Vocals are one of the biggest offenders when it comes to having unwanted low frequency information. Even with a high pass filter setting on the microphone itself engaged, you can still pick up a lot of unwanted ambient sounds. Whether it’s from room noise the microphone picked up or tones on the vocal itself, let’s identify where you should high pass filter on vocals.
High Pass Filter on Vocals
Let me begin by saying I not only recommend high pass filtering vocals, but EVERY track in your mix. Yes, even low frequency rich instruments like your kick, bass, or sub. The filter point may vary from track to track, but every track should be high passed.
A high pass filter is one of several EQ filters, specifically one which removes everything BELOW a certain point. It leaves the higher frequencies untouched, hence the term “high pass” filter.
Getting back to where to high pass filter on vocals, create a high pass filter at 100Hz. Set the Q to 1, and set slope to 24 dB/oct.
A Q of 1 won’t add or remove any gain from that starting point; it will help create a smooth slope.
Speaking of the 24 dB/oct slope, this is a tad more on the aggressive side as opposed to a typical 12 dB/oct slope.
In other words, the drop off will be steeper with this slope. This is by design as it both more strictly enforces whatever frequency we set as the major drop off point. This means less of the frequencies above that point will be cut and we’ll remove everything lower which we don’t want more aggressively.
In terms of the frequency for the high pass filter on vocals itself, I mention 100Hz as it’s a prime starting point. This is because this is a relatively safe point to begin passing for MOST vocalists without losing the quality of the voice.
Note that this will certainly vary from singer to singer as well as the melody they’re singing, as well. Female singers on average have higher ranges than men, and with that all of the bass, body, and fundamentals of their vocals get shifted up, typically by 30Hz or so.
Alternatively, if you’re EQing a bass or baritone singer, or a higher singer is hitting a lot of notes at the lower end of their register, you may need to turn this a bit lower.
All this to say that every voice is different, male, female, singer type, etc.
As I covered in my complete vocal EQ guide, typically the “body” of most voices exists in the 200-300Hz section. That said, there are still important fundamentals below this range. Cut too high and the vocal begins to thin out.
I generally recommend starting at 100Hz and sweeping around. Normally I recommend referencing the voice in the full context of the mix, but high pass filtering vocals is an exception. I prefer to solo my vocals when I’m high passing to pay closer attention to the exact point I can hear the vocal getting noticeably thinner.
Once you hear that vocal begin to noticeably thin, roll back the frequency 20Hz.
So while playing that vocal in solo and sweeping that filter up, let’s say you notice the vocal begin to thin out at 130Hz. In that case, set the high pass filter to 110Hz.
When I say “thin out”, I really just mean when you notice a difference in the vocal, that’s when you need to roll it back 20Hz. This is a relatively conservative number, but it ensures that the low end of your vocal is sound while still getting the benefits of cutting everything beneath that.
The room or ambient noise the microphone picked up is gone, and you’ve still got the thickness in that low end of the vocal that you want.
High Passing Background Vocals
I usually like to high pass background vocals a little higher, typically around 200Hz.
Outside of vocal doubles, I like harmonies, group and gang vocals, or most anything else in the background to be passed a little higher here to noticeably cut into those fundamentals.
Sacrificing more of those fundamentals cleans them up, creates more low end space, and differentiates them from the lead vocal.
Conversely, this helps the lead vocal which has more body stand out as the vocal anchor of the mix.
You can stick to high passing your background vocals the same as your lead(s), but give it a try sometime and see how you like that contrast.
High Pass Filter on Vocals Tips
- Setting a high pass filter on vocals removes room noise the microphone picked up or unwanted lower rumblings on the vocal itself.
- The best high pass filter on vocals settings are 100Hz (as a starting point), a Q of 1, and a slope of 24 dB/oct.
- This Q and slope sharply yet naturally remove everything below that point without sacrificing the wanted frequencies above it.
- Different vocalists and melodies call for different frequency points. 100Hz is a good starting point as it doesn’t remove the desired sounds on most vocalists/takes.
- To find the EXACT frequency you want, solo the vocal and sweep up until you notice the vocal get noticeably thinner.
- Once you notice any difference in the voice itself, roll it back 20Hz.
- For most backing vocals, try passing higher at 200Hz (as a starting point) to clean things up, create space, and enhance your lead vocal by contrast.