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Should I Boost or Cut EQ?

Q: I keep reading and hearing that I should only cut with my EQ. But it seems like I naturally want to boost a lot of the time. And, when I watch other engineers, they’re boosting all over the place. Is boosting totally wrong with an EQ?

A: The rule of thumb that many experts espouse — and we’ve said it here at inSync — is that cutting with an EQ is better than boosting. The typical reasons given for this is that cutting doesn’t impact the headroom available on the track, and that some EQ designs have more phase shift when boosting than when cutting.

But, as you have observed, in practice, many engineers are quite happy to crank up the gain on an EQ band — and obviously EQs are designed to both boost and cut. Here’s what we’ve observed (both watching ourselves and watching other engineers): Boosting seems to be most common when shaping a tone. Think of it this way; despite the “rule of thumb,” when most of us hear a track that needs more low end, we don’t turn down the highs and the mids then turn up the volume. Instead, we naturally reach to turn up the gain on the bass band of the EQ. It feels natural to do so.

However, when dealing with “corrective” EQ — removing problem resonances, filtering out rumble and bleed, cutting a spiky frequency, most engineers cut the gain on a particular frequency band.

Our observation is, then, that in the “real world,” the way in which most engineers default to working with EQ is to generally boost when shaping a tone that lacks a band of frequencies, but to cut when correcting problems. In practice, this works fine; you just have to make sure you manage levels to prevent clipping when boosting large bands of frequencies by a significant amount.

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