Have you ever found yourself in a situation whereby you’re equalizing then when you’re done you are not even sure if those EQ settings are the right ones or not?
This is the number one thing that most beginner and intermediate engineers struggle with. I struggled with it for a long time, but I finally came up with some neat tricks that help me eliminate guesswork when equalizing.
How you apply EQ to your master will depend on the mix and varies from song to song. However, there are some neat techniques that I’ll show you, which you can use to avoid guessing or be left unsure whether what you did benefits the song or not.
The goal of using EQ during mastering is to find good frequencies that you can cut or boost to make the mix sound like a finished song.
But first, let’s talk about which EQ is right for you to get the best results.
What EQ to Use for Mastering?
One thing to keep in mind is that not all equalizers are built the same and they’re all designed for different purposes.
The biggest mistake you can make is to take a mixing EQ and think it will give you the best results.
The difference between mixing and mastering EQ is often the fact that when it comes to mixing you have a lot of creative freedom. You can create a 10dB boost since you’re working with individual sounds as compared to mastering where you’re working with 1 stereo file of the entire song.
Finding the right plugins for the job can be tricky these days since there are too many options. So, I’ve put together a list of some of the best EQ plugins to use for mastering.
Best EQ for mastering
After trying out tons of different plugins in the marketplace, these are the ones that I believe are the cream of the crop.
1. iZotope Ozone 9
Most people already have Ozone 9 in their arsenal. The EQ feature allows you to control the finest details of your sound with fluid metering and new HUD controls
- Emulate classic analog EQs or modern digital models depending on your style
- Use Mid/Side mode to correct frequencies in the sides of your audio
- NEW! Enjoy smooth, fluid metering and a resizable window that lets you see more of your sound
2. FabFilter Pro-Q 3
With FabFilter Pro-Q 3, you get the highest possible sound quality and a gorgeous, innovative interface with unrivaled ease of use.
Pro-Q offers everything that a demanding engineer could wish for: top quality linear phase operation in addition to the zero latency and unique Natural Phase modes, Mid/Side processing, variable stereo placement of EQ bands, an intelligent solo feature, optional Auto Gain, and a built-in, fully customizable spectrum analyzer.
3. Softube Curve Bender
If there was a hierarchy of analog studio gear (and let’s face it, there kind of is) it’d be hard to dispute the Chandler Limited® Curve Bender’s claim to the throne. Among analog mastering grade equalizers, this one’s about as blue-blooded as they come.
With tremendous pedigree, huge yet controlled power, and most importantly, exceptional sound quality, thanks to component-level modeling of the original germanium and inductor circuits, the Curve Bender, now available for the first time in native format, reigns supreme over the domain of tone-shaping in analog mastering.
4. Brainworx bx_digital V3
Brainworx's revolutionary flagship product, bx_digital, was the first commercially available Mid/Side equalizer plugin, and it still reigns supreme today as the EQ for audio mastering.
The 11-band equalizer's forward-thinking feature set includes parametric bell, high- and low shelving, and high- and low-pass filters for each channel; mono, dual-mono (L/R), stereo and mid-side modes of operation; a mid-side decoder, spectrum-balancing Bass and Presence Shifters; the pioneering Mono Maker summing tool; and comprehensive imaging, monitoring, and metering facilities for high-level mastering.
5. Dangerous Music BAX EQ
The Dangerous BAX EQ is one of the smoothest sounding EQs you will use.
It features a world-class design of Peter Baxandall’s legendary 1950’s tone control that has graced hundreds of millions of hi-fi systems, plus 2 high pass / low pass filters.
This EQ is a fantastic tool for mastering.
Besides the ultra-clean and natural sound, which is achieved through the minimized phase delay design, the BAX EQ provides broad tonal control that will not alter the intrinsic sonic character of the source.
6. UAD-Precision Equalizer
The Precision Equalizer plugin is a stereo/dual mono four-band EQ and high-pass filter made primarily for use with program material. The Precision Equalizer is modeled on the behavior of real-world analog mastering filters and uses the classic parametric controls arrangement.
The Precision Equalizer plug-in utilizes the best from traditional hardware designs while incorporating features convenient to software digital mastering.
7. Bettermaker EQ232D
The Bettermaker EQ232D is a faithful plugin recreation of one of the most respected analog mastering EQs of the new millennium, developed by the Bettermaker team.
Bettermaker EQ is a contemporary classic, loved by some of the best engineers in the business for their big clean bottom, clear and soaring top end, and flexible, intuitive workflow.
How Do You Effectively EQ Your Master?
Now that we know which EQs are best for mastering, let’s get into how to use them to get a mix sounding like a finished song.
The goal here is to help you get the best EQ settings without a lot of guesswork and the way I do that is through EQ match.
What you’ll need is a couple of reference tracks that are closely similar to the mix that you’re currently working on.
I also recommend that you get reference tracks that are in the same key as your mix. If the song is in a different key then it will normally have a different frequency response.
Another thing to look out for is instrumentation, make sure that the instrumentation is similar. Even the vocals should be similar for a fair comparison, you don’t want to reference a female vocal track with a male vocal song.
Once you have gathered the best reference tracks then it’s time to EQ match. One of my favorite tools for this is the Ozone EQ match plugin.
However, feel free to use whatever frequency matching tool that you already have.
Step 1 is to load up your reference tracks, match them with your mix, and then take down notes. This is why I recommend multiple references because using one can be a bit misleading.
You might find yourself boosting the low-end, for example, only to find out you have way too much low-end.
So, if you take the time to compare with multiple songs you’ll eventually find 1 that will guide you in the right direction.
If you find that your song has way too much low-end when compared to all your references then you already know that you have to reduce the bottom end of your mix, or do the opposite if your bass is too low.
This applies to all frequencies.
The next step is to take all your notes and then apply the frequency cuts or boost to hear how they affect your mix.
Don’t get caught up in trying to get your mix to sound exactly like the reference songs. The goal is to use all the reference material as a guideline.
This is how to EQ your master effectively and eliminate all guesswork.
There you go, that’s how simple it is to get the best EQ settings when mastering your music. This process might need a little bit of practice though, you might not get it right the first time you try it.
Another important thing to mention is that you’ll need to test the master on as many sound devices as possible to make sure that what you’re doing benefits the mix.
Finally, when it comes to using the EQ in the mastering stage, a little boost or cut goes a long way.
So, if you find yourself needing more than 3dB then the best choice is to send the music back to the producer to fix the issue in the mix. If you’re working on your music that shouldn’t be an issue at all.
If any of this is still confusing and you have questions then simply leave a comment below and I’ll definitely do my best to help you.