Zen And The Art Of Audio Equalization

Desmond David

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Zen And The Art Of Audio Equalization

Tweaking The Equalizer For Attainment Of Total Aural Nirvana
or
A guide for understanding and tweaking the graphic equalizer on audio devices and media players.

Music is an important part of our lives and listening to music is the royal pastime all of us enjoy. Most of us are content to plug in our Headphones/IEM/Buds to our PMPs/Phones or turn on your massive home stereo systems get our fix without much hassle. But, for audiophiles, that is not enough and true spiritual nirvana comes with the right dosage of LSD, weed and coke....er.....I mean Bass, Mids and Treble. For such people, the God of Sound forged a powerful artifact called the "Graphic Equalizer". It has power to make the most dull whispers prominent or suppress unwanted cacophony and make the dullest song into a magical enchantment of pure aural bliss.

or in short :

It allows you to suppress or raise individual frequency components (hereafter known as "bands") of sound being played back.

This doesn't make sense... :

Well, if you weren't ogling girls (or boys, if that's what you prefer ;)) during physics class and actually paying attention, you will know that sound has frequency. The lower the frequency, the more BLUNT the sound and the higher the frequency, the SHARPER the sound. This lower frequency sound is called BASS and the higher frequency sound is called TREBLE.

How does Bass and Treble sound? Well, imagine you have a dog. When he sees another dog and he growls, that sound is BASS. When your dog then engages the other dog in a fight to the death and he gets his @$$ kicked, he whines, that is TREBLE. If you still don't get it, Bass is the one that goes boom-boom, while Treble is the one that goes peep-peep or tsh-tsh.

But music has a whole spectrum of frequencies from lows to highs. In this spectrum there is a middle ground between the Bass and Treble extremities. This is simply known as Mid.

How does Mid sound like? Read (or sing) this out loud : "This is how Mid sounds like." Get it?

If you are deaf, please replace the above definitions for Bass, Mid and Treble with "Dead silence".

Therefore, we can classify sound as follows (all values approximate):

Bass : 20-299 Hz
Mid : 300–5000 Hz
Treble : 5001-20000 Hz

Please note that unless you are Superman, a dog or Superdog, you cannot hear frequencies below 20 Hz or above 20000 Hz. S*cks to be human, doesn't it?

This range of sound makes up the music that you hear. Every instrument exercises its own range of frequencies :

-The Bass mostly comes from the bass guitar, synthesizer, bass drums or sampled bass tracks that DJs use.
-The Mids mostly comes from vocals, overdriven guitars, snare drums, etc.
-The Treble mostly comes from drum cymbals, synthesizers, guitars etc.

Why do I need the equalizer? :

Have you ever been in such a situation? :

1. The music feels flat and dull? :(
2. I love the singer's voice but it's getting suppressed under all the other instruments. :(
3. I am recording my guitar track but the recorded track has this weird hum I can't get rid of. :(
4. I like to play this song loud on my stereo system, but the bass beats seem to deteriorate under louder volumes. :(
5. I am never satisfied with the sound I am getting on my Rs. 15000 IEMs. :(
6. I have OCD and I like to tweak the s*it out of stuff. :twisted:

If you have been in any of the above situations, the graphic equalizer is your Holy Grail.

The Equalizer :

A typical graphic equalizer consists of a number of adjustable vertical bars, each representing a band of the whole spectrum of the sound being played back. It can be as simple as a 3-band equalizer which simply allows to adjust the bass, mid and treble or something as wide as :



Note that wider the equalizer, the more finely you can customize your sound. Unless you are an OCD tweak junkie like me, you should be more than content with a 5 band graphic equalizer. Most modern stereo systems come with equalizers these days as do many hardware and software media players. Some have a fixed equalizer, which means that they already have a couple of fixed presets saved and you only get to choose among those. The fixed presets have names like : Pop, Rock, RnB, Bass, Bass and Treble, blah blah, crap like that. These presets have a fixed setting for the sliders, that doesn't give much room for adjusting the sound to our liking or to make it sound better on different speakers or earphones. Since all earphones and speakers have different threshold for different frequencies, they may sound good or bad on the fixed presets which makes it necessary to compensate for the loss in fidelity by manually adjusting the equalizer.

To better understand the functioning of the equalizer, you can get started with the built in equalizer in VLC. It looks like this :



Most smartphone music players don't come with an equalizer, however, you can get an equalizer app for Android and iPhone. Android users can get DSP Manager or install PowerAmp which has a robust 10-band equalizer.

How to adjust the equalizer? :

First ensure that the equalizer is set to "Flat" i.e. all the sliders are in the 0 position, which is the dead center of the vertical bars. The "Flat" position means that the sound you are listening is natural i.e. exactly as it was encoded, but it sounds, well, flat because all the frequencies have the same level. Rising the slider up makes the band that it represents more prominent, while moving it down suppresses it even further.

In order to better understand this, lets get our hands dirty :

1. Play a familiar song in VLC (or which ever player you are using), turn on the equalizer using the "Enable" chackbox and set the eq to flat (should already be set to flat by default). The song will now sound like s*it, this is expected.

2. Slowly raise the left most (lowest frequency, not the Preamp) slider and you will notice that the song has suddenly become more "boomy", so you have made the bass a little more prominent. Also note that this is a very loose, almost ambient bass.

3. Lower this slider and raise the next slider and observe the song. You will observe that the bass in this frequency band is a bit more tighter than the previous band. As you progress towards the right, the sound will keep getting increasingly "sharper". The first three sliders therefore represent different basses of the song (in VLC, this could be more or less depending upon how many bands the equalizer supports).

4. Now lower all sliders back to zero and raise the one marked 1000 Hz or 1 Khz. You will see that the vocals (and mids) become more prominent. Note that vocals are formed of a number of components itself and has its own highs and lows. So, if you need to make the vocals prominent, you can start with raising the 1 Khz slider and complement it via the sliders adjacent on either side of it till the vocals sound

5. Now lower all sliders and raise the right most slider, you will observe the there is some sort of hissy sound getting more prominent, the same can be said about a couple of sliders to the left of this. This is treble and the sound of cymbals and high pitched sounds can be found here. There is generally no need to adjust these couple of sliders since most speakers have decent treble reproduction, but in case the treble appears to be excessive, you will need to reduce these to ensure that your ears don't bleed.

6. The Preamp slider allows you to raise all sliders up or down at once without actually physically moving each of them.

It would be easier to understand how the equalizer affects the music if you know what each instrument in the song sounds like. Therefore, you can observe that left most sliders represent the following instruments (in increasing order) : Ambient synth bass, Bass guitar, Bass drums, drums, Snare drum, etc. The middle sliders (the few ones to the left and right of the 1 Khz slider) represents vocals, overdriven guitars, etc. The right most sliders represent drum cymbals, fuzz, high pitched tones, etc. Therefore, in case of a flat sounding songs, the most common adjustment is to raise the bass and the mids first and experiment with how much treble you need, since too much treble can ruin the song. So, raise treble sparingly. Also, try to keep some gaps (lower sliders values) between the lows, mids and highs so that each component sounds crisp and distinct otherwise it would sound uniform and not much different than before.

Note that all the adjustments I have mentioned will be different for different speakers and earphones so the best way for you to understand it to play around with it using the guidelines given here. One more thing : It will take a lot of time to get the song the way you prefer, so be patient.

Happy Tweaking ;)

Any questions?
 
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rhitwick

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Wow...thanks for sharing

Finally someone thought about this. Always needed such a guide but never searched in google. well I thought none cares to write tutorials on this topic.

Thanks dude...
 

furious_gamer

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Great and funny explanation. Even though some of us know these things already, it will help for newbies and wanna-be-guys.

Nice tut BTW.
 
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Desmond David

Desmond David

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Thanks all.

Note that I wrote this from scratch and from my own experience, so I might have made mistakes. Be sure to let me know in case anyone finds any so that I can make the necessary changes.

PS : I am not sure if a dogs whining counts as treble. I have a feeling that it falls somewhere between treble and mids.

PPS : Will put this on my blog once its certain that this is flawless.
 

Nanducob

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If dog bites you it'd be terrible!
Jokes:)D) apart,very good job Desmond.Got this from FB.Always wanted to know more abt equilisers and such:)
 
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anirbandd

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for beginners, i am sharing my VLC equaliser settings: 9.9 10.6 9.9 6.6 10.6 9.1 6 4.3 8.1 1

just in case, Heres how to save a custom equaliser setting so that it loads up everytime you play a song on VLC:

1. Open Tools>Preferences
2. Click on Show settings - All at the bottom left.
3. Audio>Filter>Equaliser
4. Copy n Paste the above values onto the field. For Global Gain, put 2.0
5. Save and you are done. These values should be loaded up onto the equaliser everytime by default.
 

Hrishi

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Nice one Desmond , specially your sense of humour and explanation. :p ,
Nebiews will get good help frm it.

BTW , for android JetAudio has 20 Band Equalizer/
 
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Desmond David

Desmond David

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for beginners, i am sharing my VLC equaliser settings: 9.9 10.6 9.9 6.6 10.6 9.1 6 4.3 8.1 1

just in case, Heres how to save a custom equaliser setting so that it loads up everytime you play a song on VLC:

1. Open Tools>Preferences
2. Click on Show settings - All at the bottom left.
3. Audio>Filter>Equaliser
4. Copy n Paste the above values onto the field. For Global Gain, put 2.0
5. Save and you are done. These values should be loaded up onto the equaliser everytime by default.
The settings would be different for different speakers/earphones. But I will try this out and see. Also, different genres of music would require different settings as well.
 

anirbandd

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oh yes.. i forgot to mention.. thats what i use for my Sony MDRG45 + SA-C12 :p

IMO, its suitable for every genre i have heard through it. ;)
 
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Desmond David

Desmond David

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No, but you can if you want. Some audio players have support for that.
 

Neo

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So, is it preferable/required for equaliser to be adjusted seperately for each song? Won't it ensue maddess and real ocd?
ps. Nice guide tho, even in 2020...
Don't do that pls - I don't think it's good for mental health

Just get better headphones/speakers
 
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