16 different EQ plugins
Today the market for VST eq plugins is saturated and prices have dropped a lot since a company could sell their SSL bundle for over $3000. The marked for new 5 band equalizers is practically gone.
The number of DAW users is higher than ever but that also goes for the number of developers bursting out products.
The value of music has fallen and so has the music production gear used to make it.
Emulating old analog hardware has been popular and is probably still selling.
This article is about software equalizers and we take a look at 16 of them grouped by following styles
- Solid State Logic
- SSL Native tools based on the famous large console from the late '80s and forward
- The fat analog op amp sound from the '70s will always be modern
- An all-valve design with cut and boost on the same bands for different curves
- Clean digital software rewriting the take on a user-friendly plugin with a good sound
SSL like equalizers are equalizers emulating analog equalizers from the 80's console.
- SSL Native Channelstrip V6
- Metric Halo Channelstrip 3
- Waves 4000
- Native Instruments Solid Series
A series of equalizers emulating some of the classic designs by Rupert Neve
- Scheps 73
- Stillwell Audio 1973
Modern digital style
Modern digital equalizers developed with optimized GUI and multiple bands.
- Izotope Inc EQs
- SSL X-EQ
- Fabfilter eqs
An old analog Valve based design giving unique features and sound
- IK Multimedia EQP 1A
- Nomadfactory AS Pulse
Modern eqs with no emulation
Moderne digital plugins that does not try to sound like any old gear has the highest versatility and best GUI options compared to the more or less faithful emulations. Companies like Izotope Inc and SSL has good modern equalizers with a user-friendly GUI.
Fabfilter Pro Q 2 and 3
This has become very popular for its interface and features. Clearly an inspiration for other developers.
- Multiband up to 24 bands
- Mouse scroll Wheel features
- Single-band listen mode
- New and clever GUI
Izoptope inc Neutron (version 2 and 3)
Izotopes extensive channel strips with multiple bands
The plugin is known for its new technology masking feature that connects instances in a network where you can see analysis from other instances as information.
SSL X-EQ and SSL X-EQ2 is a modern multiband plugin like the Fabfilters. High quality processing with an SSL sound.
The new Version 2 has a unique band parameter pop-up controller where you easily control most band parameters.
SSL X-EQ 2 has a small but well laid out gui and icons pop-up
Frequency is a good versatile plugin build into Cubase DAW from version 10 Professional.
This is actually all you need in Cubase
- 8 bands
- Stereo and MS
- Linear option
- Auto listen mode for isolating a band but not quite as elegant as others
- Frequency to note on the keyboard
Like a lot of other Steinberg interfaces it is a bit clumsy but the audio processing results are still good
Neve style eqs
This is a classic brand series defined by the selected fixed frequencies and the band widths
Waves VEQ4 is a cpu lightweight plugin with 4 bands emulating old analog gear.
This plugin is suitable for a full mixer setup emulation an all channels analog rack.
Waves Scheps 73
Scheps 73 is a plugin designed with Andrew Scheps. A high quality tool with distinct analog features emulating the original hardware.
A good emulation but a pretty cpu heavy plugin that might need track freeze if used on multi channels. Use it on the important channels.
Waves API 550B
The 550B plugin is a faithfull emulation of the old 500 format discrete 4 band hardware version by API. With overlapping frequencies the 4 bands is very versatile.
An old plugin but it still has a 550B sound and a low cpu usage/latency for a full 48- or 64 channel mixer setup.
Pultec style eqs
A series of emulated valve equalizers with a unique analog design with cut and boost on the same bands.
IK Multimedia EQP 1A
An emulation of a classic valve unit in a different design. It has boost and cut on the same bands the can form musical curves.
It works well for deep bass work. A good plugin for bass drum deep bumps.
Nomad Factory AS Pulse EQ
It sounds fine but the GUI is a little less readable compared to the IK EQP 1A.
SSL style eqs
The SSL is a series of great tools with a certain sound that can do it all
SSL Native Channelstrip V6
SSL Channelstrip V6 is a great plugin that contains an emulation of the channelstrip from 4000 E and G series mixer sections. Sound close to the real console.
Metric Halo Channelstrip 3
An old but still good channelstrip with a SSL like sound with good performance. One of the most CPU efficient of the plugins mentioned here.
Waves SSL 4000
SSL 4000 e was probably the first SSL 4000 emulation done in software. A very cpu lightweight plugin but it has a little latency. The never CLA MixHub has even more of the SSL sound including preamp modeling.
Nomad Analog Studio Rack State EQ
A Nomad Factory version of an analog SSL E strip from the 80´s. The GUI is a bit small but it sounds good.
No VST3 support.
SSL 4000 Channelstrip E
An old plugin emulation of the SSL 4000 E and G. Very lightweight but also very old and overrun by others but if you already own this one, use it.
This tool has a bit of latency but very low cpu usage.
Native Instruments Solid EQ
This another bread and butter SSL design from Native Instruments. the GUI is a bit small on a large screen but it has the standard features and easy switch between e and g versions of the design. Zero-latency and a low CPU usage makes this a useful plugin for large projects.
CPU usage and latency can sometimes be a factor in the process before final mixing. When composing a latency-free setup is much more playable than a setup with latency.
The following image is a screen dump with relative CPU usage comparing 16 equalizers and lower is better.
CPU usage and latency metering from Reaper Daw. Fabfilter, SSL, Waves
# FX is number of insert VST plugins in the channel. PDC is Plugin Delay Compensation.
It is good to have a few very CPU lightweight options for composing and other pre-final mixing tasks. According to the CPU usage meter in the image above the Fabfilter eq is amazingly low and makes this a no brainer.
When to use what
In a practical reality most software eqs can solve most tasks but some are better and easier than others. Fixed frequency bands might help the rookies or give a certain character.
There are in fact very few situations where you need to buy a certain plugin.
Plugin selection strategies
Different plugin strategies to go for:
- Stay with the build in DAWs equalizers
- All professional audio workstations are made with what you need for professional mixing
- Go for what you have
- Have at least one plugin in every category in the tool box
- Ignore the analog emulation jungle and use one modern "can do it all" plugin
- Whenever you are bored or stuck, buy a new plugin
- This is a popular but expensive and emotional strategy. Not exactly advisable but too much is never enough
There is not a plugin mentioned in this article that you should not use. All of them have their use. The newer products are of cause the best in audio quality but also tend to be more most CPU requiring some of the older emulation plugins are still useable.