While an integrated amp can be very convenient because it allows you to avoid having to lug a discrete amp along with the rest of your sound equipment, it doesn't give you very good control over your audio output. However, you can refine the sound coming from your equipment by adding an equalizer to the integrated amp.
Equalizers can have anywhere from two to 10 or more bands. These bands are the frequency of the sound, measured in hertz, with the higher frequencies relating to the higher pitches and the lower frequencies relating to the lower pitches. The simplest EQ system gives you treble and bass adjustments, with the treble being the high frequencies and the bass being the low frequencies. More complex EQ systems can give you finer control over the different bands. High-quality audio systems are generally in the 20- to 20,000-Hz range, which is approximately what human hearing can perceive.
Effects of Equalization
The different bands on the EQ affect different parts of the sound. If you think the sound is too muddy, mushy or dark, try increasing the higher bands and decreasing the lower bands. If the sound is too tinny or bright, try reducing the high frequencies and bringing up the low bands. Each EQ setting should be specific to the room, the speakers and the audio being played. To get a feel for this, take a song you know well and play it with the EQ to see what happens with different band settings. The center point, or zero on the EQ, means that it isn't affecting the signal coming from the amp -- it's just a straight sound coming out. If you pull the EQ down from zero, it cuts the output; if you take it above zero, it boosts the output. This boost is also called "gain." One place you can easily see the effect is by playing with the audio in the 250-Hz range -- which is where the human voice normally falls -- so you can hear how the voices in the audio are affected by either boosting or dropping the levels.
If you have a component stereo system, you can connect an analog equalizer to it that uses sliders to manually adjust the level for each frequency band coming through it. Analog EQ setups typically connect with RCA, TRS or XLR audio connections, which are all types of direct electrical transmission for the sound. The EQ then modulates the electrical signal before sending it over to the speakers -- or wherever the sound is routed to next -- so there is no signal processing or compression with an analog EQ setup. These EQ setups also have fewer options than their digital counterparts, but some people find the sound to be truer and richer than the processed variety.
Digital EQ setups often add more features and options to the sound processing. For example, you can add echo effects to mimic different types of spaces -- like a cathedral or concert hall -- and have pre-set EQ profiles so you don't have to manually adjust the levels each time you switch songs or venues. The downside to digital is that some of the organic qualities of the sound are lost. If you're one of the few people in the world who can tell the difference between a tube amp and a transistor model, then you might want to stick with an analog EQ.
You can have your EQ either before or after your integrated amp. If the EQ is before the amp, then your signal will come from your audio source, into the EQ, and then out to the speaker with integrated amp, for example. While this setup gives you good control over the output, it's not as good for recording because you're modifying the audio source before it gets to anything else. If your amp is integrated into your sound board or audio receiver, you can run the EQ after the amp but before the speakers. This is helpful for being able to run a non-mixed line out of your sound system to get clean audio for recording, so you can mix it later in a more controlled environment instead of via live audio.
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