THE BASICS: How to EQ a channel (a quick-start method for beginners).

I have mentioned before that more times than not we find volunteers at Churches intimidated by the sound board at their Church. While they might know the basics, most volunteers are too intimidated to do much and more than turning things on or off (at times being told outright not touch anything else).

Well I am here to tell you to let your volunteer sound people explore and learn.  I would refer you back to an earlier blog posting of mine “Only Push This Button…….. Never Touch Anything Else !!!!” for more thoughts on this point.

So in support of starting to understand I wanted to explain a very basic method for adjusting some of those mystery dials your soundboard, specifically the EQ (equalization) settings.

In their most basic form these EQ settings on your soundboard are exactly the same as the TREBLE and BASS dials on your car radio.  So if you have ever adjusted these settings in your car, you have adjusted the EQ setting of your car’s sound system.

So what of these EQ settings, where are they, and how do you adjust them?  For the purposes of this article I am going to deal with just a basic analog soundboard, with very basic EQ controls.  EQ settings on more advanced analog soundboards can be more advanced, and even more so on a digital mixer.  But let’s just keep to the basics to for the purposes of this exercise.

A soundboard/mixer will have a specific number of CHANNELS (1,2,3,4,……), each one representing a different sound source in your Church  (such as a specific microphone, a guitar, a piano, a CD player, etc.).  And each CHANNEL will have a vertical row of controls (buttons, dials, sliders, lights) associated with each channel called a CHANNEL STRIP, which control various aspects of  that specific channel. Within each CHANNEL STRIP you will invariably find a section of dials which control the EQ settings for each channel. The picture hear shows a generic section of a Channel Strip, with four different dials ( blue in this example) that can to adjust the EQ for this specific channel.  So where your car stereo probably has only two adjustments (treble and bass), this generic EQ has four different frequency bands that you can adjust as needed.

For this “quick-start” metthod I am only going to explain a few basic things before explaining how to get started.

What do the EQ settings adjust:

  • Each dial represents a range of frequencies in the incoming audio signal which can be boosted or reduced by turning the dial.  So turning the dial clockwise will increase the volume for that range of frequencies, and turning the dial counter-clockwise will reduce the volume. So in your car again as an example ,you can turn the BASS control up or down to change the lower frequencies you are listening to, depending on your preference.
  • The EQ dial on a soundboard will typically have a “0” setting at the 12:00 position and the very top of the dial.  At this position you are not changing (boosting or reducing) the original signal for this frequency range at all.
  • The dials are generally arranged with the LOW frequencies at the bottom (the bass), and the HIGH (the higher more treble pitch frequencies) closer to the top of the channel strip.  So in this example there is also a HIGH-MID and a LOW-MID dial representing frequency ranges in ranges between the HIGH (top) and LOW (bottom) dials.
  • So as an exercise take a look at your soundboard and locate and identify your EQ controls for each of your CHANNEL STRIPS.

How to isolate and individual Channel so you can hear (and EQ) an individual Channel:

  • Most soundboards will allow you to hear signals at various parts of your audio path by plugging in a set of headphones. There is also typically a volume control for your headphones
  • I would suggest you turn this down the headphone volume to a quiet level to start so you don’t blow out your ears on the first try.
  • For the purposes of this exercise we will want to listen to only one channel at a time (however later on you may want to listen to more than one channel at a time for various reasons, which is fine)
  • Each CHANNEL STRIP will have a button that will allow you to single out the audio for that specific channel so you can listen to that channel’s audio in isolation.  Look for a button labeled either “SOLO”, or “PFL” on the channel strip to that turns this feature on/off.  When selected you should notice that you can now hear only that channel in your headphones. The “SOLO” or “PFL” button will also typically have a light that turns on/off on the channel strip so you can know which channel you are listening to.
  • If no “SOLO”, “PFL” or “AFL” buttons are selected, you will most likely be hearing the same signal in your headphones that are being sent to your MAINS.
  • Try it now on your soundboard, so you know how to isolate what you are hearing in your headphones.

My QUICK-START EQ’ing Method

Years ago my A/V teacher at theatre school showed us this technique to get us started on out path to all things audio and it has served me well ever since.  There are certainly other methods out there that you will learn as you become more comfortable with understanding what specific frequencies need to be changed based on what you are hearing.  But this is certainly a great starting point until your ear for mixing and knowledge develops further.

  1. Once you become proficient at EQ’ing channels you may be able to skip this step, but start by writing down all the levels on your channel strip before starting, so you can at least get things back to where you started.  This is less of a concern on a digital soundboard as you should be able to save all your settings before starting to change anything.
  2. Isolate the channel you want to adjust the EQ on so you can hear it in your headphones, adjust the volume of your headphones if required.
  3. Have someone play/sing/talk/perform as you listen to their specific channel in your headphones.
  4. Starting with the LOW EQ dial, make a mental note of where the dial is currently positioned, and then slowly the slowly turn the control to the left and then back to the right listening to the sound as you do so. Do this a few times until you think you have found the spot on the dial that makes the sound as good as you think it can be. With practice this should only take a few seconds, but take your time a listen to how the sound is changing.
  5. Once you have done this for this first EQ dial, move up to the next dial (the LOW-MID in our example) and repeat step 4 with this next dial.
  6. Continue in this manner until you get to the top of the EQ dials, then  repeat this exercise again but in the reverse order (HIGH to LOW).
  7. You can repeat this process as many times as you like until you are happy with the sound for the channel you are adjusting, and even skip by dials you are happy with.
  8. Trust what you hear, and if needed get a second opinion from someone you trust has a “good ear” as you learn.
  9. Keep in mind that you can always go back to where your started as long as you remembered STEP 1.

That’s it !!!!  You have now EQ’ed your first channel. You can now do the rest of the channels you need to EQ until you have done them all, and you can now start to build your mix.

I use to do this very quickly every Sunday morning as a first step for every person in the band, because from week to week on our analog board it was amazing how many things got bumped, changed or played with by little hands, from one week to the next.  Over time you will start to just know at a glance when certain things have been changed, but quickly double checking how each channel is sounding by itself, in isolation, will make your mix much cleaner for everyone in the long-run.

Settings being changed on a weekly basis is no longer a big issue for us since we switched to a digital soundboard that allows us to recall saved settings from the week before, but even environmental (vocal or instrumental) changes from week to week still make this a worthwhile exercise at the start of your mixing day.


THE BASICS: How to EQ a channel (a quick-start method for beginners).

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