Before you drop $300 on the latest high-end headphones to listen to music on your iOS device, check to see whether an equalization (EQ) app can make your current cans, or even earbuds, sound like a million bucks — or at least close enough to that figure to satisfy your tastes.
In an ideal listening environment, with perfect music files and perfect headphones, you wouldn't need to boost bass or tweak treble — so you wouldn't need an equalizer for your music on your iOS device.
But most of us spend time listening on the train, at the gym, or while walking along city streets — situations that from an aural perspective fall far shy of perfection — and with less-than-perfect headphones. That's where EQ can make a big difference.
EQ adjusts the frequencies of sound — or more precisely, of audio signals at particular frequencies, relative to other frequencies. A person with fairly pristine ears has a hearing range of from 20Hz to 20kHz (20,000Hz), with bass residing in the lower frequencies and treble tones at the higher end of the range. When you apply EQ to music, you can raise or lower specific frequencies. If you really like bass (or have a hard time hearing it), you can jack up the lower frequencies in the mix. If treble rankles your eardrums, you can push the higher-end frequencies down.
iOS's built-in EQ
EQ adjustments come in handy when you're listening on the go, so it's a shame that Apple parked its native EQ app in iOS 7 not within the Music app, as you might expect, but in Settings.
Go to Settings > Music and you'll see EQ just below Sound Check. iOS 7 offers 23 preset equalizer settings, each based on a different combination of bass, midrange, and treble adjustments, and named (usually) for the genre of music Apple thinks they work well with: Electronic, Jazz, Hip Hop, and Rock, for example. The Bass Booster and Bass Reducer options do exactly what their names imply.
When you select an EQ option in Settings, it applies to all songs you play in the Music app. (Note that an EQ setting doesn't actually change the source file; all of the adjustments it makes occur on the fly as the song plays.) But if you crave greater flexibility in your EQ settings, such as always using the Rock setting for Led Zeppelin but switching to Hip Hop for Eminem, you can turn to iTunes on your computer for help. Keep in mind, however, that iTunes Match and EQ don't appear to play well together.
Set EQ per song
To explore the EQ settings in iTunes, first choose Window > Equalizer to see a visual representation of the affected frequencies. Try selecting Treble Booster and then switch to Bass Booster and you'll see a significant shift as the virtual knobs dance around to their new spots. By default, iTunes applies the EQ you select to all songs, but you can assign EQ settings on a per-song basis.
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