How to use a parametric equalizer

Illustration of setting the optimum Input and Output Level

Proper gain staging must be observed when setting the parametric equalizer. Below are steps on how to set the input and output level of any parametric equalizer:

1.) Add the parametric equalizer to your track FX chain. If you are using Reaper digital audio workstation, you can read this Reaper FX chain tutorial to learn more about this.

2.) Set the desired EQ adjustment by setting center frequency, Q and gain.

3.) Play the mix and watch out for the output level meters. It should be moving in response to the playback.

4.) If it hits red, clipping occurs on the output of the parametric equalizer. Set the input level lower until the maximum peak on the output is not anymore clipping. Aim for a -3dB maximum peak for most of the time.

Setting this way, you prevent distorting the output of your parametric EQ. Take note that when you are boosting a significant amount in your parametric EQ, this would increase the output level. Too much gain applied can result to clipping the output.

Thus the solution is to set a lower input gain. For example in the above screenshot, the input gain is set to -5dB.

5.) The output of the parametric EQ is the input of the next effect in your FX chain. For example:

Parametric EQ — > Compressor

Apply the same concept, if the compressor input is clipping. It usually means that your parametric EQ output is so hot. So in this case, you might apply a reduced output gain on the parametric EQ.

Rules and Naming Conventions of using Parametric EQ

The usual naming conventions used in parametric equalizer are stating the audio settings in terms of dB, center frequency Q. So for example:

Guitar (Left-Rhythm) = 3 KHz, Cut 6dB Q=1.4

It means that the engineer is adjusting the guitar left rhythm audio track with center frequency at 3000Hz and cutting 6dB with Q=1.4. In audio mixing, the most common Q settings are the following:

Q= 8.0~ above (extremely narrow cutting/boosting)
Q=3.0 ~ Q=7.0 (narrow cutting/boosting).
Q=1.4 (wide cutting or boosting)
Q=1.0 (very wide cutting or boosting)
Q=0.7(extremely very wide cutting or boosting)

You can use the above Q guidelines in making parametric EQ adjustments.

Common applications:

In Boosting, I use a wider to narrow Q such as 1.0 to 7.0, and smaller gain adjustments (e.g. Q=1.0, +2dB Boost, 3KHz), commonly used in boosting vocals, guitars, etc in their resonant frequencies.

In Cutting, I use a narrow Q such as 1.4 or 10.0 with higher cutting dB (Q=3.0, -6dB, 400Hz) for example in removing the cardboard sound of the kick drums.

It is advisable to never cut or boost more than -15dB. This is too much and it would much better to have the material re-recorded. -6dB to -9dB cutting is sufficient in most cases. Boosting should be done more conservatively than cutting. Recommended values would be around +1.0 to +6.0dB.

Below are some excellent additional resources on how to use the parametric equalizer properly, it is must read for all beginners:

a.) Using Parametric EQ to Find the “Sweet Spot”

b.) What is a Low Shelf and High Shelf Filter in Parametric Equalization?

c.) Complete EQ settings to Start when doing Audio Mixing

d.) Musical Instrument Frequency Range Analysis

e.) EQ Best Practices in Audio Mixing

Content last updated on June 19, 2012