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When mixing a range of instruments and sounds from different sources, there's often a need to define those instruments within a band of frequencies so that they can all sit right with each other.

The tool we use most often for that is Equalization, or simply EQ. EQ allows us to shape and control how different sounds fit into our mix. They can also fix problems by taking out the energy of a sound at specific frequencies which have become overloaded, or by boosting aspects of a sound that have been lost. You can also use them simply as an effect to brighten or dampen the tone.

EQ can be as simple as a couple of tone controls through to multiple bands of complex sound-shaping. In this article, I’m going to dig out a range of EQ plug-ins that offer the tools you need for improving the balance and tone of your mix.

Our list for the Best EQ includes:

  • Fabfilter Pro-Q 3
  • Sonible Smart:EQ3
  • Softube TubeTech Equalizer Collection
  • Sonnox Oxford Dynamic EQ
  • Ignite Amps PTEq-X
  • Eiosis AirEQ
  • Photosounder SplineEQ
  • Sound Radix SurferEQ 2

Fabfilter Pro-Q 3

Fabfilter has been doing this right for quite some time now. The original version was released in 2011 and introduced the audio world to a completely different way of looking at EQ. It combines the slopes, shelves and accuracy of a 24 band EQ with the graphical rendering of the frequency spectrum. Copied by many plug-ins since but never bettered, Pro Q reaches version 3 and brings with it more innovation.

Pro-Q 3 features every type of filter shape with Bell, Notch, High and Low cuts and shelf including a Tilt Shelf and a Flat Shelf. Or you can create your own shapes with simply clicking and placing the nodes yourself. A new Dynamic Mode intelligently adds compression or expansion to any selected bands. You can process just either side or the middle of your stereo field or expand out to surround sound mixing.

The spectrum analyzer has been improved and now features a “Spectrum Grab” to help you respond to and adjust peaks directly. There’s also communication between instances of Pro Q-3 which looks for collisions between the content of different tracks or applying the EQ from one instance onto another.

Pro-Q 3 can be every sort of EQ and displayed in such a way that a beginner can start crafting a better mix of frequencies by working with the visualization.

Pros & Cons

  • Looks amazing
  • Comprehensive
  • Dynamic mode
  • Overwhelming
  • There are better dynamic EQs

Street Price: $179
Format: VST, AU, AAX
Fabfilter Pro-Q 3

Sonible Smart:EQ3

Although it owes much to the look and functionality of Fabfilter Pro-Q, Sonible Smart:EQ3 has some tricks of its own. Smart:EQ3 uses artificial intelligence to analyze your audio material and then generates a custom filter curve to create a more natural-sounding tonal balance. The idea is to provide a fast and intuitive EQ that will adapt to the characteristics of the signal and do the hard work for you while you stay in the creative zone.

Smart:EQ3 includes pre, post, and pre/post analysis. It can process the sides and middle separately and they added the very on-trend Tilt Filter. They pay special attention to the vocals, whether that’s the dialogue for movies, singing or shouting. Smart:EQ3 builds up a library of profiles as you work with it and alongside included profiles for many instruments there are now a bunch optimized for the human voice.

It’s these profiles that make it fast. You can load a profile that matches your track and it’s already doing the job. All you need to do is tweak it to your liking. Then you can save the tweaks as another profile for even less work next time.

Following the look of Fabfilter is no bad thing and where the Pro-Q gives you complete control over everything, Smart:EQ3 takes a lot of the manual labor that implies out of your hands for a speedy and helpful workflow.

Pros & Cons

  • AI analysis
  • Profiles
  • Easy to use
  • Simplistic

Street Price: Street Price: $129
Format: VST, AU, AAX

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Softube TubeTech Equalizer Collection

Some EQs are all about fixing problems, whereas others bring their character to the shaping of sound. The TubeTech Equalizer Collection is very much the latter. It’s modeled on a pair of vintage devices that have added their sound to countless records over the decades. These complimentary processors are now combined in a single plug-in from Softube.

First, you have the PE 1C which is an evolved emulation of the famous Pultec tube-driven passive EQ. It offers a huge bass and silky-smooth treble with a simplicity that makes it a joy to use. There’s something about the slight frequency offsetting in the low end that lets you boost and attenuate at the same time, thus keeping the energy of the sound while cleaning up the overflow. This is focused EQ, concentrating on single tasks rather than the overarching multi-band shaping offered by more modern digital EQs.

The ME 1B was brought along to provide some control over frequencies that the PE 1C doesn’t really handle. It’s a great tool for mid-range frequencies and when combined with the PE 1C creates a more complete and versatile solution. The only control you have over the midrange is attenuation while the only option with the high and low frequencies is boosting. This creates that classic smile effect that’s very often the go-to shape when mixing. The PE 1C compliments this beautifully with its high and low-end processing.

The TubeTech Equalizer Collection assumes you know what you’re doing and rewards your abilities with a fantastic tool and an excellent tone.

Pros & Cons

  • Classic sounding emulation
  • Wider range than original
  • Narrow focus

Street Price: $119
Format: VST, AU, AAX
Softube TubeTech Equalizer Collection

Sonnox Oxford Dynamic EQ

Following in the style of Fabfilter, Sonnox brings their renowned sound quality and expertise to the Oxford Dynamic EQ. A dynamic EQ applies a gain change, either compression or expansion, to the gain parameters of a multiband parametric equalizer. It’s similar to a multiband compressor but more focused, tunable and adaptable. As the gain increases there’s a proportional “Q” or resonance response which sounds more natural than the unyielding bands of the multiband compressor.

Oxford Dynamic EQ features 5 bands of ultra-musical Type-3 EQ curve which can be overlapped fluidly and positioned precisely where you need it the most. It can detect transients for you when working with percussion and drum kits and mid-side processing can be used to enhance vocals without affecting the balance or bringing the low end to the center of the action. You can even set a threshold level for when the EQ starts working.

The interface is stunning and intuitive, making it ideal for beginners as well as seasoned professionals. The controls are simple to grasp and you have real-time visual as well as aural feedback as to what it’s doing. The Sonnox Oxford Dynamic EQ sounds fantastic and gets you carving out your tracks in no time.

Pros & Cons

  • Dynamic
  • Tuneable
  • Sound
  • Complex

Street Price: $229
Format: VST, AU, AAX
Sonnox Oxford Dynamic EQ

Ignite Amps PTEq-X

Now, this looks familiar. As with the TubeTech EQ, the PTEq-X is based upon the same classic Pultec hardware. The most significant difference is that the PTEq-X is free.

The PTEq-X emulates 3 different Pultex processors and combines them into a single plug-in. As with the TubeTech EQ Collection, this makes for a more rounded, wide and versatile equalization solution. Ignite Amps is on their 3rd generation of triode stage analog modeling and offers 4 different tube types. They’ve increased the number of selectable frequencies in the PEQ1A section and refined the filter precision for the MQ5 and HL3C sections. And if you need it you can switch in linear phase oversampling for aliasing reduction.

It’s as simple and effective as it looks and Ignite Amps has proven their ability to create amazing sound emulations. And did I mention that it’s free?

Pros & Cons

  • Free
  • Classic vintage emulation
  • None

Street Price: Free
Format: VST, AU

Eiosis AirEQ

AirEQ borrows from different places to bring together what they believe to be an uncompromising equalization tool. You can spot the Fabfilter style display but also AirEQ brings the classic hardware view into focus, appealing to both digital Engineers and those with a more analog background. This is less of an emulation and more of a tool designed and tweaked by ear to help you make your music sound fantastic.

AirEQ has some interesting parameters. There’s a Character slider that moves from “Water” to “Fire,” there’s a knob for “Air” and one for “Earth,” along with Strength and Character parameters. It takes analog ideas and pushes them into artistic and creative places. Fire brings a tight and focused sound full of punch and impact. Water brings smoothness and an open and natural sound. Air and Earth are about high and low frequencies. Playing with these parameters gives a very organic and intuitive flow. And then you have the whole range of EQ laid out for further tweaking.

AirEQ is elegant and unafraid to take a more artistic approach to something that can often get very scientific.

Pros & Cons

  • Beautiful
  • Creative
  • Intuitive
  • Complex

Street Price: $149
Format: VST, AU, AAX
Eiosis AirEQ

Photosounder SplineEQ

Now for something a bit different (if a bit old). Spline EQ is a linear Phase Equalizer that gives you full control over the design and creation of the filter curves. It uses Bezier splines to adopt any imaginable shape. Simply add points to define the shape and use the handles to create the curve. This is very unlike other EQs that have fixed filter types like bell, low pass, high pass, notch; with SplineEQ you can create whatever shape you like. This gives it a unique approach and allows you to work very precisely.

SplineEQ sounds completely transparent. There’s no analog emulation or tube distortion; it purely works on the frequencies using the curve you define. It has 60 bands to play with and so there’s very little limit in what you can achieve. The sonogram style frequency analyzer gives you helpful information on the intensity of the frequencies, allowing you to focus in where it’s needed.

SplineEQ is less about creating a particular sound or tone and more about getting stuck into the realities of fixing frequency problems in your mix. Regardless of what other EQs you might use, you should always have this at hand.

Pros & Cons

  • Very precise
  • Transparent
  • Unique
  • Price
  • Old
  • Narrow focus

Street Price: $29
Format: VST, AU

Sound Radix SurferEQ 2

They call this “Radically Musical” and it’s certainly colorful. SurferEQ 2 aims to help you by tracking the pitch of monophonic instruments and vocals and moving the selected bands as the music changes. Because EQ is ordinarily static, you set it and it remains in place of the whole track. SurferEQ moves with the melody, tracks the tune and ensure the changes you are making stay with the music.

You could say it “surfs” the musical waves. It can also be pushed around using MIDI notes which actually turns it into a bit of a unique timbre-shaping musical instrument. Sound Radix has developed some interesting filter algorithms and profiles that can morph through each other. It has the now familiar spectrum analyzer and level display which makes it easy and intuitive to use.

If it’s possible for an EQ to be fun then SurferEQ 2 nails it.

Pros & Cons

  • Fun and colorful
  • Pitch tracking
  • Versatile
  • None

Street Price: $179*
Format: VST, AU, AAX
Sound Radix SurferEQ 2


And finally, I’d like to point out that the EQ found in most DAWs are usually pretty decent. You’ll often find a mixture of straightforward tone controls, graphic EQs, vintage emulations and spectrum analyzing parametric that will do a standup job of carving out frequencies and creating space in your mixes. Don’t feel that you have to invest in an expensive EQ; the stock ones are often better than you’d think.

Pros & Cons

  • You already have it
  • None
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