All about EQ

In addition to expert articles on our blog, we will cover the issues of basic principles of musical production. Today we want to discuss a topic, without understanding which qualitative arrangement and mixing is impossible.
The most important equalization concept you need to know about is 'the less is the better'. It means that while recording an instrument or voice you shouldn't compromise on quality hoping to fix errors later on during post production. Due attention should be paid to the microphone's quality, its position against the sound source, room audio treatment, etc. We've talked about the latter in one of the previous articles.

When all these rules are finally met and the recording is properly made, EQ will play only 'cosmetic' role of emphasizing more important frequencies and cutting out unnecessary parts of the sound spectrum.

There are two main types of multi-band equalizers: graphic and parametric. Graphic EQ's sound spectrum is split into a fixed number of frequency bands with unadjustable operating frequencies, bandwidths around them and gain ranges. Only the level of amplification/attenuation of the center frequencies is adjustable.

Parametric EQs have much greater capabilities and flexibility, thus we'll further focus on this type of EQs. At the end of the article we'll provide the list of virtual equalizers that are the best in our opinion.

Any EQ represents a combination of different types of filters where the most used ones are the following:

- Bell filter - a bell-shaped or haystack filter controlling a set of frequencies around a center frequency;

- High pass filter - a filter (sometimes called a Low cut) that drastically attenuates low frequencies below a certain cutoff frequency and allows frequencies above to pass;

- Low pass filter - a filter (sometimes called a High cut) that drastically attenuates high frequencies above a certain cutoff frequency and allows frequencies below to pass;

- High shelf filter- a filter enabling to attenuate or boost frequencies above a certain cutoff frequency;

- Low shelf filter - a filter enabling to attenuate or boost frequencies below a certain cutoff frequency;

- Notch filter - a filter enabling to attenuate frequencies in a very narrow band to very low levels, also known as band-rejection filter.

Bell filters are used to boost or attenuate a certain frequency. Low- and High cut filters are used to completely slash low and high frequencies correspondingly. Low- and High shelf filters are designed to boost or attenuate low and high part of the spectrum. The particular decision to use either a cut or shelf filter depends on how aggressively you need to process the material. As notch filter completely cuts out a selected frequency, it is mostly used to remove unwanted resonances in certain complicated situations.

Parametric EQ's filters also have the following 3 primary controllable parameters:

- Frequency - operating (center) frequency, measured in Hz;

- Q - sharpness of the bandwidth surrounding the center frequency (also called 'Q-factor');

- Gain - level of amplification of the selected frequency band, measured in dB.

The users of parametric EQs enjoy a much more powerful and flexible toolset at their disposal. Analogue equalizers have a fixed number of frequency bands, while the number of bands in modern digital EQs and EQ plugins is almost unlimited. Additionally, digital parametric EQs enable to use additional parameters such as different filter types, various shapes of EQ curves, etc.

Another very important functionality of modern virtual EQs is the ability to separately process mono (mid) and stereo (side) components of the signal, or to separately process right and left channels.

Now, let's take a look at, in our opinion, the best currently available EQ plugins:

1. FabFilter Pro-Q 2

Pro-Q2 is the newest update to the famous Pro-Q. Fabfilter EQs are relatively new in the market, but when they were introduced, they almost immediately became favorites of many sound producers and engineers. Pro-Q2 is the EQ plugin that has virtually every single feature you could want from any EQ and even more. That's exactly why we have rated it as a number one.

It's a digital and sterile EQ so it doesn't color your tracks in any other ways outside of the EQ changes specified by the user. Fabfilter is also known for that despite its impressive functionality, it's CPU load is fairly modest. Another advantage of Pro-Q2 is its classic Fabfilter design. It's super clean and intuitive. A number one, beyond any doubts!

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, all formats) and PC (32-bit VST, VST3, AAX and RTAS; 64-bit VST and VST3).
2. DMG Audio EQuilibrium

EQuilibrium represents everything DMG Audio stands for: flexibility, depth, and quality. Any user of this plugin will tell you that it suits absolutely every need you could imagine, then adds more features that you never knew you needed, but suddenly can't live without. Loads of setup options, configurable user interface modes, different phase options (including minimum, analog, linear), a highly detailed graph, and lots more.

EQuilibrium is equally suited to both mastering and mixing engineers as it can be as entirely clean and sterile as it can be colorful. EQuilibrium offers not only one digital mode, but a second digital mode that claims to be even more accurate in its frequency response, which makes it even more interesting for mastering engineers. Finally, DMG Audio not only make great plugins, but they are extremely fast to fix issues and implement new features, which is an additional bonus when purchasing anything from them. A well deserved second place! But not far way from the leader.

Available for Mac and PC in VST, AU, RTAS and TDM formats.
3. Waves Audio SSL 4000 Collection

If there's one EQ that almost every single mix engineer seems to have in their arsenal, it's the SSL G-Series EQ. This plug-in emulation captures every subtle nuance and character of the original piece and makes it shine which makes the plugin so highly demanded.

Dialing in any high-mid-range frequencies can cause the track to instantly pierce through a mix, which is why the SSL EQ is so often chosen for vocals' processing. This plugin's another advantage is that it will also give your tracks a bit of a classic tone that will help to mitigate any digital sterility.

Available for Mac and PC in VST, AU, RTAS and TDM formats.
Let's give a brief overview of what we have discussed:

EQ is one of the most important tools in shaping a sound. It helps us to change the tone by adjusting the various frequencies and removing unwanted ones. But, keep in mind that equalization should be applied only when it's necessary. Try to trust your ears rather than rely on what you see on your monitor, and always use reference tracks.

We hope this information will help you facilitate your production workflows. If you already have some of your music which you want to be listened to in our customers' locations, sign up to our portal!

Best wishes,
ExpertMusic team.

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