10 EQ Modes Explained: Boost and Cut EQ

When outlining EQ Modes, we can see that the design of the hardware EQ involves different electronics in the signal path to provide the range of Modes and functionality. I state this because the way in which we interact with EQ in tracking, mixing, mastering, includes Modes that are fixed and selectable, and Modes that are directly affected by the device’s construction. In the format of EQ’s, we find that different era’s and design philosophies provide a different reasoning for the Modes that are provided. Since I wish for this discussion on Modes to deepen your appreciation, understanding, and decision-making of the 5 EQ types mentioned in the first Post series, I wish to start this series by looking at Boost and Cut Modes in various EQ’s.

It may seem that Boost and Cut should always mean the same thing and should always be provided as a single option. Since the terms “Boost” and “Cut” may appear obvious and self-explanatory, you may be wondering why I would start with something so seemingly surface. I would reply that the presentation of Boost and Cut is more telling of the use of an EQ than we might assume.

Some designs, including early Program Equalizers, may provide separate controls for Boost and Cut. Many users may not be aware of this, or give it much thought. Since it has become a central part of the mixing process to use digital tools that emulate their analog counterparts, it becomes equally relevant how Boost and Cut are presented, both inside and outside the digital realm. When Boost and Cut are separated out independently, they may also provide different Frequency options for Boost than are provided for Cut, and they may also provide a slightly different Band shape. If both controls are simultaneously usable, this provides a flexibility that we would not tend to consider on our own. You may be able to reshape the Frequencies around a certain range by overlapping the shape of Boost on top of the shape of Cut, thus bending and molding the waveform to lean towards a musical response that brings multiple instrument qualities together, or reduces a wider palette while accentuating and focusing specific narrower instrumentation. The flexibility in this design is intentional, and though it may seem that separating out Boost and Cut is an antiquated way of handling EQ tasks, it may actually open up more possibilities than our standard Boost and Cut expectations.

Normally, we will find Boost and Cut as a single Gain controller in analog and digital form. The Frequency choice, shape, slope, will have its control, along with a separate control for Boost and Gain. Inside the digital domain, we may have tools that go beyond the traditional barriers of analog EQ’s, giving us ways to bend, shape, and mold Frequencies and Gain that are far more flexible than what we have seen in the past. Along with these freedoms comes new responsibilities to make the best choices that favor the audio impact over the visualizations provided.

Next, I’ll discuss Fixed versus Variable Frequency EQ Modes.