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5 Favorite EQ Plugins for Mixing

There are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to software equalizers. Almost every plugin manufacturer in the business has at least one. With so many options it can be hard to figure out which ones to pick and why.

This little list is my favorite, go-to EQs, along with why I like them and how I use them. It’s not entirely comprehensive. I’m continually demoing new products and there are certainly some older ones that have fallen off my radar. That said, you will find at least one or two of these on just about every record I’ve mixed in the last few years.

1. FabFilter Pro-Q 3

I would be amiss without mentioning my number one go-to: FabFilter Pro-Q. I’ve been using the Pro-Q series for years now. This EQ sets the bar for utility. It is very transparent and extremely versatile making it perfect for any general work on any source that needs enhancement or correction.

Mix Tips

808s: One of my favorite uses for the Pro-Q is to pump +20 to +30 dB of wideband top-end into an 808. I know that sounds utterly weird, but as I’ve pointed out in a few videos (below), the fun parts of the 808 are living above the fundamental tone. All that buzzy or grungy overtone that’s super buried ultimately amounts to the character of the 808 — but sometimes that stuff is really low. While adding 30 dB of anything sounds extreme, it’s really not if what you’re trying to push up is 30 to 60 dB lower than the fundamental tone.

The Pro-Q 3 is a really nice step up from the Pro-Q 2 because it offers dynamic EQ. This means the amount of EQ reacts proportionately to the incoming signal level. This is very useful for sources that have highly fluctuating tones — vocals being the main culprit.

Vocals: For controlling the lower-mids of a vocal (that 200-600 Hz range where room tones and proximity build up) I like to use the FabFilter in dynamic mode. Sometimes only a static cut is needed, but more often than not, it’s hard to strike a balance between eliminating the mud and retaining the body. I’ll get as close as I can with static EQ, but I frequently finish the job with dynamic attenuation. This way I’m only cutting when there’s too much tonal build up.

2. Slate Digital FG-S & FG-A

Sometimes we want transparency. Other times we something with a specific flavor. Slate Digital prides itself on doing analog emulations and making colorful sounding plugins. While it’s debatable how close the emulations may or may not be to the hardware units (especially since analog gear will sound a little different from unit to unit), what isn’t debatable is that these plugins sound great!

Mix Tips

Drum Kit: I come from a Pop and Hip-Hop background which primarily rely on drum samples for the percussion elements. Acoustic drums do not inherently have the punch and boldness as really good samples. In order to get that it can require some pretty dramatic EQ moves. For the snare, don’t be afraid to do narrow boosts on the FG-S in both the upper-mids and to the primary fundamental in the bass/low-mids. Conventional EQ wisdom goes “boost wide, cut narrow” but on a snare drum, narrow boosts, and/or sizable medium Q cuts to the spongey midrange can bring out the attitude.

The same is also somewhat true for kicks, although I find I like to do broader boosts to the top end of a kick and pretty wide cuts to the midrange if there’s a lot of undesirable shell tone. I highly recommend the FG-S for this because there’s something about the way the EQ effects the perceived attack of a drum that doesn’t exist in many other EQs. When it comes to close mic captures, don’t be afraid to go a little overboard with the EQ. In solo, it might sound weird but in the context of the rest of the drums and the mix, you will probably find yourself going a bit further to get the right impact.

Piano & Acoustic Guitar: The FG-A is perfect for melodic instruments like Piano or Acoustic Guitar. While the FG-S is punchy and aggressive, the FG-A is shinier and sweeter with broad bands. I like the high shelf set to 2.5 kHz or 5 kHz (depending on the piano) to bring out the right hand in a sparkly way. Pushing a little 100 Hz is great to give body to an acoustic guitar, and if too much woofy tone shows up, reigning back some 400 Hz usually does the trick.

Bonus Tip: These EQs pair nicely with the Slate channel emulations. You can make your own digital channel strip which has a cool sound and can just be plain fun to experiment with.

3. Sonible smart:EQ 2

Now I want to get into the less general purpose EQs and into the stuff that does something really cool. The Sonible EQ is not always needed, but what it does, nothing else does. It’s a secret weapon EQ that really stands on its own. The Smart EQ is a linear phase EQ that has a whole bunch of fixed corner points, as well as five sweepable corner points. The EQ has preset target tone curves (and you can make your own) and automatically adjusts your source signal to match your preset. In other words, it makes a source sound more like an ideal version of itself, and can then be further contoured with the sweepable points.

Mix Tip

Super Fixing: Now, for a very well recorded source this might not be necessary. But for some sources where the recording has all sorts of unwanted peaks and dips that would be extremely burdensome and difficult to fix manually — this EQ is a lifesaver. I had a mix earlier today where the vocal was recorded poorly. Doing the treatment with a conventional EQ would have been time-consuming, would have involved a lot of tail chasing, and probably wouldn’t have come out as well. Basically, this EQ saved my ass.

BONUS: proximity:EQ⁺ & entropy:EQ⁺

Two more Sonible EQ plugins to check out are proximity:EQ⁺ and entropy:EQ⁺. These are not EQs in the conventional sense at all. The Proximity EQ takes variable frequency bands and makes them appear either closer or further away by separating the “dry” part of the signal and “reverberant” part and adjusting the ratio between the two.

The Entropy EQ separates the signal as well, but does it by differentiating between harmonic (tones related to the fundamental pitches of the source) and non-harmonic (tones unrelated to fundamental pitch) sounds. In other words, you can effectively EQ down something like clipping distortion or EQ up something like the bow hairs of a cello.

It’s a very unique way to conceptualize “EQ” and is exceptionally useful when needed.

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4. Wavesfactory Spectre

While we’re talking funky and unique, I’ve been really digging the Wavesfactory Spectre EQ. It’s a bit of a twist on EQ in that it brings up tones using harmonic saturation rather than conventional phase manipulation. The EQ works in boost only, so it’s not really meant for contouring the frequency spectrum. Rather, it’s more for adding body and presence to a tone range, rather than simply quantity.

Mix Tip

Super Fixing: Spectre is exceptionally useful if a source sound is “thin” in a particular frequency range.

For example, we’ve all heard cheaply recorded vocals that are somehow muddy in the lower midrange, but when that mud is EQ’d out, the signal left behind feels empty or hollow. Spectre is perfect for putting energy right back into that otherwise thin capture.

Similarly, certain instruments just don’t naturally have a lot of presence in certain ranges.

Many pianos record dark. Spectre is great for adding upper-mid sparkle. Old cymbals also have this problem. They lack natural treble and end up sounding clanky or like tin cans. Spectre can bring some brilliance back in a way normal EQs can’t.

5. Sound Radix SurferEQ 2

One of the most interesting EQs out there is the Sound Radix SurferEQ 2. This EQ identifies the fundamental pitch of an instrument. As the fundamental pitch changes with the note that’s being played, SurferEQ 2 gives the option to change a selected corner frequency relative to this shift. In other words, as the note moves, the frequency band you selected moves with it!

It’s a simple yet brilliant concept. Sometimes what we want to change is fixed … oh, there’s room build up at 500Hz — lets EQ that out. But sometimes it’s not … wow, this cello is very honky, so much wood tone from 700 to 1500Hz. Unfortunately, this honk is resonating relative to the note being bowed. Fortunately, there’s an EQ that moves relative to the note that we can use to control that.

Mix Tips

Strings: String instruments are notoriously dense, harmonically. Violins, violas, cellos and basses have pronounced overtones and not by accident. When you’re in a concert setting and the listener is 30 to 50 feet away from the string section (or further), these overtones help the instruments feel rich and alive. But when the microphone is six feet away (or less) the amount of tone getting into the mic can be just overwhelming.

While there are models of string instruments that are better for recording and mics that are better for recording them, we don’t always have these at our disposal. SurferEQ 2 is great for getting out the denser overtones (which move relative to the fundamental note being bowed) while allowing the sweeter tones to pop through.

Bass: SurferEQ 2 works particularly well on bass instruments. Bass instruments rely heavily on the primary fundamental and lower overtones to define their sound. SurferEQ 2 is perfect for dialing in the bass sound in the context of a record by raising or lowering any given overtone.

Mixing with EQ Course

If you’d like to learn how to use EQ to take your mixes to the next level by manipulating tone, texture and balance, check out Mixing with EQ.

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com

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