What is a Graphic Equalizer – Should You Use One in Your Mix

While you may have never used a graphic equalizer in the context of your mix, you’ve likely seen the design before – a span of frequency specific sliders to boost or attenuate the frequency response of the audio at set points. This analog design was commonplace on home, car, and portable stereos before digital EQs became the norm in the 90’s. Some mixing engineers still rely on graphic EQs both hardware and software based in their mixes, so let’s identify what is a graphic equalizer and how you can use one in your mix.

What is a Graphic Equalizer

what is a graphic equalizer

A graphic equalizer is a tool for boosting or attenuating different frequencies of your audio. Unlike a parametric EQ which allows you to specify any individual frequency, graphic equalizers are limited to a finite number of bands which each control a specific frequency.

Here’s a snapshot of what a graphic equalizer – the Waves GEQ Graphic Equalizer which admittedly gives you more options than most with 30 individual slider controlled bands:

graphic eq

I always knew the design, but the term “graphic equalizer” initially threw me when I first heard it. When I think “graphic” I think some sort of display like you get on most modern EQs these days.

In reality, the name “graphic equalizer” comes from the fact that the sliders resemble a graph with the X-axis (left to right) representing the frequencies themselves and the Y-axis (up and down) representing the response, or the boost or attenuation for that frequency.

Why Use a Graphic Equalizer

The appeal of a graphic equalizer is that it’s extremely easy to use – you simply pick a frequency slider then move it up or down to boost or attenuate that frequency, respectively.

There’s value in this as sometimes having too many choices can work against you and make it harder to get the results you want.

It’s a similar concept to one which I preach in my book on how to write a song – giving yourself set parameters or limitations actually makes writing a song easier.

In the context of EQing, when you have a limited selection of frequencies which you can adjust, you can begin experimenting with each band to hear the effects on your audio in real time to decide if that change was for the better or worse.

For instance, a quick cut by pulling down the 400 and 500Hz sliders is a tried and true range to cut out the boxiness or unflattering thickness on a lot of tracks in your mix (all things covered in my free EQ cheat sheet).

Pushing up the sliders at and on either side of 5k can bring out more transient punch and add brightness and immediacy to your track.

These preset sliders can make EQing a lot easier and less daunting than having a blank slate like in the case of a parametric EQ where you need to specify the frequency you want to adjust.

That said, some graphic equalizers have one or two of the features commonly associated with parametric EQs.

For instance, in the case of the above pictured GEQ from Waves, you can set a high and low pass filter as well as an additional floating frequency band with an included Q setting to change the width of the band.

The plugin also comes in “Classic” and “Modern” versions, the difference between them being that “Modern” eliminates band interaction artifacts, taking boosts or cuts to nearby bands into account to create a smooth curve between them.

Conversely, “Classic” simply operates like graphic EQs of the past, widening the Q of each band the more gain which gets applied.

For full disclosure, in spite of the attraction of the ease of graphic EQs, 99% of the time when I need an EQ I use a parametric EQ like the plugin I called my favorite plugin overall, the FabFilter Pro-Q 3.

Even with the extra bands that GEQ offers, the lack of being able to pick your own specific frequency, set the width, or make a dynamic EQ move makes graphic EQs less practical for audio mixing.

I should mention that graphic EQs are mostly used and useful in live sound when the mixing engineer needs to make quick adjustments to the mix or even cut feedback at a particular frequency fast.

Admittedly there are some studio mixing engineers who swear by them, but I prefer having more control when I reach for an EQ, so that’s why you’ll always see me referencing parametric EQ when I talk about EQ here on Music Guy Mixing.

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