Intro

MUSICALITY COMES FIRST AT EMPIRICAL LABS. It is evident when you start to use their gear, because they always sound right, no matter what you do. They have been designed with the purpose of making your tracks sound better, while also admitting that the best sounding track is one that has been recorded correctly from the beginning.

The original Lil FrEQ manual spends more time discussing Frank Sinatra’s mic positions than how to set up the De-esser, knowing that a well-placed mic is the best gift to a mix engineer!

But if you aren’t recording Sinatra in a high-end studio, you want the best tools available. The Lil FrEQ is a powerhouse for tone sculpting and analog warmth. With musically designed EQ curves, you can easily get your sound. And the intuitive HF Limiter section allows you to maintain the warmth while exaggerating the highs.

The Lil FrEQ equalizer plugin uses state-of-the-art physical modeling to recreate the hardware in plug-in form. The input stages, output transformers, EQ bands, compressing circuits, OP-amps, etc. have been modeled in detail, component by component. It’s not marketing talk, it’s how you need to do it if you want to be absolutely, scientifically sure that the software behaves the same way as the hardware. That’s the only way to get the brilliance of Dave Derr’s designs into your computer.

 

Check out the user manual for the original hardware over at Empirical Labs website. It contains a lot of very useful mixing and mic’ing tips!

 

User Interface

user-interface.jpg

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The interface consists of six sections, here describe in the order of the audio path:

  1. Input section: set input gain. Input meter reads before the Input Gain control. The Bad LED will light up whenever something in the EQ clips, regardless of what section it clips.
  2. Hi-Pass: an 18 dB/octave high-pass. The shape was selected to prevent thinning out frequencies just above the corner frequency. The slope of the roll off is 18dB per octave, and because of this steepness, the HP must be used with caution, especially during tracking.
  3. Shelving filters: This is a standard, single pole, 6dB per octave shelving equalizer. It is very similar to tone controls except the performance exceeds any known commercially available unit. The corner frequencies are around 120Hz, and 4KHz.
  4. LF, Lo Mid, Hi Mid and HF bands: These are a series of fully parametric equalizer sections, each sweepable over different frequency ranges. Almost all frequencies are covered in two separate bands, and many of the mid frequencies are covered in three of the four parametric sections. Each section can be bypassed separately, without any clicking or popping during pauses.
  5. De-esser/HF Limiter: A combined de-esser and HF-limiter. The DS section can be placed before or after the EQ, which allows the EQ to be affected by the DS, or unaffected. The blue DS LEDs must be lit for the De-esser to be active!
  6. Output section: Output volume and Bypass function. The Bypass does not bypass the input and output volume controls!

 

Parameters

Input and Filter Section

Input Volume: Sets the input volume (after input metering). Make sure the “BAD” LED doesn’t turn on. Unless you want to distort your audio, which might be nice… A setting of 5.0 for both Input and Output volumes gives you unity gain.

Hi-Pass In/Out: Engage the high pass filters.

Hi-Pass Frequency: A steep 18 dB/octave high pass filter designed with a slight “bump” just above the corner frequency, very similar to a classic British console design. This bump will prevent the audio from “thinning out” around the corner frequency, making the cut sound more full-bodied.

Shelving Filters

Shelf In/Out: Engages the shelving section.

Low Shelf Gain: Sets the gain (-10 to +10 dB) of the low shelving filter. The low shelving filter has a fixed center frequency at around 120 Hz.

High Shelf Gain: Sets the gain (-10 to +10 dB) of the high shelving filter. The high shelving filter has a fixed center frequency at around 4 kHz.

 

If you need a shelving filter with adjustable center frequency, you can use the HF or LF filters with the widest bandwidth (fully clockwise). The very wide bandwidth (low Q) will make it work almost like a shelving filter. 

Parametric EQ Section

Band In/Out: Engages the EQ section without pops or clicks.

Gain: Sets the gain (-14 to 14 dB) of the band.

Q/Bandwidth: Sets the bandwidth of band. Clockwise makes it wider, counter-clockwise more narrow.

Frequency: Sets the frequency of the band.

 

The blue markings around the knobs corresponds to settings that will “emulate” the curves of a very famous British preamp EQ. In order to get that sound, the settings of both the Bandwidth and Frequency controls must match, so if you set the Lo Mid Bandwidth to the blue “donut” symbol you need to set the Lo Med Frequency to the “donut” symbol as well. Same goes for the blue “N” symbols.

De-esser

The dynamic section is special feature of the Lil FrEQ. It’s the same de-esser as in Empirical Labs’ famous “Derresser” de-esser (say that fast ten times in a row if you can!), and it combines tunable filters with a compressor-like circuit that can help contain and control excessive high frequency content such as sibilants or other sharp transients, especially in the absence of other lower frequency content.

The de-esser is level independent, meaning that it doesn’t care what the volume of the incoming audio is, it only looks at the difference between the high and low frequencies. That makes it extremely easy to setup.

The HF Limiter is on the other hand acting like a normal limiter, with a level dependent threshold control and a soft knee, making it both fast and very musical at the same time. Empirical Labs says: 

”[The HF Limiter] is one of the main things responsible for the Lil FrEQ becoming the go-to vocal EQ for engineers everywhere.  It has been used on many acclaimed albums and major live performances all over the world, becoming the “go to” EQ for key tracks like lead vocals, snares, and bass.  There are now dozens of hit record vocals that were processed thru the Lil FrEQ.”

 

A standard trick using the HF Limiter is to set it up as a “Tape like” effect, where the higher frequencies get more and more attenuated the harder you’re hitting it. 

“Emulate analog tape by using the DS section set to HF LIM, frequency at 6KHz. Adjust so that when the frequencies harshly pile up, the DS section kicks in, integrating and smoothing out the high end.”

 

DS In Out: Engage and set position of the DS/HF section. By clicking this button multiple times you cycle through these settings: OFF, AFTER EQ, BEFORE EQ. You can also click directly on the blue LEDs next to the EQ section to toggle the DS/HF section ON/OFF in that position.

DS Threshold: Sets the Threshold of the limiter. In the De-esser use case it’s setting the threshold of the level difference between the high and the low audio content, while in the HF Lim mode it’s setting a “normal” threshold.

DS Frequency: Sets the lower corner frequency of the high frequency attenuation. Start at 6 kHz, it usually works pretty good.

HF Lim: Engage the HF Limiter.

The DS Gain Reduction meter: Since it isn’t marked on the front panel, the 4 LED bargraph indicates the following gain reduction: Green LED = 0-1.5dB, Yellow LED = 7dB, Orange = 14 dB, Red = 24dB.

Output Section

Bypass All: Bypass the all sections except the In and Out volume controls.

Out: Output volume.

 

Tips and Tricks

The following tips and tricks are taken from the manual for the Empirical Labs Lil FrEQ hardware! It contains a lot more useful information, so make sure you look it up!

De-essing

On an occasional overly sibilant vocal, use the standard De-ess mode which is level insensitive. Adjust the frequency for around 6Khz and adjust the threshold till the sibilants start sounding natural. If lisping starts occurring, raise the frequency or raise the threshold to lower the De-essing. The De-esser should only be working on the offending fricatives and sibilants.

If a vocal is generally harsh and hissy, the high frequency limiter can provide a smoother sound. This limiter is extremely smooth and will sound pretty natural working on just about every line of an overly bright vocal. Just make sure that a gentle EQing wouldn’t be a better solution. The HF Limiter can sometimes give an analog tape-like effect; warming the signal the harder you hit the Lil FrEQ with level.

Brighten the signal

If the signal needs a little general brightening, the Hi Shelve is verrrry smooth and simple to use. It is a gentle curve that starts around 2.5 KHz, but affects frequencies above 6 KHz the most. Our ears are very sensitive to frequencies in the 3 – 4 KHz range. So watch out for harsh “honkyness” if excessive Hi Shelving is used.

Dealing with "Subs"

With digital recording, frequencies in the 10 – 60Hz range get passed without any loss. This wasn’t the case with analog tape recorders. Many an engineer has let these muddy frequencies get down on tracks such as vocals, acoustic instruments, and not even heard them till much later... and possibly too late! Headphones such as the SONY MDR7506 are really indispensable here. You will hear these sub frequencies in these and can prevent problems as early as the tracking stage. Most speakers don’t go down below 60 or 70 Hz accurately, so a $100 set of headphones is a good investment. The Lil FrEQ has some excellent high pass filters built in to rip these subs out. These are steep and must be used wisely. However, cutting below 40Hz will not affect most mixes at all, except it may keep the speakers from moving quite as much. I’ve encountered some mixes that would be better if 50Hz on down was cut...but be careful! You may lose the kick drum thump, or the body of a bass and not ever get it back.

Telephone Voice

Put the highpass on 330Hz, adjust the upper mid PEQ to 2.5 KHz and boost 6dB 2 oct BW, and you can cut freqs above 10Khz if desired. Compressing after EQ works nicely.

Hi Shelf EQ from Parametric

Turn HF PEQ to Max Freq(20.5KHz), Max Q(CW), and VOILA, you have a smooth second order Hi Frequency Shelve EQ.

Analog Tape

Emulate analog tape by using the DS section set to HF LIM, frequency at 6KHz. Adjust so that when the frequencies harshly pile up, the DS section kicks in, integrating and smoothing out the high end.

Squeeky acoustic guitar parts

The De-Ess function can often attenuate the occasional hand slide squeak if adjusted just right. Start by setting the DS freq to 5Khz.

 

Credits

Anton Eriksson – Modeling
Filip Thunström – UI programming
Pelle Serander– UI programming
Björn Rödseth – Framework programming
Johan Bremin – Quality assurance, presets
Dave Derr – Quality assurance, presets
Nis Wegmann – UI design
Niklas Odelholm – Transformer modeling, product design

 

Intro

MUSICALITY COMES FIRST AT EMPIRICAL LABS. It is evident when you start to use their gear, because they always sound right, no matter what you do. They have been designed with the purpose of making your tracks sound better, while also admitting that the best sounding track is one that has been recorded correctly from the beginning.

The original Lil FrEQ manual spends more time discussing Frank Sinatra’s mic positions than how to set up the De-esser, knowing that a well-placed mic is the best gift to a mix engineer!

But if you aren’t recording Sinatra in a high-end studio, you want the best tools available. The Lil FrEQ is a powerhouse for tone sculpting and analog warmth. With musically designed EQ curves, you can easily get your sound. And the intuitive HF Limiter section allows you to maintain the warmth while exaggerating the highs.

The Lil FrEQ equalizer plugin uses state-of-the-art physical modeling to recreate the hardware in plug-in form. The input stages, output transformers, EQ bands, compressing circuits, OP-amps, etc. have been modeled in detail, component by component. It’s not marketing talk, it’s how you need to do it if you want to be absolutely, scientifically sure that the software behaves the same way as the hardware. That’s the only way to get the brilliance of Dave Derr’s designs into your computer.

 

Check out the user manual for the original hardware over at Empirical Labs website. It contains a lot of very useful mixing and mic’ing tips!

 

User Interface

The interface consists of six sections, here describe in the order of the audio path:

  1. Input section: set input gain. Input meter reads before the Input Gain control. The Bad LED will light up whenever something in the EQ clips, regardless of what section it clips.
  2. Hi-Pass: an 18 dB/octave high-pass. The shape was selected to prevent thinning out frequencies just above the corner frequency. The slope of the roll off is 18dB per octave, and because of this steepness, the HP must be used with caution, especially during tracking.
  3. Shelving filters: This is a standard, single pole, 6dB per octave shelving equalizer. It is very similar to tone controls except the performance exceeds any known commercially available unit. The corner frequencies are around 120Hz, and 4KHz.
  4. LF, Lo Mid, Hi Mid and HF bands: These are a series of fully parametric equalizer sections, each sweepable over different frequency ranges. Almost all frequencies are covered in two separate bands, and many of the mid frequencies are covered in three of the four parametric sections. Each section can be bypassed separately, without any clicking or popping during pauses.
  5. De-esser/HF Limiter: A combined de-esser and HF-limiter. The DS section can be placed before or after the EQ, which allows the EQ to be affected by the DS, or unaffected. The blue DS LEDs must be lit for the De-esser to be active!
  6. Output section: Output volume and Bypass function. The Bypass does not bypass the input and output volume controls!

 

Parameters

Input and Filter Section

Input Volume: Sets the input volume (after input metering). Make sure the “BAD” LED doesn’t turn on. Unless you want to distort your audio, which might be nice… A setting of 5.0 for both Input and Output volumes gives you unity gain.

Hi-Pass In/Out: Engage the high pass filters.

Hi-Pass Frequency: A steep 18 dB/octave high pass filter designed with a slight “bump” just above the corner frequency, very similar to a classic British console design. This bump will prevent the audio from “thinning out” around the corner frequency, making the cut sound more full-bodied.

Shelving Filters

Shelf In/Out: Engages the shelving section.

Low Shelf Gain: Sets the gain (-10 to +10 dB) of the low shelving filter. The low shelving filter has a fixed center frequency at around 120 Hz.

High Shelf Gain: Sets the gain (-10 to +10 dB) of the high shelving filter. The high shelving filter has a fixed center frequency at around 4 kHz.

 

If you need a shelving filter with adjustable center frequency, you can use the HF or LF filters with the widest bandwidth (fully clockwise). The very wide bandwidth (low Q) will make it work almost like a shelving filter. 

Parametric EQ Section

Band In/Out: Engages the EQ section without pops or clicks.

Gain: Sets the gain (-14 to 14 dB) of the band.

Q/Bandwidth: Sets the bandwidth of band. Clockwise makes it wider, counter-clockwise more narrow.

Frequency: Sets the frequency of the band.

 

The blue markings around the knobs corresponds to settings that will “emulate” the curves of a very famous British preamp EQ. In order to get that sound, the settings of both the Bandwidth and Frequency controls must match, so if you set the Lo Mid Bandwidth to the blue “donut” symbol you need to set the Lo Med Frequency to the “donut” symbol as well. Same goes for the blue “N” symbols.

De-esser

The dynamic section is special feature of the Lil FrEQ. It’s the same de-esser as in Empirical Labs’ famous “Derresser” de-esser (say that fast ten times in a row if you can!), and it combines tunable filters with a compressor-like circuit that can help contain and control excessive high frequency content such as sibilants or other sharp transients, especially in the absence of other lower frequency content.

The de-esser is level independent, meaning that it doesn’t care what the volume of the incoming audio is, it only looks at the difference between the high and low frequencies. That makes it extremely easy to setup.

The HF Limiter is on the other hand acting like a normal limiter, with a level dependent threshold control and a soft knee, making it both fast and very musical at the same time. Empirical Labs says: 

”[The HF Limiter] is one of the main things responsible for the Lil FrEQ becoming the go-to vocal EQ for engineers everywhere.  It has been used on many acclaimed albums and major live performances all over the world, becoming the “go to” EQ for key tracks like lead vocals, snares, and bass.  There are now dozens of hit record vocals that were processed thru the Lil FrEQ.”

 

A standard trick using the HF Limiter is to set it up as a “Tape like” effect, where the higher frequencies get more and more attenuated the harder you’re hitting it. 

“Emulate analog tape by using the DS section set to HF LIM, frequency at 6KHz. Adjust so that when the frequencies harshly pile up, the DS section kicks in, integrating and smoothing out the high end.”

 

DS In Out: Engage and set position of the DS/HF section. By clicking this button multiple times you cycle through these settings: OFF, AFTER EQ, BEFORE EQ. You can also click directly on the blue LEDs next to the EQ section to toggle the DS/HF section ON/OFF in that position.

DS Threshold: Sets the Threshold of the limiter. In the De-esser use case it’s setting the threshold of the level difference between the high and the low audio content, while in the HF Lim mode it’s setting a “normal” threshold.

DS Frequency: Sets the lower corner frequency of the high frequency attenuation. Start at 6 kHz, it usually works pretty good.

HF Lim: Engage the HF Limiter.

The DS Gain Reduction meter: Since it isn’t marked on the front panel, the 4 LED bargraph indicates the following gain reduction: Green LED = 0-1.5dB, Yellow LED = 7dB, Orange = 14 dB, Red = 24dB.

Output Section

Bypass All: Bypass the all sections except the In and Out volume controls.

Out: Output volume.

 

Tips and Tricks

The following tips and tricks are taken from the manual for the Empirical Labs Lil FrEQ hardware! It contains a lot more useful information, so make sure you look it up!

De-essing

On an occasional overly sibilant vocal, use the standard De-ess mode which is level insensitive. Adjust the frequency for around 6Khz and adjust the threshold till the sibilants start sounding natural. If lisping starts occurring, raise the frequency or raise the threshold to lower the De-essing. The De-esser should only be working on the offending fricatives and sibilants.

If a vocal is generally harsh and hissy, the high frequency limiter can provide a smoother sound. This limiter is extremely smooth and will sound pretty natural working on just about every line of an overly bright vocal. Just make sure that a gentle EQing wouldn’t be a better solution. The HF Limiter can sometimes give an analog tape-like effect; warming the signal the harder you hit the Lil FrEQ with level.

Brighten the signal

If the signal needs a little general brightening, the Hi Shelve is verrrry smooth and simple to use. It is a gentle curve that starts around 2.5 KHz, but affects frequencies above 6 KHz the most. Our ears are very sensitive to frequencies in the 3 – 4 KHz range. So watch out for harsh “honkyness” if excessive Hi Shelving is used.

Dealing with "Subs"

With digital recording, frequencies in the 10 – 60Hz range get passed without any loss. This wasn’t the case with analog tape recorders. Many an engineer has let these muddy frequencies get down on tracks such as vocals, acoustic instruments, and not even heard them till much later... and possibly too late! Headphones such as the SONY MDR7506 are really indispensable here. You will hear these sub frequencies in these and can prevent problems as early as the tracking stage. Most speakers don’t go down below 60 or 70 Hz accurately, so a $100 set of headphones is a good investment. The Lil FrEQ has some excellent high pass filters built in to rip these subs out. These are steep and must be used wisely. However, cutting below 40Hz will not affect most mixes at all, except it may keep the speakers from moving quite as much. I’ve encountered some mixes that would be better if 50Hz on down was cut...but be careful! You may lose the kick drum thump, or the body of a bass and not ever get it back.

Telephone Voice

Put the highpass on 330Hz, adjust the upper mid PEQ to 2.5 KHz and boost 6dB 2 oct BW, and you can cut freqs above 10Khz if desired. Compressing after EQ works nicely.

Hi Shelf EQ from Parametric

Turn HF PEQ to Max Freq(20.5KHz), Max Q(CW), and VOILA, you have a smooth second order Hi Frequency Shelve EQ.

Analog Tape

Emulate analog tape by using the DS section set to HF LIM, frequency at 6KHz. Adjust so that when the frequencies harshly pile up, the DS section kicks in, integrating and smoothing out the high end.

Squeeky acoustic guitar parts

The De-Ess function can often attenuate the occasional hand slide squeak if adjusted just right. Start by setting the DS freq to 5Khz.

 

Credits

Anton Eriksson – Modeling
Filip Thunström – UI programming
Pelle Serander– UI programming
Björn Rödseth – Framework programming
Johan Bremin – Quality assurance, presets
Dave Derr – Quality assurance, presets
Nis Wegmann – UI design
Niklas Odelholm – Transformer modeling, product design