Heavy metal was made to be listened to at loud volumes through analog speakers, or at least that’s what most old-school musicians will tell you. The truth is that no matter how well-produced and perfectly played a tune is, it will always sound differently on different headphones and speaker models.
However, there are ways to make your favorite songs more pleasurable, and consequentially your listening experience more customizable.
Today we’re here to talk about the best EQ settings for heavy metal. We’ll touch on the importance of EQ tweaking, the EQ parameters you should know about, and ultimately how to fine-tune the soundstage to fit the heavy metal ambient.
Importance of Equalizer Settings in Heavy Metal
As energetic and wild heavy metal may seem to casual listeners, this is one of the most detailed music genres of them all. The tiny nuances that artists and musicians intentionally put in some of our favorite tracks are sometimes not as obvious, especially when producers think that these details should be kept in the background.
Now, knowing that there are so many bits and pieces of sonic treasure to discover in almost every metal song, the obvious obstacle ahead is presented by the unpredictable sonic signatures of various headphones we use.
The importance of equalizer settings is astoundingly high in all sub-genres of heavier music, especially metal. Noticing and being able to appreciate the clarity of background vocals, the melodies on the bass, and the riffs on guitars in their full bloom will invariably make you fall in love with your favorite tunes and albums all over again.
EQ Parameters in a Nutshell
There’s a fair amount of technical jargon that musicians, sound engineers, and producers use when referring to the soundstage of any mix or rig. These terms are widely used to describe various aspects of how each sound interacts with the other sounds within the context of the same song via frequencies.
The terms such as ‘lows, mids, and highs’ represent the pitch of those frequencies, but you’ll also encounter terms such as Bass, Treble, Presence, and such, which are essentially synonymous for particular frequency groups.
Understanding these parameters will help you understand the effects of tweaking the knobs on an analog equalizer or the digital sliders in EQ apps.
Before we get to the actual settings, let’s discuss the frequency ranges you will be tweaking. The lowest audible frequency range for humans is 20 Hz while the highest is 20 kHz. Everything below 20 Hz we can’t really register while everything above 20 kHz is too noisy to comprehend.
Let’s break down the frequency ranges in simpler words:
- Below 50 Hz – the ‘barely audible’ frequency range is substantially below what we refer to as the ‘bass’ section. Nuggets of bass tone and a small section of bass drum sounds fall into this category but are typically left out from the mix.
- 64 Hz – we could call this range the low bass. High-quality speakers and audio systems may have some difficulties producing sounds and frequencies at this range with fidelity, but at least such sonic snippets are audible by human ears.
- 125 Hz – the bass section includes bass both as the instrument and the kick drum, among other things such as low-pitched vocals (especially metal growls).
- 250 Hz – this is the range where bass frequencies lose a bit of their thumping kick and gain sonic clarity. It’s still within the lower spectrum of the soundscape, but it’s strikingly different than the previous three.
- 500 Hz – the ultra-low midrange begins with the 500 Hz frequencies. This is the lowest range where guitars and more ‘regular’ types of vocals become present, as well as wooden pieces of drums and percussions.
- 1 KHz – the actual midrange starts at 1,000 Hz (1 kHz) where stringed instruments become more pronounced in the mix, carrying a bit of extra weight with each note.
- 2 kHz – subtle nuances that separate the lower midrange and the upper midrange dominate the frequency range of 2 kHz.
- 4 kHz – the vast majority of instruments resonate the most with the upper midrange, which spans around and across 4 kHz frequencies.
- 8 kHz – this frequency range houses guitars with oversaturated distortion, screaming and high-pitched vocals, higher octaves played on a piano, and such.
- 16 kHz and above – given the fact that human ears can only recognize sounds that are slightly above 20 kHz, the range of 16 kHz and above is the final extreme. Most sound engineers cut this section to the bare minimum.
It’s up to you to decide whether you’ll keep searching for headphones that feature a favorable soundstage for metal or if you want to use an EQ app to tweak the frequency ranges yourself.
Best EQ Settings for Metal
Now that we’ve touched on the parameters that comprise any EQ and soundstage of any headphones, let’s discuss some of the best setting combinations that you can use to improve your listening experience.
Unlike more extreme types of metal, heavy metal has a healthy dose of clean singing, acoustic guitars, and mellower sections, so you should suppress your instinctual drive to crank up the bass sections.
Even though it’s a matter of subjective preference, most metalheads would be beyond satisfied to actually hear as many details in any heavy metal song as possible. These are some of the popular EQ settings for listening to heavy metal on headphones:
As the name implies, the all-around EQ setup caters to all frequency ranges and should, when graphically displayed, present a slope-like pattern. The lowest and highest frequencies should be cut a few decibels while the range between 250 Hz and 4 kHz should be left intact.
This will leave your heavy metal songs virtually untouched, which will make them sound as close to the original mix as possible. Bear in mind, most headphones don’t have a neutral sound signature, which means that it’s a high possibility that you will notice dramatic differences when you set your EQ this way.
If you don’t particularly care about the bass and want to savor the solos, melodies, and harmonies of lead guitars, this EQ layout is probably the best for you. Cut the bass frequencies from 32 Hz to 250 Hz by 4-6 decibels, scoop the mids by at least 2-4 decibels and boost the range from 2-8 kHz by 4-6 decibels.
Instead of getting a muddy bass sound and a sloppy kick sound, they will just become less nuanced while the guitars will be substantially more pronounced. You will invariably get more presence and treble as far as vocals are of concern as a bonus.
The rhythm-oriented setup is the mirror image of the lead-oriented setup. The lower frequencies should be amped by 4-6 decibels while the high range should be cut by the same amount. This time around, leave the mids or cut them just by a slight amount.
This way you will enhance the clarity and presence of low-pitched vocals, the bass, and the majority of drum sounds excluding the cymbals.
Backing Track Setup
The backing-track setup is perfect for metalheads who want to play alongside their favorite tracks. Scoop the mids by 4-6 (or even higher amounts) decibels, cut the highs by 6-8 decibels, and boost the lower bass frequencies by 4 decibels.
You’ll barely hear the guitar work, the drums will sound stronger, but certainly not as clear as in the original mix. Vocals will be muddied out while pianos, violins, and other instruments will slowly blend with the environment.
Senior editor for Ultimate-Guitar, passionate about good music and quality gear. Bassist. King Crimson fan. Travel enthusiast. Compulsive buyer of Bose headphones and old Fender amps.