Saturday, September 8, 2007

Learn Equalizing for iTunes

K. Time to do you guys some good, before I go to bed and prepare for a nong nong day tomorrow.

I saw this post from Bearer of Good News, and he saw it from this or that site. Links are all on his post, if backtracking is your thing.

In the post Andy wrote about this supposedly perfect equalizer setting that would be a one stop power boost to your music. Looking at the original post in 43 Folders the blogger was, to put it simply, screwed over for posting such a ridiculous suggestion.

Andy wrote on the blog, that this EQ setting worked well for him. Now personally, I don't see how that can work. Even by simply looking at it I thought there was something horribly wrong. After I adjusted my equalizer to its indication, I regretted not saving my previous configuration first.

It was disgusting! Ho my God if you're gonna be curious and try it I wash my hands of all responsibility of damaging your speakers, computer, ears or mind.

Now I don't blame Andy. 1) He doesn't know better, 2) it might have suited his speakers. Hey it would be pretty screwed up speakers to sound good with this setting, but negative multiplied by negative equals...? Very good children! Positive!

Funnily enough, I have actually been using BKL (bao-ka-liao: a one-stop solution in Hokkien) EQ settings. It's kinda become my never-ceasing quest to find the one EQ to rule them all. As you will see for yourself on the 43 Folders post, audiophiles generally believe that there's no such setting. Well ok then, the setting that will provide the highest across-the-board satisfaction.

First here's how the iTunes equalizer frequencies can be broken down.

32 - Absolut Bass. Kick drums, pounding beats, some bass strings too.
64 - Bass and possibly the lowest of distorted guitars, if your sound card/speakers can handle it.
125, 250, 500 - Muddiness. Gives music an uncomfortably viscous or muffled tone. Use minimally for low-mid support.
1k, 2k, 4k - Voices and high-pitch guitars. These are normally boosted in varying degrees to bring brightness and a sense of life into the music.
8k, 16k - Cymbals and other really high-pitched tones, like ticks, clicks, whatever effects your favourite band has for its intro.

I'll show you a few settings I use. Why a few? As I mentioned earlier, each speaker demands a whole different configuration. I'll discuss more on configuration later on in the post.

A few things before the EQ graphs. These are tailored to my tastes. And what are they? Bright vocals and crystal clear reproduction of distorted guitars, low or high notes. My speakers are the Creative iTrigue 3800, with my bass level set to 7 out of 10.

First, the one I christened Renhao's Powderful EQ. Not because I pwnz all u assez but because it is very charged up. Very high and rather extreme boosts. I tuned this specifically to my iTrigue. It supercharges the high-mids, the range of our vocals and guitars. The extreme ends are my personal preference. I want to hear booming kick drums and every single cymbal hit during recording. Thus maxing or pushing up the two ends. The low-mids I pushed down. That's simple, low-mids causes "muddiness" in your output. Don't believe? Max out 250 and 500. Tell me if you like that sort of sound.

Next, the Krystall mix. I just did this, right after hearing the horrible "Perfect" EQ. Again, tuned through the iTrigue. Comparatively, Powderful offers brightness and potentially powerful glass-shattering ring to the music. Krystall, as the name suggests, offers a sharp clear sound. You can hear some of the ring from Powderful, but its not that attention-grabbing. Just like its graph, Krystall has a very focused goal - pinsharp reproduction. Disadvantage? Lack of warmth often accompanies sharp mixes. Especially compared to Powderful, this may sound less exciting to you. Low-mids are dropped even lower than Powderful, so to compensate I brought 64 up - note that that's because my speakers, not to belittle yours, can handle it.

Now those two were for speakers. Like science experiments, sound is sensitive to factors. A subtle change of factors can ruin your precious mix. In this case, it's the change of output. Speakers to earphones are horrifyingly different. But of course! Speakers have cones, earphones have minute drivers. Remember that I turned my bass rather high. So just because it sounds fab on speakers doesn't mean it will also sound fab on earphones. See for yourself the difference between a speaker and earphone configuration.

Aurvana is actually the Rock setting. I just upped the preamp to +3 and renamed it. My earphones are prosumer, so reproducing all that energy from Powderful or even Krystall is harsh on my ears. Aurvana warms and softens the output to make for a smoother, more soothing sound. But I'm not satisfied. Because there is too little brightness in the mix.

Ooooo fantastic! Straight off the oven ladies and gentlemen. I haven't named it on iTunes yet, but I call it Aurvana2 (yeah, imaginative). [Edit: I just overwrote Aurvana with this without thinking. Oh well no harm.]

Can you see that it's adapted from Aurvana? What changes can you spot? Certainly I upped the bass (can handle it what, sue me). Now I was pondering wtf was going on. Why is it, given that everything else in Aurvana is the same, that pushing 1k up to its level in Aurvana2 makes the earphones crackle like I'm standing next to a generator?

Take a moment to think why.

The reason lies at the end. The highs 8k and 16k. I already mentioned I liked highs but they need not have been that obvious. The cumulative effect of the frequencies' boosts will affect the mix. Once I dropped 4k, 8k and 16k, the boost in 1k and 2k (just a minor one) was no problem.

By the way, you can choose not to touch the preamp. Another personal preference.

Now that I've shown a few EQ graphs and hopefully given you an idea of how EQ works, let's go into my last section, setting your own EQ.

You may feel stupid when I tell you that EQ is set by trial-and-error. Damn! I could have figured that out for myself, why does he have to be the one to tell me?!

Good question.

My method is simple. Simple and tedious. Set the preamp to 0, and bring every frequency down to -12, the lowest volume. Play your favourite song that you think could represent a large piece of your song library, or else could clue you in on more than one type of music at once. One Winged Angel, the famous piece played during the epic fight between Cloud and Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII, is my personal favourite. Orchestral and metal. What else could you ask for?

Oh, plenty.

One by one, bring each frequency up to the max. Hear what it does to your music. Brighten it, blacken it, love it detest it, do it till ya know it.

After that, it's a simple job of raising the frequencies, left to right, to what you think are ideal levels, and see how they stack up. Edit, listen. Edit, listen. Edit, listen.

After you're satisfied, that's not the end of it. Go through your library. Play songs that you think will test the mix. Songs of different genres, different emphases, and so on. Edit, listen. Edit, listen. Edit, listen. I can easily jump through 20 or 30 songs during this part of the test.

Simple but tedious.

If you have any problems, do email me and I'll try to help you. But please, I'm not some uber pro audio engineer. I can't guarantee I'll solve your problem. And before you email pointless emails, I'm talking about iTunes here. Not Quicktime or Winamp or WMP or whatever mad player you have. ITUNES.

Like it hate it, comment. Good luck.


uzyn said...

Personally I like to listen to songs in its original mix as it is mastered. I don't like EQs of any kind.

Farinelli said...

Mmm yes I've heard that line of thought before. There's a good point there, but then again alot of today's music are terribly mixed. I just like to bring more life to my music, personally.

NTT said...

I think EQ settings really depends on your speakers, the type of music you listen to and your personal taste.

Personally, I go with Uzyn... Flat.. :)

Farinelli said...

Which is why, to repeat myself, I put up more than one setting.

I don't like flat. :/ I don't mind using that for cross-player comparison but for everyday listening, most audio players' hardware just don't match up to my expectations without boosts.

My opinion.

Roys! said...

Hmm I usually listen to livesets with flat EQ though.

I only try to tweak the EQ if they are recorded at very low quality since I'm more afraid of making it sound worse than it actually is :(

Maybe I can try tweaking the EQ with the guide above ",

Farinelli said...

Oh please do! I'd like to know whether my graphs are usable or not...

Roys! said...

I tried out the EQ settings at work using VLC Player which has a slightly different equalizer but the results aren't readily apparent with the sucky headphones I use at work - except for your powderful EQ settings :)

My home speakers are even worse so I think I just keep the EQ at Flat :(

Anyway will keep this guide handy until I get better hardware :)

Farinelli said...

Hi Roys(!)

Just explored the VLC equalizer. I wouldn't apply the EQ settings verbatim, since the frequencies are rather diferrent. On the other hand, I find the frequencies on VLC more practical than those on iTunes.

Good luck playing around.

Roys! said...

Yep, noticed that while applying some of your settings - mainly the low-mid range ones.

Playing with EQ isn't really my cup of tea though since I know nuts about it but it seems pretty interesting tweaking sliders and stuff :)

Anonymous said...

Im a fan of the Aurvana setting. It seems to be the best for what i listen to.