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“Equalization” – Now There’s A Loaded Word

Why is there so much EQ available on so much kit, if it's so awful? Every console, analog or the other way, is loaded with equalization from the inputs to the outputs and all points in between

If one follows the literature (and street talk) in both the audiophile and professional sound communities, “equalization” is a very bad thing.

If you use it, you get, in no particular order, comb filtering, phase shift, lack of transparency, non-linear response, one note bass, harshness, mid-fi sound, lack of neutrality, proof of your status as an amateurish guitar-store soundman, as well as proof of your status (from the audiophile perspective) as a deaf knuckle-dragging roadie.

Standing on Mars, as they used to say in the History Department (I don’t think they would have liked “EQ” either – it would have offended their sense of ideological purity), you get the impression that users of EQ are obviously agents of the beast, or at best deaf, inexperienced, or misguided.

Uh huh. Then why is there so much EQ available on so much kit, if it’s so awful? Every console, analog or the other way, is loaded with equalization from the inputs to the outputs and all points in between.

Our loudspeaker management systems nominally have dozens of points on the sends, as well as points local to the various driver groups in the bandpass. The more advanced management systems contain high zoot options such as FIR filters, which remain the best sounding (if somewhat hard to use on the fly) EQ schemes I have heard.

Most of our freestanding mic preamps have a band of EQ or two, and many of us still insert parametrics or thirds into main or monitor sends. The various digital recording technologies are loaded with EQ, much to the horror of the old school analog recording purists who would eschew level adjustment or limiting during a live 2-track recording, let alone any futzing with the signal by some clown with his hand on a tone control.

That’s right, “tone control.” Don’t like those words, do you? Very negative connotation indice, as the marketing types would say.

Visions appear of friends recently returned from the Vietnam War with Sansui receivers playing Hendrix through mondo Pioneer speakers with all the tone gains slammed and the “loudness” control engaged – now that was a pure sound, right?

Actually, it wasn’t too bad. Enormous bump at 80 Hz, big warm out of phase mid frequencies, and a really icky irritating high end – perfect for Jimi’s speed guitar stuff. Thing sounded like a jukebox at a truck stop.

More importantly, though it was the worst technically, it was musical in the sense that it was true to the music that would most likely be played on it. Not the right thing for Fritz Reiner and the CSO doing Mahler 4, but totally appropriate for Hendrix, Elvis, Hank Williams, Sinatra, Sam Cooke, and the other popular artists native to such systems.

The audio (and audiophile) fundamentalists in the audience are now growing uneasy, as it would appear that I am about to make the case for what might be termed “technological relativism,” as in the purity of the medium must be compromised to deliver the full emotional (or business-related, as we will see) content of the message. Yup – that is exactly what I’m saying.

The good news is that there are systems and methods for every form of audio belief. The trick is to correctly match the system (and method of operation, as in how much EQ, if any) to the nature of the event.

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