Audio engineers make use of EQ to adjust the balance between different sound frequencies. You can compare it to adjusting the brightness on a painting, for making certain colors stand out or fade into the background. EQ has a similar effect on audio.
If a guitar track is a bit too muddy or lacks clarity, you can apply EQ to bring the lower frequencies down and make room for the higher frequencies to shine through. On the other hand, if you have a thin vocal track that lacks depth, you can instead boost the lower frequencies to add warmth and body to your tracks.
EQ is the quintessential tool for mixing, shaping and altering the ‘Color’ (Frequency response) of the elements in a mix. It is hands down the most powerful tool you can count on, and having a nice versatile EQ is really important. It is often used with compression, reverb, and delay to create a balanced and polished sound.
In my opinion, ReaEQ is one of the best EQ plug-ins in terms of versatility and features. Aside from being REAPER’s stock EQ, it can also be installed as a third party VST (with the ReaPlugs pack) to be used with other audio processing software. In this article I will be exploring its features, usability as well as several other tricks I have picked up over the years that have helped speed up my workflow.
ReaEQ has a really clean and simple layout, it has a Frequency display that shows a yellow outline of the signal, and the shape of the filters in a nice turquoise line. The control parameters are shown in tabs below the Frequency display, although you can hide the tabs with the option below.
You can double click on the Frequency display to create up to 90 EQ bands contextually, in other words, different filters will appear depending on where you click. They’re all common second order biquadratic digital filters, so they cramp near the high frequencies at lower sample rates, but work perfectly in most situations. Here’s a list of the filters that are available in ReaEQ.
High/Low Pass: They allow you to drastically roll off the noise on the Low or High spectrum respectively, you can change the resonance of the filter using the bandwidth parameter. These can be created by double clicking on either lower corner of the Frequency display.
High/Low Shelf: These affect all the frequencies from the center of the band up to the top frequencies or down to the bottom. I like to think about them as a darker to brighter control for High shelves, and thinner to thicker control for Low shelves. These can be created by double clicking on either the left or right edge of the graph respectively.
Notch: This filter basically creates a hole in the frequency spectrum, it’s a very aggressive move when EQing. Just double click on the bottom of the Frequency display to create it.
Band/Bell: This is the quintessential EQ move, boosts or cuts a range of the frequency spectrum in a bell shape. There are three flavors, standard, alt and alt 2, which are there mostly for compatibility reasons. Double click basically anywhere else and a band will appear.
Band Pass: The band pass isolates a range of the frequency spectrum. This one cannot be created using the Frequency display. The band pass filter have the peculiarity of having the option to set them up in parallel with each other using the Parallel Band Pass variant, which allows you to have more than one at a time, separating different ranges of the spectrum.
All Pass: This is a weird and uncommon one, but awesomely useful. In order to really appreciate what it does, activate the Show phase option on the bottom. It basically allows you to rotate the phase of the audio you apply it to, it’s very useful when the audio waveform is skewed and eating away your headroom.
One peculiarity of all the filters is that instead of using the conventional Q factor, they use a Bandwidth control, which for all intents and purposes works as the inverse. And the only filters where the Gain control has an effect are naturally the Bells and Shelves
Now let’s get on to using it! I have a multitrack that I really like to use for testing.
Once I have a rough level balance, I like to start EQing the Drums and the vocals, since these elements tend to be the main drivers of the song. And thankfully, ReaEQ makes this process really fast.
I recently found an interesting way of processing the Kick drum with just a couple parallel Band-pass filters. I have it saved as a preset, and load ReaEQ with a custom shortcut to speed up my workflow, then I drag the center frequency of one Band-pass to the resonance of the kick at around 40 to 70 Hz, and take the center of the second one to match with the attack the Kick needs in the mix. After that, I can use the mousewheel or drag over the band while holding Shift to change the shape of the filters.
Snare and Overheads are a breeze, I drag the first band (a Low shelf) to the bottom of the graph to turn it into a High-pass, and use it to filter out all the unnecessary low end. Next, I use band number 4 to add some shine, adjusting the curve with the mousewheel. I adjust the other two bands depending on what the material needs. If I need more, creating a new Bell is just a double click away.
Working on vocals is very similar. They need a little bit more body on the mid range, one band to control excessive resonance in the higher frequencies, and a touch of peak controlling compression. The chorus double is not very different from the lead.
These EQ moves make them stand out just enough without making them feel completely disconnected from the instrumental. Next, the harmonic instruments ask for my attention.
Guitars and Bass get a little more involved. They are the harmonic fill, and in this genre have to create a wall of sound that’s dense enough to deliver the energy of the song.
For this kind of bass and arrangement, the two parallel Band-pass filters technique works great! It keeps the low end connected with the Kick drum while not stepping over it, leaves a decent mid frequency range for the guitars to fit, and has a small high-mid range bump so it can be heard and work in conjunction with the guitars.
These guitars need a little bit of body that I can achieve with a resonant low pass filter. Then I control the low mids with the next Band. Next, I proceed to give them a 1k Hz boost and a gentle high shelf for a little presence and shine.
Now a few high resonant frequencies from the cabinet start to bother me and get in the way of the vocals, I like to call them ‘Whistle frequencies’ as they tend to live in the 2.5k to 7k Hz frequency range. Although it may be tempting to use Notch filters to get rid of the Whistle frequencies, I’ve learned that a maximum of three bell filters strategically placed and with no more than 6dB of gain reduction work wonders to control the resonant frequencies in the mix while keeping the character of the guitars mostly intact.
The next thing that grabs my attention is the lack of body on the Toms, so I quickly address it with a Pultec style Low frequency eq curve.
At the final stage, I take my time to listen to the whole mix and take notes, the intent here is only to tweak what’s already there. Sometimes in this process, I realize a few potential improvements that cannot be made by just using an EQ, but rather something else.
Once the final tweaking is done, I like selecting all the tracks on the mixer (Ctrl + A) and deactivating the FX chains with the dedicated button, then paying attention to the improvements made. This is a practice that keeps me thinking positive, and at the same time works as a reality check on actually how much I can improve over the source material instead of chasing butterflies.
These are just a few of the possible uses of ReaEQ. The sheer amount of bands, its low latency, and its absurdly low CPU usage, make it ideal as a live feedback control EQ. Also, with a bit of REAPER trickery, you can make it work like a dynamic EQ.
The versatility and simplicity of this EQ can take you basically anywhere you need, from learning how EQ works, up to professional work. I dare you to try mixing at least one song only using ReaEQ, I promise that you’ll be surprised by its capabilities. Happy mixing!