Understanding Main EQ

1-main EQ
By Steven Reed

Main EQ lives a troubled existence—most people know that it’s important but its ability to enhance or ruin sound is often shrouded by fear and misunderstanding. As a result most every church has one hidden away in a back room and no one is allowed touch it. While the main EQ is not something you want just anybody messing with on a regular basis, its function is really a lot simpler to understand and more commonly used in regular life than most realize.

If you’ve ever messed with the Bass, Mid, or Treble settings on your car stereo or scrolled through the sound presets labeled Country, Pop, Rock, Jazz, Bass Boost or Acoustic on your iPod or MP3 player then you’ve adjusted a main EQ. Here are a few tips to help you understand what this piece of equipment does and how to get the most out of it.

Helping the Pros Out:
Think about the music you play in your car. These songs have been performed by some of the best musicians in the world, they were recorded on the best equipment at a very expensive studio, they were then mixed and mastered by audio engineers but yet something is not quite right. In your car the music doesn’t sound as good as it should, so you give these award winning musicians and producers a little bit of help as you reach for your stereo settings to make some adjustments until it sounds right.

Play that same music in your house and you will probably make different adjustments, play it with headphones and again you’d make different changes. In fact, your adjustments will be unique for each location. While the recorded music never changed from location to location the resulting sound is different because the sound is affected by the kind of speakers you have and the characteristics of the room where the music is being played. When you change the EQ settings you are adjusting the sound to get the best results from your speakers.

Controlling the Settings:
Simple main EQ’s have three areas to control – Bass, Mid, and Treble. Bass is the low part of the sound, the Mid is the middle, and Treble is the high sounds. These controls start out at zero (O), which is actually in the middle and it means that there is no change, sound is not being added or taken away. Positive numbers add sound and negative numbers take away sound. A typical ‘Rock’ setting will boost the Bass by +3, leave the MID at 0 (no change), and then boost the Treble by +2 or 3. This makes the low-end boom and yield crisp vocals and guitars. Practice with these simple settings on your home stereo or in your car (preferably while you are not driving), hear how it affects the sound and find the settings that you like the best.

More advanced EQ’s will split these three basic controls apart, so instead of just having one knob for Bass it will be broken into multiple controls that affect smaller sections of the Bass range of sound. These controls will also not be called ‘Bass’ anymore but will have a number measured in Hertz (Hz) to tell you how low or high it is. Don’t get lost in the numbers just know that low sounds have low numbers and high sounds have high numbers. The Mid and Treble sections will have many more controls as well and while this can be a helpful tool, it can also be overwhelming as many EQ’s have 31 controls in all. For most people, that’s way too many so it’s best to move these sliders in small groups resembling small hills and valleys so that there is not a dramatic change between one slider and another.

Basic Adjustments:
While there are lots of pink and white noise generators and reference microphones techniques to setting the main EQ, I recommend that you adjust your sound system like you would your car. Take a professional studio album of a group that you want to sound like and play that music through your sound system at the volume your music would be at during a service. Clear out any EQ settings on the music player and on the channel of the soundboard, and by using your ears as your guide only adjust your main EQ settings to make the music sound amazing. If you’re nervous about messing stuff up, take photos of your settings before you make any adjustments so you can put it back. Use the same song over and over, listen from different parts of the room, and take breaks to come back to it with fresh ears.

It’s best to have your main EQ located at your soundboard because otherwise you have to listen, think of the changes you want, go make adjustments and then check them. It can be done but it’s a pain. Once you feel you have a great setting go back through each individual channel and EQ each one to sound great with your new settings.

Without fear or worry we adjust the main EQ of our cars, houses, and MP3 players because it makes a big difference in how it sounds – it should be the same for our churches.

Steve and his wife, Shawn, travel full time to serve the body of Christ in the area of worship.  They lead worship, compose and record, provide personalized on-site training for teams and churches, and teach on the subject of worship in English and Spanish.

steveandshawn.com  - English
steveandshawn.com/es  – Español

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    2 comments on “Understanding Main EQ

    1. This is true if your sound is currently terrible and was never properly set up, but if you’ve had it set up by someone who knew what they were doing this is likely to end up with significantly worse sound, more problems with feedback, reverberant frequencies, etc.

      Most main auditoriums have significant acoustic challenges and it’s not just about getting the sound you want, it’s dealing with those challenges.

    2. Pingback: Worship Tech Roundup | Worship Links

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