Let’s start with the basic vocal EQ settings and the details behind them. Then we’ll dig deeper…
General: Roll off below 60 Hz using a high-pass filter. This range is unlikely to contain anything useful, so you may as well reduce the noise the track contributes to the mix.
Treat Harsh Vocals: To soften vocals, apply cut in a narrow bandwidth somewhere in the 2.5 kHz to 4 kHz range.
Add Brightness, Not Harshness: Apply a gentle boost using a wide-band bandpass filter above 6 kHz. Use the sweep control to sweep the frequencies to get it right.
Smoothness: Apply some cut in a narrow band in the 1 kHz to 2 kHz range.
Bring Out The Bass: Apply some boost in a reasonably narrow band somewhere in the 200 Hz to 600 Hz range.
This is all well and good; however, using vocal EQ isn’t as simple as “a+b = great vocal EQ.”
Reasons For Using Vocal EQ
When a voice is recorded through a microphone, we need to add a bit of EQ to the voice to bring out its natural qualities. For example, when you hear me talk in a room, you hear some natural reverberation in the room. In EQ’ing, you can add that natural reverb back in because the microphone might not pick it up in your particular recording environment.
Additionally, vocal EQ’ing is performed to enhance the vocals so they sound best in our environment as well as within the band and within the song. And this is where most of your work is focused.
Let’s start with the first point listed above:
1. “General: Roll off below 60Hz using a high-pass filter.” Each channel on a mixer usually has an HPF (high-pass filter) button. By pressing this button, we are dropping all audio frequencies below a certain level.
As an example, I’ve got a Yamaha mixer with a “/80” button – which means HPF and drop all frequencies below 80 Hz. Frequencies this low are typically low bass notes and kick drum. If any low frequencies seep into the vocal microphone, they can muddy up the sound.
So it’s good to use a HPF on any channel that’s not dealing with low-end frequencies. With experience, you might find some vocals sound better without the HPF, but particularly if you’re new to sound, HPF is a good place to start.
2. “Treat Harsh Vocals: To soften vocals apply cut in a narrow bandwidth somewhere in the 2.5 kHz to 4 kHz range.” This is where a lot of what is being done is dependent on the type of mixer you’re using.
For example, with an analog mixer, there’s most likely a semi-parametric EQ, meaning you make EQ adjustments via knobs on each channel with control for gain (amplitude) and the center frequency; however, you can’t control the width of the affected frequencies – the bandwidth. Thus, the EQ adjustments affect a wide range of frequencies at once – like moving a mountain peak back and forth – which means you have to move a lot of the mountain with it.
Some EQs allow the user to work on EQ like a surgeon, making frequency cuts/boost in very specific ranges. Harsh vocals can be reduced by sweeping over the mid/ high-mid frequencies until you hear the harshest vocal sound. Then you cut (reduce) those frequencies via the EQ. This is the case with a parametric EQ where you can control the center frequency, the gain/amplitude cut or boosted, and the bandwidth, sometimes known as the Q.