How to EQ Drums for a Professional Sound in Any DAW
Updated: Feb 9
When you purchase through links on my site, I may earn an affiliate commission.
Equalization (EQ) is essential when it comes to mixing and mastering music. This includes drums!
Whether you're a mixing or mastering engineer, music producer, or just looking to improve the sound of your home recordings, learning how to properly EQ drums will help you achieve the desired tone and impact you're looking for.
The Fundamentals of EQ
EQ is a tool used to control the balance between different frequencies in an audio mix. Frequencies are measured in hertz (Hz), and each frequency range is referred to as a "band" of sound. The three basic EQ bands are:
Bass: 20 Hz to 250 Hz
Midrange: 250 Hz to 4 kHz
Treble: 4 kHz to 20 kHz
There are some slight discrepancies among engineers on where each of these 3 ranges begin and end because different engineers work in different kinds of music, so different range specifications are more helpful in different scenarios.
Sometimes it is more helpful to split these ranges into 6 ranges in your mind, despite it seeming more complicated. For instance, you could think of each of the aforementioned 3 bands to be split into a high band and low band. For example, you could say that the sub lows range from 20 to 60 Hz, where as the body of the bass exists between 60 and 250 Hz. I find it most helpful to think of the mids in two bands as well, where the low mids range between 250 and roughly 900 Hz, and the high mids range between 900 Hz and 4 kHz. Different ranges have such different personalities and feelings, so it's hard for me to think in simpler terms.
In mixing, each band can be boosted or cut to adjust the overall balance of frequencies in the mix. These boosts and cuts can be done with a wide variety of curves. (Bell curves, shelves, band passes, etc.)
Boosting the bass will increase the "thump" of the drums, while cutting the treble can reduce "sizzle," harshness, or "air." Adjusting different bands can help you tailor the sound of each drum (or the drum bus) to fit the style, energy, and emotion of your music.
EQ Techniques for Snare and Toms
The snare is one of the most important drums in a drum kit, and therefore require a lot of attention when it comes to EQ. Toms are often overlooked, especially when there aren't a lot of fills in the beat. But it will usually stick out like a sore thumb if the toms sound weak, drab, or even too sharp. They are very prone to unpleasant resonances as well. EQ can help that.
Here are some common techniques for shaping the sound of the snare and toms:
Snare: Boost the midrange (around 2 kHz to 3 kHz) for attack and clarity. Cut the bass if the snare sounds boomy, or boost it for more body. Typically with most snares you don't need anything below 100Hz. 200Hz is usually where the fundamental frequency of the snare lives, although this can vary with different types of snares. Don't boost the treble too much, as this can make the snare sound brittle and harsh. With thumby, soft-sounding snares, a treble boost will bring some definition. With poppy or sizzly snares, a treble cut may make it sit better in the mix.
Toms: Boost the bass frequencies (around 80 Hz to 90 Hz) for more depth and punch. You can also boost the upper-midrange (around 2 kHz) for definition and sharpness.
EQ Techniques for Kick Drum
The kick drum is the foundation of most modern music, whether it be rock, metal, house, EDM, even more rhythmically abstract music like glitch, IDM, and footwork. Getting it to sound just right is crucial. Processing kicks tend to be obsessively the most important aspect of a song according to electronic and metal producers. Here are some tips for EQing the kick:
Boost the bass frequencies (around 70 Hz to 90 Hz) for more impact and power. You can also boost the lower-midrange (around 300 Hz) for more body and warmth. For metal, these is a range that is typically cut to some degree, but for bass-heavy electronic music, it may be important to bring more energy into this range.
Cut the higher frequencies (around 5 kHz) if the kick drum sounds too "clicky" or artificial. In metal, this range might be crucial to bring out however.
EQ Techniques for Hi-Hats and Cymbals
The hi-hats and cymbals are important for adding texture and excitement to a drum mix. They can often accentuate the rhythm and add some energy to a song. At the same time, they can be challenging to balance. You don't want them to be too piercing, but they need to be at a good volume for them to be effective. Here are some tips for EQing hi-hats and cymbals:
Hi-Hats: Boost the treble frequencies (around 8 kHz) for more sizzle or shine. You can also cut the bass frequencies if the hi-hats sound too "muddy." Typically cymbals don't need any bass, and on many occasions cutting some midrange is helpful as well. However, sometimes some midrange sounds good depending on the type of drum sound you're going for, and what the performance is like.
Cymbals: Boost the treble frequencies (around 10 kHz to 15 kHz) for brightness and clarity. Cutting the midrange is good if the cymbals are overpowering the other elements in the mix, or making the kit sound boxy. The midrange is typically where guitars, vocals, and sometimes synths sit. So if the cymbal activity is high, you may be adding too much noise to your mix with midrangey cymbals.
Techniques for EQ-ing the drum bus
It will probably be beneficial to tune up the entire drum kit on the drum bus with some additional EQ depending on what else is going on in your mix.
Drum kits tend to sound boxy once all the drums are going at the same time. A great way to carve out some space for the lower frequencies of the guitars, synths, vocals, etc., is to try cutting between 300 Hz to 500 Hz. You can also tune up your low end with a high pass filter. You can also increase some of the impact of the kick and toms with some boosting between 50 Hz to 150 Hz. And if things are sounding too harsh in the snare and cymbals, you can attenuate in the 2 kHz to 3 kHz region. This will allow guitars and vocals to come through more clearly.
Which plug-ins should I use for EQ-ing my drums?
When I am mixing or mastering a record for a client and I am not using my DAW's stock EQs for simple moves, I use the Fabfilter Pro-Q 3 for damn near everything. There is also the highly tweakable and feature-rich Rob Papen RP-EQ, which has separate saturation controls for each frequency band! This can be a great way to give your snare's midrange boost some extra thickness without making the snap and sizzle of the snare too harsh.
I wouldn't say that there are any EQ plug-ins that are known to be especially good for drums unless you like the way an analog-modeling EQ sounds on a certain type of drum kit or sample library.
EQ is a powerful tool for shaping the sound of your drums. Many argue it is the single most important, though that is debatable, because I think compression is just as important. Either way, by understanding the different EQ bands, techniques, curves, etc., you can achieve the desired tone and impact for each element of your drum kit. Drop me a line if you're hung up and need someone to take the mixing workload off your shoulders.