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Music just not sounding right? There's a way to smooth it out

In certain cases, EQ can help improve your audio, but don’t jump in head first.

Image: Taylor Burnes/Flickr

THE QUALITY OF music or audio you listen to is dependent on a number of factors. The type of audio file you’re listening to, the speakers or headphones you’re using and your surroundings (mainly if you’re using speakers).

There is another way to tweak the audio quality if you’re willing to be adventurous, and that’s understanding audio EQ (equalisation).

It’s by no means essential, some music services don’t even include it as an option, but if you’ve stumbled upon the setting on your desktop or smartphone, it’s no harm knowing what it does.

What is EQ?

It’s best to think of EQ as a type of filtering service for frequencies which refer to different sounds. By adjusting certain frequencies, you can increase the presence of background noises like bass or just smooth out the sound.

When a song is recorded, the producers usually adjust the frequencies to get the perfect sound. While it’s perfectly fine to listen to music on flat, adjusting the frequencies in EQ can help smooth out any imperfections you might notice.

Chances are you already know EQ from the number of preset options available. The likes of ‘Rock’, ‘Jazz’, ‘Talk’ and ‘Concert’ are effectively different EQ settings prioritising certain frequencies for maximum effect. These are useful as you can make a note of the adjustments used and change them so you can get the balance just right.

Frequencies

Each pitch you see on an EQ is measured in hertz (Hz), the figures referring to how many times a wave completes a cycle in a second. The higher the number, the higher the pitch. Decibels (dB) refer to volume or loudness so the higher it is, the louder certain sounds are.

equaliser An example of an EQ on Mac, some are more complex or basic depending on the software used.

Testing it out

The best thing to do is to choose a song you both like and know really well as you’ll notice the difference more. While it’s playing, start with all frequencies at 0dB and adjust one slider at a time. Start off by reducing the level of frequency instead of increasing it unless you want that static or muddled noise to take over.

You’ll soon learn that even subtle adjustments can have an effect on the overall sound as one change affects all frequencies. Also, if you bring other frequencies down, it makes other sounds louder. Say for example you wanted to increase the bass sound, instead of pumping the lower frequency up, you just reduce the higher frequencies so it’s more noticeable.

While you’re doing this, it’s better to keep it focused instead of making large adjustments randomly and not knowing how you got there.

That said, the type of genre you’re listening to will determine the changes you make. You’re not going to have the same EQ settings for both dance music and orchestrated so it’s better if you’re listening to the one genre instead of many.

Remember, the ‘right’ way to listen to music is the way that sounds best to you. These changes are a case of personal preference so if it sounds better flat, that’s fine. At least now you know what to do if you’re thinking of experimenting.

Read: Here’s what you need to know about buying headphones >

Read: So with Apple in the mix, how does the music streaming landscape look? >

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About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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