EQ Eight is one of the most important production tools in Ableton Live. Today I’m going to show you when and how to use it.
What is the frequency spectrum?
To understand what EQ does you need to get a sense of what the frequency spectrum is. Make sure to wear headphones or listen on good speakers with a lot of low frequencies.
Here is a fragment of a track of mine with no EQ applied.
Here’s what this situation looks like on the EQ8 display:
Now listen to the same clip without high frequencies. Notice that you can now hear only the kick, bass, much less of the snare and almost no hihats. The high (bright) frequencies are cut out.
The same clip without low frequencies. Now it’s the opposite - only the hihats, snare and whistle are audible. The low (bass) frequencies are cut out.
Now you know what high & low frequencies sound like. All frequencies together are called the spectrum. EQ Eight allows you to cut (or boost) areas of the frequency spectrum. It allows you to filter the sound just like you filter photos before putting them up on Instagram.
How to use EQ Eight
EQ Eight has 8 filters which you can turn on & off by pressing the squares by their numbers. Every filter can be one of 8 types which you can select in the menu above the on/off button.
When you turn on a filter and select its type you can move it around the spectrum by moving the yellow circle with the filter’s number inside.
To hear the difference the filter is making turn on the headphones button and click on the filter’s yellow circle. The affected frequencies will turn blue and you’ll be able to hear it.
You can also move the filter with the three knobs on the left.
- The Freq knob moves the filter curve left & right in the spectrum
- The Gain knob allows you to boost frequencies (disabled for our „Cut” filter types)
- The Q knob can can adjust the slope of the filter (to make it more smooth or steep)
Tip: Put a track inside Ableton, load up EQ8 onto it and play around with different filter types. You’ll be surprised how drastically filters can change its sound.
What do we use EQ8 for?
In most cases you’re going to be using EQ8 on single instruments, not on whole tracks. Here’s a few different uses of it.
1. Changing an instrument’s tone color.
By using high or low frequency cuts we can make an instrument sound darker or brighter.
Here’s a simple Serum pluck:
If we’d like the instrument to sound less apparent we need to cut down on some frequencies.
I cut down on the low end with the 48dB filter (this curve cuts out almost everything below the frequency you put it on).
Then I added a high cut (filter 4 doesn’t have the he x4 sign - means it’s a 12dB filter, a more smooth one).
2. Removing unnecessary frequencies
By using the Bell or Notch filters you can remove certain frequencies you don’t want.
The Bell filter is less aggressive but allows you to also boost certain frequencies (by dragging the Gain knob or filter dot up)
3. Boosting frequency areas
Sometimes you want more high or low end. You can easily boost these frequencies by using the Left Shelf or Right Shelf filters.
Just like with the Bell you can make the filter slope less steep by dragging down the Q knob. You can also reverse the filter by dragging down the Gain (to make a low shelf from a high shelf)
A low shelf with low Q setting.
Sometimes you want to layer samples or synths to create original sounding combinations. With the help of EQ8 you can create separate layers for low, mid and high frequencies by isolating them. It’s a common technique in making future bass synths or in creating custom drum samples. Tip X in this article explains how to layer in Ableton.
5. Cleaning up the spectrum to mix multiple instruments
Let’s say we have a synth on a track and we want to add a kick to the track. What often happens is that the kick doesn’t sound as good with the synth as it sounds solo. Cleaning up the low end of the synth can improve this situation by giving the kick more space. In most cases you’re going to be lowpassing instruments - it’s often tricky to get the kick and bass sound good with the rest of the track.
6. EQ on the Master
Some producers like to add a final touch EQ on their master track. When applying EQ on the master be very careful - too much adjustment will flip the balance between your instruments and ruin the mix.
What I like to do is to use the Mid/Side mode to make sure my sub bass frequencies are mono. By doing this I’m avoiding losing the sub frequencies when a track is played on a mono subwoofer (most clubs have such). Another reason is that you don’t hear stereo anyway in such low frequencies. It also gives you a bit more headroom which allows you to make the track louder.
Tip: You can also use the Mid/Side mode to EQ the mid & side frequencies differently. For instance if you’re applying reverb on a mono clap & you want to EQ the reverb you can just EQ the Side because Reverb creates a lot of stereo.
7. Adding Stereo Width
Stereo width is created when there’s difference between the left and right channels. This can be achieved by many effects, but one of them is EQ. If you select Left-Right mode in EQ8, you can create a different EQ shape for every channel. If you want to keep the eq balance you can still do this trick:
Every ”peak” on one channel is another channel’s ”valley”.
Good luck with your mixing. See you in the next articles!
I’m k-pizza, a music maker who likes to share his experiences with other producers. I’m regularly going to show up with music and content at PML.