How to Set Equalizers

By Matt McKay

Equalizers are used to enhance audio in home, auto, recording and live sound situations. How to properly set equalizers is largely based on personal preference, but it is important to note that although equalizers (also called EQ's) are used to enhance sound. Sound enhancement is only necessary when one or more audio components are lacking in performance, or room acoustics cause certain sound frequencies to increase or decrease. Each lever or dial on an equalizer corresponds to a frequency band, with lower frequencies to the left, mid-range frequencies in the center and high frequencies to the right. The amplitude of frequencies in each band are adjusted with anywhere from two to 10 individual controls, depending on the equalizer unit.

Step 1

Set the equalizer controls at the "flat" or center their position. In the flat position, the equalizer will not add or subtract frequencies, and the sound you hear is not altered.

Step 2

Play music through your system (the type you normally listen to) and pay close attention to sound of each instrument.

Step 3

Adjust bass sounds by sliding the equalizer levers (or turning the equalizer dial) on the left up or down slightly. Sliding the levers up will increase bass, while sliding them down will decrease bass. Adjust each one until the desired sound is acquired.

Step 4

Adjust mid-range sound, such as those of guitars, vocals, keyboards and other instruments, by sliding the middle sliders up or down to increase or decrease volume.

Step 5

Adjust high frequencies by sliding the sliders on the right up or down. The high frequencies will affect cymbals and the higher registers of vocals, guitars, keyboards and other high-pitched instruments.

Step 6

Use your equalizer to compensate for room acoustics. Speakers placed in a room that has a lot of carpet, upholstered furniture and thick drapes will sound different than when placed in a room with a bare floor and lots of glass windows. Each room will attenuate or boost certain frequency bands, and equalizers are perfect for correcting room audio characteristics.

Tips & Warnings

  • Adjust levers in small increments for best results, and try "cutting" unwanted frequencies by sliding the levers down rather than up. This will make the sound clearer, and give you more "room" to boost desired frequencies without adding distortion.
  • The most effective graphic equalizer settings will form a gentle "wave" pattern when you look at the sliders. Graphic equalizers use the term "graphic" because the user can observe a visual frequency pattern. Extreme patterns, such as "smiles," "frowns" or randomly boosted or cut frequency levers will usually provide poor sound quality.
  • Boosting frequencies too high (especially bass frequencies) can add distortion to the sound, and in extreme cases, cause speakers to blow.
  • If your equalizer is equipped with a separate level or volume control, don't use it as a volume boosting device, as speaker problems and sound distortion can occur. The level or volume should be adjusted to about the half-way point.