Most folks are at least vaguely familiar with what an equalizer (EQ) looks like. For some of us, those rows of sliders arranged into a kind of smiley face are an icon of the ’80s – like the one Tom Cruise was forbidden to touch by his stoic dad in Risky Business (which also spawned one of our favorite Halloween costumes, incidentally). But movie references aside, do you really know what to do when it comes to fiddling with equalizer settings?
Those component-style graphic EQs have pretty much gone the way of the cassette deck (hipsters notwithstanding). But the EQ lives on in digital form, found in everything from smartphones and hi-res portable players to wireless speakers, and even streaming services like Spotify. Unfortunately, understanding how an EQ works and using it properly is a much more elusive concept. You don’t want to pull a Tom Cruise and just shove every slider to the max – that’s going to sound terrible.
Equalizers put the power of sound sculpting at your fingertips. And you know what they say: With great power comes great responsibility. OK, so an EQ isn’t an actual superpower, but it can get you closer to the sound you’re looking to get out of your gear … if you know what you’re doing. With that in mind, here’s our top-to-bottom EQ guide.
Why do I want to use an EQ?
Electronics manufacturers have their own ideas about what a piece of gear should sound like, but EQ lets you have your say. Also, we don’t always get to listen to music in ideal environments. Many of us listen while commuting or exercising, where the shape of the room or ambient noise can each have a nasty effect on how our music sounds. An EQ can help.
Maybe you have a pretty bass-heavy pair of headphones that you need to tone down a bit. Or perhaps you listen to a lot of EDM, but the treble is too sharp and needs to be pulled back. Whether you’re looking for more punch, a warmer sound, or bass that will rattle your innards, an EQ can help you dial in the sound that suits you best.