Plugins are great for many reasons. One of those reasons is their ability to be moved from session to session, making it easy to build a workflow and stick to it. Another is how easy it is to recall settings and presets.
With so many plugins, it can be easy to get lost in your search for the best tools for the job. EQ plugins are among the most popular.
This comes from an equalizer’s ability to perform essential changes, which is why they are included with almost every DAW. Picking out where to go from your DAW’s stock plugin set can be tricky however if you are unsure what you want the EQ to do.
This list explores ten of the best equalizer plugins that range from clean, surgical processing to analog gear emulations that give engineers the vibe and character of classic hardware in an affordable, easy to use package.
When you talk to any engineer working with EQ plugins, the FabFilter Pro-Q often comes up somewhere in that conversation. Originally released in 2011, the Pro-Q has garnered quite a reputation.
Since then, it has seen a couple of major updates. Most recently, version three expanded on its abilities offering more functionality in an already amazing package.
To start, the FabFilter Pro-Q offers fantastic sound quality at its core making it well worth the money spent. To build upon great sound, this plugin allows for up to 24 individual bands for complex equalizing jobs without the need to run multiple instances of the plugin.
Version three adds an optional dynamic EQ mode, brickwall slopes for high and low pass filters, per-band mid/side processing, and collision detection via spectrum visualization.
The dynamic EQ mode allows the Pro-Q to react to the incoming signal and only filter out frequencies when they exceed the set threshold. Think of a combination of a compressor and an EQ. This can prove useful when static frequency correction isn’t doing the trick.
When the frequencies you are looking to affect are isolated to only one part of your track, the per-band processing comes in handy as well. The plugin can be set to have control over just left, right, mid, or side.
The best part of this feature is that there is still no need to run multiple instances of the plugin. For example, you may want to make broad changes across the stereo track, but you notice that the sides need a little less low mid.
You can set the specific low mid frequency to only affect the side information from that same plugin instance, without having any effect on what your initial changes are doing to the stereo image.
This equalizer can handle anything you throw at it and its feature set lends itself to the most complex mixing or mastering session. Pair all of these features with one of the best graphical interfaces in plugin design, and you are set to have a great experience with great results.
Often imitated, but never replicated, FabFilter’s Pro-Q has revolutionized what EQ plugins are all about.
Sonnox Oxford EQ V3
Sonnox has established itself as a leader in high-end plugin making. From their praised mastering limiter to mixing tools such as reverb and de-essers, their plugins have received rave reviews for their attention to design and audio quality.
It should be no surprise that their EQ makes this list. The Oxford EQ is a five-band parametric equalizer that is based on the EQ section of the Sony OXF-R3 digital console that helped push us into the digital revolution.
Each band has frequency selection and control over the width of the curve via the Q control. The high and low bands also allow for shelving outside of the high and low pass filters that are available.
The EQ has become known for its versatility due to its offering of four modes that shape how the EQ behaves. The first mode reacts similarly to an SSL4000 E series EQ. Mode two is used primarily for cutting of problem frequencies, utilizing higher Q control settings to make these surgical cuts.
The third mode offers up more console EQ sounds similar to Neve and SSL G series equalizers. Mode four lends itself to broader curves with a more gentle approach and is often used for mastering.
A fifth mode is available to those using Pro Tools HD and/or HDX systems. This mode emulates the George Massenburg GML-8200 hardware equalizer for more precise control over frequencies.
For more information on the GML-8200 EQ, check out our article on the best analog equalizers for mixing and mastering.
If versatility is what you need out of an EQ, the Oxford EQ will be right up your alley. With so many possibilities via the four standard modes, this equalizer can offer you great flexibility for both mixing and mastering.
PSP Audioware ConsoleQ
When mixing, it is sometimes beneficial to give a track some analog flavor. There are many EQ plugins that shoot to emulate the design of classic consoles from Neve, SSL, and API, but PSP decided to take a different approach.
The ConsoleQ plugin shoots to emulate the response of British EQ sections, and more specifically the equalizers found in Amek consoles.
The ConsoleQ is a four-band parametric equalizer that features an additional high pass filter not found on some of the consoles it is looking to model. The control layout is concise and simple, featuring dual-concentric knobs in each of the four bands.
The “upper” colored knob controls gain, while the lower knob acts as the frequency selection. The efficiency of this design provides an easy to operate interface for both novice and experienced engineers.
While you can make mild changes to the width of the curves, there is no dedicated Q control on this plugin. Instead, the Q follows the gain setting of each band.
The more gain you add, the narrower the bell curve will become. This allows for both subtle tweaks to a mix and surgical cuts and boosts when needed.
To add to its versatility, the ConsoleQ also features the ability to change the steepness of the shelving in the high and low bands and adds a saturation button in the output section for added warmth and coloration.
The ConsoleQ provides many options to those looking for a British console vibe in their mixes, and the versatility of its controls and layout makes it a great choice for engineers everywhere.
Sonoris Mastering Equalizer SMEQ
Rather than shoot for color and vibe, Sonoris decided to create their Mastering Equalizer around the idea of high accuracy and clean operation. The results of their efforts yielded a highly configurable EQ with ultimate transparency.
This EQ features seven bands of parametric equalization with control over each band’s type of curve. Bands can be set to operate in high/low pass, shelves, and bell curves for fine-tuning across the entire frequency spectrum.
The EQ can be switched between a minimal phase and linear phase response. Linear phase keeps all of your frequencies in sync with each other by adding a small time delay. This allows for large cuts and boosts to be made without the worry of creating any smearing of your phase relationships across your mix or master.
Furthering what is possible with the SMEQ, the plugin is capable of both mid/side and stereo operation. You can even monitor in mid/side mode if the need arises.
To create the accuracy that the SMEQ has achieved, the plugin also features the ability to upsample the audio being fed into it. Upsampling can give greater accuracy in the high frequencies and can be set to 2x, 4x, 8x, or Auto modes.
In making changes, the plugin also features a spectrum analyzer so you can be confident in what your modifications are doing to a track. The graphical interface as a whole has convenient features such as three levels of zoom and a scalable interface.
In mastering, the highest accuracy is often required, and Sonoris hit the nail on the head. With so many features and extreme flexibility, the SMEQ is a great choice for any mastering project.
Tokyo Dawn Lab TDR VOS SlickEQ
Tokyo Dawn Labs may have created one of the best free plugins in existence with the TDR VOS Slick EQ. Free plugins can find themselves fighting against the premonition that they are cheaply designed or lack essential features that many paid plugins offer. This is not the case with this EQ.
Offering a three-band design with an added high pass filter, the plugin is marketed as a mixing or mastering plugin due to its ability to change character with ease. Four EQ modes are available for varying responses across the plugin (American, British, German, and Soviet).
This makes the SlickEQ a great tool for work that may require color and vibe. Expanding on the EQ modes, there is also the option to color the output stage of the plugin.
Linear output provides the cleanest output, Silky provides an open saturated texture, Mellow adds a subtle warmth to the output, Deep uses odd-order distortion to create more dimension, and Funky emulates the behavior of an output transformer.
Outside of the available sounds, the EQ has great conveniences like copy/paste of settings to other plugin instances, presets, A/B comparison, M/S operation, and a really useful autogain function. This feature automatically compensates for changes that affect the perceived loudness of a track. Not bad for a free plugin.
At the price, it definitely wouldn’t hurt to try out in your mixing and mastering chains. The SlickEQ will not take long to become one of your favorites.
Massenburg DesignWorks MDW EQ5
Totally clean, and lacking any color, the Massenburg Design Works MDW EQ5 has become a staple equalizer in many critical audio environments. This EQ has made its name from the intense attention to detail and precision in the popular parametric EQ format.
George Massenburg is credited with creating the parametric EQ, and this plugin gives great reasons as to why.
Featuring five bands, the MDW EQ5 is capable of making both broad and surgical boosts and cuts. Each band can be set to use different filter types such as shelving, peak/dip, and bell curves.
Q controls, frequency selection, and gain are also available across all five bands, allowing for the most precise changes to be made with ease.
And since this EQ was designed to be crystal clear, the plugin can be used without fear of adding vibe in the wrong places or distortion to a clean recording. Mastering engineers will appreciate its versatile abilities working in tandem with pristine audio quality.
To further the case for this great EQ, the interface allows for A/B switching between changes when comparing a change needs to be quick, as well as a graphic display of the EQ curve.
All of these tools paired with a clean, uncolored response make this EQ great for corrective equalizing. Throw this plugin on a mix or master to yield great results for your most delicate EQing jobs.
Universal Audio Harrison 32C
Another console style EQ has made the list, but for good reason. Universal Audio went to work on recreating the EQ section of the Harrison 32C console, which most famously was used for Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
This four-band parametric equalizer has gained fame for its smooth and musical response and features overlapping bands to help shape your mixes. The low band is switchable between shelf and bell response for precise or broad adjustments across your low end.
Just like its console counterpart, the Q control is handled with circuitry that adjusts itself automatically based on the settings of the plugin. In addition to the four available bands, 12dB per octave high and low pass filters were added to this plugin for the ability to tweak any low-end rumble or high-end harshness issues.
The 32C equalizer may not be the tool you need for steep, narrow cuts and boosts, but the color and character you can pull from this equalizer make it a great choice for shaping tracks and giving them a smooth high-end sparkle that the console became known for.
Console equalizers such as the 32C plugin have made using legendary equipment much easier, and having this kind of character in your toolbox could work wonders for your mixes.
Waves Linear Phase EQ
Part of what we love about certain equalizers is the coloration they can add to a mix or master. Some of this color can come through the minimal phase shifting that inevitably happens when using filters and EQs.
Whether it fattens up a sound or adds a certain sparkle to the top end, this kind of character is often desirable. However, there are some times where we want to maintain consistency (and phase) throughout our tracks, even with EQ changes.
The Waves Linear Phase EQ helps solve this problem. On the surface, this equalizer shares a fairly standard approach to EQ plugin design, offering five bands with variable curve shapes, Q control, and frequency selection.
The magic with this EQ is under the hood. To combat the phase shifting that can rear its ugly head from time to time, the linear phase EQ creates a small time delay to ensure that all of your frequencies stay in sync with each other as changes are made.
This type of processing can add latency to your tracks, making this plugin a special utility tool for tracks where phase can be easily thrown out of sync. In addition to this, Waves gave the plugin the ability to add dithering, making this a good choice for mastering engineers looking to finalize their tracks.
While this EQ does not offer any of the coloration we often look to emulate, it is the perfect tool for correction without the added worry of phase shifting. This probably won’t become your go-to EQ plugin for every project, but you will be glad you have it if the need ever arises.
Sound Radix SurferEQ2
Most EQ plugins tend to be static. You pick a frequency and make your desired change to that frequency to eliminate any issue or add what is needed to a track.
A lot of the time, that is all you need an equalizer to do, but Sound Radix decided to tackle another problem with the SurferEQ2. Rather than remain static, they decided to add the ability for this plugin to “surf” the soundwaves, and adjust its bands based on what the music is doing.
The SurferEQ2 has seven bands of parametric equalization, that feature Q control and the option to change the shape of its curves. The surf function is really what makes this EQ special though. Using analyzation of the incoming signal, this plugin can help retain the timbre of any track by making changes in real-time.
Have you ever had a vocal that sounds great in a verse, but when the chorus comes along, your EQ changes don’t seem to retain their effectiveness?
The changes in a track’s pitch can affect how an EQ responds when using static cuts and boosts. With the ability to make changes, the SurferEQ2 looks to maintain your track’s sound throughout the song, thus eliminating these frustrating issues.
Sound Radix added MIDI control to this plugin as well, meaning the pitch detection in the surf mode can be fine-tuned with a MIDI controller for even more control over your frequencies. A spectrum analyzer adds the finishing touches to the plugin’s interface making it simple to see how the surfing affects your music over time.
In the world of digital audio, these kinds of advancements make any EQ toolbox much more effective and more prepared for unique problems.
If consistent timbre is at the forefront of your wishlist, check out the Sound Radix EQ for your mixing and mastering needs.
Brainworx bx_digital V3
Touted as the first Mid/Side plugin available, the bx_digital EQ by Brainworx has made waves in the mixing and mastering communities for its controls and accuracy.
The layout of this plugin is not as simple as some of the others on this list, but the amount of control given by this plugin makes its interface well worth learning.
The bx_digital has three different modes ranging from stereo to M/S. There is an M/S mode geared towards mixing and there is another for mastering.
The center section allows for width adjustments to the stereo image, panning between left and right, and input/output gain. The EQ section features five bands of parametric adjustment, each with gain, shape, Q control, and frequency selection.
On top of all of these features, there is a dynamic EQ option given in the section above its analyzers.
The bx_digital adds no color, rather it is a transparent EQ for solely corrective moves. Even without color, it takes inspiration from API console equalizers when using the proportional Q mode. This mode emulates the precision and surgical Q settings that are available with API equipment while retaining its clean operation.
The bx_digital is an EQ that shoots to be your ultimate mastering solution, but with new features such as dynamic EQ, proportional Q, and an increased resolution to 40kHz, it can work wonders on a mix as well.
Conclusion: Digital equalizers are some of the most influential plugins in your chain, and thanks to advancements in technology, many features in these plugins can give you a plethora of options in your mixes and masters. Whether you want coloration, transparency, or even the ability to change your curves in real-time, these EQs have helped revolutionize what is possible with nothing but software.
Digital equalizers are some of the most influential plugins in your chain, and thanks to advancements in technology, many features in these plugins can give you a plethora of options in your mixes and masters. Whether you want coloration, transparency, or even the ability to change your curves in real-time, these EQs have helped revolutionize what is possible with nothing but software.
If you’re looking to hear what quality EQs can do for your mix, follow the link here for a free mastered sample of your song: https://www.sageaudio.com/register.php
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