A graphic EQ typically consists of a bank of slider controls used to boost or cut fixed frequency bands. A well-designed graphic EQ creates an output frequency response that corresponds as closely as possible to the curve displayed graphically by the sliders. Designers of analog EQs must carefully choose the bandwidth of the filter and decide how the bandwidth should vary with gain and how the filters are summed or cascaded. In general, narrower bandwidth signifies a more precise EQ.

In general, most graphic EQs have between 7 and 31 bands. Professional sound-reinforcement graphic EQs generally have 31 bands, and the center frequency of each band is spaced 1/3 of an octave away from the center frequency of the adjacent bands, so that three bands (three sliders on the front panel) cover a combined bandwidth of one octave. Graphic EQs with half as many bands per octave are commonly used when less precision is needed. You will often find this 2/3-octave design on monaural, 15-band (or fewer) graphic EQs in guitar amps, bass amps, and some stompboxes. In traditional graphic EQ designs, the center frequency of each band is fixed.

FIG. 1: StudioLive Series III Graphic EQ in UC Surface

Graphic EQs are best-used to fine-tune the overall mix for a particular room. For instance, if you are mixing in a “dead” room, you may want to boost high frequencies and roll off some of the lows. If you are mixing in a “live” room, you might need to lower the high-midrange and highest frequencies. In general, you should not make drastic amplitude adjustments to any particular frequency bands. Instead, make smaller, incremental adjustments over a wider spectrum to round out your final mix. Because of this, you’ll generally find them as post fader inserts on modern digital consoles. For example, the StudioLive Series III mixers offer eight mono 31-band EQs that can be inserted on any mix.

To assist you with these adjustments, here is an overview of which frequencies affect different sound characteristics:

Sub-Bass (16 Hz to 60 Hz). These very low bass frequencies are felt, rather than heard, as with freeway rumbling or an earthquake. These frequencies give your mix a sense of power, even when they only occur occasionally. However, overemphasizing frequencies in this range will result in a muddy mix.

Bass (60 Hz to 250 Hz). Because this range contains the fundamental notes of the rhythm section, any EQ changes will affect the balance of your mix, making it fat or thin. Too much emphasis will make for a boomy mix.

Low Mids (250 Hz to 2 kHz). In general, you will want to emphasize the lower portion of this range and deemphasize the upper portion. Boosting the range from 250 Hz to 500 Hz will accent ambience in the studio and will add clarity to bass and lower frequency instruments. The range between 500 Hz and 2 kHz can make midrange instruments (guitar, snare, saxophone, etc.) “honky,” and too much boost between 1 kHz and 2 kHz can make your mix sound thin or “tinny.”

High Mids (2 kHz to 4 kHz). The attack portion of percussive and rhythm instruments occurs in this range. High mids are also responsible for the projection of midrange instruments.

Presence (4 kHz to 6 kHz). This frequency range is partly responsible for the clarity of a mix and provides a measure of control over the perception of distance. If you boost this frequency range, the mix will be perceived as closer to the listener. Attenuating around 5 kHz will make the mix sound further away but also more transparent.

Brilliance (6 kHz to 16 kHz). While this range controls the brilliance and clarity of your mix, boosting it too much can cause some clipping, so keep an eye on your main meter.