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Boxy or body? The problem of vocal EQing. Dynamics Plugins
Old 9th April 2018
  #1
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Boxy or body? The problem of vocal EQing.

Hi guys, I would consider myself as an rather advanced mixing engineer, but I still have the problem with "should I dial in or remove frequencies around 450-550Hz" on vocals. When I remove them clients (e.g., male vocal, rock/pop) complain they lack body. When I dial them in they complain it sounds too boxy. Does any one has any critical advice for me how to handle this frequency band for vocal EQing? I am mostly talking about folk/rock/pop genre. Thanks so much in advance!
Old 9th April 2018
  #2
Quote:
"should I dial in or remove frequencies around 450-550Hz" on vocals.
When I remove them clients (e.g., male vocal, rock/pop) complain they lack body. When I dial them in they complain it sounds too boxy.
There are no set frequencies to remove or dial in. this is why people complain after you do it. You have to listen to the individual instrument tracks and then decide what needs to be done to each one in order for each track (vocal, guitar, kick, snare and so on) to sound its best and sit well in the mix.

This is ware you go wrong by just assuming every vocal track needs to be edited in that specific frequency range. Your ears and only your ears should dictate what needs to be cut and boosted.

CJ
Old 9th April 2018
  #3
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Box Vox

I mixed an album in a New Romantic style and the studio had this awsome uber rare passive 7 band eq. I wanted to stylise the vocal sound and I discovered this little beast sounded great giving a boost at about 450. (I guess it was a cut everywhere else being passive). I used this as the startoff point for all of the tracks. It gave the vocal a time weathered feeling that suited the material and style. After it was mastered I asked my masterer how he went. He said "It was a little weird actually. There was a strange boxy hump on the vocals at about 450 that I found myself eq'ing out of all of the tracks"
Old 10th April 2018
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CJ Mastering View Post
There are no set frequencies to remove or dial in. this is why people complain after you do it. You have to listen to the individual instrument tracks and then decide what needs to be done to each one in order for each track (vocal, guitar, kick, snare and so on) to sound its best and sit well in the mix.

This is ware you go wrong by just assuming every vocal track needs to be edited in that specific frequency range. Your ears and only your ears should dictate what needs to be cut and boosted.

CJ
Thanks you are so right. I guess the sequence should be: 1) LISTEN: Does it sound boxy? If yes, find that boxy frequency with a narrow EQ sweep and eventually cut it. 2) LISTEN: Does it lack body? If yes, find out where to boost to get more body...
Old 10th April 2018
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mooed music View Post
I mixed an album in a New Romantic style and the studio had this awsome uber rare passive 7 band eq. I wanted to stylise the vocal sound and I discovered this little beast sounded great giving a boost at about 450. (I guess it was a cut everywhere else being passive). I used this as the startoff point for all of the tracks. It gave the vocal a time weathered feeling that suited the material and style. After it was mastered I asked my masterer how he went. He said "It was a little weird actually. There was a strange boxy hump on the vocals at about 450 that I found myself eq'ing out of all of the tracks"
Interesting story, thanks for sharing. I used to boost 470Hz (Chandler Little Devil EQ) on a male country singer's voice. It did sound awesome. He was very happy with it. So I tried the same on a next client who had a much lighter voice and did folk music. And here I got the complaints: it did sound too boxy. So once more: What works on one voice doesn’t necessarily work on another one. And it is not only about the voice itself, so many factors such as used mic/preamp, how close or how far the vocalist sang...
Old 10th April 2018
  #6
Quote:
And it is not only about the voice itself, so many factors such as used mic/preamp, how close or how far the vocalist sang...
To add, it also depends on the other instruments in the mix. all the other sounds in the song will effect how you process the vocal into the mix.

CJ
Old 10th April 2018
  #7
You can also always try adding some saturation to bring back a bit of body if it's sounding a little thin with the cut's, but too muddy without. Some plugins allow you to alter the frequency for the focus of the saturation, which can be very useful too. I use this technique a lot using Console 1's drive knob, on other tracks as well as vocals.
Old 10th April 2018
  #8
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Sometimes It can be hard to get the vocals sounding full and clear at the same time, if the recording is decent and the ”sweet spot” seem small (too thin/thick/bright/muddy) It generally, at least in my case, is because I need more compression or distortion.

I often like a compressor with rather fast attack and slow(er) realese last in the chain to thicken the vocals - compression that never fully let go, sometimes parallell compression works better.

It is hard to find distortion that doesn’t add to a retro character (like Decapitator and Devil Lock), Kush Novatron does subtle distortion really good. I also like Crane Song Phoenix 2 (often in combination with RA) to give more subtle drive that bring the vocals Closer. Lofi in protools sometimes works great to, the smallest amount of distortion is usually enough to darken/fatten. I pretty much do all my eq before the first dynamic insert, sounds more natural I think since the compression hit the high end harder(if there is a high end boost that is)

I normalt stay away from waves compression but I really like Kramer Pie at the second fastest release.

Fabfilter Pro C2 is still the best overall ITB voice compressor to my ears. Ren-vox is pretty decent at just controlling Level but I rarely use it.

I think the order you place plugins matters a lot too, I realized that I personally like all distortion plugins early in the chain, even before the first eq/HPF.

I got, or tried, pretty much every ITB compressor there is and I’ve started to be careful with colorful compressors on vocals, the waves 1176/LA2’a add some distortion/color that can be pleasing at first but to messy in the midrange for my taste. Sounds lofi , cool if you want it but it is not very analog sounding to my ears.
Old 10th April 2018
  #9
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Anyone who would use fixed boosts or cuts just doesn't understand mixing very well. I don't care how advanced you think you are, things just don't work that way. Even if you had some inherent masking issue whatever boosts or cuts you use are going to change every time the song changes keys.

My best advice is start using a Frequency analyzer when using an EQ. Put it on the mains buss then solo tracks and see what's actually clogging up your 500Hz range. I suspect you have a monitor or headphone issue and you are dealing with a nasty 500Hz resonance no matter what key the music is in. At least with a frequency analyzer you can compare the frequency response of your mixes to some commercial recordings and get some proof positive facts to work with "Without" the guess work. If you have nasty peaks in the music they will show up on the frequency analyzer display.

If they aren't there and being caused by your monitors then you'll be putting dips where they shouldn't belong. Frequency analyzers don't lie to you. Its your ears that are easily deceived especially if you get emotionally involved in the mix and try and make parts sound better then they actually are.

You can also import a commercial recording into the mix and A/B compare the parts to make them sound similar. I used to do that when I wanted my instruments or vocals to sound like other bands. I'd play along and record new tracks to commercial recording I knew and then after recording I'd use my audio tools and make presets I could use to get those same sounds. Then when I did my own recordings I'd start out with the same tracking tones I dialed up and try the presets I built to get me going.

The amazing part is when you do this for all the instruments it actually winds up working pretty darn good so long as you're sticking with a similar genre/key and all of that. You'll still need to tweak things to match that individual song but why not use the tools that can save you all kinds of time getting where you want to go. I suggest everyone ignore this "magic ear" BS they see posted all the time too. I've been an electronic tech into recording for 50 years and never found a pro who didn't take advantage of the tools available when they were needed. Anyone telling you otherwise is wanting to lead you down dark hallways so you do get lost. Less competition that way.

Tools like an F.A. are just a visual aid. As you use them more and learn to trust them you'll eventually find you need them less and less. Then when you KNOW you can get a great mix without them you can choose to move on to better tricks.
Old 11th April 2018
  #10
Gear Guru
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by owhsinchu View Post
Hi guys, I would consider myself as an rather advanced mixing engineer....I still have the problem with "should I dial in or remove frequencies around 450-550Hz" on vocals. When I remove them clients (e.g., male vocal, rock/pop) complain they lack body. When I dial them in they complain it sounds too boxy.

Does any one has any critical advice for me how to handle this frequency band for vocal EQing? I
at the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious how about leaving the 450-550Hz frequencies alone?

IMO, mixing is mainly about finding the "Goldilocks" point with every decision your make. Somewhere between too hot and too cold is "just right" - it's got to be there, right? It can't instantly go from too thin to too boxy.

In the first place, you don't always need to 'address' every frequency, and addressing this particularly narrow slice that is only 100 Hz wide seems kind of arbitrary.

Quote:
Originally Posted by CJ Mastering View Post
There are no set frequencies to remove or dial in.
Quote:
Originally Posted by owhsinchu View Post
Thanks you are so right. I guess the sequence should be: 1) LISTEN: Does it sound boxy? If yes, find that boxy frequency with a narrow EQ sweep and eventually cut it. 2) LISTEN: Does it lack body? If yes, find out where to boost to get more body...
Not for nothing, but an "advanced" mixing engineer should already know this. If the same really narrow particular range keeps cropping up over and over as a problem, I would suspect issues with the room.
Old 11th April 2018
  #11
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Really appreciate all that valuable input! I know it was stupid saying I am a "rather advanced engineer". At least I said “rather” hehe. The intention was to get some professional advice and not to start a newbie discussion. It’s a little off-topic, yeah, but there is no textbook definition of “intermediate”, “advanced”, “excellent” or “distinguished” engineer, I think mixing is a LIFE LONG learning process. I am at Gearslutz for a while now and I have seen very senior and excellent engineers asking (in my opinion) rather basic questions. And isn’t it the wonderful part of Gearslutz anyway to not fear the “mixing police” but to freely initiate some stimulating discussion that maybe also other readers (of a specific thread) would benefit from?
Anyway, I think this post is also about the “boxy” and “body” frequencies (that actually cover a wider range as I mentioned before) which indeed lie pretty close together and are IMO not always that easy to separate from, and manipulating them may deliver somehow opposing characters (either boxy or body). We are not talking about low cuts and high shelf boots (when EQing vocals); to me it’s definitely one of the most trickiest frequency band for vocal EQing. And the reminder on focusing on saturation is very much appreciated. It is indeed not only EQing that changes the character of vocals; one must definitely imply also compression and the right saturation techniques to the get sound right.
Old 11th April 2018
  #12
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For vocal clarity subtract a little of that range crime the other instruments 1-3k usually youll find the sweet spot.
Old 14th April 2018
  #13
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It can be a difficult thing. Often it helps to add weight by compensating for the cut by adding more eq in the lower end and perhaps above the cut as well. For those trickier situations you can try a more conservative cut plus a little dynamic eq for the more dense parts of the mix.

I don’t know of any DAW with one, but there’s a few third party plugins floating around. Brainworx has a single band, Waves has their multiband F6 which often ends up on sale.
Old 23rd October 2018
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by owhsinchu View Post
Hi guys, I would consider myself as an rather advanced mixing engineer, but I still have the problem with "should I dial in or remove frequencies around 450-550Hz" on vocals. When I remove them clients (e.g., male vocal, rock/pop) complain they lack body. When I dial them in they complain it sounds too boxy. Does any one has any critical advice for me how to handle this frequency band for vocal EQing? I am mostly talking about folk/rock/pop genre. Thanks so much in advance!
In a world where everybody wants to sing and may (or may not) be classically trained, I have found the Waves Audio F6 Floating Band Dynamic EQ to be one of the surest ways to maintain consistent tone and longstanding desired results. Anyone who has ever considered automating their EQ will appreciate this plug-in, because consistent tone usually means less automation and shorter turnaround times!

In seeking a simplified application for vocal treatment, I initially purchased this plug-in for the exact reason(s) initially described; but the F6 has far exceeded my initial needs and I've found it does so much more! I wouldn't want to work without it now. Much like pitch correction, I'm finding dynamic equalization is pretty much a required tool. Although clients may not know the technical name to ask for (Waves Audio F6 Floating Band Dynamic EQ, Tokyo Dawn Labs TDR Nova, Crave EQ, etc.), they know the sound they're looking for. The F6 helps us get our clients the sound they're looking for in a very short time, and maintains that ideal tone for the longest time.

Now, I don't relegate myself to using the F6 on vocals only. It comes in handy on pretty much everything: from smoothing out horn parts, to transitioning between random slap & finger bass guitar applications in a single take, and everything in between. I haven't really used it on drums, but for instruments that are less stationary, with regard to their position in the frequency spectrum, the F6 is a necessary tool IMHO.

I later transitioned from using the F6 only for controlled/studio recordings to incorporating it in my live set up when I realized that when dealing with vocalists that haven't been classically trained, the F6 is really the only way to maintain a consistent tone. In most cases vocalists' voices grow very shrill when they reach for the highest part of their vocal range; or they get really muddy when they reach for the fullest and/or lowest part of their vocal range. The F6 and it's dynamic capabilities have allowed me to maintain a consistent tone that I wouldn't have been able to achieve otherwise. It's low CPU usage also makes it especially useful in live audio situations. For example, when partnered with a digital mixer, like the Behringer X32, the F6 is also very effective at eliminating issues like comb filtering, which tends to be another common issue with live sound.

I've included a link to the Waves website for this product so you can see it in action and determine whether it is something that will ultimately meet your needs. Be sure to watch all the demo videos you'll see on this page. They really helped me see how I would integrate it into my current workflow:

F6 Floating-Band Dynamic EQ | Waves
Old 23rd October 2018
  #15
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by mooed music View Post
I mixed an album in a New Romantic style and the studio had this awsome uber rare passive 7 band eq. I wanted to stylise the vocal sound and I discovered this little beast sounded great giving a boost at about 450. (I guess it was a cut everywhere else being passive). I used this as the startoff point for all of the tracks. It gave the vocal a time weathered feeling that suited the material and style. After it was mastered I asked my masterer how he went. He said "It was a little weird actually. There was a strange boxy hump on the vocals at about 450 that I found myself eq'ing out of all of the tracks"
That might be more of a "can I trust these monitors" type of situation and could also be the problem with the OP.
Old 24th October 2018
  #16
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Sybille's Avatar
 

You're not supposed to boost from 150 to 800. Those are important/impactful frequencies that gets in the way very fast and mess with everything, creating imbalance. You can slightly cut there if needed but you can't boost.

I agree you have to work depending on the material but still there are rules to EQing. At least I do have mine

I'm building a website providing mixing courses turned toward the popularization of mixing knowledge through easy steps and accessible language. It's far from being over, probably not before a year or so but if you need more EQ informations I can pm you for free.

Good luck
Old 24th October 2018
  #17
Gear Guru
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sybille View Post
You're not supposed to boost from 150 to 800.
I will boost any frequency at any time if I think it needs it. I will cut any frequency at any time if I think it needs it. I too am an educator, and I am always very careful about the list of things I would tell my students they are not "supposed" to do.

Quote:
You can slightly cut there if needed but you can't boost.
so you know what microphone, room and voice every single person everywhere is using and how that part fits in with the other tracks?

Quote:
I agree you have to work depending on the material but still there are rules to EQing. At least I do have mine
It's one or the other. Either EQ decisions are contextual or they are not.

you might want to think twice about making an entire website presenting your personal "rules" as if they were handed down from the top of Mt Sinai.
Old 24th October 2018
  #18
Gear Guru
 
Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
you might want to think twice about making an entire website presenting your personal "rules" as if they were handed down from the top of Mt Sinai.
I'm kinda looking forward to seeing it, actually.
Old 25th October 2018
  #19
Gear Maniac
 
Sybille's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
I will boost any frequency at any time if I think it needs it. I will cut any frequency at any time if I think it needs it. I too am an educator, and I am always very careful about the list of things I would tell my students they are not "supposed" to do.


so you know what microphone, room and voice every single person everywhere is using and how that part fits in with the other tracks?



It's one or the other. Either EQ decisions are contextual or they are not.

you might want to think twice about making an entire website presenting your personal "rules" as if they were handed down from the top of Mt Sinai.
Those are not rules from Mt Sinai, you don’t need to be offensive, those are guidelines acquired from experience. Ofc nothing is set in stone, shouldn’t have used «*can’t*» but honestly telling someone It depends on the material and nothing else, I don’t think it provides much value to the person in term of self improvement.

Obviously if your recording is faulty, the rules may change but with a somewhat good balanced recording I personally wouldn’t boost there, the whole idea behind this is that to me boosting creates more imbalances than cutting, and I would rather cut at different spots than boost there.

That being said, as everything in music, it’s all about your subjective worflow, some people will like my website and advice some won’t, as long as I provide value that’s all that matters to me.
Old 25th October 2018
  #20
Gear Nut
 
zukan's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
I'm kinda looking forward to seeing it, actually.
He's got to nail the beard though.
Old 25th October 2018
  #21
Gear Maniac
 
Sybille's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by zukan View Post
He's got to nail the beard though.
I can try. Feel free to send me your name suggestions, Ordo Templi Mixentis ?
Old 1st November 2018
  #22
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by DrStrangeBeat View Post
In a world where everybody wants to sing and may (or may not) be classically trained, I have found the Waves Audio F6 Floating Band Dynamic EQ to be one of the surest ways to maintain consistent tone and longstanding desired results. Anyone who has ever considered automating their EQ will appreciate this plug-in, because consistent tone usually means less automation and shorter turnaround times!

In seeking a simplified application for vocal treatment, I initially purchased this plug-in for the exact reason(s) initially described; but the F6 has far exceeded my initial needs and I've found it does so much more! I wouldn't want to work without it now. Much like pitch correction, I'm finding dynamic equalization is pretty much a required tool. Although clients may not know the technical name to ask for (Waves Audio F6 Floating Band Dynamic EQ, Tokyo Dawn Labs TDR Nova, Crave EQ, etc.), they know the sound they're looking for. The F6 helps us get our clients the sound they're looking for in a very short time, and maintains that ideal tone for the longest time.

Now, I don't relegate myself to using the F6 on vocals only. It comes in handy on pretty much everything: from smoothing out horn parts, to transitioning between random slap & finger bass guitar applications in a single take, and everything in between. I haven't really used it on drums, but for instruments that are less stationary, with regard to their position in the frequency spectrum, the F6 is a necessary tool IMHO.

I later transitioned from using the F6 only for controlled/studio recordings to incorporating it in my live set up when I realized that when dealing with vocalists that haven't been classically trained, the F6 is really the only way to maintain a consistent tone. In most cases vocalists' voices grow very shrill when they reach for the highest part of their vocal range; or they get really muddy when they reach for the fullest and/or lowest part of their vocal range. The F6 and it's dynamic capabilities have allowed me to maintain a consistent tone that I wouldn't have been able to achieve otherwise. It's low CPU usage also makes it especially useful in live audio situations. For example, when partnered with a digital mixer, like the Behringer X32, the F6 is also very effective at eliminating issues like comb filtering, which tends to be another common issue with live sound.

I've included a link to the Waves website for this product so you can see it in action and determine whether it is something that will ultimately meet your needs. Be sure to watch all the demo videos you'll see on this page. They really helped me see how I would integrate it into my current workflow:

F6 Floating-Band Dynamic EQ | Waves
The F6, or dynamic eqs are really helpful for things like this. Or processing stems and submixes. It's also a great way to make a tonal changes more selectively that only make an impact when they are needed where using a conventional eq might produce some lingering negative side effects.

They used to be hard to find. In recent years, though, more and more devs are starting to make them, so you have a few choices now.
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