Debate: High End Boost

This is a thread about EQ mixing and general song mastering.

Recently a debate has entered my mind as to whether or not there is too much high frequency boost in contemporary music mixing.

I was promted by a criticism at my own mixing, that I boost everything above 16k too much giving my songs a nasty high noisy character. My natural reaction was: “no that’s rubbish, I’m boosting the highs to give a crisp sound and everyone who is cutting edge has that high crisp sound”. Of course I argued the point… only to later think deeply about it.

I went back to my songs and listen closely (btw, I have a great mixing environment with good custom nearfield monitors, plus the Delta 1010). I did some fft analysis, as well as experiementing with reducing all my EQ settings above 16k back to 0dB boost. Immediately I though my mix went back to being dull, and I wasn’t happy. Only later, when I got over my ego on the issue, did I try some alternative ways to get the sounds I wanted.

Instead of boosting everything above 16k (which is predominately noise, not notes, in the mix) I carefully reduced high mids and bass frequencies where I detected harshness or mud. I left everything above 16k at 0dB. The results were astounding. I had a much clearer sound, and as smooth as pro mastering done on some of my favourite 80s and 90s recordings.

So then I thought, where did I get this habbit from of boosting the upper highs?

Look at the ‘cutting edge’ music we are surrounded with, both popular and obscure - a great deal of it has boosted upper high frequencies. Glitch in particular seems to thrive on it, but also look at Royksopp or even Massive Attack’s last one (a record I used to rave about in terms of mixing). They all have rather intense, almost harsh, sounding highs.

Something that concerns me is the possibility that this is a fad based nothing sound that is pressuring composers and mixers to produce things that will sound stupidly outdated and harsh in 10 years time? It concerns me that my contemporaries are possibly giving into a possible problem like this unconsciously. If I go back to mixing very cleanly and reductively, will my style be rejected or not understood because it doesn’t obviously fit into this high frequency intensity fad?

I pose the debate here. Is this boosting too much?

This is quite interesting as I am constantly trying to refine my mixing skills/ knowledge.

Personally I try to rarely use EQ boosts and mix with cuts now. Partially from reading good advice from others and in turn learning the benefits of working this way.

I also don`t trust the EQs in my VST folder enough for the job on a whole mix :) , though I have been considering purchasing the HarmoniEQ (voxengo) or the tritone digital EQ for this very job.

If possible I would be very interested to hear a short A/B comparison of the track you are talking about foo?

What i read from most sound engineers is to cut-off everything after 10Khz and to drop the harsh tones from the 1200Hz range.

I notice a lot of musicians boosting their highs on percussion (hihats and crashhats)

I don’t find them sounding harsh, but boosting highs on lead will make your song sound harsh.

Is it not possible it’s to do with a lot of Sound Engineers going deaf, suffering permanent tinitus and thus boating the highs for it to sound right to them? :P

On that note Ed Rush gave himself terrible tinitus writing the Creeps LP that you can hear it in the mixing. I remember noticing first time I listen to it, one that will sound better once it’s been worn down by a few records plays ;)

Foo? have you had your hearing tested lately?

Perhaps you are adding highs to compensate and others are perceiving it as excessive.

Then again, given that your hearing is working properly, it could just boil down to a matter of taste.

I like a crisp sound with representation in the upper frequencies, but I am conscious of high frequencies ability to damage hearing.
Many of my recent unfinished tracks have, according to renoise content at at least 15k or whatever the scope goes up to.

I would also like it if the renoise scopes showed a little beyond 20k mostly out of curiosity, and as I am interested in noting whether supersonic harmonics and frequencies are having an effect on how I perceive the tune.

I have found also that I like using a high pass filter on breaks with the resonance cranked and emphasizing the 3-5k range.
It can be a little harsh on the ears, but I love how it sounds.
I do wonder if it will be hard for people to listen to though.

I have come across a few tunes that I otherwise love, but have one occasional earsplitting noise that I have to turn down for at an otherwise relatively comfortable high volume.

As speaking of mixing, I would highly recommend this DVD by David Gibson.
Learned so much when watched that video, several times.

I’m fairly sure my hearing is still pretty good (I’m only 25 and I’ve not done too many gigs). My original point still stands that I think there is a noticable fad of boosting going on at the moment.

I listen to a lot of classical and world music. Most of that mixing sound absolutely beautiful to my ears. Or for something more complex and contemporary take Peter Gabriel’s last one, or the latest Kate Bush record. They are sonically brilliant, but don’t fit the trend. Listen to a newer Chemical Brothers record and it’s pain.

On a side issue you wouldn’t use most EQ vsts for mastering because the are non-linear and introduce phasing issues. I’m not aware of any good parametrics that are linear, but I’m sure they are out there and most likely require money to be obtained.

The voxengo Harmoneq has a LP mode, not sure about the tritone though (will check this out).

I was recommended to use exciter instead of boosting upper fequencies. Haven’t tried it yet but I’m going to next week or so.