Mixing and mastering would be a challenging task without EQ. EQ allows for the alteration of phase to create unique and exciting contours of sound. Whether mixing ITB (in the box) or hybrid (mixing plugins plus analog hardware), the choice of EQ always matters. No two mixing or mastering EQs are equal in function. The wise approach is best to understand the tools of the trade, before randomly grabbing whatever plugin EQ which was used yesterday during the mixing process. Education is the initial key to evolution. Now, let’s talk EDM mixing and mastering EQ tips (with Mäag Audio).
Rather than diving into all the different kinds of EQs and what the various curves can do, it would be best to start with the most used EQ curves which are wide bell curves and shelves. There is no shortage of wide band and shelve EQs on the market. What there is a shortage of are mixing and mastering EQs which are simple to use, offer a uniquely fresh sound (especially for modern EDM genres), and can work on just about any audio source (single tracks, sub groups, the mix buss, and in mastering).
Currently, at The Continuum Music Studio, we have a pair of Mäag Audio EQ2’s and EQ4’s (including the plugins versions). We now have the privilege of shooting out these two sets of EQs against the 2016 incarnation of the Mäag Audio EQ4m Mastering EQ. Today we are going to share our experience with these Mäag Audio products and illustrate how these products can enhance the production/mixing/mastering phases of Pop, Future Bass, Chillstep, Dubstep, Deep House, Trance, Riddem, Electro House, Trap, Tropical House, Tech House and many of the most prolific EDM sub genres.
I became addicted to the Mäag Audio products in the digital realm. The Mäag Audio line of mixing plugins (offered through Plugin-Alliance) seriously rocks! I can recall the first time I slapped an EQ4 plugin on a piano. If my memory serves, the preset was called “Pop Piano.” The application of this one plugin had such a radical impact my Kontact Alicia Keys Piano (MIDI track) that the Mäag Audio EQ4 became my go to mixing EQ over anything else in my library for broad and musical boosting. The EQ2, EQ4, and EQ4m all offer a refreshingly HI-FI character that has a depth and openness in the top end thanks to the magic of the “Air Band.” All Mäag Audio models offer round smooth curves while somehow also adding punch to the low end (by way of the sub band). The characteristics of round and punchy are very seldom mentioned when it comes to one singular EQ that is not a proportional ‘Q’ design. The contour of filter shapes in Mäag Audio mixing and mastering EQs are highly useful for multiple genres of EDM as EDM is all about punch and atmosphere.
When mixing and mastering EDM at home, it is vital to keep final record tight and open. This is where Mäag Audio products may appear to be counter intuitive. Believe it or not, despite the bands on the Mäag Audio products being fixed and very smooth, the plugins and hardware can do more for the low and high end that most products simply cannot. While “proportional Q” EQs are great (think API 550a/b), but in terms of the low end these are not always the best choice for an EDM mix buss.
There are not many mixing and mastering EQs on the market which go down as low as 10hz! 10 cycles in EDM, especially in bass heavy genres like Drum and Bass, Future Bass, and Deep House, Trap, and others is paramount! The sub is one of the most predominant elements in EDM music and can often make or break the impact of a record in clubs and at festivals. If the sub is too percussive it does not feel like “a tidal wave” of bass. The only EDM genre where the sub is often percussive is Dubstep, but even Dubstep can benefit from accurate sub sonic boosting. From personal experience, I can attest to the fact that I will grab the 10 cycle sub band on my EQ2 hardware over the 30 cycles band on my API 5500 for a mix buss EQ nine times out of ten on most EDM mixes and masters.
Want more info on other common mixing and mastering EQ misconceptions?
The EQ2 sub band (same sub band on the EQ4 and EQ4m) is fixed at 10hz. 2dB of this boosted in conjunction with a 2 dB boost at 40k will do wonders for an EDM stereo buss. The sub band has an option to be switched to “tight” or “wide” on the physical EQ and plugin. This means that once the frequency is chosen (10 cycles to 1.4k) there is then an option to carve the curve to the particular record. This is genius!
If you are not familiar with Mäag Audio products, the “Air Band” is the Mäag Audio claim to fame, and for a justifiable reason. This band alone can inject openness and air to any track, subgroup, mix, or master at pivotal frequencies points with a moderate and highly intoxicating shelf. In the realm of EDM, openness, and atmosphere is a must! The ability to switch this contour of atmosphere between 2.5 – 40k allows are a ton of flexibility. The “Air Band” shelf is quite gentle and has the ability to lift the feeling of a mix beyond the point of the human hearing range.
The 20k and 40k options on the stereo buss will inject an instant openness, definition, and clarity to the top end. The trick is to boost the top-end aggressively at first by cranking the gain up 5-7 dB. Then switch between the air points. Once the atmospheric enhancement is reached, dial the gain back so the boost is not heavily audible. Mäag Audio products can be pushed VERY hard without any unpleasing artifacts or nasty distortion. This means these EQs can be abused if not careful.
To describe Mäag Audio’s “Air Band” in one word…Heavenly!
The 500 series EQ units took what I loved about the plugins and brought the curves to life in a three-dimensional manner that had a highly smooth harmonic richness. After comparing the hardware to the plugins in depth, it was evident that the analog saturation (when pushing the EQ over 2.5dB on multiple bands simultaneously) blew the plugin digital saturation away sonically. Now, let me be clear to state that the hardware is not better than the plugin. The hardware just offers a smoother and more natural sound where the plugin provides a more energetic and digital vibe. Both character options have advantages. To this day, the hardware and software make EVERY mix.
When the EQ4m arrived recently, it was a real treat to have the opportunity to rack up the 19-inch version along side the 500 series and plugins. Upon racking, it was easily noticeable the build quality and craftsmanship lived up to the Mäag Audio standard. All Mäag Audio gear is made with high-quality components and offers detented pots for easy recall.
The EQ4m has a lot going on under the hood, but the finest feature is the upgraded power supply. The enhanced power supply allows the EQ4m to render a significantly cleaner and more open signal than the EQ4 500 series unit and plugin versions. An upgraded power supply is the core advantage of buying 19-inch gear in comparison to the more condensed 500 series units. Additionally, the upgraded EQ4m power supply provides for a silky smooth mastering EQ for wide musical boosting in 0.5 dB step increments. If you are on a budget and are looking to develop a hybrid setup, it is the case that the 500 series units capture the same tone, function, and essence of the mastering version. The only difference between the two are the levels of harmonic distortion generated (headroom variances).
Regarding EDM mixing and mastering buss duties, professional engineers often choose clean analog gear which offers a high amount of headroom. Ample headroom prevents the audio path from striking coloration points while delivering musical and transparent boosting on the source audio. On the other hand, colored units (those which create more apparent harmonic distortion) often land on individual tracks and subgroups in the mix.
Want more info on headroom, dynamic range, or getting mixes louder in the mastering phase?
The application of plugins, 500 series units, and 19-inch versions, is, of course, all subjective. Some EDM professionals run their mix buss or master chain through gear/plugins which explicitly create ample amount of harmonic distortion. This approach thrives in parallel at low levels to add a harmonic enhancement to the mix in a subtle way. Both the clean and colored approach is an excellent way of working. It is up to you to develop your own taste and workflow. This is the truly advantageous aspects of Mäag Audio gear. The plugins and hardware can be either clean or saturated depending on how high the input gain is set. Gain staging the input and output gain of Mäag Audio products which precision unlocks several doors for sonic shaping to taste.
Both the clean and colored approach is an excellent way of working. It is up to you to develop your own taste and workflow. This is the truly advantageous aspect of Mäag Audio EQs for EDM mixing and mastering. The plugins and hardware can be either clean or saturated depending on how high your input gain is set. Finely adjusting the gain staging of input and output stages of all Mäag Audio products (with precision) unlocks a wide range of doors for sonic shaping in the clean and tonal realms.
The EQ4m offers a higher headroom ceiling than the plugin and 500 series options. For mixes and/or masters that demand a clean and open vibe, this EQ rocks! When the mix or master calls for a bit of tone the EQ2/EQ4 500 series units can really add some great harmonic distortion in a clean yet musical way. If the master calls for a digital vibe the plugins are the way to go.
Mastering EDM demands a different approach than more organic genres. It can be best to stay ITB when mastering some EDM records, especially if the producer mixed the song ITB and prefers the ITB sound. In these situations, the plugin versions of the EQ2/EQ4 will retain the ITB emotional contour needed for consistency on the record (while also injecting some very cool tone).
Mäag Audio mixing and mastering EQ’s have the ability to cut as well as boost, but these products thrive when boosting over cutting (with exception of the EQ2 which can only boost). Don’t take our word for it though, experience these mixing and mastering EQs for yourself! You should endeavor to align with mixing and mastering tools based on your own objective experience vs. taking anyone’s word for anything, including ours (Big Smiles).
If you love what Mäag Audio offers concerning the musicality of the EQ, then any option (Plugin-Alliance, UAD, or hardware) will achieve the same results (regarding adding a bell/shelf contour that is musical).
The good news is you do not have to drop fat cash to hear the Mäag Audio tone. The digital realm will get you damn close to what to expect from the hardware. Both the Plugin-Alliance versions and UAD sound great and offer 14 day demo periods. If we had to pick one company over the other, we would recommend the Plugin-Alliance version. Our ears just like this one better, can’t quite say why, but that’s our subjective two cents!
Fun fact: Mäag Audio also currently offers a 500-series mic preamp (PreQ4, with the AirBand EQ) which is also an excellent sounding unit for those who are doing a lot of tracking. Having the “Air Band” on the preamp makes a huge difference in the recording phase for adding air and openness to whatever source audio is running through the preamp circuitry.
The Maag PREQ4 preamp is more than just a really punchy mic pre. The addition of the AIR BAND eq with selectable frequencies is just amazing. – Joe Barresi
We are going to dive deeper into tracking and mixing with Mäag Audio in an upcoming article as we are on the verge of getting a pair of the new Mäag Audio Magnum K Compressors with Parallel EQ in soon! That is for another day though (Excited Smiles).
For now, go demo some plugins and see what the unprecedented Mäag Audio tone is all about. If you want to hear some audio examples of the Plugin-Alliance EQ4 plugin in the mix check out the video at the end of this article.
About The Company: There something every music producer, aspiring audio engineer, and professional should consider before making a purchase of mixing plugins or analog hardware. This point of consideration should be, “who are the people making the gear and what do they stand for.”
Mäag Audio offers high-quality products with an outstanding level of customer service. Cliff Mäag Jr. is one of the most down to earth and approachable people in the industry. Both Cliff Jr. and his father Cliff Sr. (designer of all Mäag Audio products) have a tremendous amount of passion for creating unique and innovative tools which empower the creativity of recording artists, music producers, aspiring audio engineers, and mixing and mastering professionals.
The Magnum-K is simply one of the greatest audio products ever to be released. – Dylan Dresdow
Cliff Mäag Jr. and Sr., coupled with their dedicated team, love what they do! From a consumer perspective, this is something that is not present with all companies and should be a note to remember before dropping cash on expensive analog hardware and/or mixing plugins. When years of research and development, meticulous testing, industry experience, consideration of user commentary, and loads of focused passion are all merged together amazing products are created!
Below is a video showcases the plugin features of the Mäag Audio EQ4 multiple sound sources in an EDM mix. This video is a Continuum Production and features Dom Tassinari (our leading Ableton Live educator mixing engineer at Continuum) showing some of his EDM mixing and mastering EQ tips with Mäag Audio.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Happy EDM producing, mixing, and mastering! Stay tuned… more Mäag Audio information to come. For now, go EQ the hell out of some stuff and have fun! If we aren’t all having fun in the studio, then what is the point of all this madness anyways (Hard laughter)!