hearEQ review – EQ ear-training app from Ten Kettles

Download from iTunes App StorehearEQ logoWhile iOS music apps tend to be things that allow you to make, record or manipulate sound, there are also a good crop of ‘utility’ apps available via the iTunes App Store that are aimed at musicians. These might fall into a number of types but one category would be instructional apps. For example, I’ve looked at apps such as Chordology (a chord dictionary), TempoTeacher (I’ll let you guess), Jamn (music theory), Sing inTuna (ah!), Erol Singer’s Studio (voice training), SongSheet (mobile song chart app), Guitar Gym (guitar tuition), Anytune Pro (music practice tool) and Guitar Toolkit (guitarist friendly Swiss army knife app) in the past. All these are very good at what they do and each, in its own way, demonstrate that your iOS hardware can be an excellent teacher, trainer or technician with the right app.

One area that lot’s of recording musicians find difficult is in mixing and a major element of this – both for newbies and, it has to be said, even for the more experienced – can be applying suitable EQ to your various tracks so that the mix (a) hangs together as a coherent whole, (b) sounds balanced in terms of the overall EQ response and (c) all the key instruments are audible (when they need to be) and don’t mask each other by competing for the same frequency ranges. This is a challenging area of mixing at the best of times and not helped if you are mixing in a less than ideal monitoring environment (that’s most of us then).

So how do you improve your use of EQ in the mixing process? Well, the best way (obviously) is simple to do more of it; like any skill, the more you practice the better you get (10,000 hours and all that Malcolm Gladwell ‘Outliers’ stuff). However, you can help that process on its way with some ear training and Ten Kettles – led by developer Alexander Andrews – have an app for that; hearEQ. And at UK£0.69, a little bit of EQ education is pretty much within anyone’s grasp.

Pick a song.... any song...

Pick a song…. any song…

Incidentally, long-term residents of the Music App Blog might remember me reviewing Audioflie Engineering’s rather splendid Quiztones app (UK£2.99) some time ago and which aims to do a similar job. The two apps do share some functional similarities in that both allow you to ‘test’ your ability to identify the sound of different EQ changes applied to example audio so, if this is something you think you need a little additional help with, that app might also be worth taking a look at.

Testing, testing

The principle behind hearEQ is beautifully straightforward (most good teaching approaches are). Essentially, you can take any audio file that you have in your iTunes library (so this could be a commercial track, one of your own compositions or an audio file containing a solo instrument such as a drum kit, bass, piano, guitar or vocal), audition it without any EQ changes and then, in varying degrees of complexity, test yourself to see if you can identify EQ changes that are applied by the app. These changes come in the form of a batch of ten different EQ setting changes and you get scored based on your performance.

On opening, the first step simply requires you to browse for a suitable file. Once done, you can choose to audition (the Learn option) to get your ears tuned in to how the audio sounds. Once playback has started, you get the option to add or subtract a fairly sizeable dollop of gain centered at any of 10 different frequencies. This allows you to experiment with how changing a single EQ band sounds when applied to your audio example.

Once you have selected an audio file you can use the learn mode to get your ears accustomed to applying some EQ changes.

Once you have selected an audio file you can use the learn mode to get your ears accustomed to applying some EQ changes.

Once you have got your ears warmed up, you then execute the Begin option. This allows you to select which frequency bands are to be included in the training. This can be as many or as few of the 10 bands as you wish. This means that you can start with just a couple of bands that are perhaps widely separated (which ought to be easy), progress to a couple of bands that are close together (a bit more difficult) and then build from there as your ability to identify different frequencies develops. If this is not something you have tried to do in a systematic fashion before, do take it easy on yourself; it can be surprisingly difficult to start with but, also, very instructive :-)

Once you have chosen the required frequencies for training, you then get 10 random tests where the app applies a gain boost or cut at any of the frequencies chosen for testing. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to identify the frequency and whether it is a boost or cut that has been applied in each case. As the audio track plays back, you can toggle the EQ change on/off to compare the original with the EQ’ed version until you think you have it worked out. You then simply ask hearEQ to ‘Check’ your response…  and your score builds up (or doesn’t!) as you progress through the 10 tests.

‘ear, ‘ear

And, in terms of features, that’s about it; all very simple and straightforward. But, it has to said, also very effective and, at UK£0.69, worth it just so you are quickly put in your place about just how good (or not) your EQ sensitivity is. Running the app with a few tracks that you think you know well and switching on all the EQ bands for testing can be a sobering experience.

hearEQ's tests are simply in principle but, if you use a few more frequency bands that the example shown here, surprising challenging in practice.

hearEQ’s tests are simply in principle but, if you use a few more frequency bands that the example shown here, surprising challenging in practice.

However, what’s great is that, even with a little repetition, things do start to improve and I suspect if you were to build some hearEQ into your daily musical routine, you would soon reap some positive benefits. I know… thinking about a little musical education is just another distraction from actually making music (and, in terms of attractiveness, it probably comes a distant second to buying another synth or effect app and distracting yourself with that for a few hours) but if you want to get ‘better’ at what you do musically, a little bit of skill development is never a bad thing. In terms of EQ training, hearEQ can do that in a simple and very convenient format.

If I was to compare hearEQ and Quiztones, I think that latter has the more comprehensive feature set (for example, you can also vary the amount of EQ used in the tests) but, equally, it is also the more expensive. In addition, some – particularly music technology newbies – may find the simplicity of the approach adopted by hearEQ to be attractive. The bottom line here is that both (and remember here, we are taking about pocket money pricing in both cases) of these apps, used regularly (and that’s the key), will bring a little bit of very useful EQ education into your ears.

When it comes to the basics of the mixing process, there are a myriad of tasks to think about. However, once you have established which instruments are playing and when (your instrument arrangement), the four key elements are probably volume balance, EQ, compression and creating a sense of ‘space’ (a combination of panning, reverb and delay). Apps like hearEQ can help you improve your skills with one of these tasks; EQ. All we need now is a developer to think about apps for the other three and we can get this mixing lark sorted….. :-)

hearEQ


If you want to see Ten Kettles video introduction to hearEQ, then feel free to watch below:-

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