Audio Recording Issues – Introduction Part TwoIn every scenario we face in audio recording, mixing, and mastering, we find ourselves reaching for different tools from our audio arsenal. We have the choice of precise EQ's and musical EQ's, digital EQ's and analog EQ's, Mix, Outboard, Console, Mastering, Graphic, Parametric EQ's. It seems that the more situations that come up in the process, the more categories and modes of Equalization we can turn to.
In as many options we have available, we also find that it often pays off to use these EQ's in ways that they were not necessarily designed for. We also find that a great EQ tends to be great in many situations beyond its typical scope. Even the most flexible EQ has a personality all its own, and the most precise EQ has a personality, even in cases where we find it hard to measure where that character comes from.
Of all the tools we use when dealing specifically with Equalization, there is nothing in today's technology that can remotely come close in importance to the human ear and its interaction with the human mind. Sure, we live in the technology age, and we face the future of possibilities with every passing day. We live in a world of exponential growth in information and the development of new integrated systems of technological implementation. Some areas are good and some threaten elements of society and careers that have stood the test of time, and perhaps are best left to their own advancements.
One thing is for certain, as long as music has been created to be listened to and enjoyed by human beings, the ear will continue to be the greatest invention for the listening process. Enhancements, technology, new pioneers in future developments will come and go, and the future will bring inventions that will seem to antiquate even the greatest traditional human achievements, but even science will agree, for a time, that the most logical and direct process tends to be the most accurate. In this case, billions of people throughout our human history has had healthy pairs of ears, and although these vary in size, accuracy, sensitivity, and in the transformation from youth to later years, we see a common thread of what tends to be enjoyable to the human ear. This is not to say that the construction of the human ear lends itself to a single pathway of musical genres and constructions that are all the same, in fact the brain and one's human experience tends to give just as much feedback into the enjoyment of listening than any physical characteristics. But, we tend to notice the extreme cases under similar projections.
The majority of listeners tend to find the scratch of fingernails on a chalk board as a painful listening experience, the roar of a passing siren as painful and resonant in our brain, a passing train as noisy and disruptive. A loud clap, firework, or gunshot might make any of us leap, startled and perplexed. Likewise, regardless of preferences in music style, we might commonly find the repetition of a bubbling brook pleasant, or a beautiful chamber work from well-seasoned string players enjoyable to hear, even if it does not fall into our library of personal favorites. Our ears can tell us that something sounds good even if we don't particularly like it. For example, someone may loath the chaotic, non-traditional vocal stylings of an edgy punk rocker. The same band may have intentionally chosen a guitarist who's sonic palette is coarse and challenging on the ears. Even so, an Audio Engineer may also be able to dislike the style and be able to hear that excellent production choices have been made. The voice may not be their cup of tea, but they may be able to ascertain that the distance to the mic is a great choice, and the clarity and Frequency balance make for the proper artistic statement. That guitar may offend their musical sensibilities, but the off-axis classic recording technique may be the perfect choice for the album, and the Audio Engineer may be able to easily recognize this, despite their personal taste. This holds true for any music style and any devoted professional, or aspiring, pair of ears. This is the wonderful interaction between the natural human listening apparatus and the brain that has been designed to make use of them.
Between the mind and the ears, we have technical messages sent and received, but also we have personality, learning, concentration, focus, and decision making that can become so complex, it is a wonder of remarkable ingenuity in itself. Why am I going on about the human ear and the human mind? This seems to be the perfect place to mention such a thing. We are entering into a deep analysis of 12 scenarios that come up in the tracking, mixing, and mastering process. The greatest tools in the world will fail us, as human beings, if we do not use them in their best context, and especially if we allow these tools to rule over us instead of the vice versa.
The human ear has a remarkable ability to recognize extremely small variations in volume and harmonics. The way that electronic gain-staging affects the analog qualities of an EQ are additive and combine with the "Q" width, the actual shape of the EQ, and the amount of boost or cut. The energy of the EQ fluctuates depending on the material being fed and every setting. We find that having several primary tools allows us to choose a specific character that matches the instrument, mix, or bus group. EQ's that use transformers tend to have an added dimension of weightiness to the sound. While they help to balance and float the signal and to keep things clean and low in noise, they also add a certain thickness and tone from subtle to recognizable. With heavier inputs, the transformer can be driven into intentional harmonics.
These play a role in affecting the personality of the EQ filters. Low Frequencies carry a long waveform and can be a larger challenge to keep absolutely clean without pushing the amplification ceiling into slight distortion. When combined with transformers, this can gently compress signals while also adjusting their frequency, giving a wide sonic palette to work from even with a single device. The Op-Amp, Tube, Transistor; they all play a role in treating the sound in a unique colorful way, where transformerless devices have the potential to react in a more transparent manner, they can lead to more audible artifacts in the EQ filters themselves, where caps and transistors interact with specific Frequencies as well. All of these factors work together to affect the analog nature of sound, and this is what we are working with when providing you with a new EQ product, whether for Nebula Pro or as a stand-alone audio plug-in. These are all factors to remember when choosing the eq that is right for the specific task at hand. Remember that these elements have an affect on the signal just as the shape and type of EQ also have an affect. Whether you need a surgical EQ or a personality EQ, you want to have at least a couple of favorite "go-to" options that shape the sound the way you want to hear it. For my own work, I think of this in terms of equipment that "hears things the way that I hear them.”