Top 11 Best Tips For EQing Kick Drums


The kick drum is an important part of many songs and mixes. In some genres, it's even the most important element. EQ is also an essential part of mixing, and it's no surprise that kick drums often benefit from EQ. When it comes to EQing kick drums, there are no simple step-by-step instructions; every mix is unique. However, there are certain considerations we should take into account when EQing the kick, which is what this article is all about.

Before we go any further, I should state that there are no hard rules with EQ or any other mixing process. The tips mentioned in this article are simply suggestions and techniques worth considering when EQing kick drums. There are no procedures that work 100% of the time, and every mix is unique in its own needs.

Here are 11 pro tips for EQing kick drum:

  1. Always A/B test
  2. Consider how the kick drum was recorded
  3. Consider the genre
  4. EQing kick drum in the context of the mix
  5. Mirrored EQ and the interaction between the kick and bass
  6. Cutting “boxiness”
  7. Listen for the beater attack
  8. Consider low-pass filtering the top-end
  9. Beware of phase shifting
  10. Beware of pre-ringing (linear phase EQ)
  11. Eliminating low-end rumble

Let's discuss each of these tips in more detail to give you important considerations when EQing kick drum in your mixes.

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Always A/B Test

The first tip I have for you is the good old A/B test.

A/B testing is effectively testing two options (option A and B) and comparing the two to make an informed decision on which is better.

In the case of EQing kick drums, we can A/B test by turning an EQ on and off (bypassing it) or by turning different bands within the EQ on and off.

Whenever we make any EQ adjustments on a kick drum, it's worth A/Bing them against the original signal and listening to whether the EQ improves the sound of the kick in the mix or not.

When A/B testing, turn the EQ off and listen for about 10 seconds. Turn it back on and listen for another 10 seconds. Repeat the process and decide whether to keep the EQ, readjust it, or get rid of it.

Unfortunately for us mixers, the human auditory system quickly adjusts to whatever we're listening to. When mixing, we can quickly lose perspective and our objective decision-making skills. As we adjust parameters to achieve balance and any other goals in the mixing process, we can quickly lose our frame of reference of what a good balance actually is.

So use A/Bing to your advantage when EQing the kick drum of a mix, and keep this tip in mind as you make your way through the rest of the tips in this article.


Consider How The Kick Drum Was Recorded

In general, the more information we have regarding how the song was recorded and produced, the better. Knowing how the kick drum was recorded gives us a better idea of what it is we're working with when it comes time to apply EQ (if at all).

Was the kick drum recorded with microphones, and if so, how was the kick miked up? Was the microphone placed outside or inside the kick? Was there an additional mic to capture the sound of the beater(s)?

Positioning the mic inside the kick will generally yield a boomier sound in the low-end and will be less sensitive to bleed from the other drums and cymbals of the kit (along with any other instruments in the room). Conversely, positioning a mic outside the kick will capture more bleed but perhaps a “flatter” response from the kick itself.

If a mic is positioned to capture the beater attack, we may want to high-pass filter it and use that signal for the kick's top-end in the mix. We can also opt to low-pass filter the main mic signal for our low-end. This is just a suggestion.

If there's significant bleed, we may want to get surgical in the EQ to reduce harsh resonances. It may be necessary to low-pass rather aggressively to eliminate cymbal bleed from the kick.

Kick drums are often samples in pop, hip-hop and electronic music. Ask yourself how processed the kick drum is and whether it may or may not require EQ to fit into the mix at hand.

Similarly, many productions utilize ‘drum replacement', where a recorded kick drum is either replaced or doubled with samples to enhance the sound of the drums. When it comes to the kick, consider whether the original and/or replaced kick sound needs EQ.

Finally, “kick drums” can also be synthesized. Be careful with synth kicks, as many synthesizers can produce frequency content well below the audible limit of 20 Hz. In these cases, high-pass filtering is necessary to avoid build-up in these inaudible frequencies (that work against us in the mix by eating up headroom without ever being heard).

To learn more about headroom, check out my article What Is Headroom In Audio? (Recording, Mixing & Mastering).

I don't have any specifics for EQ in this regard. However, it's important to know the source of the kick drum sound to make more informed decisions.


Consider The Genre

Kick drums often serve different roles, albeit slightly, in different genres of music. Furthermore, the typical mix aesthetic tends to shift from genre to genre.

We'll often record or sample a kick drum to suit the song in the recording and production phases of the music production process. However, it's worth considering the genre and the role of the kick drum within the song before we reach for EQ.

I should reiterate that no two mixes are the same, but we can still draw similarities within genres.

For example, the kick drum of an EDM track will likely be much more powerful and well-represented in the mix (across the low-end and mid-range frequencies). A jazz kick may be lower in the mix and not require EQ at all. A steady 32nd note kick pattern in a metal song may require significant cutting in the low-end in order not to overload the low-end of the mix.

These examples are just a few of the considerations worth addressing. Give thought to the genre of music you're mixing and study a few references if you need to to get a better idea of potential EQ moves on the kick drum.


EQing Kick Drum In The Context Of The Mix

A great mix is more about the interaction of all the different elements than each element by itself. Put differently; it's critical that we mix and process the kick drum in relation to everything else in the mix.

Before moving on, the exception here is for general clean-up. If there is particularly problematic resonance, noise or bleed in the signal, it's likely easiest to address these concerns with EQ in solo. However, the overarching goal of mixing is to have everything work together, which means we should ultimately EQ in kick in the context of the mix (if we EQ it at all).

Considering the mix as a whole, it's often the case that the individual tracks will be processed to improve the technical and emotional aspects of the music at the expense of their individual sonic characteristics. Don't sweat making the kick drum sound “worse” on its own, so long as your processing improves the overall mix.

The denser the mix, the more “unflattering” processing we may end up applying to individual elements in order to have them fit perfectly in the mix.

Remember to A/B your EQ decisions by turning the EQ on and off and listening critically to recalibrate your ears.

If the EQ on the kick drum improves the mix, keep it. If it doesn't, don't hesitate to readjust the EQ parameters or even get rid of the EQ altogether.


Mirrored EQ And The Interaction Between The Kick And Bass

The kick drum is often the main percussive element in the low-end of the mix. Bass elements will compete with one another for the critical low-end frequencies of the mix. Perhaps the most common example is the kick competing with the bass guitar or synth.

We'll want to use mirrored EQ to help carve out space for the kick and bass in the mix. Whichever element gets the lower-frequency boost (and higher-frequency cut) depends on the mix. Sometimes the bass should cover the lowest frequencies, and sometimes the kick should.

If the kick drum needs more strength in the mix, try giving it a boost in the 50 – 100 Hz range. It's generally best to mirror EQ the kick with bass, so if you're boosting toward the low point of the 50 – 100 Hz range, try cutting toward the high point (and vice versa). Try the opposite with the bass. Use your ears to find the right frequencies.

When EQing the low-end of the kick, find the “fundamental” frequency where the kick is powerful and resonant. It may not be necessary to boost the kick's EQ at this frequency, though cutting the bass elements gently at this frequency may be beneficial.

It's also worth high-passing nearly all other tracks that don't have musical information in the low-end to help reduce competition and improve the clarity of the kick and other low-end elements.

Related article: Top 11 Best Tips For EQing Bass Guitar


Cutting “Boxiness”

A kick drum track may sound “boxy” (having too much perceived mid-range). Try an EQ cut in the 250 – 500 Hz range to help reduce “boxiness” and solidify the low-end thump and high-end beater attack.

Cutting in this range also gives more space for other elements to shine in the low-mid range.


Listen For The Beater Attack

Listen for the beater attack in the 3 – 4 kHz range and consider giving it a slight boost with EQ if the kick is a bit buried in the mix.

Pushing the beater attack [tastefully] will give the kick more presence in the mix.

The mid-range is super important to get right because it's the most translatable part of a mix. Many playback systems will have poor low-end and high-end response, but the mid-range is nearly always decently represented (even if it's skewed). Think of smartphone and computer speakers.

In these non-ideal playback systems, our low-end is often lost. Having the kick push through a bit in the mid-range can help get it heard in frequency-restricted playback devices.


Consider Low-pass Filtering The Top-end

In many cases, we'll want to eliminate high-frequency cymbal bleed from a kick drum channel. However, we may want to reduce the high-end, even in samples and synthesized kicks, in order to free up the upper-mids and brilliance range for other instruments.

Although it's not as dire as low-end competition, having fewer mix elements represented in the high frequencies can help with mix clarity.

To learn more about low-pass filters, check out my article Audio EQ: What Is A Low-Pass Filter & How Do LPFs Work?


Beware Of Phase Shifting

EQ has an often-ignored side effect of phase shifting. In general, steeper/narrower EQ moves cause great phase shifts.

While phase shifting isn't a major concern in the higher frequencies, it can have negative consequences in the low-end due to the longer waveforms.

It's important to have proper phase cohesion between low-end elements to get a solid low-end. This means that the waveforms of the low-end elements tend to line up decently well (positive amplitudes match positive and negative amplitudes match negative). Of course, not two elements will line up perfectly unless they're exact duplicates, but getting the elements largely in sync will cause constructive phase relationships and stronger low end.

If low-end elements are out-of-phase, the low-end will become weak and ill-defined, leading to a lacklustre mix.

To envision this, we can visualize a speaker cone. If one low-end element tells the speaker to push air and the other tells it to pull air simultaneously, the speaker won't end up moving at all.

Getting back to EQ, any moves we make in the low-end should be considered carefully, especially if we need steep slopes or narrow boosts or cuts. The resulting phase shift can throw certain frequencies off, causing unseen destructive interference.

As always, when using EQ (and any other mixing process), it's critical to use your ears and not your eyes.

Always A/B test to hear if your low-end EQ moves are improving the mix or not.


Beware Of Pre-ringing (Linear Phase EQ)

Now that we know how much of a problem the side effect of phase shifting can be, we can understand the benefit of linear phase EQ.

Linear phase EQ is a type of equalization that does not alter the phase relationship of the source. There is no phase shift; therefore, the phase is “linear”. Achieving linear phase is not possible with analog circuits and has been made possible with digital signal processing and computer coding.

To learn more about linear phase EQ, check out my article The Complete Guide To Linear Phase Equalization/EQ.

So we can use linear phase EQ without worrying about shifting phase. However, it comes at the price of another side effect known as pre-ringing.

Pre-ringing is where an echo of the signal will precede the intended output signal.

Unfortunately, like phase shifting, pre-ringing tends to have a disproportionate effect on low-frequency/long-wavelength signals and, therefore, the low-end of kick drums. Furthermore, it can be particularly pronounced on transient information, which defines the sound of many percussion instruments like the kick drum.

So, we should be aware when using linear phase EQ on kick drums, especially if we're being aggressive with it. Listen carefully for any pre-ringing and make adjustments as necessary (which may include opting for a “regular” minimal or natural phase EQ after all).


Eliminating Low-end Rumble

While kick drums are typically one of the few instruments to represent the extreme low-end of the mix, it's often advisable to filter out their low-end as well.

Using a high-pass filter to eliminate low-end rumble and noise from a kick drum channel can help improve the clarity of the entire mix and even increase the potential for loudness.

However, as mentioned before, we must be careful of phase shifting (or pre-ringing if we opt for a linear phase EQ) when EQing the low-end of the kick.

In general, it's best to either use a gentle slope (6 or 12 dB/octave) or to set the HPF cutoff frequency well below the kick's “fundamental” frequency. Doing so will have less of an effect on the sound of the kick while still reducing the noise below the fundamental and the audible human range.

To learn more about high-pass filters, check out my article Audio EQ: What Is A High-Pass Filter & How Do HPFs Work?


Other EQ Tips For Common Elements


This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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