In this article, we hope to provide you with a satisfactory explanation of how to EQ synths in your mixes.
Broadly speaking, the way you would EQ your synth would be based on several factors, including your musical idea, genre, and choice of synths. Aside from applying EQ, there are a few other ways to make synths sound better, alongside with tweaking, usage of compressor, reverb, and choosing between analog and digital synths. So we’ll talk about that as well.
How to EQ synths
You probably know that there are many types of synths. Each one of them has its own frequency content, therefore needs to be cut and boosted at different frequency ranges.
So, it’s a generally good idea to apply a high-pass filter to cut anything under 100 Hz. Depending on the type of synth, you will get rid of the muddiness that lives somewhere around 180 Hz – 1 kHz. To eliminate any extra brightness and sharpness, you would apply a precise cut around 1-2 kHz with a very narrow Q. You should tread carefully regarding highs and either cut or boost based on the type of synth that you’re using in the mix.
Saw synths are likely to be muddy most of the time, that is why it’s a great idea to use a high-pass filter to cut all of the unnecessary rumble that lives below 100 Hz. The same can be done regarding lead synth and synth pads. But with atmospheric synthesizers, you have to choose whether you need low frequencies or not. Because leaving those frequencies intact will make atmospheric synthesizers heavy and deep, and by cutting, they will become lighter and more breathable.
It’s a well-known fact that the mid-range is the place where all instruments tend to sound rather muddy, synths aren’t an exception. So in order to make the synth sound less boomy and muddy, you can apply a small cut with a very wide Q somewhere around 200-400 Hz.
If talking about pluck synths, their range of muddiness is a bit wider than that, and to eliminate these unpleasant frequencies, you have to set up a high-pass filter around 180 Hz to 1 kHz. Again, to eliminate muddiness from lead synths, you should apply a high-pass filter around 300-600 Hz.
Regarding saw synths, you should boost them only if you’re sure that it is absolutely necessary. So in order to achieve round and full-body, you should apply a gentle boost somewhere around 100-300 Hz.
It is a rather common tendency that synths sound too bright and sharp. If it isn’t what you desire you hear in your mix, then it would be a good idea to apply a precise cut somewhere around 1-2 kHz with a very narrow Q.
You should boost lead synths only if you are sure that it’s something that your mix lacks. If that is the case, then you should apply a gentle boost around 1 kHz to bring lead synths more to the front.
The general advice here would be not to do anything with hi-range at all, but if the sound is too bland and dull, you can apply a high-shelf boost around 5-10 kHz.
Now, we will get into the details about each type of synth.
Regarding lead synths, to enhance the brightness of this synth, you should carefully boost somewhere around 6-10 kHz. As hi-range is the place where hi-hats tend to live and flourish, it’s a good idea to let them be by applying a low-pass filter around 12 kHz in order to keep the high-end of the synth but don’t let a conflict appear.
It’s a rather uncommon occasion when somebody boosts an atmospheric synth. But in those cases when this synth sounds rather too bland, you can carefully apply a boost around 5-10 kHz. Regarding any frequencies that live further than 10 kHz, you can either keep them or cut them. If you decide to cut them, then the atmospheric synth will sound further away and deeper. And if you decide to let them stay, then the synth will sound brighter and closer.
With pluck synth, you can boost 5-10 kHz to emphasize the higher frequencies and make this synth sound more pronounced. In order to avoid the conflict with hi-hats, it’s better to apply a low-pass filter around 12 kHz, but no less as pluck synth really needs to have frequencies within this range to make some influence on the mix.
Lastly, to make your saw synth sound brighter, you should apply a gentle boost somewhere around 6-10 kHz. In order to exclude any conflict with hi-hats but preserve the edge of this synth, you should apply a low-pass filter somewhere around 10-14 kHz.
Other ways to make synths sound good
There are a few more ways how to make synths sound better with the understanding tweakability, compression, reverberation, and choosing the right synth for you.
It’s not a secret that the reason why everybody loves synths is that they are so easy to tweak and produce many more sounds. Using just a few knobs at a time, you can get the desired result effortlessly and have fun in the process. It totally depends on the brand and the model of the synthesizer, but you should be able to play with different oscillators, attack, sustain, decay, delay, and many more. Fortunately enough there will be no lack of practice since the market is full of exceptional options.
Also, you can change the tone of the synthesizer if you’re using a compressor. Luckily there are a lot of analog and digital options to choose from. For synths, if you want to achieve a punchier impact, you can set the attack time of the synth after the attack time of the compressor, somewhere around 15-40 milliseconds. To compress lead synth, you should choose 2-4 dB gain reduction with a ratio of 2:1-5:1. While compressing saw and pluck synth, you might want to use 3 dB of gain reduction within the same ratio 2:1-5:1. While compressing atmospheric synths, it’s a good idea to use a soft knee and a low ratio of 2:1, with a short attack and long release time and 2-3 dB of gain reduction.
Synth, like any other instrument, sounds better when reverb is applied. Which type of reverb to choose depends on your musical idea and the genre that you’re composing. There’re several hardware pedals that offer you a lot of reverberation options, as well as many digital reverbs that offer you the same amount of versatility.
Choosing the right one
When it comes down to choosing the right instrument for you, you are left to choose between an analog hardware synthesizer and a digital software synth. There are many advantages from both sides, but we’ll line them out for you to help.
So, the reason why there are still a lot of fans of the analog gear is to have a hands-on experience. There is a certain degree of satisfaction in tweaking, pushing, and touching a wide variety of knobs and buttons.
The next one is to dedicate quite some time to fully mastering what the synthesizer has to offer. Though it may look rather a disadvantage, knowing that you finally get what you always wanted kind of pays for all that time that you will spend learning and experimenting.
Then it’s time to talk about value. Not that particular sum of money that you spent on buying the analog synth, but the value that it will have over time, especially if you got your hands on a vintage synth.
All people, and music producers too, like to have something unique at their disposal. Having an analog synthesizer comes with uniqueness and warmth that can be found only in analog circuitry.
Let’s start from the point that when choosing a digital synthesizer, depending on the library, you can have a lot of vintage synthesizers in one place. They have all the looks and functionality and sound as close to the original as they can be.
Some may argue that they can spot the difference between an analog unit and a digital one, but technologies don’t stay in one place, and if you can tell the difference, then the software may be a better option for you.
The fact that the majority of audio engineers and music producers tend to work from a home studio says enough about choosing the option that doesn’t require that much free space. Using software means that you only need a MIDI keyboard, and you’re golden.
For someone who is very new to the world of music production, an analog unit might be just a bit a lot. So, in the case of being user-friendly, it’s better for the beginning to choose a VST synth, luckily, there’s plenty to choose from.