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iTunes EQ and Level controls, part 2; does anybody use them to improve their listening experience?


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I tried broaching this subject a few weeks ago and it seemed that most most of the people that read the post didn't get what I was talking about so I've included a few images this time around so there will be no misundstanding.







Let qualify this post from the start by letting you know that I've been a musician for over 30 years and a part-time audio engineer for live sound and recording almost that long. My main speakers are Paradigm's Reference Active LCR-450's and a pair of their Servo 15 subs. My main listening room (the living room) has about $1,000 worth of Auralex acoustic foam products to tame both reverberation and low bass anomolies. At present, this system requires very little equalization to sound really good.




With that out of the way, on to the subject:


EQ and level controls in iTunes - does anybody use them to improve their listening experience?




I have a pretty varied iTunes library. It runs the gamut from Count Basie to Disturbed. With over 1,700 songs from 50's mono to present day, super-compressed metal, average playback levels can fluctuate over 10 decibels and timbres can swing wildly from super linear fidelity to tinny, bass shy garbage. Given that, I do what I've always done (even when I listened to vinyl) and adjust the level and EQ controls to make up for deficiencies in either the recording or mastering of the music.




In case you still don't get what I'm talking about, here's an example.








Above, you see the frequency response for a song from the Rush album, Counterparts. While the response is basically flat (excepting the rolloff above 10khz), This is not a very pleasant sounding album. While flat frequency response is desirable in speakers and electronics, it sounds bass shy due to the nature of human hearing. Each octave going up from the low end has more energy content due to each octave doubling in frequency width with increasing frequency and the nature of higher frequencies naturally having greater power. This is why pink noise (which rolls off at 3db/octave) sounds linear to our ears and white noise seems bright (and it's response is linear).




So, bottom line is that this song sounds tinny. The bass is lacking and the top end sounds dull. Now see what it looks like when the 10 band graphic EQ is engaged.








Note that the rolloff above 10khz is gone, the bass is boosted and the response now has a linear rolloff of 3db per octave which, to human ears, sounds flat. The song now sounds like a Rush song should with some very satisfying bass and kick drum impact and a bit of shimmer on the cymbals.




With the advent of iTunes, I can now apply seperate level and EQ adjustments to each song. Unfortunately, iTunes level and EQ aren't stellar and I'd like these new iTunes companion programs (Amarra, Pure Music, etc.) to offer level and EQ presets that can be assigned to each song.




So, does anyone else do this in iTunes or do you just take every song as it comes regardless of how poorly it's engineered?




jeff henning




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audio engine, we are using another player (for MAC it's PM, Amarra or Play for the most part...with some beta players ready to emerge; for PC it's Foobar, XXXHighend, J River, etc.). The EQ functions available (via plugins or natively) in players like PM and Amarra are quite good but are not yet that convenient because they do not, as you suggest, offer a per-track or per-album setting AFAIK. Furthermore, the non-purist aspect of "tone controls" can often keep people away (mostly for the wrong reasons). For level setting, I know in my past foobar days (now a big PM and Amarra guy) that replaygain was pretty effective.


BTW, I'd delete the double thread (you have same post in equipment and software). It's way too confusing.


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I can understand leaving well engineered material alone. And most of the sins committed by producers and record companies that don't care about quality (or don't know what it is) can't be easily reversed, if at all. But, shitty mastering EQ can be fixed to a large extent.


Case in point: Van Halen.




VH's music was slaughtered by both producer Ted Templeman and engineer Don Landee. So much so, in fact, that I have 2 iTunes EQ presets just to bring them back into the real world. Believe me when I tell you that using EQ to reverse the damage caused by the Dynamic Duo is no subtle improvement. A hard rock band is supposed to have some low end. Adding it makes the music quite powerful.


When I listen to minimally miked, classical music, this isn't necessary. Those engineers know they're stuff. But, to my mind, a multitracked recording, at best, is still a bastardized product that can sound fantastic, but has no real integrity compared to well done, live, minimalist stereo/surround recordings. Usually, by the time someone listens to the end product of a multitrack recording, so much processing has been done to it that no quality, judiciously applied equalization, whether analog or digital, can really compromise it.


We're talking about scraping some of the crap off of a shit sandwich.




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I think generally using EQ is a personal decision.


Yes, if you use the EQ in iTunes (or elsewhere) you are going to reduce the sound quality as more processing is then needed so thats a bad thing. However if you then enjoy listening to the tracks more, then it's a good thing. We talk alot about the importance of getting bit-perfect out of our computer (which if you apply EQ the signal isn't), however bit-perfect is a starting point, if you as a listener want to use EQ then you should.


I know some people use iTunes via something like Soundflower (or Flux) which allows you to use AU plugins which may offer higher quality EQ. Or use an audio workstation application to play back your music for the same reason.






...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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that would allow for many different EQ's. However, not sure if you can set them per song, or even per album. That would be nice if they could be embedded in metadata (like replaygain).


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that would allow for many different EQ's. However, not sure if you can set them per song, or even per album. That would be nice if they could be embedded in metadata (like replaygain).]


Per song isn’t yet possible, but we are taking steps in that direction with the new “invertpolarity” tag feature in 1.6 that allows inverting signal polarity on a per-song basis.


*Per-song* EQ (either though copying existing iTunes’ per-song EQ settings, or using the parametric or graphic EQs available in Pure Music, in the Plug-Ins setup panel) is slated for a future release of Pure Music. As is replaygain, or something based on the newer European ITU BS.1770 loudness measurement standard, already available for some time in our AudioLeak Professional perceived loudness measurement software. BS.1770 is computationally inexpensive, so it can be done on-the-fly, in conjunction with Memory Play. However, other enhancements have priority for the time being, in the next (free) significant dot version update to Pure Music.


Rob Robinson

Channel D



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Plugins can not be assigned to each song. And none of the iTunes add-ons that I've seen offers assignable EQ or level controls, period. If there is a Mac music player out there that does, please let me know.


Hell, if I wanted to kick it new old school, I'd pull the audio files in contiguously and play everything one album at a time through Quicktime and Audio Hijack. Aah, the good old days where I had to screw around with every song manually. Kinda defeats the purpose of using a computer to playback your music.


And I just knew that some poor SOB was going to wander in to this post and offer the often stated, but completely incorrect opinion that EQ in any form will degrade the fidelity of the music. Well, sorry, but good digital equalization doesn't create any audibly perceptible degradation of the sound and the small amount of phase shift it introduces can be measured, but is truly miniscule in the larger scheme of digital audio.


Whatever gentle phase shift may occur is more than offset by the positive effects of the equalization and most studies have shown that it can't be heard with any regularity, if at all. All of the research I've read pointed to the human auditory system to be quite tolerant of phase shifts, but very sensitive to frequency variations (hence the popularity of multi-way speakers with a variety of crossover topologies that are not phase or transient perfect).


When I have people over to listen to music, at some point, when we're really groovin' on a great tune that was poorly engineered, but saved by EQ, I turn the EQ off and ask them how they like the sound of the original. They never like it better than the EQ'd version.


You'll have to excuse me if I'm beginning to suspect that most people here really don't get what I'm talking about... at all.




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If you meant me with your comment... "And I just knew that some poor SOB was going to wander in to this post and offer the often stated, but completely incorrect opinion that EQ in any form will degrade the fidelity of the music. Well, sorry, but good digital equalization doesn't create any audibly perceptible degradation of the sound and the small amount of phase shift it introduces can be measured, but is truly miniscule in the larger scheme of digital audio." then please let me defend it.


If you initiate EQ, then the signal is no longer being passed through the player without the data being altered (i.e. bit-perfect). This WILL reduce the absolute sound quality - as will using a volume control or any other processing (this is fact not an opinion though digital controls may be "better" than analogue depending how they are constructed). However the over all sound may be improved because you are no longer bound by the constraints of the original recording. EQ'd music is not the original, but may sound better than the original - thats all I was trying to say! As I said the first sentence: to use EQ is a choice that you have to make.






...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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don't get what I'm talking about...at all" ?? Wow, don't give up so easily. Your post is less than a day old and already several of us have responded about the pluses of EQ and the possible introduction of per-song settings, etc. Even Rob, the Pure Music creator, posted to you and is more than hinting at great EQ flexibility coming (all without losing iTunes convenience). Patience....


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OK, you're correct and I was out of line.


Being bit perfect is great, but when the source itself is less than perfect and requires some high quality EQ to save it, being bit perfect becomes a moot point.


I record and mix audio using Cubase and most of the EQ duties fall upon WaveArts TrackPlug 5 or, especially for mastering & lead vocals, Sonnox Oxford EQ. Both are top notch EQ's.


That I could have such EQ native and automatable in a music player. It's not impossible, by any stretch. It's just that no one has the vision to see that it's needed.


I'm starting to think that DJ software like Traktor or Virtual DJ is the only way to go. I highly doubt that Amarra or Pure Music will sound better than either of these two. And both DJ apps are a hell of a lot cheaper than Amarra as well as more feature reach than either.




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Gets my vote


Anyone with a diverse music collection across years and genres will know the wide range of production values out there.


I don't worship at the 'bit perfect' altar, so what Jeff outlines would be useful for dealing with the extreme cases of production crassness.


Maybe the better way to do this would be to process the files with adjusted EQ first store them and replay in the normal way rather than on the fly,adding processing and to the software complexities of either PM, Amarra, JRiver, XXHE etc.


On another post someone was pointing out the 'bloatware' factor so keeping these functions separate would be easier.


That said I would really like to see a 'standard gain' option given the hugely different levels of recording levels there are.


I use the volume controls in PM & Amarra (although the VC implementation in XXHE is the cleverest IMHO) instead of my Preamps VC so this would not add or detract from quality at all.


I am sure we will all get there eventually and it's good to see the Channel D guys taking part in the forum.


Trying to make sense of all the bits...MacMini/Amarra -> WavIO USB to I2S -> DDDAC 1794 NOS DAC -> Active XO ->Bass Amp Avondale NCC200s, Mid/Treble Amp Sugden Masterclass -> My Own Speakers

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Seems like a bunch of people jumped in as I was getting ready to jump out.


First off, any EQ and level scheme should be elegant and robust. That's probably a not going to be easy for any helper program like Amarra or Pure Music since Apple would probably be just fine with them not existing at all. And any remorra-like program such as Pure Music is subject to whatever changes Apple makes to iTunes with no recourse.


From my meager vantage point, having Pure Music read the iTunes database for level and EQ info seems the most expeditious, but I have no idea what that entails and could be absolutely wrong.


Another consideration is that I'd like to be able to use my iPod with the same iTunes that has my main music library. If EQ and level are done by some arcane message in the metadata rather than from the iTunes database, I'd have to manage seperate libraries for hifi and iPod playback. That's not very efficient.


As to not doing what I term "active remastering" in real-time, why would you not want to do that? Even a 3 band linear-phase parametric EQ hardly drains that much power in a modern computer. The other big factor is that you have set anything in stone and can edit your settings later.


As to the use of EQ to resurrect a song, I'm going to address that in a new topic with links to a before and after that will leave your mouth gaping.


If that won't convince just about everyone that what I'm droning on about is important for music fans, nothing will.





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"As to the use of EQ to resurrect a song, I'm going to address that in a new topic with links to a before and after that will leave your mouth gaping.

If that won't convince just about everyone that what I'm droning on about is important for music fans, nothing will."


Hi Jeff - I actually think everyone here completely understands what you are talking about. Many people here prefer to listen to what the artist/producer/mastering engineer provided on the album. There is no right or wrong it's just how audiophiles operate. No matter how good or bad something subjectively sounds that's what the artist/producer/mastering engineer intended consumers to hear.


Making personal adjustments based on preference is totally cool if that's what increases enjoyment of the music for people. Nobody here should argue with that. There really is no convincing to be done on either side. Using EQ to "resurrect" a song is really a misleading word. What your doing is adjusting the song to sound like you believe it should sound or you want it to sound. Again, there is nothing wrong with this. The only way resurrection is appropriate is if the people involved in the production of an album decide it should have sounded different.


That said, everyone here would jump in with a solution for you if it existed.


Source Merriam-Webster

Main Entry: res·ur·rect

Pronunciation: ?re-z?-?rekt

Function: transitive verb

Etymology: back-formation from resurrection

Date: 1772

1 : to raise from the dead

2 : to bring to view, attention, or use again




Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems AudiophileStyleStickerWhite2.0.png AudiophileStyleStickerWhite7.1.4.png

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In this particular case, the phrase resurrection is quite apt.


#1: It's an old song that many people have forgotten, but was a minor hit so raising it from the dead fits.


#2: With a lot of EQ, this song is worth using over and over again. Sans EQ, it's something that would have been nice if it just got some TLC from the mastering engineer.


I look at this from the point of a mastering engineer (since I do that occasionally). If you love a song, but the producer and engineer screwed the pooch, why not do a bit of experimentation to make it sound like it could and should have?


Honestly, most records have some pretty dubious engineering. If it's within your means, why not finish the job they started?


It's not only your right as a audiophile, but your duty as an music fan. And to all of you shirking your duty, how do you listen to music with a clear conscience? The founding fathers risked their lives so that you could improve the music you listen to as you see fit. Both Bill O'Reilly and I think your un-American.


And all of you people who use illegal immigrants to play back your digital audio rather than patriotic Americans, you disgust me!


Abe Lincoln died at Pearl Harbor so we could make our digital music playback perfect so don't spit in his face and cower in the shadow of poorly mastered music. Be a patriot and fix it so everyone within earshot can enjoy the beauty you're listening to.


God bless America,

good night and good luck!




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I cannot seem to help myself. I am straight wire with gain sort of guy!


I've been into this hobby for 30 years too, and remember the benefits of getting rid of the analog controls. It will take awhile for me to revert that thinking, even though I feel the OP has a very good point.



Win10 i9 9900KS/GTX1060 HQPlayer4>Win10 NAA

DSD>Pavel's DSC2.6>Bent Audio TAP>

Parasound JC1>"Naked" Quad ESL63/Tannoy PS350B subs<100Hz

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...The perfect set up in a perfect world. Unfortunately, that world isn't our's, but there is no denying the benefits if your room, source material and speakers are close to ideal.


Trust me when I tell you that really good digital processing can do wonders.


I suggest baby steps into this awful world of digital miracles. There are a lot of pitfalls.


Stay frosty,



PS - cool that your using a Mini.


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1st off, I "worship" the bit perfect altar, as some would say:)


Have any of you noticed that when you turn the EQ on in iTunes, even at its flat setting, that the sound changes? It's as if a faint veil has come over the music. I don't like that, so volume to 100%, EQ off, sound level off, everything. iTunes delivers the bits unaltered to the DAC and I'm good.


If there is a feature that I would love to use in iTunes, it's the sound level check to put all my music at the same loudness. Sadly, even that feature veils the music.


There are, on occasion, a few songs that I think could use a boost, so what do I do? Export the file, copy it to my Windows XP digital audio workstation running CoolEdit 2K and EQ the files there. Once done, I bring the file back into iTunes, and add a comment that it has been "touched up."


Part of the reason that I don't feel the need to EQ often, if at all is:


1. We live in a digital audio world now. 20 Hz to 20 Khz audio is deliverable to you flat as a pancake. Your speakers are now the only limitation. If you like a song then chances are that you initially liked it because of the way it sounded; as is.


2. EQing is a bit of a mash up. Fact is, when you add 6 db of boost at 40 Hz to a song, you are adding it to everything, the drums, the bass, the vocals, etc. Fixing one thing inevitably winds up messing up another thing. If I EQ a song, it's usually with thought in mind that everything needs a boost or attenuation, at certain frequencies.


My 2 cents.




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As to point #1, I'm turning 51 in a week. When I started listening to music, most of it sucked fidelity-wise. You liked the song because you liked the song and it sounded like shit most places you heard it. Once getting into hifi, I realized how awful most stuff sounded and have been tweaking it when and where I can ever since.


As to point #2, well yeah. What do you think a mastering engineer does? If you're lucky, when you boost any range in a song, it brings out all of the qualities that you were hoping for. That doesn't always happen, but that's no reason to not to try.


I used to create compilation discs for friends with full graphics, editorial comments and a total remastering of the 16bit audio from the CD's. A true labor of love (we're talking over 10 years ago). Once my friends really got into iTunes, there was no longer any reason to do that. I'd just shoot them the audio files and be done with it. Then they could do they're thing!




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The mastering engineer has access to each individual track and can adjust accordingly. Does Sasha's voice need more lift? Apply a gently sloped EQ centered at 1Khz to channel 8. The Church organ's bass need more oomph? Apply a 30 to 40 Hz bump to track 4. Each adjustment affects only that channel. We, the consumer, don't have that capability.




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Funny, after working as both a mix and mastering engineer on and off for the last 3 decades doing both live sound and studio recording, you'd think that I'd know the difference? (Smell the sarcasm?)


Dude, a mix engineer takes the individual tracks for a song and mixes them down into composite stereo or surround tracks. A mastering engineer takes the final mixed tracks for an album and adjusts level, EQ, mastering compression, etc. so that all of the songs sit well with each other as well as all of the final metadata for a CD's pressing. A mastering engineer is also the person called when a studio master is going to get freshened up (noise reduction, EQ and the like) for a re-release.




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I'm not an audiophile. My hearing does not go beyond 20 kHz. But I like my music to sound good.


I have played around with the iTunes equalizer, and the CoreAudio equalizer presets in Play.app. Sometimes I can make things sound better, especially if I am playing music from my Macbook Air via USB/toslink to my Zeppelin (which already does DSP, so I figure I have nothing to lose).


The problem I run into is that I find setting the equalizer an arbitrary, almost random process. Do I try adjusting each of the 10 or 20 frequencies separately, in groups of 2, 3, or more, or what? What is good? Why do I have this tendency to set everything above the zero line, which presumably is just telling me music sounds better with the volume turned up a bit? How do "they" decide what values go into the canned pre-sets? Why is Hip-hop one way and classical another?


I tend to shy away from the equalizer on my main system simply because there are two many variables to mess around with, and the second law of thermodynamics and the college of hard knocks both tell me I can only improve one thing by making something else even worse.


So where would you suggest someone with no audio producer's experience start?


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