Making a dull vocal sound lively and airy without gutting its body is a tightrope of EQ. Let’s talk about how to achieve vocal clarity via EQ to make your vocal shine through your mix.
Vocal Clarity EQ
First, if you haven’t already done so, check out my complete vocal EQ guide as well as grab my EQ cheat sheet if you haven’t done so already. It shows how to EQ every single instrument in your mix, including vocals, and all of the sweet spots to cut or boost to get any result you want.
Here is the vocal clarity EQ cheat sheet for specifically adding some sparkle, shine, and air to your vocals as well as remove the muddy and dull qualities.
Now let’s go through each frequency one by one to better understand how to add vocal clarity via EQ. Keep in mind that every vocal is different, so each point may vary slightly to get the most out of your unique vocal. These make for excellent starting spots for each move.
High Pass Around 130Hz
I always recommend high passing every track in your mix, it’s always just a question of where.
You’ll want to sweep on vocals, but a good starting point for male vocals is 100Hz and 130Hz for female vocals.
As soon as you hear the vocal begin to sound different (that’s the vocal itself, not any ambient sounds we’d want to cut anyway), roll it back about 20Hz.
This will clean up the rumbling and room sounds you don’t want on your vocal which will add clarity by subtraction (sort of like subtractive EQ).
Cut at 200-300Hz
This is a delicate area on vocals as we’re starting to get into the fundamental body.
Cut too deep here and the vocal get brighter, yes, but we don’t want this at the cost of body. If the vocal begins to sound noticeably thinner, maybe dial it back 1dB or so.
Still, this can be an excellent place to cut out the muffled tone on a vocal which comes from unwanted room reflections.
Cut at 500Hz
This is one spot I almost always cut on a vocal.
A lot of room reflections or simply unwanted qualities in the vocal itself build up here and create a body sound.
Cutting at 500Hz will compliment the higher frequencies and add clarity to your vocal.
Boost at 1-2k
Time for our first boost. Try boosting around 1.5k on your vocal to put some upper mid range body back into your vocal.
This is the prime spot to boost if your vocal is sounding hollow and helps us boost higher up while maintaining a nice balance.
Note that if your vocal has a nasal quality, a boost in this area will exacerbate the issue.
For nasally vocals whether it’s from the room or the vocalist themselves or both, a cut here is better suited.
Boost Around 3-5k
3-5k is where the presence, crispness, and vocal clarity is EQ’d up to really make a dull vocal sound more full of life.
Be careful about overdoing it here as this frequency can be grating to the human ear when there’s too much frequency information here.
If you’ve got a grating vocal to begin with, a cut here can salvage that vocal (and your listener’s ears). A dynamic resonance suppressor like soothe2 also works really well for transparently taming harsh frequencies without dulling the vocal.
High Shelf at 10k
10k is the classic “air” frequency range to open up vocals with vocal clarity EQ.
If you want to impart a little crispness in your vocal, try a boost here via a high shelf. This can typically be the last thing which is lacking to bring out the crisp, clarity, and controlled brightness you’re looking for in your vocal.
Low Pass Around 22k
I normally recommend low passing around 20k, but you might want to go a little higher just for the sake of a smoother roll off of the highest perceivable frequencies. try low passing your vocals at 22k to leave the highest of the high frequencies undisturbed when you’re after clarity in your vocal.
Vocal Clarity EQ Tips
- You can achieve vocal clarity via EQ by attenuating and boosting the proper frequencies.
- As always, keep in mind every vocal’s frequency ranges will vary slightly, so use these as starting points as you cut and boost.
- High pass at 100Hz or 130Hz for male or female vocals, respectively. Sweep until you hear a difference, then roll back 20Hz. This removes unwanted rumbling from voice, room, microphone, etc.
- Cut at 200-300Hz if your vocal is muddled, muffled, dull, or too boomy. This will in turn compliment the higher clarity rich frequencies.
- Cut at 500Hz to remove the boxy qualities from the room reflections or voice itself.
- Boost at 1-2k particularly for hollow sounding vocals to add in some upper mid body.
- Boost around 3-5k for vocal clarity and presence (be wary of making vocal harsh/grating).
- Put a high shelf at 10k to open up the vocal, add crispness, and bring out the airy qualities of the vocal.
- Low pass at 22k to ensure the roll off doesn’t affect the highest perceivable frequencies.