, set the frequency band on the dynamic EQ to target the problem area. You can often do this by adjusting the frequency, Q, and gain parameters. The frequency sets the center of the band you’re targeting, the Q sets the width of the band, and the gain sets how much you want to boost or cut the band by when the dynamic EQ is activated.
- Set the Threshold: The threshold determines when the dynamic EQ will start working. Set the threshold so that the dynamic EQ only activates when the problem you’re trying to solve occurs. For example, if you’re trying to control harshness that only occurs when the vocalist sings loudly, set the threshold so that the dynamic EQ only activates at those loud volumes.
- Set the gain: The gain determines how much the dynamic EQ will attenuate or boost the frequencies when they exceed the threshold. A negative gain will attenuate the frequencies, while a positive gain will boost the frequencies.
- Adjust the Attack and Release: The attack and release settings control how quickly the dynamic EQ responds to changes in the signal. Fast attack times can help control sharp, sudden problems like sibilance, while slower attack times can be more transparent for controlling resonances or harshness. The release time should be set so that the dynamic EQ stops working once the problem has passed.
- Fine-Tune: Once you’ve set up the basic settings, fine-tune the dynamic EQ by adjusting the frequency, Q, gain, threshold, attack, and release as needed. Listen carefully to the effect of the dynamic EQ on the vocal, and make sure it’s solving the problem without causing new ones.
- Bypass and Compare: Periodically bypass the dynamic EQ to compare the processed and unprocessed signal. This can help ensure that the dynamic EQ is improving the vocal and not causing unwanted side effects.
Here are some common problems that you might encounter when using dynamic EQ on vocals:
- The dynamic EQ is too aggressive: If the dynamic EQ is too aggressive, it can make your vocals sound unnatural or harsh. To avoid this, you can try lowering the threshold or the ratio.
- The dynamic EQ is not having any effect: If the dynamic EQ is not having any effect, you can try increasing the threshold or the gain.
- The dynamic EQ is affecting the wrong frequencies: If the dynamic EQ is affecting the wrong frequencies, you can try adjusting the bandwidth.
Every vocal and every mix is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to using dynamic EQ on vocals.
Use your ears, and don’t be afraid to experiment and adjust settings as needed.
In the realm of audio production, mastering the use of Dynamic EQ on vocals can be a significant step towards achieving professional, polished mixes.
While it may appear complex at first glance, understanding when and how to deploy this powerful tool can open up a new world of possibilities, enabling you to tackle specific mix issues with surgical precision.
Dynamic EQ should be used judiciously and is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The key to effectively utilizing it lies in careful listening, understanding the specific needs of your vocal tracks, and fine-tuning the settings to achieve the desired result.
While we’ve provided guidelines and general advice, don’t be afraid to experiment and trust your ears. Each vocal is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. Strive to capture the best sound at the source.
We hope this article has helped you to understand Dynamic EQ and illuminated its potential for enhancing your vocal tracks. Happy mixing!