Cymbals are very similar to the hi-hat in terms of how you should approach mixing them with a few notable differences. Cymbals have a fuller, deeper, and thicker sound, so we need to target slightly different frequencies when applying cymbal EQ.
Cymbal EQ Guide
In this cymbal EQ guide, we’ll talk about how to get the best sound out of your cymbals using EQ. If your cymbals are too thin and lack body, we’ll answer how to do that with EQ. If they’re too thick and need top end, we’ll cover that. And if they’re too abrasive and harsh, we’ve got you covered there, too.
First, let’s take a look at the overall picture of how I generally apply EQ my cymbals with this cymbal EQ cheat sheet.
Cymbal EQ Cheat Sheet
I used the FabFilter Pro-Q in these demonstrations and as the template I generally use as a starting point, but these moves will work with whatever EQ you’re using.
Again, this is the macro picture just to give you a strong starting point with the fundamental frequencies of your cymbals. Let’s get into each point one by one.
High Pass at 200Hz
I always recommend high passing your tracks (even your kick drum). This removes unwanted frequencies which aren’t adding anything to your instrument, in this case your cymbals. Make it a habit to do this to every track in your mix and your low end will sound 100% better. This also allows for naturally louder mixes because there’s no inaudible, low frequency build up.
In the case of cymbal EQ, there’s nothing below 200Hz that we need, so set your high pass filter here as a starting point.
Admittedly we’re cutting out a lot of the bleed from the kick and snare in the case of recorded drums, but we don’t want those frequencies represented on these microphones anyway.
I would pass higher than 200, but I find that when I do that I start to lose the body of the cymbals. Trust your ears here.
Boost or Cut at 300-400Hz to Bring Out Body, Add Clarity (Respectively)
With the body of the cymbals residing in this area, boosting or cutting will yield different results.
If your cymbals are too thin or too weak sounding, try a small boost here.
Conversely, if your cymbals are lacking clarity even with the subsequent cymbal EQ tips, try cutting here.
This is a good place to go in particular when the cymbals are too dark.
Cut at 400-600Hz to Remove Snare Box Bleed
Assuming you don’t have isolated drum kit pieces to work with, you’ll have snare bleed on your overheads/cymbal microphones. As I covered in my snare EQ guide, the 400-600Hz region is a bad spot for that bland boxiness that kills the excitement in the tone.
This region even pokes up on the overheads, and sometimes can be worse with the added room noises.
Try a cut in this region if snare bleed is an issue on your cymbal track.
Cut at 4k to Remove Harshness
There’s that problem frequency again.
The human ear is especially sensitive in the 3-5k region, and the 4k is dead in the center. On cymbals, especially on some samples, this area becomes a problem with all of the other instruments building up here and your mix can turn into a literal pain in this area.
Try a cut here or even a dynamic EQ cut to manage the hiss of the cymbals.
There’s nothing wrong with darkening the tone of your cymbals a bit, especially to save the ears. Some saturation works well in general for smoothing out an abrasive cymbal, as well.
Boost at 10k to Bring Out Sizzle
The overtones of the cymbal are heard around 10k.
A small boost here can help it cut through and bring out a bit of desirable sizzle.
Conversely, if they’re TOO bright, try a small cut here to dull them for the better.
Low Pass Around 22k to Remove Inaudible Frequencies
I liken this move to high passing your kick drum at 20Hz which I recommended in my guide on how to EQ kick drum.
Generally speaking, the cymbals should represent the highest frequencies in your mix. That doesn’t mean our mix can’t benefit from a low pass on the cymbals. Unless you’re a dog, frequencies above 20k are generally inaudible. Cut here or more conservatively at 22k to create a bit more headroom and naturally get more level from your finished song.
Cymbal EQ Tips
- Cymbal EQ can be used to correct most issues or achieve most outcomes with your cymbals.
- Begin by high passing around 200Hz to remove unwanted bleed and create space for the bass and kick.
- Boost or cut at 300-400Hz to add body or clarity, respectively.
- Cut at 400-600Hz if bleed from snare is too boxy (when applicable).
- Cut at 4k to tame overly harsh cymbal tones.
- Boost at 10k to bring out more sizzle and clarity in cymbals, or cut if overtones are too bright.
- Low pass around 20-22k to remove inaudible frequencies and create headroom in mix.