Equalization is one of the most important tools for shaping the sound of your drum kit. A lot of beginners and even intermediate producers struggle with EQ-ing their drum recordings to make them sound good.
There are so many different ways to approach it—and if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can all get pretty confusing! In this ultimate guide, you’re going to learn how to EQ drums, including kick drum EQ, snare EQ toms, and cymbals EQ, by using additive and subtractive equalizers on your frequencies.
There is no universal law for EQ-ing drums, and balancing the frequencies will depend on the specific sound of your recording. However, we will give you a drum EQ cheat sheet for all drum parts, which you can use as a reference when you start mixing.
This knowledge will allow you to mix and produce better-sounding recordings in less time than ever before.
Kick Drum EQ
Let’s start our ultimate guide on how to EQ drums with the kick drum EQ.
Kick drums are the heartbeat of any song. When they’re pumping, you feel it in your chest. But if they’re dull and lifeless, the whole song is going to fall flat.
Kick drum EQ is a balancing act between cutting out unnecessary frequencies to gain clarity and boosting frequencies that make the kick drum punch through the mix.
You want to take the best elements of your sound and enhance them, bringing out the punch, bottom end, and attack, which are all essential characteristics of a good kick drum sound. Let’s take a look at where we can make cuts and boosts on our kick drum EQ to get it just right for your mix.
Kick drum EQ cheat sheet
50 – 60 Hz: Bottom
400 Hz: Hollowness
3 – 5 kHz: Beater attack
First things first: the bottom end.
That’s where the weight of your track will come from—it’s why you need a good kick drum in the first place. You’ll want to boost frequencies around 50 – 60 Hz (or whatever feels right for your kick and track).
Don’t go too wild, though—you don’t want to break someone’s subwoofer or make people complain about ear fatigue.
To get that effect, you need to cut frequencies around 400 Hz. It’ll give the kick a really distinct sound that cuts through the mix and helps it stand out from all the other parts of your song. Finally, add some beater attack with a boost between 3 – 5 kHz.
This will help you hear how hard the beater hits the drumhead instead of just how much energy is coming from the bottom end of the drum itself. This can be especially helpful if you’re using a sample instead of a real kick drum.
When you’re using this cheat sheet as a reference, make sure you’re keeping your ears out for anything that doesn’t work in the context of your mix.
If you have a really soft, gentle kick that’s not meant to have much attack, then low end might be the priority. If it’s a really big, roomy kick that needs space in the mix, hollowness might be more important. And if it’s a loud and powerful punchy thing, you’ll want to focus on the overtones.
Snare drum EQ
If you want to know how to EQ drums, our ultimate guide is taking you to the next step – the snare drum EQ. When you’re working with a snare drum EQ, use subtle, small EQ moves.
If the recording is really bad or really thin-sounding, feel free to boost at 400 Hz and cut at 3.5 kHz to add more thickness and reduce some of the rattles from the top end (although this will only get you so far).
But remember: as much as possible, try and keep your midrange intact since it’s crucial for a great snare sound.
Many engineers use high pass filters set below a snare’s basic pitch to reduce unnecessary low-end energy. While this helps with focus, snares frequently require a little extra support to pierce through the mix.
To bring out the body of the snare, a slight boost around 100 Hz to 250 Hz often works nicely, though you’ll need to discover the snare’s fundamental pitch first.
Snare drum EQ cheat sheet
120 – 240 Hz: Fatness
900 Hz: Point/Attack
5 kHz: Crispness
10 kHz: Snap
120 – 240 Hz: The frequency range around 120Hz to 240Hz will give you a more “fat,” “punchy,” or “boomy” sound.
Boosting this part of the spectrum will make the snare really pop, but it can also make it too muddy, so be careful and subtle with any boosts here.
900 Hz: This frequency range is where a lot of the snare’s point or attack sits, so boosting here can make the snare stand out and cut through a dense mix.
5 kHz: Boosts around 5 kHz will increase the overall crispness of your snare, as well as its “crack” that cuts through the mix. Be careful not to boost too much here, though—it can end up sounding harsh and brittle.
10 kHz: Boosts around 10 kHz do a number of things for your snare—they make it sound more open and airy, as well as crisper and more present in the mix.
Rack Toms EQ
The toms EQ is an inevitable part of learning how to EQ drums.
For rack toms, you want a punchy sound with a bit of warmth to it.
There are two main frequency ranges that you should focus on doing rack toms EQ: low frequencies around 240 – 500 Hz and high frequencies around 5 – 7 kHz.
When you’re EQing your rack toms, it’s a good idea to start with the low mids (around 240 Hz) and the high mids (around 5 kHz). The low mids are where you’ll find the fullness and body of your rack tom sounds, so you can mix them in or out depending on what kind of vibe you want from that sound.
The high mids will add or subtract a bit of attack, so if your rack toms are sounding a little too flat, try adding some high mids and see what that does with the overall sound.
Rack toms EQ cheat sheet
240 – 500 Hz: Fullness/Body
5 – 7 kHz: Attack
Rack toms are middlin’ in size, so they don’t produce a lot of low ends.
That means you don’t have to worry too much about cutting those low frequencies. Boosting a rack tom’s low end between 240 and 500 Hz adds fullness or body to the tone. Cutting at the same frequencies helps reduce boominess.
Once you’ve got the foundation, it’s time for attack! Try boosting at 5 – 7 kHz with a narrow Q for a nice crisp crack. If you want a more modern sound, remove some of the boxy 500-700Hz frequencies.
You shouldn’t go too far with it, as a deep cut will destroy the sound rather than improve it.
Floor Toms EQ
When it comes to floor toms EQ, the two main points you’ll want to focus on are the low end and attack.
Let’s start with the low end. We suggest boosting at around 80 Hz for fullness and boominess. This will help round out your sound without making it too muddy.
Next up: attack. You’ll want to boost at around 5 kHz for the attack, which will add bite and punchiness to your sound.
Floor Toms EQ cheat sheet
80 Hz: Fullness/Boom
5 kHz: Attack
To EQ floor toms, start by rolling off everything below 60Hz—this will get rid of the frequencies that don’t add anything to the sound of your kick.
This will also help you avoid any phase issues between your kick and floor tom. Then boost everything between 60Hz and 100Hz. This is where you’ll find your fundamental tone. Be careful about boosting too much here, though—you want this punchy energy just on the bottom end of your tom’s range, not going too high into it, or else you could muddy up what’s higher up.
If you crank the 80 Hz range on your floor toms, they’ll sound full and booming. But if you crank them too much, they’ll start sounding muddy. Next, cut everything around 250Hz-400Hz—this is where you’d find most of the annoying ring that comes from floor toms. You don’t want this sound in your mix!
You can then boost between 1kHz-2kHz for some snap or around 3kHz-5kHz for some smack and attack. When boosting, always make sure you’re boosting such a subtle amount that there isn’t any ringing or ringing when you solo these tracks.
The 5 kHz range is where your attack lives. If you turn this up, it will increase the attack and make it easier for your drums to cut through the mix.
One of the most important steps in learning how to EQ drums, and the center of our ultimate guide, is cymbals EQ.
When it comes to the cymbals EQ, you need to address the “clang” sounds found in the low-end frequencies (around 200 Hz) and get rid of the unwanted sounds. To boost the sounds of your cymbals, you can use some additive EQ for boosting the higher frequencies (6 – 7 kHz) and add some sparkle and brightness or make some cuts to remove the sizzle.
Cymbals are usually recorded with the overhead microphones, so you can work on overhead EQ as a unit. However, you can also address the particular cymbals if needed.
Cymbals EQ cheat sheet
200 Hz: Clang
6 – 10 kHz: Sparkle/Sizzle
You need to eliminate the low-end frequencies of the kick drum and the snare that can get into your overhead microphones. To do that, cut all the frequencies below 350 Hz with a high pass filter.
You might need to remove some of the mid-range frequencies and reduce the boxy sound of the snare drum that may come to your overhead mics. This sound is usually found around 500 Hz, and you can give it a 3 to 6db cut.
In the area of 10000 Hz and above, cymbals can have some sizzle and harshness, so take care of it if necessary. If you want to add some clarity and sparkle to your cymbals, boost around 6kHz to 8kHz.
Now you know how to EQ drums. However, you might still have some questions about the process. Don’t worry; no stones will be left unturned. Here are some answers to the common questions you might have when learning how to EQ drums.
Let’s begin this addition to our ultimate guide with some terminology. Here are some main words you need to learn if you want to know how to EQ drums.
Sound frequency is the measure of the number of vibrations per second, and it is measured in Hertz (Hz). The human ear can hear frequencies between 20 Hz and 15,000 Hz (15 kilohertz). The higher the frequency of a sound wave, the higher its pitch.
A high-pitched musical instrument produces sound waves with a high frequency. A low-pitched musical instrument produces sound waves with a low frequency.
High-pass filters are also called low-cut filters, and they allow you to remove unwanted low frequencies in a signal. It is commonly used to remove unwanted rumbles and noise.
Using a high pass filter, you can clean up the sound without losing its body or warmth. The high-pass filter is mostly used on a single track, but it can also be applied to a bus where the entire mix is being sent.
This is mostly done if you want to get rid of any unwanted low-frequency noise present in the mix. Another use for high-pass filters is to clean up your tracks so that the frequencies don’t overlap as much as they would have.
For example, if your bass guitar and kick drum are covering each other in the same frequency range, then you could use a high-pass filter on the bass guitar to remove some of its low-end frequencies so that it doesn’t interfere with the kick drum.
A low-pass filter is a filter that passes signals with a frequency lower than a selected cut-off frequency and attenuates signals with frequencies higher than the cut-off frequency.
The amount of attenuation for each frequency varies from filter to filter. It is sometimes called a high-cut filter or treble cut filter when used in audio applications.
Shelf filters increase or decrease the overall level of all frequencies above or below the set frequency. The best way to think of a shelf filter is that it acts as a volume control for all frequencies above or below the set frequency.
For example, a high-shelf filter at 1kHz will raise anything above 1kHz by the same amount. Shelf filters are used to make broad changes to your tone and can give instruments more “bite” or “warmth,” depending on where you place them in your EQ.
The Bell filter, also known as a peak filter, is an equalizer tool that lets a user boost the amplitude of a selected frequency band by a certain amount.
The bell allows you to raise or cut a portion of the frequency spectrum in a seamless manner. It alters the color and texture of your music as you boost or cut more.
The Q value is the ratio of the center frequency to bandwidth.
If the center frequency is fixed, then bandwidth is inversely proportional to Q—meaning that as you raise the Q, you narrow the bandwidth.
In parametric EQs, the bandwidth is often expressed by a Q value, which is a measure of the sharpness (or “quality”) of the filter.
A higher Q setting on a filter makes it narrower, and so it cuts out a smaller chunk of frequencies. A lower Q setting makes it wider, and so it cuts out a wider spread of frequencies. The adjustable range for Q varies from one equalizer to another — some may have a maximum Q as high as 10 or more — but values above 1.5 are usually considered high-Q.
Types of equalizers
There are different types of equalizers that you should get acquainted with when learning how to EQ drums:
- Graphic EQ
- Parametric EQ
- Shelving EQ
- Linear Phase EQ
- Dynamic EQ
The graphic equalizer is the most commonly used type of equalizer today. It uses a series of frequency bands that can be adjusted graphically. This allows the user to make large changes very quickly, which is why they are often found on live sound mixing consoles.
The drawback to graphic EQs is that they do not provide as precise control over frequencies as some other types do. Because of this, they are not recommended for mastering or any situation where precise frequency adjustments are necessary.
The parametric equalizer provides precise control over center frequency, bandwidth (Q), and level (gain). The Q or bandwidth is what determines how much area around the center frequency will be affected.
A low Q will affect a wide range of frequencies, while a high Q will affect only a small range around the center frequency.
Shelving equalizers have a fixed cut-off frequency, above which all the frequencies will be boosted or cut by the specified amount.
The two most common types of shelving EQs are high-shelf and low-shelf EQs. High shelf EQ is an equalizer that boosts or cuts all the frequencies above a set frequency, while a low shelf boosts or cuts all the frequencies below a set frequency.
Linear Phase EQ
Linear Phase EQ is one of the most transparent signal processors, but it comes at the cost of latency. It’s a great choice when tracking instruments with multiple microphones (such as drums), and you need that zero processing latency to maintain phase coherence.
When you use a linear phase EQ plugin, the frequencies are simply nudged back in phase, removing this smearing effect.
Unlike regular EQs, dynamic EQ adjusts itself based on the amplitude of your signal. It works like a compressor, but instead of compressing the signal at certain levels, it boosts or reduces the gain by a set amount when your signal reaches those thresholds.
Dynamic EQ can cut and boost frequencies, as opposed to a compressor, where you will only be able to reduce the dynamic range.
What are additive and subtractive EQ?
When mixing drums, you will use both additive and subtractive EQ, depending on the sound you want to get.
Additive EQ is the process of adding gain to the sound frequencies. Adding gain to one frequency will increase the gain of that frequency in relation to all other frequencies.
This type of equalization does not remove any frequencies from the signal but instead adds energy to a given section of frequencies.
Subtractive EQ is the process of removing gain from your signal. Removing gain from one frequency will decrease its volume in relation to all other frequencies. In this case, you are removing energy from a given section of frequencies.
Learning how to EQ drums starts with managing the main parts of the kit: kick drum EQ, snare drum EQ, toms EQ, and cymbals EQ.
You can use different filters such as high-pass, low-pass, shelf, and bell for additive or subtractive EQ if you want to boost or cut the sound frequencies.
Although the frequencies you will need to address when mixing drums can vary from song to song, an EQ cheat sheet can serve you as a starting point. The rest is on you and your vision of the sound you want to get.
We hope that this ultimate guide has been useful in teaching you how to EQ drums and that it has inspired you to get working on your own engineering and mixing projects. We encourage you to continue experimenting and coming up with new ways to be creative with audio!