5 Minutes To A Better Mix II: Subtractive EQ – Part 6 of 31

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If you can get EQ right, your mix is almost done. It’s really that important. And like we looked at in yesterday’s video, how you approach EQ has a lot to do with your final result. Today’s tip is no exception.

Cut Away The Bad Stuff

If you want mixes with more clarity, musicality, and headroom, then consider using EQ to cut away the bad stuff than to boosting the good stuff. If you use EQ as primarily a carving tool it will serve you well in the mixing process. Lets take a look.


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13 Responses to “5 Minutes To A Better Mix II: Subtractive EQ – Part 6 of 31”

  1. Davlet Linares

    I agree, that’s the right way. I taught myself to use subtractive EQ all the time. But sometimes I can’t achive the desired sound with subtractive EQing. For example on a kick drum, when I sometimes desperately need this 100-110 Hz punch. I can’t think of any other way to get it. So I make a slight narrow boost.

    • Chuck

      Yeah, I agree. Sometimes I end up making a boost instead of a cut, but I try to make it my last resort. But with time, cutting has gotten easier. I used to have a really hard time getting a good vocal sound with the eq (especially mixing live, as I don’t have a de-esser available), until my ear for cutting had developed a little more. Now that I’m able to do only cuts on vocals, I get better results, and it’s faster. When mixing live I can get beautifully bright vocals without harsh s’s.

  2. Michael Frydensberg

    it is one of the best advice I’ve gotten in several years
    thank you

  3. Matt

    Hey Graham, my master bus wanted me to thank you for teaching me to not to hit it so hard. Your tips on gain staging and subtractive eq have made my mixes sound sweeter than any gear upgrade ever has (or could). Thanks for all the hard work making great free content!

  4. Roger

    I have to be honest, and I have a hard time understanding this (although I’ve read it several times). I’m going to forget that most EQ’s that I’ve seen from Dave Pensado have major boosts, trying just to use examples that I’ve experienced (please note that I’m most likely wrong). Let’s say that I want more presence around 3 Khz. I can boost 5 dB at that frequency, or cut all frequencies a little below and above 3 Khz by 5 dB. Unless I’m using a HPF/LPF combo to cut out completely some frequencies, I can’t really see the advantage in using two EQ’s instead of one in order to achieve the same goal. If I do the same EQ curve (either by boosting one frequency point, or cutting two), the one with the cuts will be 5 dB quieter, but then I’ll have to add gain to the volume fader, which is going to bring some “noise” with it… Sorry if this sounds stupid, but while using a HPF to cut the unneeded information was the greatest simple tip I learned, this one it’s trickier for me to understand/implement. Cheers and thanks a lot for all your help.

    • jinkies

      roger, many EQ plugins offer redundant versions of themselves in the same plugin. For example Waves’ Q10 EQ allows you to have anywhere from 1 to 10 of itself running at the same time. Because all the processing takes place serially, you aren’t losing quality like you would if you ran from one plugin to another. As for frequency cutting, you don’t just cut the freqs around the freq you want to boost, you cut EVERY freq EXCEPT the freq you want to boost. When you look at a graphic EQ with a boost in the middle, for example, it looks like a hump, right? Well to do it properly using subtractive EQing, you lower the entire hump, so that the top of the hump (the freq you want to boost) is at 0db, the rest of it rolls off under 0db, rather than starting at 0db and boosting your desired freq above it…

  5. Javier

    Hi Graham, thanks a lot for all this tips!! I agree with your aproach here, and like the philosophy behind this way of working, so would you say that in any track that I’m actually boosting some lows and some highs can be re-thinked off by cutting some of the mids between them?? What in the case of shelf EQ when you try to give some brightness on a OH track? would you do the same?? Best regards!!

    • Graham

      You’re right in that cutting the mids provides a similar result to boosting the lows and highs. I try to remove offending frequencies first, and then boost frequencies that I really need to hear more of.

  6. Jay

    Great post, EQ along with compression has to be one of the most misunderstood tools of mixing and mastering.. I totally understand the theory of subtractive and additive eqing its like carving a piece of card to fit in a jigsaw slot. Each piece being each sound having its own frequency space in the mix. However when it comes to doing this in practise its a totally different ball game lol.
    With so many sounds in a track its obvious that many sounds will share the same frequencies which is where the carving issue problem begins, where to shave, how much to shave.
    Again i can only guess that this would depend on what you want to be upfront and what is to be left in the background.
    If you dont carve them then your mix will just sound like a car crash of mud and clutter, sure panning can help but convert that to mono and see what you get lol.

    I was also told to actually mix in mono mode as this helps not only notice phase issues but also frequency sharing issues, if you cant identify each sound in your mono mix then something is wrong with the eqing.

    Subtractive eq should always be done first before anything else. Adding eq should be a last resort but if done should not be more then 4db.

    While i quickly meantioned phase problems when the final mix is converted to mono, im finding that many VSTi s are creating these kind of phase issues and people should be aware of it.
    I have even noticed this with high end VSTis like East West’s Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra Gold, great sounding strings but when converted they dissapear due to phasing, my only workaround for this was to invert one of the channels. then reposition the panning.

    Again great write up, good advice is always welcomed!



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