By Mark Rubel
A problem that I’ve often encountered in the process of mixing records: some singers get harsh when they push their voice. This problem can be aggravated by the use of edgey-sounding inexpensive microphones, poor microphone technique and excessive level or distortion. A great solution can be a dynamic equalizer, in this case the Plugin Alliance Brainworx bx_dynEQ V2 Mono. The idea is that the EQ senses when the singer is loud, especially in the midrange, and turns down a designated band of frequencies to “de-harsh” their vocal, similar to a multi-band compressor. One of the things that makes the bx_dynEQ especially useful in this case is that we can designate which frequencies it reacts to, separately from which frequencies it turns down.
Here’s how it ended up being set on a male rock singer:
Looking at the controls, notice that the attack is set to 12ms- this means that it will react quickly to turn the offending frequency down, if the midrange is loud for more than twelve thousandths of a second. Likewise, the release is set pretty short so that once the singer becomes less midrangey, the EQ quickly returns to flat (not affecting the timbre, a fancy word for tone quality). If it’s too fast it might sound un-natural, and if too slow it could cut frequencies from signals that don’t need it. “Threshold" determines how loud the singer has to get for the EQ to react.
In the middle, where it says bx_dynEQ, we’ve disabled the link (two vertical arrows), so that the EQ reacts to a wider range of midrange frequencies than it affects. At the bottom we see that the Q, the bandwidth, is set wide (“Peak 0.3”), so anytime there’s a lot of midrange the EQ will be triggered to cut out the narrower range of frequencies- Q in red, centered around about 2.5khz). The harshness frequency was found by first boosting and sweeping, then switching from “boost” to “cut”.
The Max Gain knob is set so that the harshness band will be attenuated by no more than 5.3 decibels- overusing this effect could make the vocal less intelligible. Similar settings can be centered on lower frequencies to reduce honk in electric guitars, or on higher frequencies to reduce sibilance in vocals (“de-ess”), or for de-squeaking acoustic guitars.
As always, use your ears!