In my opinion, the most valuable plugin in a mixing engineers toolbox is the parametric eq. Our job when mixing is to shape sound, removing problem frequencies and enhancing other areas. The parametric equalizer lets us do this with great flexibility, making it an indispensable asset.
The Equalizer is an important
In the plugin world there are many different types of equalizers, each having it’s own unique flavour. This can make it confusing to the beginner audio engineer as there’s almost two many options out there.
To make things easier, I’ve compiled a guide to some of my favourite parametric eq plugins for any budget. I’ve also included a few tips on my favourite uses for each that will have you mastering the parametric eq in no time!
EQ3 (or Any Stock Parametric Eq Plugin that comes with your DAW!)
You may be surprised to see this at the top off the list but I am a firm believer that most stock parametric EQs are good enough to mix an entire album with. I didn’t have a big budget when I was first getting started mixing so it was all I used.
I had no complaints and still use simple stock plugins when mixing. The digital parametric EQ is extremely flexible allowing you to achieve results similar to fancier plugins. The hard part is knowing what those other equalizers sound like without having used them.
So, even if you don’t have the budget to buy any other parametric EQ plugins you may still find this article useful. Hopefully it will give you a better idea of how to utilize the tools you have to shape sound in a way that’s similar to other options out there.
SSL 4000 Series
Solid State Logic (SSL) consoles are the industry standard for most major recording studios. They have a flexibility that allows them to be used on pretty much any instrument with great success.
There are two main iterations of the 4000 Series parametric eq that you’ll see in the plugin world. They are the E-Channel and G-Channel equalizers, each with their own characteristics.
The G-Channel EQs are known as proportional Q style. This means that the slope of a bandwidth changes, becoming narrower the more you boost or cut.
On the other hand, the E-Channel EQs use what is known as a constant Q. That is to say, the chosen bandwidth remains constant no matter how much is boosted or cut.
Option 1: UAD
Universal Audio offers arguably the most high end, realistic plugin emulations on the market. However, such quality also comes with a price and in the case of UAD it stretches beyond the price of the plugin.
In order to use any UAD plugins you’re required to buy one of thier Apollo interfaces or UAD Accelerators to run them on. This can be a hefty investment but the quality you get in return can be worth it, if you have the budget.
UAD SSL E Series Channel Strip: https://www.uaudio.com/uad-plugins/channel-strips/ssl-4000-e-series-channel-strip-collection.html
UAD SSL G Series Channel Strip: https://www.uaudio.com/uad-plugins/plug-in-bundles/ssl-4000-series-bundle.html
Option 2: Waves SSL E-Channel and G-Channel
Wave’s plugins offer a close second when it comes to this type of parametric eq. You can buy all the SSL plugins that wave has to offer in a bundle or individually.
The price point may seem high as well but anybody who’s shopped from Wave’s before knows that the best time to buy their plugins is during a sale. Prices can be dropped to a fraction of the usual cost, often as low as $29 per plugin!
Waves SSL 4000 Collection Bundle: https://www.waves.com/bundles/ssl-4000-collection
Option 3: Slate FG-S
If you really want to get some bang for your buck, pick up the Slate VMR 2.0. This is a bundle of classic plugins that features the FG-S an emulation of the SSL EQ.
This may not be as nice as the other options and isn’t even clear whether it’s E or G style. However, you’ll still have great results and that classic SSL sound without needing to break the bank.
API Style Semi-Parametric EQ Plugins
This is a classic, clean sounding EQ plugin that works great on guitars, vocals, drums and a whole lot more! Unlike previously mentioned plugins the bandwidth of each frequency band cannot be changed, making it a semi-parametric EQ.
However, like the SSL G equalizer, this uses a proportional Q which makes it smooth on low boosts/cuts. If you dig or boost a little more the Q gets tighter leaving you with a more punchy sounding EQ.
Option 1: UAD API 500 Series EQ Collection
Leading the charge as always is Universal Audio’s version of this classic equalizer. They offer both equalizer and full channel strip options.
UAD 500 Series EQ Collection: https://www.uaudio.com/uad-plugins/equalizers/api-500-series-eq-collection.html
UAD API Vision Channel Strip: https://www.uaudio.com/uad-plugins/channel-strips/api-vision-channel-strip.html
Option 2: Waves API 550
Waves offers two versions of the API Equalizer, the 550a and the 550b. You can read full details on the differences between the two parametric eq plugins here.
Wave’s API 550: https://www.waves.com/plugins/api-550#tab-in-depth
Neve 1073 Style Semi-Parametric EQ Plugins
Our @ams_neve 1073’s are literally our favourite things to record ANYTHING through! The EQ is so powerful and there isn’t a thing we wouldn’t be happy to record through them. @algrovesproducil uses them exclusively on his kick, snare and tom mics, as well as lead vocals. pic.twitter.com/aac4o4TWj3
— The Motor Museum (@MotorMuseum1) September 7, 2018
The Neve 1073 is a “holy grail” of analogue gear.
This is perhaps the holy grail of all analogue equalizers and can cost a fortune to physically buy. However, thanks to the magic of plugins, everyone can have something similar to a Neve parametric EQ in their mixes. These types of EQs offer a gorgeous silky saturated sound that I love on vocals!
Option 1: UAD “1073 Preamp & EQ Collection”
Universal Audio’s 1073 EQ Strip goes one step further by offering “unison technology” when added to an Apollo interface mic preamp. This allows you to track through an emulated channel strip, recording the Neve sound straight to your DAW
UAD 1073 Collection: https://www.uaudio.com/uad-plugins/channel-strips/neve-1073-collection.html
Option 2: Slate “FG-N”
FG-N is another plugin in the Wave’s mix rack that offers quality Neve emulation. A great option offered by Slate for those on a budget is the Slate Everything Bundle which gives you access to the VMR and a multitude of other plugins for a low monthly fee. It’s a great way to check out lots of parametric EQ plugins without much commitment.
Slate Everything Bundle: https://www.slatedigital.com/sign-up/
Option 3: Waves “V-Series” or “Scheps-73” Eq Plugin
Wave’s offers a couple options that are worth looking into when it comes to 1073 plugins. I don’t have much experience with these specific one’s but anything with Andrew Scheps backing it is usually amazing quality!
Wave’s Scheps-73: https://www.waves.com/plugins/scheps-73#scheps-73-eq-overview
Now that we’ve talked about some emulators for classic sounding analogue equalizer plugins, let’s take a look at some digital parametric eq options. These usually offer much more flexibility in features and aren’t “coloured” in the same way as other equalizers.
Waves Floating-Band Dynamic EQ
This plugin is one of my favourite parametric equalizers for vocals, toms and bass. It’s a surgical sounding eq with a spectral analyzer that makes it easy to find what you’re trying to fix.
The real magic of this plugin however lies in the fact that it’s a dynamic equalizer. This is a combination between an equalizer and a compressor. Every band you place has the ability to be animated so that it raises or lowers gain with the incoming dynamic signal.
It’s similar to a multi-band compressor but offers much greater flexibility. One of the best uses for the dynamic feature is on vocals. If the singer’s voice tends to get harsher when they sing in a higher register I’ll often add a dynamic band to problem frequencies to keep them under control.
Another great use is on bass when there happens to be a couple notes that resonate more than others. In this case, use the dynamic equalizer to compress only certain notes when they are played.
AirEq is an interesting collaboration between Eiosis and SlateDigital. It’s something I’ve only recently started using since being added to the Slate Everything Bundle.
In my mind it’s an attempt to create the best of all worlds in parametric eq plugins. On the surface it is a clean surgical style of digital equalizer. However, there’s an extra feature that allows you to shape the type of Q slope in addition to a frequency bandwidth.
It’s a little strange to explain in text so check out this video from Steven Slate which goes into further detail of the plugin’s inner workings.
Although it seemed like a lot of hype and a weird concept at first, I’ve grown to really like it. The Air knob is perhaps the most useful feature of all and I encourage you to try it out.
Eiosis AirEQ: https://www.eiosis.com/aireq
Fab-Filter Pro-Q 3
Fab-Filter’s plugin sets a bar that’s matched by very few digital parametric EQs. It has an extremely transparent sound and super surgical filters that allow you to zero in on exactly what needs to be removed or enhanced.
Combine that with its massive spectral analyzer, recent addition of dynamic EQ capabilities and you’re left with a very valuable plugin. Once again however, the high quality has a high price tag.
New Music Gear Monday: Fabfilter Pro-Q 3 Equalizer Plugin. New update features dynamic mode, surround, new filter shapes, and more. https://t.co/DtzVuKjTB0 #recording #musician pic.twitter.com/ne5bSJqjW9
— Bobby Owsinski (@bobbyowsinski) January 5, 2019
Fab-Filter offers some of the greatest features available when it comes to digital EQ plugins.
If you’re able to afford it though you’ll be amazed at what it’s capable of. It’s best used when you want to make frequency changes that won’t colour the sound at all. I recommend trying it out on your mix buss to clean up or enhance any problem areas of your mix.
Fab-Filter Pro-Q: https://www.fabfilter.com/products/pro-q-3-equalizer-plug-in
What’s the Best Parametric EQ Plugin?
In my opinion there’s no “best equalizer” out there or best of any plugin for that matter. Mixing music is part science and part art so the tools you choose to use really comes down to personal preference.
At the end of the day, it really comes down to making the most out of the tools that you have. So, try some of the plugins on this list but feel free to explore the 1000s of other parametric equalizers on the market.
If you enjoyed these tips check out some of the other articles the Sundown Sessions Blog!