EQs are used to control the gain level of different frequency ranges, known as bands; applying boosts/cuts to these bands allows you to shape the frequency response of your audio. An EQ is a vital mixing tool because it will enable you to fit together the different elements of your mix like puzzle pieces.
Many EQ techniques will allow you to clean up your mix, but there’s a particular technique that really changed the quality of my mixes. A lot of people solo elements of their mix while applying EQ boosts/cuts, and in some situations this is appropriate, but you’ll make more well informed mixing decisions if you apply boosts/cuts while listening to your mix as a whole. The thing to remember here is that your listeners won’t be listening to each element of your song soloed, they’ll be listening to each element relative to the entire mix.
EQs are simple and powerful mixing tools. They come in all shapes and sizes, each with their own unique character, and purpose. In this guide, I’ll be walking you through 6 of the best EQ plugins on the market.
The way the Niveau Filter by Elysia functions is different than all the other EQs on this list. It works like a scale to change the proportions between high and low frequencies. Depending on the gain setting around the center frequency, the high frequencies are boosted, and the low frequencies are attenuated (or vice versa) at the same time.
When you turn the EQ gain knob to the right, you boost frequencies to the right of the center frequency, while cutting frequencies to the left of the center frequency. When you turn the EQ gain knob to the left, you boost frequencies to the left of the center frequency, while cutting frequencies to the right of the center frequency.
By default, you’re able to select a center frequency ranging from 26-2200 Hz. When you engage 10x mode, you’re able to choose a center frequency ranging from 260-22000 Hz. It should be noted that when you turn the center frequency knob all the way to the left, it provides a high pass filter, and when you turn it all the way to the right, it provides a low pass filter.
This EQ can be used as a creative tool if you automate its parameters, or it can be used as a simple solution to correct a slightly top/bottom heavy mix while mastering. The best part about this unique tool is that it’s free via Plugin Alliance’s website.
The Sie-Q is modeled after the Siemens w295b which is a classic German EQ from the 60s. The w295b is a module from the Siemens Sitral console that features a discrete silicon transistor design. It used EQ “cassettes” that you could swap depending on the sound you were looking for. This EQ is no longer in production, and many of the remaining units have been disassembled for parts and converted into rack gear. Luckily, Soundtoys has captured the sound of this vintage EQ in an easy-to-use plugin.
Sie-Q’s Low control allows you to cut or boost frequencies with variable frequency responses at different gain levels. Its High control will enable you to cut or boost frequencies with variable frequency responses at different gain levels as well. The Mid controls allow you to target one of 6 center frequencies ranging from 500 Hz to 5600 Hz, and apply either a boost or cut of up to 8 dB.
The Sie-Q is unique because it has a drive knob that allows you to apply saturation to your output signal. This is meant to model how the original w295b would sound when driven harder, and it’s a perfect way to add some “grit” to your audio. This EQ is going to provide some serious color to your input signal.
Soundtoys offers a student discount that will allow you to pick up their products for much cheaper than retail price.
The Dangerous BAX EQ is one of my favorite EQs for adding extra air or attenuating bass while I’m mastering. It has a very natural sound, but also infuses my input signal with a little bit of flavor, even without boosting/cutting frequencies.
Similar to the Pro-Q 2, you’re able to EQ the left and right channel independent of one another, or EQ the mids and sides independent of one another. There’s a link button that allows you to link together the functions between both control strips. For example, with link engaged, boosting the output level of the left channel will also boost the output of the right channel.
The Dangerous BAX EQ allows you to apply a low cut, low shelf, high shelf, and high cut. It’s a straightforward EQ with minimum functionality and a tremendous sound.
Plugin Alliance offers an emulation of Dangerous Music’s BAX EQ hardware unit for $249, but their products go on sale quite often. It’s worth subscribing to the Plugin Alliance newsletter at the bottom of their homepage to get notified when they have deals; it’s not uncommon for them to discount their products by more than 70%.
Universal Audio also offers an emulation of Dangerous Music’s BAX EQ hardware unit for $249. UAD plugins leverage the DSP of Universal Audio’s audio interfaces to process audio in real-time, which also avoids taxing your computer’s CPU.
The Ozone Vintage EQ is modeled after classic Pultec EQs. It allows you to add the richness, warmth, and color of analog equalization to your input signal. Much like the BAX EQ, the Ozone Vintage EQ is very simple to operate; you don’t have control over bandwidth, so you’re only making boosts and cuts.
The Vintage EQ is split up into different sections that allow you to boost/cut specific frequency ranges. Typical of how old-school EQs function, you specify a center frequency, and then boost/cut the selected frequency.
You can flip the EQ into stereo, mid/side, or left/right mode, and apply vintage flavor throughout your stereo field. This Vintage EQ allows you to split your signal in some exciting and creative ways.
The Ozone Vintage EQ is only available as apart of the advanced version of Ozone which sells for $499. Buying Ozone Advanced just for the Vintage EQ is hard to justify, but keep in mind that there are many other high-quality plugins included in Ozone Advanced that are intended for mastering.
Ozone’s Dynamic EQ is a 6 band dynamic EQ with a sleek and user-friendly interface. Dynamic EQs engage once their input signal surpasses the threshold level that you set. The difference between a dynamic EQ and a multi-band compressor is in the way they’re designed. Most multi-band compressors cause a phase shift, which isn’t always desirable, whereas dynamic EQs are able to avoid creating a phase shift during the period where they’re not boosting/cutting frequencies.
This EQ allows you to switch between analog and digital mode, which manipulates the character of the EQ. Analog mode provides analog-modeled curve shapes with minimum phase response, and digital mode offers analog-modeled curve shapes with linear phase response.
You can choose between 6 different filter types which include a baxandal bass filter, band shelf filter, peak bell filter, proportional Q filter, and baxandal treble filter. These filters allow you to shape the threshold of each band which determine how your input signal will get boost/cut. You can further customize these curve shapes by affecting the Q, gain, frequency, and offset of each one individually. Offset provides a static boost/cut value to the band, which causes it to behave in the way that a regular EQ would act.
Manipulating the threshold of a band determines the level at which a boost/cut will be applied. You don’t set a ratio for this dynamic EQ in the way that you would for a compressor. Engaging inverse mode inverts dynamic behavior and causes boosts and cuts to increase when they pass the set threshold. Attack determines how quickly a filter reacts to dynamic triggering. Release determines how fast a filter returns from dynamic triggering, and Auto Scale automatically scales Attack and Release times to ideal values for the current frequency.
You can toggle between stereo, mid/side, and left/right mode which provides you with precise control over your recorded material.
The Ozone Dynamic EQ included in the standard version of Ozone ($249), and the advanced version of Ozone ($499). There are many differences between each version of Ozone, but the only difference regarding the Ozone Dynamic EQ is that the advanced version allows you to run it as its own plugin, whereas the standard version requires you to run it as a module within the Ozone plugin.
The Pro-Q 3 by FabFilter is one of the best all-around EQs due to the number of features it offers. It’s a 24 band EQ that allows you to make extremely surgical boosts and cuts. Each band will enable you to select between 8 filter shapes, and apply 1 of 9 slopes to the high/low pass filters. It gives you the standard control over frequency, gain, and bandwidth.
One of my favorite features of the Pro-Q 3 is the piano roll that appears at the bottom of the spectrum analyzer. It allows you to snap the center frequency of bands to keys on the keyboard, and there’s a tooltip that tells you how many cents away your center frequency is from a full note.
A MIDI learn button allows you to associate MIDI controller numbers to any parameter within the Pro-Q 3. For live performance applications, the MIDI learn function lets use the Pro-Q 3 as a creative effect which makes it very unique when stacked up against the other EQs on this list.
There are 3 processing modes which include Zero Latency, Natural Phase, and Linear Phase. Zero Latency mode matches the magnitude response of analog EQing as close as possible without introducing any latency. Natural Phase mode takes it a step further and not only matches the magnitude response of analog EQing but also closely matches the phase response; it does this while steering clear of pre-ringing and latency. Linear Phase leaves the phase of the original signal intact and only affects magnitude response; the side effect here is that you introduce latency and possible pre-ringing.
The Pro-Q 3 allows you to switch between left/right mode or mid/side mode. In left/right mode, you’re capable of EQing each stereo channel independent of the other. In mid/side mode, you’re capable of EQing the mids separate from the sides. These two features add to the all-around usefulness of the Pro-Q 3.
You can view the pre-EQ, post-EQ, and side-chain spectrum analyzer curves within the Pro-Q 3. By affecting the range, resolution, speed, and tilt of the analyzed information, you’re capable of significantly customizing your metering options.
The Freeze function will cause the real-time frequency analyzer will start taking the maximum of all measurements, freezing the spectrum over time. This is especially useful if you’re trying to identify transient frequency ranges that need to be attenuated.
The EQ match feature allows you to match the frequency curve of your sidechain input signal, and to varying levels of accuracy depending on how many of the 24 bands you choose to apply. The scaling feature will allow you to dial back the amount of processing applied by EQ match.
To top it off, the Pro-Q 3 allows you to bypass the plugin, invert the phase, engage auto gain which matches input and output level, and adjust the pan when in left/right mode, or adjust the output of the mids and sides independent of one another while in mid/side mode.
The Pro-Q 3 is the most versatile, and surgical EQ on this list. If you can only afford one EQ, this is the one you’ll want to get. It’s going to be a huge step up from the stock EQ that comes with your DAW. FabFilter offers many different plugin bundles that include the Pro-Q 3, so it’s worth browsing their product catalog to see if there’s anything else you’re interested in. They also offer discounted student pricing.
To take your understanding of EQs to the next level and start effectively mixing with them, I highly recommend Mixing with EQ, which is a video series by Matthew Weiss. It explains how to use basic and advanced EQ controls, identify and fix problem areas in your mix, enhance lead and background vocals, understand minimal vs. linear phase EQs, identify and resolve frequency masking, and much more. Get the full Mixing with EQ video series by Matthew Weiss now.
Hopefully, I was able to recommend some great new EQ plugins. If there are any EQ plugins that you think should have made this list, make sure to leave a comment below. Follow Black Ghost Audio on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube to stay up to date on the latest music production tips and tricks. There’s new content every week, and I don’t want you to miss out.