Strapping an EQ across your mix bus is a delicate matter? Why? Because it is as if the EQ was applied to each individual track in the mix. Yet when applied on the master fader, it has the power to subtly or drastically alter the tone and feeling of your entire mix. I’ll show why, how, and which plug-ins to use when deciding on mix bus eq.While some purists attempt to place absolutely nothing on the master and leave everything to the mastering phase, many mixers, such as myself, prefer to get the mix as close to finished as possible, sounding fully polished and nearly complete. After all why leave decisions to the mastering engineer when you and your artist prefer and approve the mix as is? (I do however like to leave final loudness processing and plenty of headroom for the mastering stage)
So, why do mix engineers use an equalizer on the mix or sub-groups? Simply because it takes us where we want to go…faster. In the old days, one might only have access to one or two gorgeous sounding EQs that would be suitable for an entire mix to run through. Since the EQ couldn’t’ physically be inserted on multiple tracks, it could perform the same job on a group. Nowadays with plug-ins we aren’t limited to one Manley Massive Passive instance, but the same logic applies.
Here are the most common reasons to use mix bus eq:
- To add mojo to the entire mix. Often these EQs have something special about them in their frequency curves as well as saturation / tube characteristics, contributing this extra goodness to the entire mix at once.
- To lift the clarity across the entire mix. Rather than boosting high-end on individual tracks to get that crystal clear sound, adding a high shelve boost across the mix bus will open the mix up perfectly, leaving less EQ duty on the multi-track. When bypassing the EQ, it is like a blanket has swallowed the mix.
- To add weight and heft to the low-end. Some equalisers are renowned for their low-end shelf and adding a 1-2dB boost of low shelf gives weight and power to the kick/bass combo.
What are the best mastering EQs?
We want to make very broad, pleasant EQ strokes, nothing too surgical or tight. An analog sounding, colored EQ may also be in good taste. Here’s a short list of EQ plug-ins that can make the master bus (and all have plug-in versions to boot!):
- Pultec EQP1: Yes, the infamous Pultec style EQ is perfect for the job with its broad curve, mojo, and classic boost and cut at the same time trick. The Tube Tech and any other emulation would perform wonderfully.
- Kush Clariphonic: While this unit can’t touch the low-end, it is amazing at the one task it does – bringing clarity to the mix is a smooth, never harsh sort of way. The broad shelves boost at different select frequencies in parallel, blending the clear tone with the original. Great int M/S mode too.
- Maag EQ4: With its range of select frequencies and unique air and sub bands, the Maag is great for beefing up the low end, adding clarity to the mix with a 2.5kHz boost, and adding an amazing shimmer with the air band.
- A Designs Hammer: A simple looking EQ with a powerful backend. A little goes a long with this EQ, small boosts at vintage frequency points give the right combination of low-end power, mid-range clarity, and upper sheen.
- Dangerous BAX EQ: Possibly the most idiot-proof EQ consisting of a low and high shelf and a few frequencies. Turn the knobs till it sounds right and done.
How to Use Mix Bus EQ
- Choose the most suitable EQ for the mix based on the music and sound of the unit. What kind of color does the mix need? Will you plan to brighten the track, add low-end?
- Place the EQ actively across the mix buss early on in your mix, possibly from the very start. Since the EQ effects every individual track, all more mix decisions will be affected by master EQ, so it is important to use this from the beginning. You’ll find you need to use much less EQ on individual tracks, more likely than not, using subtractive EQ.
- Keep things subtle. You don’t need to make any sort of massive boosts here, we’re talking 0.5-2dB of boost. A little goes a long way.
- Towards the end of your mix, remember to check your reference track for overall tonality. If your mix is sounding too bright, back-off the master EQ, if it’s a little darker, try boosting a tad more. It is an efficient way to alter the tonality of the entire mix ensuring it is on target for the genre.