Pro Audio Files

5 Essential EQ Plugins for Mastering

As I demonstrate in-depth in my new online course (Mastering In The Box), equalization can breathe life into a master, or even potentially save it from poor decisions made during mixing. Here are some of my favorite equalizer plugins for mastering …

1. UAD Manley Massive Passive

The hardware version of the Manley Labs Massive Passive is an absolute staple in mastering studios. Having used them before (I’ve also been lucky enough to have visited the Manley Labs Factory), I can honestly say that the Massive Passive is a work of art, in both functionality and sound.

UAD has done a wonderful job emulating the hardware with this plugin. The high end is silky, the low end is defined, and the quality of everything in between solidifies the Massive Passive as an extremely musical equalizer, great for almost any task an engineer might need it for.

Unique feature: I’d say the unique feature for the Massive Passive is that it has virtually everything a mastering engineer could want in an equalizer. High and low pass, a choice between shelf or bell on each band, Stereo Unlink — it’s truly versatile in addition to sounding flawless. Inexperienced engineers may be intimidated by the sheer number of controls found on the Massive Passive, but it’s extremely easy to use once you get used to it.

2. Brainworx bx_digital V3

Whereas I use something like the Massive Passive for adding color or sheen to my material, the bx_digital V3 is my go-to subtractive EQ, and is in many cases, found at the beginning of my mastering chain.

I use it to sweep through and find/remove unwanted frequencies before any other processing is applied, avoiding those problematic frequencies triggering, say, a compressor or saturator. It also works in mid-side mode, which is helpful for treating material like vocals, kick or bass independently of any material that might be panned to the sides. It has many other functions, and if you’re in the market for a surgical, transparent EQ plugin, I highly recommend this one.

Unique feature: It solos the band as you click on the frequency knob, allowing you to sweep through and find problematic frequencies quickly and accurately.

3. Pultec EQP-1A Emulations

There are a lot of emulations of this classic equalizer, and several of them are really great.

I have my preferences, but my suggestion is to go and demo as many as you can to find the one that works best for you and fits your budget (links below). Though this is traditionally more of a mix buss EQ, if a master needs clarity or low end weight, the Pultec does a fantastic job, and very quickly …

Unique feature: Technically you can boost and attenuate at the same exact frequency, which seems counterintuitive, but because the boost and attenuation curves are different, the resulting curve has its own distinct Pultec flavor. Great for adding weight or sparkle to your material.

4. UAD Chandler Curve Bender

This emulates the classic EMI TG12345 desk from Abbey Road Studios, so anything within six degrees of separation from my beloved Beatles is a must-own.

The functionality is similar to the Massive Passive: four bands allowing for shelving or bell, high and low-pass filters, and the ability to unlink channels. However, I do find the Curve Bender feels more vintage, vibey and colorful. If I need something to feel more expressive, or pronounced in the upper-mids or highs, I’ll definitely choose the Curve Bender.

Unique feature: It works in mid-side mode. All of the color and tone of the TG12345 available to process content in the center independently from the sides.

5. Ozone 7 (EQ, Dynamic EQ & Vintage EQ)

This is an absolutely feature-packed series of equalizers.

The EQ is surgical and transparent, the Vintage EQ is for color, and the Dynamic EQ allows for a more musical approach to processing different frequency ranges than a traditional EQ. I may reach for one of the aforementioned equalizers for color, but if I need a quick, all-in-one solution, iZotope’s Ozone 7 can’t be beat.

Unique feature: Matching EQ. This allows you to identify and capture the frequency spectrum of a chosen mix or master, and then apply it to your own material. At the very least, for analyzing what the professionals are doing, it’s a fascinating and educational tool.

Honorable Mentions

FabFilter Pro-Q 2

Though technically not a mastering EQ, the sheer functionality and excellent metering of the FabFilter Pro-Q 2 make it very useful for the application. It’s precise, surgical, and fun to use.

UAD Dangerous BAX EQ

If Universal Audio seems over-represented on this list, I suggest demoing their many great EQ plugins. They really have figured out how to capture and emulate the clean, smooth high end of analog equalizers. The BAX EQ is another emulation of a piece of classic mastering gear, and does a wonderful job cleaning up problematic low frequencies, taming high end, or adding a transparent sheen to your masters.

Mastering in the Box Course

If you’re interested in expanding your knowledge and learning effective techniques for getting great sounding masters 100% in the box, check out my debut course: Mastering in the Box

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Ian Vargo

Ian Vargo

Ian Vargo is a Producer, Mixer and Audio Professor based in Los Angeles. He has worked on numerous major label and independent records. Get in touch on his website or learn more from him in his new Mastering in the Box course.

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