Live Vocal EQ Settings – How to EQ Live Vocals

Live vocals are a very different beast than recorded, studio vocals. They tend to be a lot more low-mid and bass heavy because of the reflections at those frequencies which travel better around the room. As such, you can’t simply apply my vocal EQ cheat sheet settings which were intended for studio vocals to a live setting and expect good results. With that in mind, these are my recommended live vocal EQ settings which will whip your live vocal into shape.

Live Vocal EQ Settings

Before we begin, let me emphasize that these live vocal EQ settings are a good starting point to experiment with.

live vocal eq settings

Now that we’ve got our live vocal EQ cheat sheet, let’s get into the exact live vocal EQ settings and talk about each one in greater depth to explain what they’re doing and why we’re using them.

High Pass Around 100-120Hz to Remove Unwanted Noise

high pass live vocal

This rule is the same whether we’re working with live or studio vocals. A high pass filter starting around 100Hz is always useful to clean up low end rumble and unwanted, unmusical frequencies in that low end. Just like in a studio mix, this creates space in the low end for the instruments which need it, thus cleaning up your entire mix, not just the vocal.

This also removes bleed which is obviously more of an issue in a live setting than it is in a relatively contained and controlled studio setting.

100Hz is a great starting point, but don’t be afraid to go higher, particularly with live vocals, because boominess and plosives begin to creep in around here as we’ll address next.

Cut at 150-300Hz to Attenuate Boominess and Plosives

live vocal boom

A quick reminder that these are simply guideline frequencies which won’t always apply to your unique live vocal. Also remember that female or higher vocalists are on the higher end of these recommendations, and male or lower vocalists on the lower ends.

Regardless, MOST live vocals tend to skew more boomy than their studio counterparts. This is because when singers perform live, they generally have a tendency to get right up on the microphone to subconsciously battle the rest of the mix in their minds.

Through something known as the proximity effect, the closer the vocalist/source is to the microphone, the greater the bass response will be.

As such, boominess and plosives are a much greater issue in a live setting than they are in the studio where vocalists are more likely to keep a responsible few inches from the microphone and stay relatively still.

When singers perform live, even if they don’t keep the microphone practically on top of their mouths the entire time, as a result of moving around you still get instances where the mic will occasionally get right up on their faces, so those plosives and vocal boominess creeps up more often.

With all that in mind, a cut in the 150-300Hz region will smooth out the pops and boominess of your live vocal without working at the expense of the body or warmth of the vocal.

By the way, a dynamic EQ cut here is preferable as this isn’t a constant problem which necessarily needs constant attenuation. That said, dynamic EQ is relatively rare in a true live setting. If you’re mixing the live performance after the fact, consider introducing a little dynamic EQ if boominess and plosives are still a problem.

Cut at 400-500Hz to Remove Mud

live vocal mud

Just like in the studio, muddy mix frequencies are a problem on live vocals around 400-500Hz just as they are with vocals recorded in the studio.

Actually, when you consider that low frequencies reflect better than higher frequencies (as I discussed in my comparison of low frequencies and high frequencies), you get even MORE of a buildup in this unflattering range than you do in the studio because of the added reflections you get in a live setting from amplifying the vocal.

As such, a larger cut is typically necessary in that 400-500Hz neighborhood to remove the mud and add clarity to your vocal.

This is a good time to point out that virtually all of these moves are subtractive EQ adjustments. In other words, by subtracting from these frequency ranges, we’re effectively enhancing or boosting everything else by placing a greater emphasis on those as a result.

Cut at 3.5k to Smooth Out Harshness

harsh live vocal

The 3000-5000Hz region is more of an issue on female vocals, and only some female vocals.

If you have an issue with a little sharp harshness on the upper mids of your live vocal, a small cut at 3.5k or so helps to smooth it out.

Small High Shelf to Boost at 5-8k for Clarity (Optional)

live vocal sibilance

This last step is purely optional. Because all of the preceding moves were subtractive and largely in the low and mid frequencies, our live vocal shouldn’t be hurting for vocal clarity.

If you want to impart a little non-offensive clarity, a (small) high shelf boost works well. Simply start at 8k with a high shelf boost of 1-3dB, then sweep down until you find the starting/break point you like to add a little touch of crispness to your live vocal.

I haven’t mentioned vocal sibilance yet.

Multiband dynamics can be used to de-ess sibilance, but that’s not always an option in a live setting. If you don’t have a dynamic effect like that at your disposal (though you should certainly apply it after the fact) but you have an issue with sibilance, you’ll want to avoid the high shelf.

Unfortunately a static cut in the 5-8k or so region which sibilance exists will do more harm than good in dulling your live vocal, but you might consider a VERY small cut once you narrow down and identify the prevailing problem sibilant frequency.

Low Pass at 12-15k (Optional)

live vocal low pass

This isn’t listed in the live vocal EQ settings above, but you tend to get cymbal bleed particularly in smaller/tighter stage setups on the vocal microphone.

Low passing at 12-15k helps to remove this bleed to make the cymbals, not to mention the rest of the mix, sound better. While this isn’t a necessity, you may want to experiment with a gentle low pass filter somewhere in this range.

Live Vocal EQ Settings Reviewed

  • Because of microphone bleed, reflections, and the more “dynamic” location of the mic relative to the vocalist, live vocals require different EQ considerations than their studio recorded counterparts.
  • High pass at 100-120Hz to remove said bleed and unwanted/unmusical frequencies to quickly clean up your vocal.
  • Cut in the 150-300Hz range to attenuate plosives and vocal boominess which is a result of the proximity effect which is more common with live singers consciously or subconsciously putting the microphone right up on their mouths.
  • Cut in the 400-500Hz range to clean up the mud and add clarity via subtractive EQ.
  • Apply a small cut in the 3.5k region if your live vocal is a little harsh in this problem area, particularly with some female vocalists.
  • If you want to add a little crispness, try a very small high shelf boost in the 5-8k region. Be wary of sibilance which also crops up here (a small and relatively narrow cut works if you can locate the core of the sibilance).
  • Experiment with a low pass filter around 12-15k to remove cymbal bleed and further clean up mix.

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