Dynamic EQ varies from static or what we think of as conventional EQ moves. Now that most modern EQ plugins feature dynamic EQ as a standard feature, let’s answer what is dynamic EQ, explain how to use it, and address why it’s almost always better than normal EQ.
What is Dynamic EQ
First let’s answer the obvious question: what is dynamic EQ?
Dynamic EQ is one of many different types of EQ. A dynamic EQ can cut or boost a frequency range just like a conventional EQ move with one substantial difference.
A dynamic EQ cut (or boost) creates an adjustment relative to the volume of that frequencies in the affected range.
For example, if we created a dynamic EQ cut on our entire drum bus at 5000Hz (the principle frequency of the “crack” sound of stick on snare as I detailed in my snare EQ guide), the band will be pulled down more whenever the stick hits snare and we get a swell in that 5k transient.
How to Use Dynamic EQ
The two settings to be aware of when using dynamic EQ are the dynamic range and threshold.
The dynamic range of a dynamic EQ band refers to the maximum amount that you want to boost or attenuate that frequency. While this dictates the maximum amount of gain change, this also affects the average level of boost or attenuation, as well.
If you want a smaller adjustment, set the dynamic range to be at most a few dB plus or minus, depending if you want to boost or attenuate, accordingly).
Regardless of where you set this, the amount of gain adjustment will be affected by the threshold and the amount of signal at that frequency throughout the track.
The threshold on the dynamic EQ is the other instrumental feature in dictating how much gain adjustment is made. Just like the threshold on a compressor, this dictates what level the volume must meet before adjustments are made.
Setting the threshold lower means that more attenuation or boosting will occur.
Finding the sweet spot on a dynamic EQ typically involves setting the dynamic range and threshold together. Ideally you know what you want to (generally) attenuate and can pull the worst offending example of it up in the mix. Adjust the settings so that you get the max attenuation at that part, then you’ll know the rest of the track will be attenuated to a lesser extent as necessary.
This is the best method as otherwise you run the risk of attenuating too much (or too little) at the largest swells in that frequency in the track if you don’t take them into consideration.
But what SHOULD we use dynamic EQ on, and what makes it better than a conventional/static EQ band.
Why Dynamic EQ is Better
Dynamic EQ is generally thought to be better than conventional/static EQ moves for three reasons.
One, it doesn’t adjust more than you generally need.
With a static cut/boost, you have that adjustment for the duration of the track at that frequency range, regardless of the dynamics of how loud or unchanged that range gets. While sometimes you want to boost a frequency band to make a track brighter, many cuts are related to specific problems which only crop up intermittently throughout the track.
As an aside, check out my complete free EQ cheat sheet for guides on how to EQ every single track in your mix for specifics.
In other words, most of the time, most frequency ranges in any given track don’t need to be adjusted.
Secondly, and as a byproduct of the first benefit, dynamic EQ is better for avoiding phase issues brought on by excessive frequency adjustments.
Extreme boosts or cuts, particularly with sharper slopes and Q settings (see what is the Q setting in EQ), can set your audio out of phase, causing issues like comb filtering and making the audio sound weak or even become muted at sections.
Thirdly and finally, dynamic EQ allows you to create sidechain EQ adjustments.
In other words, you can cut (or boost) on one track based off of the behavior of other tracks. This is a great way to create space for your kick by cutting at its fundamental frequency on the bass whenever that kick triggers. This keeps the bass more transparent/needing adjustments less often.
Most modern EQ’s like my favorite EQ, FabFilter Pro-Q 3 include this feature, allowing you to turn any EQ band into a dynamic one.
I show how to use this feature in my complete Pro-Q 3 review, so refer to this to learn more about dynamic EQs.
Regardless, think about making more of your adjustments dynamic ones, and don’t forget to grab my EQ cheat sheet for more information on how to practically use them in every track in your mix.
Dynamic EQ Tips
- Dynamic EQ refers to making EQ cuts and boosts which react to the intensity of frequencies rather than a static cut or boost regardless of behavior.
- The behavior of a dynamic adjustment is determined by the amount of energy at that frequency, the dynamic range/max adjustment, and the threshold level which the volume at that frequency must meet before attenuation or boosting is applied.
- This is preferred over static boosts or cuts because static adjustments typically over adjust, cutting or boosting more than is typically necessary when the frequency levels are especially dynamic.
- Dynamic adjustments also cause less phase issues BECAUSE they adjust only when necessary and, as such, less often.
- Dynamic EQ also allows you to make sidechain adjustments on one track based off of the behavior of another track. This results in more transparent and surgical adjustments while still attained your goal, like the case of sidechain EQing your bass to your kick exclusively in that 60-70Hz region.