How to EQ Vocals in Ableton Live

EQing vocals in Ableton is easy whether you’re using their stock EQ eight plugin or a third party plugin. Of course that’s not the only type of EQ which you’ll find stock in Ableton; they also have their semi parametric 3 band EQ along with dynamic EQ‘s cousin, the multiband compressor.

The stock EQ eight is what I’ll be focusing on, so let’s talk how to EQ vocals in Ableton Live.

How to EQ Vocals in Ableton Live

“EQ Eight” is a parametric EQ, meaning it has more settings for adjusting the frequencies of your audio than say a graphic EQ or the aforementioned semi-parametric EQ. I did an entire overview on parametric EQs with an emphasis on the parameters (duh) which make it up, so refer to that for more information.

When it comes to EQing vocals in Ableton or any other DAW, it’s important to know the various important frequency ranges from the fundamental lows, the body, all the way up to the “air” of the vocal.

This overview demonstrates the EQ moves I generally make using Ableton’s EQ eight plugin, and I’ll address each recommended move in greater detail after:

eq vocals ableton

You’ll notice high and low pass filters on either end, and a number of bell curves and a shelf being used. Refer to my guide on the types of EQ filters for more information.

Let’s cover each suggested move now, one by one, to explain each one in detail.

Vocal EQ Settings

Most of these EQ moves have a relatively neutral or average Q setting. Wider/lower EQ curves yield more natural results than sharper ones, so unless you are making a surgical move, always favor a wider EQ adjustment.

Now let’s get into the actual moves I recommend you make with your Ableton vocals EQ.

High Pass Around (Sweep) 100Hz (Male) 130Hz (Female) to Filter Out Noise

High passing is essential on virtually every track in our mix to remove noise and get a clean mix, not to mention free up space for the instruments which need those frequencies like the kick and bass.

On female vocals we can typically put our high pass filter around 130Hz with an 18 or 24db/oct EQ slope.

On male vocals we typically want to go a little bit lower, high passing around 100Hz with the same slope.

high pass vocal

This removes low end frequencies from outside traffic as well as inside noise like the sound of an air conditioner or anything you couldn’t remove during the recording process. There’s also just unwanted frequencies on the voice itself which don’t add anything to the sound, so this will clean up that vocal track in addition to benefiting the rest of the mix.

Typically you want to listen to the voice as you sweep up, and the instant you hear any change, you want to dial it back 10Hz or so. While I normally advise making EQ adjustments within the context of the complete mix, this is something you might want to do solo to really make sure you’re not thinning out your vocal at all. We’re trying to remove noise, not alter the vocal itself.

Boost/Cut at 200-300Hz to Bring Out Body/Add Clarity

While the lowest of the low end of the vocal provides the natural thickness we want in our vocal, we can control the body around 250Hz with a boost or cut. Again, like all of these moves, this may be a bit lower for male vocalists and a bit higher for female vocalists, so always trust your ears.

vocal body

What you’ll want to do here will depend on the vocalist and recording.

When you want to add warmth and more body possibly to a thin or top heavy vocal, try a small boost here of roughly 2dB.

Conversely, you might need a proportionate cut either if the vocal sounds muffled or too boomy to bring clarity to a muddy vocal (see my 5 causes of a muddy mix). Cutting in the body to create clarity is a form of subtractive EQ, meaning we’re cutting in an area in order to better emphasize the remaining frequencies.

A crystal clear vocal sounds great, but cutting too much in the body will end up thinning out the vocal, so be very conscious of that if and as you cut.

I should mention that 9 times out of 10 I’m favoring a small boost around 250Hz to give the vocal a little more warmth and oomph in the mix. When you want clarity, consider this next section.

Cut at 500Hz to Add Clarity by Removing Muffle

Unflattering, boxy frequencies build up around 500Hz on vocals, so I generally employ a roughly 2dB cut to open up the vocal a little bit.

boxy vocals

When your vocal feels claustrophobic or muffled in any way, a cut here does a lot to open it up and add clarity.

This is where I like a dynamic EQ cut in particular as it attenuates this range at a varying amount depending on how much is necessary with some words, phrases, or notes having more frequency information here than others.

Unfortunately Ableton Live still doesn’t offer dynamic EQ as a part of its EQ. There are hacks and workarounds to turn EQ bands into dynamic bands based on the behavior of the audio, but I find they often leave behind artifacts in the audio you wouldn’t get with a dedicated dynamic EQ like my favorite overall EQ, FabFilter Pro-Q 3.

I did an entire FabFilter Pro-Q 3 review which you can check out to learn why it’s my desert island, Swiss Army knife plugin.

I should mention you can also use Ableton’s multiband compressor, it’s just not quite as targeted in my experience (see the difference between multiband compression vs dynamic EQ).

Moving on!

Boost/Cut 1-2k for Hollow Vocals/Nasal Vocals

1-2k is another recording specific frequency, meaning you’ll need to adjust it based on the vocalist but primarily the space in which it was recorded.

Essentially this range can go one of two ways, nasal sounding (too much) or hollow sounding (too little).

nasal vocal

If the vocal is sounding nasally, a cut (again dynamic works well) will mitigate this effect in the mix. Incidentally I did a complete guide on correcting a nasally voice, so refer to that if a cut here isn’t cutting it as some vocalists are just more nasally in their delivery in general.

How much you need to cut will depend on the vocal; don’t go too far or you’ll hollow out the vocal and it will sound unnatural.

Speaking of which, if you find your vocal IS sounding a bit hollow, try a boost around 1k in particular of 1-2dB as I find this fills out that void in the vocal and can help to make it sound more whole.

Boost/Cut Around 3-5k for Presence/Reduce Harshness

Our ears are especially sensitive in the 3-5k frequency range. Too much volume in the 3-5k region will grate on the listener’s ears and cause fatigue or at the very least distract from the rest of the mix.

On the other hand, we can add some presence and clarity if we feel that’s lacking.

harsh vocals

I normally create a band at 4k with roughly 1k on either side.

If your vocal is feeling stale even after you attenuated the 500Hz region, try a small 1-2 dB boost here to add vocal presence.

If the vocal is sounding too harsh or grating, a cut here will help smooth things out. Harshness and the 3-5k region is more of a problem on some words, phrases, or notes than others similar to the 500Hz region.

As such, once again a dynamic EQ cut can perform better than a static cut so that we’re getting an attenuation which is relative to what’s happening in the audio at that point.

Check out my tutorial on taming harsh vocals for more ways to smooth out the harshness without sacrificing clarity.

High Shelf at 10k to Open Up Vocal

I like boosting the overtones with a small high shelf at 10k to bring out more air from and to open up the vocal.

high shelf vocals

The nice thing about this region is that it adds a little crispness and a touch of clarity without any risk of many frequency conflicts or that grating harshness you get in the lower (high) frequencies we’re more sensitive to.

Low Pass Around 20k to Remove Unwanted Frequencies

Low passing can be used to create space for the tracks which need it, like cymbals, vocals, etc.

It can also be used on a vocal track to add a little headroom. It’s not much, but low passing around 20k adds a little headroom to your mix.

low pass vocals

Add it up over dozens of vocal tracks, and it makes a bigger impact.

Ableton Vocal EQ Tips

  • Ableton vocal EQing is best done with their parametric EQ eight (eight band EQ). This allows you to cut out what’s detracting from or not adding to the sound and leaving the good stuff.
  • Use my settings as jumping off points, stick to wide Q curves, keep your adjustments relatively conservative (3dB or less) and trust your ears.
  • High pass filter at 100-130Hz, depending on the “depth” of your vocalist to remove unwanted low end boom and noise which isn’t adding to the sound.
  • Cut or boost at 200-300Hz for more clarity or to tame a boomy vocal.
  • Cut at 500Hz to clean up the mud.
  • Cut or boost at 1-2k to tame a nasally voice or correct a hollow vocal.
  • Cut or boost at 3-5k to tame harshness or add presence.
  • A high shelf at 10k adds air, crispness, and clarity to the overtones without detracting from the vocal in any way.
  • Low pass filter at 20k to remove inaudible frequencies which aren’t contributing and to add head room to the mix.

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