# Complex Nonlinearities Episode 7: Adaptive EQ

In this article we’ll be examining some interesting uses of adaptive filtering for audio equalization, and how it can be extended with frequency warping and nonlinearities. The resulting effect can be used for setting an EQ filter that makes one instrument sound optimally similar to another, or to create an interesting effect that “copies” the frequencies from one sound onto another.

As always, this article can also be read as a Jupyter Notebook.

# Adaptive Equalization

First let’s examine the basic mechanism for Adative EQing: the LMS adaptive filter. An adaptive filter is simplyy a filter that takes in an input and a desired output, and adjusts its filter shape in real-time to produce an output that is optimally similar to the desired output. While there are several methods for performing the optimization step, such as Least Mean Squared (LMS), Normalized Least Mean Squared (NLMS), and Recursive Least Square (RLS), for this use case, we prefer LMS. The reason for choosing LMS is that NLMS doesn’t take into account the amplitude of the input signal when adjusting the weights thereby causing the filter to react too much to low-level signals, and RLS doesn’t do a good job of “forgetting” previous samples, making it react poorly for rapidly changing signals like we often find in audio.

Below we show a simple example of using an adaptive EQ to approximate a pure sine wave from a white noise signal.

So that’s pretty cool! DSP engineers use this technique often for signal “prediction” where they can use white noise to approximate any desired signal. The reason why white noise works well for this is that it has frequency content at all frequencies, while your average audio signal may not. However, because adaptive filters are time varying, they can actually shift frequencies as well. As an example, we can use our adaptive filtering algorithm to filter a sine wave at one frequency to predict a sine wave at another.

So that works pretty well. But what if there was a way to make our signal a bit more broadband, a bit more like white noise, without losing it’s amplitude envelope, or overall melody and harmony.

# Nonlinearities

The solution to this problem can come from putting our signal through a nonlinear function before putting it through the adaptive filter, since the nonlinear function can generate more frequencies.

Above we show another example of frequency shifting with our adaptive filter, but with a saturating nonlinearity at the input of the filter. A couple of interesting things to note here: First, the extra harmonics added by the nonlinearity allow for a smoother frequency shift, since there is more high frequency content to aid in the frequency shifting. Second, notice that the output signal has an interesting harmonic structure to it as well, with a number of both overtones and undertones. Adaptive filtering with a nonlinear input can give some pretty cool sounding and unique timbres (an audio example will be given later on).

# Frequency Warping

One other modification we can make to our adaptive filter is frequency warping. Frequency warping allows us to emphasize certain frequencies, making sure that the adpative filter optimizes certain frequency bands more than others. The idea behind frequency warping is pretty simple: we can pass the signal through a first order allpass filter that stretches out the frequencies we want to emphasize.

As an example of the problem, below we show the spectrum of four sine waves, at 100, 300, 9000, and 10000 Hz. Audibly, we hear a big difference between 100 and 300 Hz, not so much between 9000 and 10000 Hz. Yet when we look at the spectrum linearly (much as our adaptive filter will see it), it’s pretty hard to distinguish between the two low-frequency signals, and pretty easy to distinguish between the high-frequency ones. We can fix this with allpass warping. Let’s try passing out signal through an allpass filter with a “warping factor” of -0.72, and see what happens.

So with allpass warping, we get a pretty drastic improvement in the frequency resolution of our filter at low frequencies where we care about it most. While the tradeoff is that our frequency resolution is is worse at high frequencies, I’ve found that by tuning the “warping factor”, it’s not too hard to find a happy medium, where the resolution across all frequencies is “just right”. For our adaptive filter, this means we can tune our filter to capture the frequency spectrum of the desired signal with an emphasis on the frequencies we care about most.

# Implementation

As an example of all the concepts we’ve discussed above, I’ve developed an audio plugin that implements an adaptive EQ, with parameters for frequency warping, and nonlinear processing. I’ve also added simple parameters to subtract white noise from the desired signal, and to choose whether or not to warp the desired signal. Note that a typical audio plugin only takes a single input, but we can make the desired signal a sidechain input. Feel free to checkout the source code on GitHub, or checkout a video demo below.

# Finally…

Thanks for hanging through another edition of the Complex Nonlinearities series! This article had a little bit different flavor than most of the other ones so far. I don’t yet have a concrete plan for my next article, but in the meantime definitely checkout my new series on “Bad Circuit Modelling”.