SIX Different Frequency Problems and How to Solve Them

This was originally written by Bjorgvin Benediktsson from 

If you can listen to a sound and say to yourself, “Oh that needs a little more 250 Hz,” or “I think a cut at 1.2 kHz would do the trick,” then you are listening to something that nobody else around you hears.

And that’s something to be proud of.

The following six frequency ranges are essential to keep in mind the next time you're trying to make all your instruments fit together in the mix.

Frequency 1 – Thickness/Muddiness

Instruments and sounds that are dominant in the lower frequencies tend to dominate them a little too much.

The low mids, around 200 Hz are an excellent area to check for any unwanted muddiness or boominess in your mixes.

Frequency 2 – Boxiness

This problem is the bane of the bass drum. I hate kick drums that have too much of that cardboard box flavor. If it’s done 100% right, it does have a natural earthy character 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 problem 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 happen, but sometimes some guitars just sound cheap.

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 nasal and congested. If you feel like you have a vocal that’s suffering from the symptoms above 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 the 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 brighten 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.

When you’ve mastered the EQ spectrum, and you know where to go when you need to fix or embellish something, you are ahead of the game.

By knowing what you are looking for and where to go after it, you make your life much simpler and easier.

It’s easy to cut down on muddiness if you know where to find it in the low mids; if your vocalist sounds like the tin man it’s easy to cut that out, and if you need some presence or air to your mixes it’s all possible with a few mouse clicks on the screen or twists on your equalizer.

Ash Matthews