Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Get better mix-downs by learning the "magic frequencies"

Get better mixdowns by learning the magic frequencies

Every mix engineer will tell you that great equalization is something that separates the pros from the amateurs.

First let's lay down some basic tips. When mixing try and avoid hitting that solo button at all costs, it doesn't matter what it sounds like alone, it matters what it sounds like in the mix. Also try to listen to the mix on at least 2 different sets of speakers, you want the mix to sound great on both. And if possible listen to the mix in different environments or different locations in the room. These are just a few tips out of many but, lets get to what this article is really about.. magic frequencies.

Magic frequencies are areas on the audio spectrum that have very recognizable and distinct sound characteristics. Over time I have made a text document using multiple sources for which I use as a "cheat sheet" but, after so long of doing it you will know exactly what frequencies need to be tweaked anytime you hear a track.

Here are some common instruments and their "magic frequencies"...

Kick Drum

Any apparent muddiness can be rolled off around 300Hz. Try a small boost around 5-7kHz to add some high end.

50-100Hz ~ Adds bottom to the sound
100-250Hz ~ Adds roundness
250-800Hz ~ Muddiness Area
5-8kHz ~ Adds high end presence
8-12kHz ~ Adds Hiss


Try a small boost around 60-120Hz if the sound is a little too wimpy. Try boosting around 6kHz for that ‘snappy’ sound.

100-250Hz ~ Fills out the sound
6-8kHz ~ Adds presence

Hi hats or cymbals

Any apparent muddiness can be rolled off around 300Hz. To add some brightness try a small boost around 3kHz.

250-800Hz ~ Muddiness area
1-6kHz ~ Adds presence
6-8kHz ~ Adds clarity
8-12kHz ~ Adds brightness


Try boosting around 60Hz to add more body. Any apparent muddiness can be rolled off around 300Hz.If more presence is needed, boost around 6kHz.

50-100Hz ~ Adds bottom end
100-250Hz ~ Adds roundness
250-800Hz ~ Muddiness Area
800-1kHz ~ Adds beef to small speakers
1-6kHz ~ Adds presence
6-8kHz ~ Adds high-end presence
8-12kHz ~ Adds hiss


This is a difficult one, as it depends on the mic used to record the vocal. However…Apply either cut or boost around 300hz, depending on the mic and song.Apply a very small boost around 6kHz to add some clarity.

100-250Hz ~ Adds ‘up-frontness’
250-800Hz ~ Muddiness area
1-6kHz ~ Adds presence
6-8kHz ~ Adds sibilance and clarity
8-12kHz ~ Adds brightness


Any apparent muddiness can be rolled off around 300Hz. Apply a very small boost around 6kHz to add some clarity.

50-100Hz ~ Adds bottom
100-250Hz ~ Adds roundness
250-1kHz ~ Muddiness area
1-6kHz ~ Adds presence
6-8Khz ~ Adds clarity
8-12kHz ~ Adds hiss

Electric guitars

Again this depends on the mix and the recording. Apply either cut or boost around 300hz, depending on the song and sound. Try boosting around 3kHz to add some edge to the sound, or cut to add some transparency. Try boosting around 6kHz to add presence. Try boosting around 10kHz to add brightness.

100-250Hz ~ Adds body
250-800Hz ~ Muddiness area
1-6Khz ~ Cuts through the mix
6-8kHz ~ Adds clarity
8=12kHz ~ Adds hiss

Acoustic guitar

Any apparent muddiness can be rolled off between 100-300Hz. Apply small amounts of cut around 1-3kHz to push the image higher. Apply small amounts of boost around 5kHz to add some presence.

100-250Hz ~ Adds body
6-8kHz ~ Adds clarity
8-12kHz ~ Adds brightness


These depend entirely on the mix and the sound used.

50-100Hz ~ Adds bottom end
100-250Hz ~ Adds body
250-800Hz ~ Muddiness area
1-6hHz ~ Sounds crunchy
6-8kHz ~ Adds clarity
8-12kHz ~ Adds brightness

Here are six major frequency you need to know, these can apply to every sound you will ever mix..

Frequency 1 – Thickness/Muddiness

Instruments and sounds that are dominant in the lower frequencies can have a tendency to dominate them a little too much. Too much low mid can thicken up a sound so that it lacks clarity and definition. The low mids, around 200 Hz are a good area to check for any unwanted muddiness or boominess in your mixes.

Frequency 2 – Boxiness

This is the bane of the bass drum. I personally hate kick drums that have too much of that cardboard box flavor. If it’s done 100% right it does have a natural earthy flavor that’s kind of cool but just a little bit too much can kill the sound for me. It just sounds like a fist pounding a cardboard box.If you are struggling with boxiness then the frequency area around 3–600 Hz should be your hunting ground. Boost your EQ all the way up and stop when the boxiness is unbearable. Then swiftly cut down the middle. Don’t worry if your cut isn’t super narrow, it’s OK to cut the kick drum a little more drastically in that area.

Frequency 3 – The Cheap Sound

This is a very annoying frequency for acoustic guitar players that also happen to be engineers. Like me. You know when the guitar just doesn’t sound good. It just sounds like somebody bought it at Wal-Mart and brought it to the studio expecting a great sound. Ok, that might not actually happen but sometimes some guitars just sound cheap. Obviously this can’t be fixed all the time. But there is a cheap cheat frequency that you can use to get rid of at least some it. The mids around 800 Hz have this characteristic that makes the acoustic guitar sound a little cheap. So by cutting it a little bit you can usually bring out a warmer and less biting sound.

Frequency 4 – Nasal Sound

It sucks to record a singer when he has a cold. Not to mention the possibility of catching it yourself but your recording will too. What’s even worse is when your singer doesn’t have a cold but he somehow sounds like he does. Nasally or tinny sound can be a product of too much of 1–1.2 kHz. Too much in that area and your instruments sound horn-like and tinny and your singers sound nasally and congested. If you feel like you have a vocal that’s suffering from the aforementioned symptoms then make sure you check to see if a cut in the 1 kHz area can’t help.

Frequency 5 – Presence

If I had to pick between the frequencies for a favorite one (which sounds ridiculous but whatever), I would have to choose 5 kHz. 5 kHz just brings out the character in so many instruments. Whether you need to put some make-up on a dull vocal or bring out the bite on the electric guitar, 5 kHz just really makes it all shine.

Frequency 6 – Air

That final stretch of spectrum from around 10 kHz and up is sometimes referred to as Air. As you might think from the name it kind of lifts up the higher frequencies, opening up the instruments that occupy that part of the spectrum. The high notes of instruments, subtleties of the piano for instance or the sound of drum cymbals.14 kHz or so onward can be used to subtly brightening things up that aren’t necessarily dull but might need a little….well, air, to make them stand out. By boosting there you are boosting frequencies out of the way of other instruments, as many instruments won’t be affected that much that high up the spectrum.

Also here are some more frequencies and examples of how to use them...


1. Increase to add more fullness to lowest frequency instruments like foot, toms, and the bass.
2. Reduce to decrease the “boom” of the bass and will increase overtones and the recognition of bass line in the mix. This is most often used on bass lines in Rap and R&B.


Increase to add a harder bass sound to lowest frequency instruments.
Increase to add fullness to guitars, snare.
Increase to add warmth to piano and horns.
Reduce to remove boom on guitars & increase clarity.


1. Increase to add fullness to vocals.
2. Increase to add fullness to snare and guitar (harder sound).
3. Reduce to decrease muddiness of vocals or mid-range instruments.
4. Reduce to decrease gong sound of cymbals.


1. Increase to add clarity to bass lines especially when speakers are at low volume.
2. Reduce to decrease “cardboard” sound of lower drums (foot and toms).
3. Reduce to decrease ambiance on cymbals.


1. Increase for clarity and “punch” of bass.
2. Reduce to remove “cheap” sound of guitars

1. Increase for “clarity” and “pluck” of bass.
2. Reduce to remove dullness of guitars.


1. Increase for more “pluck” of bass.
2. Increase for more attack of electric / acoustic guitar.
3. Increase for more attack on low piano parts.
4. Increase for more clarity / hardness on voice.
5. Reduce to increase breathy, soft sound on background vocals.
6. Reduce to disguise out-of-tune vocals / guitars


1. Increase for vocal presence.
2. Increase low frequency drum attack (foot/toms).
3. Increase for more “finger sound” on bass.
4. Increase attack of piano, acoustic guitar and brightness on guitars.
5. Reduce to make background parts more distant.
6. Reduce to soften “thin” guitar.


1. Increase to add attack on low frequency drums (more metallic sound).
2. Increase to add attack to percussion instruments.
3. Increase on dull singer.
4. Increase for more “finger sound” on acoustic bass.
5. Reduce to decrease “s” sound on singers.
6. Increase to add sharpness to synthesizers, rock guitars, acoustic guitar and piano.


1. Increase to brighten vocals.
2. Increase for “light brightness” in acoustic guitar and piano.
3. Increase for hardness on cymbals.
4. Reduce to decrease “s” sound on singers.


1. Increase to brighten vocals (breath sound).
2. Increase to brighten cymbals, string instruments and flutes.
3. Increase to make sampled synthesizer sound more real.

Now go through and really listen to these frequencies.. take a band pass filter and sweep up and down the frequencies, you will notice these frequencies sound similar even with very different sources. Once you teach yourself to hear audio like this, you are well on your way to getting great mixes every time.

Thank you for reading, if you enjoyed this article or found it helpful please "like" us on Facebook, subscribe to us on YouTube and follow us on Twitter and Google+ and check our website, www.subtrashstudios.com.