EQ Settings for Mastering: General Tips

There are some advanced EQ parametric such as Waves LinEQ and L2 Ultramaximizer that you can use to make your masters sound loud and big by making big EQ adjustments without compromising the audio quality. Always remember to use your ear and compare your mastering to the standard produced records of the same genre (if you are mastering rock music, you can listen to rock records and compare whether it is comparable sonic quality or not).

For more information about implementing EQ in mastering, I suggest you will check out the following tutorials:

1.) 54 New Year Resolutions to Improve Recording Quality of your Projects– go directly to the mastering section for the tips.
2.) Using Parametric EQ to Find the “Sweet Spot” of any Musical Instruments – in mastering, using parametric EQ is indispensable. Make sure you know how to detect EQ issues by knowing the “sweet spot” of the problem.
3.) Finding Instrument frequencies using Notch filtering in Audio Mastering – this is another detect of finding out serious EQ issues in mastering – using notch filtering.

Differences between EQ and Compression in Mixing and Mastering

A reader asked me about the differences between EQ and Compression in mixing and audio mastering process. Here it is:

Hi Emerson. Thanks for all your tips. They are all very useful. I have a confusion.In some tutorials you give advises on compression and parametric EQ settings for a variety of instruments, however, in the tutorial called, “Mastering with Cool Edit Pro / Adobe Audition” it says the following:

“No EQ and Compression is still applied. It should be completely fresh, the single waveform is still NOT being adjusted with any mastering EQ and compression settings.”

So, the final waveform shouldn’t be compressed in the initial steps of the mastering stage, however each of the instruments should be Equalized and Compressed with their particular settings during the mixing stage and you equalize and compress the final waveform? Am I getting it right?

Another question I have is, how to reduce the peak amplitude of a waveform in cool edit. I am using Normalize with -1db setting. Is that OK?

Well that’s it. Thanks for all your tutorials. You are great!

Hi ,

Thanks for writing to www.audiorecording.me! I think you are mistaken. Compression and EQ are applied to each instruments/tracks while mixing. And its different in mastering (explained later). But after mixdown, the resulting wave (also called “mixdown”) is NOT anymore compressed or EQ by the mixing engineer. Some mixing engineers attempt to compress this or apply limiter to impress their clients that their mix is very loud but this is not a correct practice.

It is because the compression and EQ are delicate adjustments which can strongly alter the final results of the master. In this case it should be handled by a professional mastering engineer to make this right. In mastering process, the engineer will apply another rounds of compression and EQ to the mixdown wave.This compression can either be in the form of multi-band compression and the EQ will be using either parametric equalization or shelving filters. This time the mastering engineer will only be dealing with a single audio waveform which is the mixdown. EQ and compression are applied in mastering to finally shaped the audio to its desired tonal qualities and to make it sound broadcast ready. In most cases, this is applied in the initial/early steps of mastering process.

To resolve this confusion take a look at the process flow below illustrating the compression and EQ application differences between mastering and mixing (take note that the mixing process is simplified for illustration purposes only, in reality there are other effects applied aside from compression and EQ):

Audio mixing differences

Audio mixing differences

mastering flow simplified

mastering flow simplified

As you have observed, EQ and compression are both used in mixing and mastering. The only difference is that EQ and compression in mixing are applied to each individual tracks/instruments in the mix as opposed to mastering where the mastering engineer will be applying EQ and compression to a single final waveform. So this waveform will still be compressed and EQ’d only by the mastering engineer.

Regarding your second question:

Another question I have is, how to reduce the peak amplitude of a waveform in cool edit. I am using Normalize with -1db setting. Is that ok?

No you should not be using normalization in this case. It is because your aim is only to reduce the peak amplitude, “amplify” or “amplification” feature is enough. Normalization and amplification are actually different although they operate similarly. Normalization aims to “normalize” the wave to a specified dB and adjust DC bias/offset. Amplification does not do any DC bias offset but it can only be boosting or reduction in gain. I will be writing a separate tutorial to properly illustrate the differences between these two.

Anyway, you can always use the amplify feature with negative gain for attenuation(reduction of peak amplitude). In this case, the volume of the wave will be reduced by this fixed amount. In Audacity, amplification feature will even provide a new peak amplitude such as in this case:

normalized settings

normalized settings

The same concept can be applied to Cool Edit, apply a negative gain on amplification in dB and then a new peak amplitude will be provided(of course it is reduced from its original amount).

Content last updated on October 14, 2012

  • jungleland2

    Thanks for the info on this blog. I have been doing my own recording for a few years (three CDs for Rocksploitation) and am starting to do my own mastering as well (rather than send it out to a mastering studio) Your TRICKS were very helpful. I use Voxengo Elephant Mastering Suite, which has great presets (basically six to choose from and unlimited custom options) but the EQ part has always been a mystery, since every recording sounds different on different stereos. the 2k boost helped. I still find it hard to match commercial recordings DB wise without clipping though.

  • Emerson Maningo

    Hi Frank,
    I am not a great fan of doing final EQ’ing after compression; because I find it risky. And I will only be doing this if the track calls for it. Supposing you compress the tracks in the mastering stage so that you will have the loudest volume as possible without resulting to distortion.
    If you EQ it again (after compression) like boosting some frequencies, it will make some portion of the wave to clip to 0dB thus resulting to distortion.
    I think it would be nice to EQ finally after compression just to do some minor cutting but not boosting. In this way, you are not adding extra gain to your wave and will not likely to clip.
    Some engineers will have routine for EQ’ing again after compression; the purpose is to restore the off-balance EQ that they have before compression. But personally I do not know their approach and its up to the engineer personal taste.
    I bet the engineer will just to do some smoothing EQ like very minor cutting and boosting, in such a way it will not clip or distort the final produced music.

  • Frank Gardner

    First of all Great Blog! I thank you deeply for providing such great and useful content. I was wondering if there is any Final EQing that is done by you (or other professionals) after you compress your track?

    Thanks again!

  • Emerson Maningo

    Hi Ivan,
    I have that problem before, below is what fix this problem:
    1.) Record at much higher resolution as possible. Normally, cheap sound cards can only allow you record at 16 bits 44Khz which is low resolution. If you can record at 24bits 96Khz like using Audiophile 2496 sound card much better. This increase in audio resolution makes the sound fuller.

    2.) The way commercial mastering that sounds so large is a TRICK. They add more presence (boost 2Khz Q=0.8 1 to 2dB)which amplifies the vocals and musical instruments making sound loud.

    3.) They boost the bass high at 50 to 80Hz and compare the level with commercial rock recordings.

    4.) Of course, once you have seriously done Step 1 to 3, the last is wise compression techniques and comparison of levels. If you can compress the audio wave (after all EQ is done), and target the average SPL to around -12dB or -11dB , then it is considered commercial loud if you are talking about rock and pop.

    My advice is to EQ first, and then measure the volume in average SPL, if it is -20dB or -18dB , you need to compress in such a way you hit -12dB or 11dB which is not considered loud. Try that and you will amazed your recordings sound as loud as those commercial done recordings.

    My other advice is not to overcompress, it will loss the dynamics and makes your recording sounds bad. Use your ear and avoid distortion in the compression process.

    Anyway SPL is called sound pressure level and measured in decibels.

  • Ivan

    How can you make a mastering sounds LARGE ?
    Usually, my mastering sound very good until I compare them to a professional record. The first thing I notice is how large a professional record sounds. Even though I use EQ, REVERB, PANNING, Compression, etc, I just cannot get close to a professional record. How can they achieve that?