Review - Drop Cavalli Tube Hybrid (CTH)

EQ... good or bad?

This post was published originally on in July 2019, in response to a thread discussing whether EQ was good or bad and if anyone used it.  My impressions and thoughts remain the same...


My thoughts on the matter (as if anyone had actually asked) are that the choice of EQ is something that is just as subjective as the choice of music that one makes.

Looking at the subject from 3 different points of view, which are all relevant to myself and are only my personal opinions, would be as an artist (musician etc.), as a sound tech (although some prefer to call themselves engineers) and as a final user (the listener).

From the Artist POV

As an artist, I started performing on stage at 16 and was performing regularly until about 5 years ago when I finally decided that I was tired of getting home as the sun came up (concerts finish very late here!). On stage, while we would all like to think that the audience is hearing what we want them to hear, honestly, we are totally at the mercy of the FOH sound guy. What the audience hears is completely out of our hands as an artist and all we can do is make sure we perform to the best of our abilities and try to forget about everything else (this is something that many artists can’t do and doesn’t end well).

In the studio… it depends. Whilst there are studios that have things perfectly aligned, these are usually out of reach for the bands and artists that are not top tier (i.e: wealthy enough to afford the studio time). In smaller studios, you are more dependent on the equipment that is available and the person doing the recording and mastering. Here the artist obviously has a say in what is the finalized recording but we need to remember that studio time is not cheap, so a lot of lower cost artists need to make compromises and factor in the cost.

Finally, as an artist, in regards to us wanting the final user (i.e: listener) to hear things exactly as they were recorded, well yes, there is time and effort spent to search for our “sound” but at the same time, as an artist, I am happier if someone decides to EQ my music and then listen to it rather than discard the music because it was “lacking in bass for their preference” or something similar.

From a Sound Tech POV

Moving on to my point of view as a sound tech. I have worked in both studio and in live events and again, a lot of the time this involves compromises and doing the best you can with what you are given.

In a live event, you are depending on things like room acoustics, the amount of people at the event, the PA system provided etc. etc. In this case, you have to work with what you have. In this day and age, many measuring systems have made life a lot easier for tuning and set up. You can use software to assist you in the placement of speakers and subwoofers etc., although I find ears to be just as important! In this case, I use DSPs to do the basic tuning for the event (delays, eliminating unwanted rebounds and peaks etc.) and then use the console EQ to adjust to each band and each bands member as the show goes on.

Again, in the case of high tier bands, you can specify much more than a secondary act, who is more dependent on what the venue (or organization) supplies. As a tech, I invest 100% of my energy into making things sound as I feel they should but this is only my personal taste, no matter what it sounds like (within reason) some people will hate it and want more bass or more mids etc. My job is to create the best sound possible (to my ears) and have the artist(s) trust in me (which is not always easy). I am totally dependent on the tools I have to do the job, along with the effort of the artist(s) and no matter how hard I try, no two performances will sound exactly the same.

In a studio, it is different. In the studio you can re record, remix, remaster, add in effects, process later etc. My preference, in a studio, is to record a sound that is as clean and uncoloured as possible. If I need to add EQs, filtering, effects etc. I prefer to do so at a later time, once the track is recorded.
Now, there are obviously some amazing studios that have amazing setups where everything is exactly how the producer wants it, again, these studios are usually at the top end of the price bracket, so at lower end studios we make do with the tools we have (again).

I love to sit down with the artist and go through things but I will say that many many artists are amazing musicians but have no idea about how to search for that sound they have in their head, which can make things more difficult as you start going around in circles to end up back where you started (this can also be the case with producers as well). In these cases, I will make tweaks without the artist being around and then get their opinions later. Again, it is all about the artist trusting you to do your job and you making the artist feel like he is making the decisions.

I will also say that maybe in larger studios they are more interested in cable impedance etc. but in the majority of studios I have worked in (mostly building them rather than operating them) the best cables are those that work and don’t introduce unwanted noise. If something sounds strange, then cables (and other items) are swapped around to find a solution, but as long as the cables and connections are of good quality, nobody is counting the electrons flowing along them.

In relation to the end user, from a studio point of view, nobody expects the listener to have the same set up and room acoustics as the studio where it was recorded and/or mixed and mastered. The only thing you can do is try to have it sound as good as possible (and as close to that sound in your head as possible) on a large variety of systems. For example, I think the majority of music listeners today have speakers and systems that are bass heavy meaning that if your recording is bass heavy also (which a lot of modern music is, but that’s a different discussion) then it will be overpowering for those who don’t want excessive bass. However, if you reduce bass to counteract this, then someone who is listening on a flatter system (or without a sub for example) will find it anemic.

This makes it impossible to ensure that your recorded track will sound as you want it on everyone’s system, therefore, all you can do is find a good middle ground (or give away free headphones with your album). This is particularly present in a lot of music that was recorded in the 80’s (and 90’s) where the most common studio monitor for mixing was the Yamaha NS-10. The NS-10 was by no means a great speaker and the majority of people who are passionate about audio would probably hate them, however, it was a monitor that was very well known and the running joke was “if you can get it to sound good on the NS-10, it will sound great everywhere else!”.

From a listener POV

Now, my final point of view, as the end user, in other words, the listener and music lover. While there is a huge amount of people that are interested in high-end audio, the truth is that the majority of people who listen to music haven’t even heard of the brands that are discussed among audiophiles.

Most music lovers are just that, someone who loves music. They don’t have any idea if the system they are listening to (be this speakers, headphones or even a live concert) is anything like the original sound, they just know if they like the result or not. If someone has a system that doesn’t sound as they want it to, then EQ is a great way to tweak a sound to their liking.

Does this mean it is no longer a true representation of what the artist wanted you to hear? To be honest, I very much doubt that you speaker setup is high on the priority list of an artist, unless that artist is specifically creating music for the audiophile world (which, admittedly, some are). Let’s pick, just as an example, a song that was mixed on a pair of NS-10 monitors, let’s say “Born In The USA” by Bruce Springsteen. This track was mixed and mastered using a set of studio monitors with a frequency response graph that looks like this:

(graph from Sound On Sound)

That means that to be able to reproduce what they were hearing in the studio (without even entering the room acoustics and the fact that everyone hears music a little differently) you would need a set of speakers that have a similar FR. Now, if we take a different song, say “Paris” by The Chainsmokers, this was mixed on a pair of Genelec 8351s. This graph shows the FR of the Genelec monitors (I can’t guarantee this is exact as I can’t find the one from Genelec):

(graph from Gearslutz)

It’s very easy to see the difference between the Yamaha’s and the Genelec’s, so, as an extreme example, if you wanted to listen to a bit of Bruce Springsteen followed by The Chainsmokers, you would need to swap monitors, or… use EQ

So, my extremely long post (which I apologize for) is basically to say that no matter how much you spend on a system, no matter how many graphs and measurements you read, no matter what you do, the only real result you can aim for is for it to sound good to your ear.
It is not possible to be 100% true to the original recording as even the studio wasn’t 100% true to it, they just got it where they wanted it. If the studio production, or the live FOH tech, reached results that sound amazing, then they did a good job but they can only know this with the system(s) they have at their disposal.

The same goes for us audio lovers (notice I didn’t say music lovers as there are more people that love music than gear), if we reach a point where our system is perfect to our tastes then I believe that that is the highest goal that can be achieved. EQ is just another vehicle that can help us reach our destination.