Monthly Archives: August 2014

How to equalize your music player for that perfect sound

Equalization can turn dull and lifeless sound into powerful and delicious music. All it takes is the right knowledge. 

Equalization is the process of adjusting the balance between frequency components of music (or any electronic signal). Almost all music players come with a built in graphic equalizer where you can play with sliders, raising and lowering the level of separate frequency bands that make up the musical spectrum. Additionally, almost all speakers or headphones have different responses to these frequency bands. This means every speaker requires a custom setting to get that perfect OMG sound. Otherwise, no matter how great your speakers are, the music that comes out will sound dull, clouded and confused.

A 10 band equalizer

A 10 band equalizer

Setting up the right EQ for a speaker or headphone can be a very difficult job and requires a very good ear. But with a little time and effort, it is well within anyone’s reach.

Don’t play with the sliders randomly, chances are that you will never reach that beautiful sound which your speaker is capable of. There are some tricks and hacks that can set things up pretty fast.

First, you need to know what perfect sound means. If you know this, the effort it takes to get the right sound is automatically halved.

I know, I know. Perfect sound can be a confusing and subjective term. But don’t worry. Personally, I don’t bother with this subjectivity, because there’s a perfectly nice working definition. You should use this definition when in confusion. Here it is:

When the EQ is set just right, the following should also happen

  • You should be able to hear all the instruments involved separately in the mix without trying very hard. This means the kick drums, the bass, the snare, vocals, guitar and keyboard (atmospheric and solo), hi hats and crash. 
  • The bass section should sound powerful and should be driving the rest of the music. If this does not happen, you will hear remarkable volume fluctuations within the music. This is because the mids and the treble usually have holes which the bass section fills up. If the bass is low, you should be able to notice those holes/gaps when the overall volume fluctuates. This happens most often when a song goes from verse to chorus.
  • The sound should not hurt your ears even when you’re listening to loud metal music. The squealing guitars should not give you headaches and the bass and kick drums should not give you heart attacks.

I have found that when the above conditions are met, any speaker sounds near perfect to anybody. The sound is typically powerful, deep, cool, warm and bright all at the same time. It may sound like a contradiction, but this is what happens when you get it just right. 

On the other hand, if any one of them is not met, it means that there’s scope for improvement.

Typically, there are around 10 sliders/bands to play with, starting with low frequencies ( 20 Hz ) to very high frequencies (16 KHz). Each of these bands control different aspects of the sound. So setting them separately is no good. You have to adjust them simultaneously to get the mix to sound great. While doing this, it helps if you know what aspects of the mix these bands individually control.

Here’s a breakdown. Keep this in mind while adjusting. This way you will know what changing quality of the sound to look for when setting individual sliders.

< 100 Hz : This region controls the sound of the kick drums and the low ambient part of the bass section. 

  • Controls the kick and drive of a song. Essential for the groove. These are the frequencies that makes you want to dance or headbang.
  • Too much will interfere with everything else, especially the upper base register.
  • Too little will make the sound powerless and lacking drive. Look out for volume fluctuations when this happens.

100 – 200 Hz : This region controls the sound of the bass guitar. 

  • Controls the punch in a song. This is what adds tightness to the mix.
  • Too much will sound boomy and will make the mid frequencies carrying vocals, guitars and keyboard difficult to make out distinctly. Will also interfere with ambient tones.
  • Too little will make the music trebly, floating and thin.

200 Hz – 1 KHz : This region controls many instruments and vocals, most notably acoustic/electric guitars and keyboards. 

  • Controls the heart and mind of the song. Responsible for the major content of the song.
  • Too much will make the sound floating, thin, atmospheric and coarse. 
  • Too little will make the sound lifeless, dull and bassy.

1 – 8 KHz: This region controls the bite of solo tones. It also controls the high end of the drums, especially snare drums.

  • Controls aggression and snap in a song.
  • Too much will make the sound harsh, coarse and painful to the ear.
  • Too little will make solos sound muted and soulless.

8 – 16 KHz: This region controls the hi hats and crash. 

  • Controls the space, air and sparkle within the song. If set correctly, it can make songs releasing. 
  •  Too much will sound fizzy and artificial. You will literally hear the clamoring of utensils if this is the case.
  • Too little will make the sound stifling and lacking brightness.

Little adjustments can make a huge difference in the sound, so it is advisable to change things by little bits and hear the difference. In my experience, perfect EQs are variations on flat EQ where all sliders are set up at equal levels. For example, the image below is a representative of how perfect EQs usually look like. This setting was perfect for my Sony 6.1 sound system.

The perfect EQ on my SONY 6.1 sound system

The perfect EQ on my SONY 6.1 sound system

I hope this will enable you to get the right sound for your speakers. Even though this is a tiring and frustrating process, the end results are simply magical. You will thank yourself for taking the trouble. The joy of hearing that perfect sound is simply indescribable!

\m/  Cheers \m/