There’s a lot of confusion about dynamic equalization (EQ). Dynamic EQ is a great way to enhance the clarity, punch, and intelligibility of a vocal track.
This post is the first in a series where I will be exploring different ways to use dynamic EQ on vocals.
The equalization of vocals is one of the most important aspects to get right, and there are so many things that can affect it. Knowing how to use dynamic equalization can help you get a better mix, with a more clearly defined vocal sound.
What is dynamic EQ?
If there’s one piece of equipment that you can’t do without when mixing, it’s your EQ. It’s what allows you to sculpt out your track and make it sound how you want it to.
Dynamic EQ or dynamic equalization is a technique used by sound engineers, producers, and mixers alike to shape the audio of a track.
A dynamic equalizer is a parametric equalizer that allows you to adjust the gain or attenuation of a specific frequency band over time, making it much more versatile than a normal EQ. It’s a form of audio processing that adjusts set frequencies automatically to produce a more controlled sound.
The dynamic part refers to changes in volume over time. Dynamic EQ is also referred to as automatic or intelligent EQ.
Dynamic EQ vs Static EQ
Different types of EQ have different purposes.
Some, like a static EQ, apply filters to the sound from start to finish. While a Dynamic EQ combines the best of both worlds by providing precision equalization with selective compression or expansion and sidechain triggers.
As audio production techniques continue to evolve, more and more producers and engineers are turning to dynamic EQs as an alternative to traditional static EQ filters.
Dynamic EQs offer several advantages over static filters, including processing audio more transparently and only affecting the input signal when necessary.
As a result, dynamic EQs are quickly becoming a staple in the world of audio production.
When To Use Dynamic EQ
EQing in mixing can be pretty straightforward, but your real challenge will often be dealing with frequencies that change over time.
For instance, a cut to tame harsh vocal frequencies might work for one phrase, but compromise clarity on the other words and phrases that are not harsh.
One of the most popular uses for a dynamic EQ is to cut out frequencies that become disruptive or overwhelming during louder moments of a performance.
This can happen with any amplified source but is especially common for vocals and acoustic instruments.
So, you use dynamic equalization when you have a signal that changes over time or if you just want to control unwanted frequencies that occur in louder parts of the song.
How To Use Dynamic EQ On Vocals
I’ve already established that using dynamic EQ is super effective and if done strategically on your vocals it can help you get a very pure and natural sound.
Now let’s look at some practical ways of using it to help a voice sit perfectly in a mix.
Taming Momentary Resonances
The resonances of musical notes can add a lot of depth and character to the sound. However, they can also be very distracting if they are not managed properly.
A dynamic EQ can help to tame the resonance, only activating when it's needed and leaving the rest of the performance untouched. This can help to preserve the original tonal balance of the voice.
You need to find the resonance first, then set the EQ band to 0dB. From then on, bring down the dynamic band with the thinnest Q-factor possible so that it is focused on the resonance.
Keep reducing the dynamic gain until you are feeling comfortable with the control of the resonance.
Here’s a visual representation of the process.
Avoid using too many narrow cuts on a voice because that messes up the tone and timbre. Instead, it will make the problem even worse, so using one or two should be more than enough.
In a situation where you find yourself needing more than two cuts then switch to a wider Q-factor, that will give you much better results.
How to Reduce Harshness Using Dynamic EQ on Vocals
In cases where the vocal is harsh or too bright, precision "targeting" is often necessary to hone in on the problem frequencies without changing the overall sound of the voice.
This is where a dynamic EQ comes in handy.
When dealing with harshness you need to apply the same process used in the resonance section above. Listen, diagnose the problem, and then fix it.
You can find harsh frequencies around 3.5kHz to 6kHz. Unlike fixing resonance you may need to use a broad Q-factor instead of a narrow one.
The images below should give you an idea of how you can reduce harshness using a dynamic EQ.
Just be careful not to reduce too much to a point where the vocal starts lacking presence in the mix. Make sure that the gain reduction is only applied when the problem frequencies are too much.
So, the gain reduction shouldn’t be happening on every word.
If you’re taming every word your vocal might get pushed towards the back in the stereo image and struggle to sit perfectly in the center of the mix.
Sidechain Other Instruments to Create Space
Unlike using a traditional single-band compressor sidechain technique, dynamic EQ gives you the power to affect a specific frequency range.
That gives you much better results, control, and flexibility. The effect will sound more transparent as compared to using a single-band compressor.
When mixing a dense mix with too much instrumentation you may find that the vocal is struggling to cut through.
In that case, using the sidechain technique will usually help you create space for the voice.
You can simply use a dynamic EQ to duck down the entire beat or a group of instruments on a specific frequency.
Sidechaining can also come in handy when you have masking issues. For instance, your vocals could be fighting for the same frequencies with a guitar or piano.
To fix this problem all you need to do is to sidechain the vocals with the instrument. This way, whenever the vocal kicks in the instrument will duck to make space for the voice to dominate that particular frequency.
Whenever the vocals are not playing then that sound (guitar or piano) can remain present and dominate that particular frequency, giving you a much fuller-sounding mix all the time.
Please be careful not to make this effect sound too obvious, if it sounds obvious then you’re doing it wrong.
Unless maybe that’s the sound you’re going for. But in most cases, this effect is supposed to be felt not heard.
Making the Hook Wider than the Verse
Dynamic EQ can be used as a creative tool to make certain parts of the arrangement stand out and add excitement for the listener.
Most dynamic EQ plugins have Mid-Side processing capabilities. With mid-side EQ, you can boost certain frequencies to make the vocal sound wider in the mix.
This becomes even more powerful when you use automation. For instance, you can automate the EQ to make the Hook (chorus part) of the song wider than the verse and other parts of the song.
Another example would be to make the breakdown sound narrow, and then when the song drops you increase the width to make the hook sound bigger and exciting.
There are multiple ways to achieve this effect but the most common method is to switch the EQ to mid-side processing and increase the high frequencies on the side channel.
You can do this with a static EQ but it will sound too stagnant. However, using a dynamic EQ will add movement, this will give the listener some nice eargasm.
Don’t make it sound too obvious though, just make sure that the listener can feel it but can’t put a finger on it.
To get the best results you have to make the dynamic EQ react whenever the high frequencies go below a certain threshold. This is how you add movement and attitude instead of making the effect sound noticeable.
Feel free to get creative with this effect, maybe even try it on the midrange you could come up with something unique and catchy.
Dynamic equalization can also be implemented in your vocal Fx channels (reverb, chorus, delay, etc.) as well to make them sound wider or narrow in certain parts of the song.
The possibilities are just endless.
Be careful not to introduce phase issues though. Too much mid-side processing can cause phase cancellation and prevent your vocals from standing out in the mix.
So, don’t get too excited. Always remember that less is more. A dynamic boost of around 1-2dB is usually more than enough.
Make Vocals Shine Without Adding Too Much Sibilance
In some instances, you could be mixing a vocal that just needs a little boost on the top-end to get that sparkle you hear on your favorite tracks.
But when you boost you find that you’re also bringing up the annoying sibilance on the voice.
To combat that issue you can use a dynamic EQ to only boost the high frequencies only when the top-end goes below a certain threshold.
This will keep the vocal’s high frequencies sounding consistent throughout the entire song.
You can also use the dynamic EQ to control the sibilance to keep them in control whenever they become too loud.
So you’ll have the best of both worlds (a bright vocal that’s not too sibilant or harsh).
Cleaning Muddy & Boxy Frequencies
With vocals, dynamic EQ is always my preferred method of taming the low midrange around 150-350Hz.
When singers are singing high and loud, they usually sound great. However, when they are singing softer and in a lower register, they often develop muddy and boxy frequencies due to proximity to the microphone.
Understanding every word of a vocal is very important, which means you have to make sure that the vocal is clear and crisp at all times.
If your vocal is inaudible in some parts of the song, you will lose a lot of listeners. I prefer to dynamically EQ these frequencies rather than compress them because dynamic equalizations produces a much cleaner sound.
So, dynamic EQ is always the best option to control muddy and boxy frequencies when the vocalist keeps switching tones in different parts of the arrangement.
Be careful when reducing low midrange frequencies because if you remove too much you could end up with a thin-sounding vocal.
Although a dynamic EQ could be the best choice in some situations, this doesn’t mean a static EQ is now obsolete.
The normal EQ also plays a big part when it comes to shaping the tone of a voice. So, don’t just go for the dynamic EQ all the time. Use it only when it’s necessary, never do things by default.
Let me know in the comments section which of these tricks you’ll be implementing in your next mixing session.
Feel free to post your questions as well, I’m always here to help.