Do you have 'Perfect EQ'?

Do you have 'Perfect EQ'?

Some people have perfect pitch. They can tell you the letter name of any musical note instantly. So do some people also have 'perfect EQ'?

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You know how some people have perfect pitch - they can name any musical note instantly? I don't have perfect pitch and that's something I'm thankful for. I can see the usefulness of it, but I can also imagine significant drawbacks.

I like to listen to music and, free from perfect pitch, I don't have to worry about musical theory, what key the music is in, and whether the musicians are tuned to concert pitch or military band pitch. I can imagine that a listener with perfect pitch hears more of the problems than the wondrous sonorities on offer.

My point is however that there is no way I can ever understand what it's like to have perfect pitch. I can never know how music really does sound to such a person. And they can't understand how music sounds to me either. If they listen to me play, they might realize that I've tuned my instrument a quarter-tone sharp, where I wouldn't know without a reference. But they might not hear the interactions between harmonies the way I do, because I'm not aware of the exact pitches of the individual notes.

But it struck me recently that it might be possible for someone to have such a thing as 'perfect EQ'.

The classic scenario would be where a certain instrument in the mix seems to need a mid-band EQ cut, but most recordists would have to sweep the frequency control to find the right frequency, then fine-tune the gain and Q. Granted, the more experience you have, the quicker this process becomes, and in a sense it can become almost automatic. But I suspect it is a rare person who can listen to a sound and know exactly what EQ it needs, then set that EQ without the need for further adjustment.

But are there such people? Do people exist who can sense the spectrum of an audio signal directly and without thinking about it, like people with perfect pitch sense notes?

That's one question, but there's another...

Suppose that an engineer doesn't have 'perfect EQ', and some people do. What do those people think of that engineer's work? Does it sound like a jumble of frequencies to them?

By the way, I can tell you that perfect pitch isn't always what it's cracked up to be. I once knew an amateur cello player who had an acute sense of perfect pitch. His playing was always out of tune though. Somehow there's a distinction between what you want to hear and what you actually do hear!

P.S. I am totally convinced that success in recording is not down to the quality of your hearing but the degree of attention you pay to what you are listening to. So not having perfect pitch, or 'perfect EQ', is nothing to worry about!

Publication date: Tuesday May 03, 2011
Author: David Mellor



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Earlier discussion on this topic...

E Base Edu Boy, Awka, Nigeria

am stil finding it difficult workin a good eq for my mixed using nuendo 3 in my baby studio. I nid an explainations 2 gettin a prefreable eq for my mix new 2 mixing. And if there are good pluggings workin a better mixdown
Thursday June 23, 2011

Ozzy, Alkmaar, Netherlands

I think perfect EQ is a theoretical probability, but a non existent one in real life. Yes, when I mix live, and the band plays in a certain key, I will closely match my EQ settings to the best harmonic values. But can anyone here tell 433,2 from 433,3 Hz? You can maybe tell that it sounds different. I do a lot of live sessions with some truly great musicians and I seem to proactively get it right in any situation or style, without any soundcheck whatsoever. But for the most part it comes from an innate musical sense, coupled with experience and knowledge. Musical recognition comes from breathing along, feeling and memorizing. I would agree with Ben Chandler for the most part. And yes, proper board settings make it like a fine tuned instrument. I would not want EQ perfect in any case, the spur of the moment is where it happens for me... A bit of a non-issue really...
Tuesday June 07, 2011

Muhammad Rafique, Lahore, Pakistan

I wan b a part of winning team. For all over the world in the field of recording
Tuesday June 07, 2011

Sanusi, Lagos, Nigeria

SANUSI AHAMADU AKA SHANANA an upcoming artist ,the new genaration musicians in west AFRICA ar workin very hard to create a music brand that can have a universal appeal.In Nigeria alone we have so many raw rhethems, that u will not know what do.Ghana , cameron Ivory coast ,all have there unique rhethems. soo much style , even in lagos state where i reside each area has its style of music.ajegunle music. mushin musicfuji FESTAC music .Bariga style.Agege style.For me its all about the mood.what is the mood those who listen to the music, u should lern to read u audience and analyse ,
Tuesday June 07, 2011

Maxx Heth, Plano, United States

I agree! "Perfect EQ" seems to be a bit of a misnomer because the way any engineer will choose to EQ will largely depend upon how they like to mix and the types of EQ's they choose to use. For example, how "perfect" of you sound could you get if you chose to use a stock ITB EQ like Logic Pro's Channel EQ, a third-party plug-in like Voxengo Overtone, or a hardware EQ like the Massive Passive? (Which would be better? I would say that it always depends upon what you're trying to accomplish mix-wise, and furthermore, even if you dialed in similar settings on all three EQ's, you'd obviously end up getting tonally different-sounding results). In addition to what Ben said about "being able to hear the interrelationship of all the elements in a mix", I think a more accurate term would be "Relatively perfect (or adequate) EQ" because any EQ'ing you do to a particular element has to fit the overall context of a mix, even if the element doesn't sound "perfect" all by itself with the way you EQ'ed it. =D
Monday May 30, 2011

Greg King, Adelaide, Australia

Hi. Interesting comments. Perfect EQ - true or not? I have worked with an engineer at a couple of folk/world music festivals and corperate events where many entertainers/bands etc would perform for 30 mins and then a 5 minute off and next band on etc. This engineer could pick his gain and eq in advance by looking at the performer/ band members/instruments. NO sound check - they just play and within 30 seconds his mixes were sounding very coherent and their monitors were acceptable. Just very minor adjustments after the initial 30 seconds. It was unnerving how he just knew. So, I think experience can lead to intuitive eq choices. Re pitch, I have spent way too much time with autotune trying to correct a note or two that were grating only to discover they were 1/4 of a note out. Others were also out but they did not stand out. I am not sure why, but some things just are :) Cheers
Thursday May 12, 2011

Mezz, Dayton, Us

Just become a live sound engineer, you will have to train yourself to be able to hear feedback frequencies and pick out that particular frequency on a 31 band EQ. We can hear feedback and have it gone within seconds during a show by knowing exactly what frequency we're hearing. This has helped me in the studio when mixing by making it easier to know a good starting point for the frequency and q width when I want to make adjustments.
Wednesday May 11, 2011

Robert, Balga, Ausralia

OK a far as perfect EQ I think it is an over simplification of all the elements that go in to making music. Not only are there environmental factors but there is also the way we perceive music witch has a lot to do with culture and education. In conclusion I think nothing beets experience!
Wednesday May 11, 2011

Mark Lyon, Oklahoma City, USA

While I do agree that some people may appear to have perfect EQ, the question is perfect in relation to what? We have gotten used to the model of what certain instruments are supposed to sound like, and it is true that certain instruments live within specific frequency ranges. Some people may have enough experience mixing to appear to have perfect EQ, or they may have memorized a set of paramaters that always work for them. True perfect EQ would seem to live in the savant range. But in the case of the savant, would this knowledge be useful information? I do believe that some people just have a knack for finding the right tone and balance. Some people can have a natural ability to play a musical instrument, while others struggle for years and never "play music". But those with natural ability still have to work at it to become excellent. I think that it is the same in the audio recording domain. The rest of us just have to sweep/boost/dip to find it. And power to the engineer that is looking to break boundries and maybe EQ that snare drum or that vocal just a little (or a whole lot)different than the norm.
Tuesday May 10, 2011


I have a problem trying to suggest that perfect EQ exists, unless it means that the better EQ setting for a song was realized. Unlike perfect pitch which has less to do with the quality of the instrument, amp, speakers, plug-ins, the room used, EQ would seem to be subject to all of that and more. It would be like saying someone has perfect color vision. How is that possible when color is arbitrary with millions of shades of the primary colors of the color spectrum? Searching around within a song for the "right" EQ must have many factors involved; the other instruments in the song and all the EQ settings those are under, the playback system, quality of plugins, the acoustics in the room. If getting a phantom image is subject to proper acoustics then getting "perfect EQ" should fall under the same set of circumstances. And yet this may be subjective as the next generation of engineers, equipment and listeners will have different ears altogether, But A-440 will always be A-440 to infinity.
Monday May 09, 2011

Brian, Kent, Washington, United States

I don't think of myself as having "perfect EQ", but I do seem to hear frequencies in a tonal kind of way. Things out of tune bother me, but not as bad as frequencies that seem to muddle up a mix. Instinctively I can go to an equalizer and get pretty close on my first attempt at clearing things up. Perfect Eq? Never would have thought of it in that way. Rather, a good ear for clearing up a jumbled mess of a mix. I am not sure if there is really "perfect anything". Good at hearing pitch? Good at hearing frequencies? Maybe more along those lines??
Monday May 09, 2011

Michael, Orange, Ca, USA

When I was studying classical guitar performance in college, I had a very few professors with perfect pitch. It was lovely for being able to know what note a chair squeaked at, but didn't really help them play better. The performance was a skill that required work, and they still have to "hear" the quality and musicality of the perfomance like everyone else. An engineer is in the same boat I think. You must hear how it all works together, and sometimes disonance is better than harmony if discord is what works for a particular peice. And honestly, most people don't hear the way someone with exceptional pitch does, so if you are producing a recording being one of the masses has it's advantage since you'lll hear it the way they do too. I hear people talk about this mystical "perfect" element that we all fear we are missing. I think the only element that can bring you closer to "your perfect" production is experience and a constant jouney to do it one step better each time.
Monday May 09, 2011

Ben, Chandler, Az, USA

As an audio engineer, and a professional I've had to train myself to be able to hear frequency ranges, which I think is more in the realm of reality than what "perfect EQ" suggests. Perfect EQ, in my estimation, might be as distracting to engineers and mixers, and as big a curse, as perfect pitch is to those musicians who posses it. We as mixers, recordists and mastering engineers, benefit more from an overall perspective, or being able to hear the interrelationship of all elements of a mix. Boy would I hate to get hung up on one aspect of a mix to the detriment of the balance. Of course, in my case, having been a working musician, for a number of years, never hurt.
Monday May 09, 2011