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  • EQ Plugin Quality

    Posted by Jesse Lewis on at 9:21 am

    Hello MIX LEGENDS!

    I have a question that I’m hoping somebody can answer — It’s about the sound quality of various EQ plugins. Specifically I’m asking about EQ 8 that comes in Ableton Live. Should I expect to hear any audible difference in the exact same EQ curve (same filter, same frequency, same gain) between Ableton’s EQ 8 and any other similar style EQ like FabFilter Pro-Q or Kirchhoff-EQ? I know these more expensive EQ plugins offer much more functionality in terms of the ability to add more bands, use of Dynamic EQing, and many other useful functions…but just in terms of SOUND. Is there a difference? If I only needed to do a simple surgical cut for example, is there any benefit to using one EQ plugin vs a different one? Thanks in advance for sharing any of your wisdom on this subject.

    Best Wishes,


    Dana Nielsen replied 2 months, 3 weeks ago 3 Members · 11 Replies
  • 11 Replies
  • Dana Nielsen

    at 7:16 am


    What a great question, man. Here’s how I tend to think about the plethora of plug-in EQs out there for your DAW.

    • I tend to notice the unique “sound” of an EQ when BOOSTING frequencies, and much less so when CUTTING. i.e. “How forgiving or open or airy or sweet is that 10k shelf you’re boosting 6db? How does that 60Hz bell-curve boost on the kick drum sound? Is the bandwidth narrow and ultra defined, bordering on resonant; or is it wide and warm and wooly?”
    • When I’m CUTTING surgically my EQs feel much more like Swiss Army Knives rather than artistic paint brushes. I recognize a frequency (or five of them) I’d like to reduce and I slap a versatile parametric EQ on it — usually the stock Avid 7-band EQ or Fabfilter Pro-Q3 in my case — not because their cuts “sound the best” or better than any other option, but because they offers me either a) the most options, and/or b) the least amount of fuss (i.e. time). For this type of EQ I want many fully-sweepable bands, capable of extreme/resonant/notch/narrow bandwidths (sometimes known as Q), and a hi-pass and low-pass filter, again with as many db per octave as possible.

    I hope this helps in some way, brother! Can’t wait to hear what you’ve been EQ’ing lately 😉


  • Jesse Lewis

    at 9:39 am

    Thanks as always for your informative and thoughtful answer, it was very helpful and appreciated!!

    In terms of those versatile parametric EQs that you mentioned, such as the Avid 7-band EQ or Fabfilter Pro-Q3 — Is there any sonic difference when you boost the same frequencies with the same filter/same Q. I know that Pultec and other analog emulation Eq plugins will have different sounds because of their unique curves and circuitry, etc but I guess I’m just wondering if the parametric style EQ’s (Fabfilter vs Avid-7) can actually sound different from each other? I certainly don’t have the ears to perceive a difference:)

    ❤ JLew

    • Dana Nielsen

      at 9:46 pm

      My pleasure man!

      True about the sweet, sweet pultec sounds as well as other colorful EQ models, which add a lot of wonderful mysterious beauty when boosting. Regarding the sonic differences between surgical parametric EQ plugins boosting equal amounts of the exact same frequency and bandwidth …. If you don’t hear a difference then there probably is none! Simple as that. And in my experience that tends to be the case – not much difference if at all. Don’t second-guess yourself or let any of that wig you out – just keep it simple and trust your ears. Most EQs of that type sound the same at the end of the day, and you might end up preferring one over the next due to non-sound-related things like:

      • system resources / efficiency
      • graphic interface
      • metering / visual feedback
      • band solo-isolate option while sweeping
      • wide range of db/octave options on high and low pass filters
      • map-ability to hardware encoders (Eucon, Hui, MIDI faders/pots etc.)
      • number of available bands
      • Mid-side options (EQing only the mid or the side channels)
      • mono-maker (summing all frequencies to mono above a certain frequency)
      • “tilt” band option
      • specialized processor compatibility (UAD, HDX)

      …And on and on. That above list is off the top of my head, and just some of the factors that may lead me to favor one “surgical workhorse desert-island” EQ over another. And incidentally NONE of those factors have anything to do with sound QUALITY. Know wha’mean?

      TL;DR: Chances are your stock Ableton parametric probably sounds just as good as the competition. ⚡️

      • Jesse Lewis

        at 5:23 am

        Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of this insight! So helpful! I feel as excited about all of this mixing and production stuff as I did about learning my 2-5’s back in the day:)….which is very excited haha

        • Dana Nielsen

          at 9:12 pm

          Hahaha – well, you certainly shed your ii-V’s MUCH harder than I did, and are a much better player than I, so it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be on the cover of TapeOp or hosting Mix With The Masters, I have no doubt!

          Also, for anyone else reading this thread — please weigh in with your thoughts and opinions on Jesse’s question about EQs! I’d love to hear — and welcome — any contrasting opinions. If you’re like, “nah, Dana, the top end boost on the Farfelbanger 5000 parametric plugin is sonically far superior to all other EQs for your DAW!” you best believe I’ma download that Farfelbanger and check it out! 😂 #farfelbanger5k

  • Pete Widin

    at 7:49 am

    Hey y’all – love this topic, and appreciate the insights laid out thus far.

    As a side note, I think I’ve noticed that different parametric EQs – for example in comparing the stock Logic ChannelEQ vs the InfinityEQ from Slate, seem to have varying ability to truly cut frequencies to the level I’m trying to eliminate them.

    For example, when using the ChannelEQ and also InfinityEQ, if I slap a hi pass filter on there trying to cut like 80Hz and below out of an electric guitar, I notice when pulling up another parametric EQ later in the chain that some of these lower-end/cheaper EQ plugs may not catch everything.

    That being said, it may not be necessary or even preferable to have a true void below 80Hz in this case, depending on what the mix calls for and whether that bit of low end leak off a guitar positively blends or muddies the overall sound. Just wanted to share that I wonder if higher end EQs like the FabFilter ProQ3 may be better at truly cutting things out than stock level plugins.

    I think that, to some extent, this level of detail that I’m referring to is starting to get into the arena of mastering, and I’m aware to not let it slow me down too much with second-guessing during mixing.

    • Dana Nielsen

      at 1:05 am

      Hey Pete! Interesting. While I’m not familiar with the Logic nor Slate EQs you mentioned, I can say that a HiPass filter better not let any frequencies below the cutoff through! Haha. Unless, of course, the slope is gradual. I’m wondering if it’s your EQ’s slope that could be the culprit (measured in decibels per octave). I made a quick demonstration image, attached. Feel free to download the image for a closer look (click on the image and then the “download” button should appear below the image description)

      Note: Not all EQs can create such steep slopes as the FabFilter, or the Weiss MP (which is another fav swiss-army surgical EQ I use a lot … and is on sale right now for $69 🤯).

      Let us know if this sheds any light on your EQ situation!

      • Pete Widin

        at 7:08 am

        Great points, Dana! Yeah, I’m sure the EQ slope is part of the issue in some cases. I think the Slate plugins that I’ve been using are decent, but on some of the hardware EQ emulations the HP doesn’t cut everything out, so who knows. It’s not something I’m worried about tho, just something I’ve been surprised to see when I pull up a parametric and monitor after popping another EQ in the chain before it. Ultimately, I’ll probably switch to Plugin Alliance’s all access membership since I’ve heard such good things from friends.

        • Dana Nielsen

          at 12:44 pm

          Ah, that makes more sense that a vintage EQ emulation isn’t completely eliminating frequencies below your Hi Pass frequency. Vintage EQ’s are full of mysterious idiosyncrasies – which is what makes them so fun! – and you often don’t know exactly what’s going on without looking at a spectrograph on the output.

          I’m always looking at my VU meters and frequency spectrograph for useful information, much of which is easier to see than hear, such as a 23Hz rumble on a guitar amp that you can’t hear but is very much taking up valuable headroom in the mix … stuff like that.

          These days there are GOBS of plug-in meters and spectrographs for your DAW master fader to keep an eye on things. For me though, rather than take up valuable screen real estate for a plugin, I use a wonderful hardware metering tool by TC Electronic called the Clarity M. It’s still a plugin you put on your master insert (making sure it’s the final insert in your chain*) but with dedicated hardware displaying a wealth of information at all times. I LOVE it and honestly I learn so much about my mixes and other people’s mixes I dig by constantly having that info available – spectrograph, LUFS, mono deviation, phase correlation, etc etc etc.

          So … all that to say …. when I pop an EQ on any insert in my session (even a vintage emulation EQ with no spectrograph overlay) I can solo that track and look at my Clarity M and see exactly what’s going on under the hood, so to speak.

          • Pete Widin

            at 8:34 am

            Gotcha, yeah I’ve been loving the UAD Pultec series since getting my Apollo last Fall.

            Really interest about the Clarity M – something to put on my wish list. Thanks, Dana!

            Also.. I’m listening to your interview on Ari’s Take right now, super excited to hear more of your story and experiences.

            • Dana Nielsen

              at 10:26 pm

              Thanks, Pete! That was such a fun interview/chat with Ari. Gonna post it here on Mix Protege soon, too!

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