Dear Lifehacker, I'm curious about iTunes' equaliser setting. Should I turn it on and use the included presets when I listen to music? Or should I listen to it "as the artist intended"? I'm kind of confused as to why it's there. Thanks, Adjusted Audio
Photos by me and Jon B
This question isn't a black-and-white issue -- in fact, it depends entirely on your preferences. But we have a few suggestions for you to get the most out of your music. If you want to know more about how an equaliser works -- whether it's the built-in equaliser in iTunes or a system-wide one -- we recommend checking out this explainer from our friends at the How-To Geek. We'll be taking a more practical approach here.
Rule #1: Do What Sounds Best To You
Chances are you've seen people argue about this subject before, claiming that flat output is "the way the artist intended". But it's important to remember that no one can tell you what you think sounds good. If using iTunes' "Rock" preset helps you enjoy the music more, then don't let anyone tell you differently.
That said, we don't generally suggest using those presets. In our opinion, equalizers are best used to correct minor flaws in your speakers, headphones or setup (or, in rare cases, a specific album that doesn't sound very good). Here's what we usually recommend trying.
Before You Equalise: Check Your Hardware
Before you start moving sliders around, consider what your music currently sounds like. If it sounds fine to you, then there's no need to mess with anything. But if you think your music could use a little extra bass -- or some better definition at the high end -- attempt to solve it at the hardware level first. Try rearranging your speakers so that they're pointed toward you and are at ear level (or at least elevated a little bit).
If your music has more obvious problems, maybe it's time for a new pair of speakers or new set of headphones. They don't necessarily have to cost you an arm and a leg -- there are excellent speakers and headphones out there for low prices. While they may have minor flaws, they might give you a better starting point than a truly cheap and nasty set.
Correct Subtle Flaws With Your Equaliser
Once you've found a pair of speakers or headphones that you like, chances are they won't be perfect. For example, I liked the Shure SRH750DJ headphones better than anything else I tried, but their mids drowned out the highs a bit. So, with an equaliser, I turned the mids down just a tad to brighten up the high end.
Similarly, if you wish your headphones were a little bassier, you can turn the other frequencies down a little. With a few subtle tweaks, you should be able to get your setup sounding near perfect to you.
Equalise Down, Not Up
Note that you don't want to turn frequencies up when you equalise. Why? When you turn certain frequencies up, they can get distorted and lower the quality of the sound. So, instead of turning certain frequencies up, we recommend leaving those frequencies at 0 and turning the other frequencies down. That will save you from having that annoying static or buzzing you get when you turn a frequency up too high with a software equaliser.
(So again: if you wanted more bass, you wouldn't turn the bass up -- you'd turn the other frequencies down just a little, thus leaving the bass proportionally higher than the other frequencies).
Again, all of this is really personal preference, and whatever sounds good to you is what you should use! But this is where we'd recommend at least starting your tweaking experiments. Play around and see what sounds best to you -- and if it sounds fine without it, then you can just leave it flat (which is what I generally do). Good luck, and have fun!
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