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Church Audio Basics: Perfecting The Art Of Vocal EQ

Are your worship vocals being clearly heard? We're here to help.

By Chris Huff February 9, 2011

This article is provided by Behind The Mixer.

 
Crafting a well rounded mix for your worship service takes skill, and the appropriate knowledge of the tools at hands.

One of the most important aspects of mixing for worship is getting the right vocal sound, which is easy to accomplish with some basic EQ if you know what you’re doing.

Before I get to the “how” part, let’s look at the “why.” The why is especially important if are EQ’ing a singer.

Vocals are EQ’ed for three primary reasons:

1. To correct problem frequencies
2. To add an effect, like a chipmunk voice, so the voice sound is noticeably different.
3. To place the vocal in the mix for the best fit, a.k.a “where it best sits in the mix.”

EQ’ing for those reasons should result in a sound that is better (or a better fit) than the original sound.

As a warning, do not EQ a singer’s voice so the sound produced sounds like it doesn’t belong to that person. This is distracting to the audience and rather insulting to the singer.

The exception here would be perhaps a dramatic performance where you are adding effects to a speaking voice, such as changing someone’s voice to sound like a chipmunk.

Correcting Problem Frequencies
First, let’s identify common vocal frequencies. Vocal frequencies range from about 75 Hz to 1100 Hz. This is the low end bass to the high soprano. Here is the breakdown, in Hertz, based on approximate frequencies;

• Bass: 75-300
• Baritone: 100-400
• Tenor: 135-500
• Alto: 180-700
• Soprano: 250-1100

These ranges do not imply frequencies above the upper limit are not used. Harmonics are present well above these listed frequencies and can be present as high as 8-10 kHz. Harmonics are produced from sine waves combining at different frequencies and amplitudes when a sound is created.

Therefore, a soprano singer could have frequencies cut out completely above the 1100 Hz mark but the sound will not be natural.

Correcting problem frequencies might need to occur because of a nasally sound, a muddy sound, the popping P’s and T’s, or a flat (dull) sound.


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About Chris

Chris Huff
Chris Huff

Writer/Teacher/Author, BehindTheMixer.com
 
Chris Huff is a long-time practitioner of church sound and writes at Behind The Mixer, covering topics ranging from audio fundamentals to dealing with musicians – and everything in between.

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Robert E Williams says

My philosophy for voice EQ’ing is to slightly suppress the fundamental frequency and to slightly enhance the frequencies above and below the fundamental. For example
for a tenor:135-500 set the low mid center frequency to 217 hz and suppress the low mid to 11 o’clock.  Use the HPF but enhance LOW to 1 o’clock.
Enhance the HIGH to 1 o’oclock so the harmonics generated by t’s, k’s etc are heard. Now set the high mid center frequency to half way between 500 hz and 1000 hz, or 750 hz.  The high mid control then becomes the “Treble” control.  I like to suppress the high mids to 11 o’clock to eliminate what seems harsh to my ears.  I would suggest that the hi mids never be set higher than 12 o’clock.
While this setting example is specific to tenors, I would suggest this as the “starter” setting for all voices.  Adjustments can be made to handle low basses or crooning altos.  Low basses need to have the low control reduced to 12 o’clock, while crooning altos may need the high mid raised to 12 o’clock.
Most EQ’ing settings should be kept between 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock.  It is best to make a series of small changes to get to the final setting.
These setting have been helpful to me over the years. I hope they are helpful to others.

Robert E Williams says

The big factor I didn’t mention is the house equalization.  This is typically done to flatten the system by adjusting a multiband equalizer to suppress “hot” frequencies and enhance “dead” frequencies.  Also, frequencies which cause feedback can be found and suppressed in a “ringing out” process.  This should be done by a competent tech with the right equipment.  However, when an on-stage band is regularly used with drums and bass guitars, the house EQ sometimes limits the low end.  This will affect individual voice channel EQing.  The tech must be aware if the house EQ settings to get the best out of miked voices.

Jaime Lopes says

I’ve found that the EQ I use is just as dependant on the Mic as it is on the voice. Generally we use SM58’s or AKG D5’s on vocals, and they have completely different responses. I tend to cut a lot of the bottom end on the 58, for male and female singers, and boost around 8K a touch for clarity if needed. With the D5 they need more boost in the top end but around 5K…

Chris Collier says

Some good general principles here. I find that the EQ will depend a lot on the rest of the sound system. For example, if there are subs on the rig I use a lot more of a sweepable HPF, sometimes cutting up to 160Hz to remove the ‘boom’ from the vocal. Likewise, with the Mackie and QSC Active speakers, there is a separate amp for the horn so they are a lot brighter to begin with than passive horns and less boost is needed on the high frequencies straight away.

williamrichard says

The concept of knowledge ……………..according to the greatest philosopher of the world knowledge is a perfect way to complete your self an educated person is always respected due to his knowledge ever since .
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brad000123 says

I was interested by the last section about noise-canceling microphones. Could you recommend a couple of specific models? I was aware that noise-canceling microphones are often used in radio headsets, but I had never heard of them being used for music…
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juliarobert says

And regarding your point of having one of the pastors shadowing you during one service to see what’s all about, not a bad idea. But try convincing that pastor to do just that, 70-236
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Robert E Williams says

Would the moderator (if there is one) please remove entries not related to Vocal EQing?  Thanks.

Tessie says

All we need to do is start the war on education.  If it’s anywhere near as successful as our war on drugs, in no time we’ll all be hooked on phonics.
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