What is Dynamic EQ? How and When to Use it
July 24, 2022
In music production, sound frequencies are controlled to help each instrument and audio element be heard clearly. These are controlled through equalisation (EQ), a process that involves balancing the levels of sound frequencies throughout the mix.
Traditional EQ removes unwanted frequencies from of the mix, and accentuates wanted frequencies. This is done using fixed filters that prevent certain sound frequencies from entering the mix and increases the presence of others.
The problem with fixed EQ filters is that if the audio signals’ sound frequencies change, the EQ filters don’t change with it. This risks cutting out important frequencies, and can result in unwanted frequencies creeping into the mix.
This is where dynamic EQ comes in.
Dynamic EQ is a tool used to equalise sounds responsively. It accounts for variations in frequency as they occur, adjusting its settings in line with the incoming audio signal. The benefit of this is that sounds remain under control as they change throughout the mix.
It's more flexible than a multi-band compressor EQ and it gives you more options when you're trying to fix problems. It's a powerful tool that can help you make your music sound more balanced and professional, but it's also one of the most misunderstood tools in music production.
This is because there are several kinds of dynamic equalisers, and they all do different things. Most people use them as part of the mastering process, but they're also useful for mixing and recording.
While the process of using dynamic EQ can be intimidating at first, we've created this guide to help explain what dynamic EQ is, how it works, and how it can help you make better mixes.
What is dynamic EQ?
Dynamic equalisers (EQ) are a type of parametric equaliser that automatically adjusts its settings based on the signal it's receiving. It's basically a way of adjusting the volume of certain frequencies in a song, which improves the mix and balance of each track.
Dynamic EQ is different from other types of equaliser in that it reacts to the volume of the sound being processed. It also allows you to change the amplitude of specific frequencies at different points and ranges in the audio signal, rather than just having one fixed setting for different frequency bands. You can also adjust how much dynamic EQ affects your song and how quickly it changes those levels.
This means that it doesn't just boost or cut certain frequencies—it also changes the volume of those frequencies as well. This way, you can make a quiet sound louder and a loud sound quieter without changing the overall pitch or tone of the track. Dynamic EQ can therefore make sounds louder or softer, and it can be applied to any element of a track: vocals, drums, guitars, synths, and more.
How does dynamic EQ work?
Dynamic EQ works by analysing the incoming frequency spectrum of your source material, then comparing it to a target spectrum for that same material. This target spectrum is determined by what kind of sound you want at each frequency (e.g., more bass or less bass).
If there's too much power at one frequency and not enough at another, the program will adjust accordingly by boosting or cutting those frequencies based on their amplitude values: how loud they are relative to other frequencies in your source material.
For example, if a singer's voice sounds too nasal, you could use dynamic EQ to cut out those frequencies (usually around the 800Hz to 1.5kHz range) in order to make the voice sound less nasal and more pleasant.
This boosts or cuts certain frequencies at different points in time throughout your mixdown process. The frequency bands affected by dynamic EQ are usually around 100Hz - 1kHz range (or whatever frequencies are most prominent in your mix). The amount that each band is boosted or cut depends on how much dynamic range there is between your lowest and highest notes.
When should I use dynamic EQ?
The most common use for dynamic EQ is to make changes to your song as you're mixing it. This can be done by using one side of your DAW's mixer to adjust the volume of each instrument or group of instruments at once, which allows you to balance them all against each other without having each instrument competing with the others for space in your mix.
Usually, dynamic EQ is designed specifically for adjusting the overall sound of your track—the way it sounds as a whole, not just its individual components.
Dynamic EQ is great for fixing problems with the balance between instruments or vocals in your track. If you have an instrument or vocal that's too loud or too soft compared to everything else, using dynamic EQ can really help you fix this problem by making minor adjustments on each section of the song so every part is balanced perfectly.
With this in mind, dynamic EQ should be applied sparingly and only where absolutely necessary. You don't want your mix sounding like it has been artificially pumped up with an equaliser—that's not how real dynamics work!
This type of EQ is most commonly used in music production and sound engineering, but it can also be useful in other settings—for example, when you're creating a podcast or audio book, you might want to use dynamic EQ so that you can give different voices more or less prominence through their respective volumes.
When should I use dynamic EQ?
- When you want to control the dynamics of the track.
- When you want to control the dynamics of the song.
- When you want to control the dynamics of the mix (the overall sound).
- When you want to control the dynamics of an instrument (e.g., vocals or guitars).
How do I mix with a dynamic EQ?
You can mix with a dynamic EQ by using it to adjust the volume of certain frequencies in your audio, or to cut out unwanted frequencies. In order to use dynamic EQ, you first need to identify the problem frequencies.
1. Identify problem frequencies
To identify problem frequencies, we recommend using a spectrum analyser. The most common mistake people make is using their ears when they should be using a spectrum analyzer instead.
The human brain is not very good at identifying problems in frequency response because we hear things differently than our hearing system was designed for—we hear pitch, timbre and loudness rather than frequency response alone! In contrast, computers are great at doing this kind of analysis because they don't have any bias towards the way things sound or have expectations about how things should sound (they're neutral).
This means that if we want to get an accurate picture of what's happening with our mixdown, then it's best practice to use spectrum analyser software tools like Voxengo Span, Izotope Insight or Fabfilter Pro-Q 3 to view the frequency spectrum over time. This will help you spot problem areas more easily.
Spectrum analyser tools are available in most DAWs, such as Logic Pro X, Pro Tools, Audacity and Adobe Audition (or even in free DAWs).
2. Adjust dynamic EQ bands
Listen to the overall tone of the track and make sure it sounds good! If it doesn't sound good, try adjusting one of the bands on your dynamic EQ until it does sound good. If there's still something off about it, try adjusting another band instead of adjusting just one again (this will help preserve the balance that you've already worked hard to create).
Experiment with different settings for each band and see what works best for each song or instrument in your mix! Remember to keep referring to your spectrum analyzer to resolve problem frequencies that you might not be able to spot by ear.
3. Test volumes and frequencies
Set up a test loop on your DAW, with a variety of sounds playing at different volumes and frequencies, and move through them one by one while slowly boosting the gain control on each channel until you find the sweet spot where all the tracks sound good together without getting muddy or overbearing.
Once you’ve finished tweaking the dynamic EQ, reference the spectrum analyser to identify if there are any further problem frequencies in the mix.
How do I use a dynamic EQ to fix a problem in context?
To make the problem less noticeable, you can use a dynamic EQ to reduce the volume of frequencies that are causing the issue. This way, you're reducing the amount of sound energy at those frequencies and allowing other sounds to be heard more clearly.
For example, if there's an annoying high-pitched squeal in your mix that only happens sometimes, you might use a dynamic EQ with a high shelf filter (a shelf filter boosts or cuts all frequencies above or below a certain frequency) on one side of it and set it to roll off at around 10 kHz. This will reduce the volume of some of those high-pitched squeals but not others—you want them gone completely! To do this, turn down your frequency setting on both sides until they're gone:
If there's too much bass in one part of your mix—for example, if some parts get muddy because there are too many low notes present—you could bring up your low end using three different types of equalisers:
- High pass filters remove low frequencies under their cutoff point which makes them great for removing low rumble or hum from recordings where they weren't intended as part of the sound source; however they may also remove desirable bass content, so use this tool sparingly!
- Low shelf filters boost all content below their cutoff frequency but leave higher frequencies untouched; these can be used as "Q" points on each instrument so that no matter how loud its input signal gets, it is still relative to everything else in the mix. This means that the instrument won't overpower anything else, either now nor later when used in conjunction with other instruments' volumes.
What else can I do with dynamic EQ?
Dynamic EQ has a lot of uses. You can use it to enhance the low end of a kick drum, the high end of a snare drum, or even the low end of a bass guitar.
Dynamic equalisers have another fun use: enhancing vocals. It’s great for bringing out certain parts of a vocal track but keeping others more in the background.
The other reason why I recommend using dynamic EQ instead of traditional EQ is because it allows more flexibility when making adjustments during mixdown. With traditional analogue hardware EQs it's easy enough to change settings while listening through headphones, but once you add many channels then setting up multiple hardware units becomes impractical unless they're all connected together with patch leads; which can get messy quickly!
So, dynamic EQ can also make the music production process more efficient.
Dynamic EQ is an extremely flexible and useful tool that deserves a place in your arsenal of mixing tools
Dynamic EQ, or "dynamic equalisation" is a tool that allows you to make broad changes to the levels of your tracks while always retaining their original tonal character. That's why it's often called "flexible EQ". Most traditional equalisers allow you to adjust very specific frequencies, but what if you want to boost the whole low end of your mix? Or reduce all frequencies above 2 kHz? With dynamic EQs these things are possible—and they can be done with a single slider!
Dynamic equalisers provide a truly powerful set of tools for creative mixing. They're ideal for reducing harshness and boosting clarity in vocals, cleaning up muddy bass sounds, adding weight to kick drums, and many other tasks where traditional parametric equalising would be overkill (or impossible).
The best dynamic equaliser plugins allow you to make very specific changes to your audio files without having to use multiple filters at once or apply too much compression or limiting (which can lead to clipping). Some good choices include FabFilter Pro-Q 3 (£ 134/$179), iZotope Ozone 9 EQ (£208/$129) and Tokyo Dawn Records Nova (free).
Check out our list of the best free EQ plugins in this related article.
Dynamic EQ is a powerful mixing tool that can be used to fix problems in context, as well as make it easier to balance the mix. It’s not just a corrective tool—it can also be used creatively, like any other equaliser plugin on your channel strip! We hope this article has helped you understand how dynamic equalisers work and get started using them today.