A group of hardware and plug-in EQs you might want want to reach for during the course of most mixes...
February 05, 2014, by Bobby Owsinski
Much to my surprise, it seems that people actually care about my favorite gear, since the response to both my favorite mic preamps and compressors was so great.
As a result, I thought it was time for another “My Favorite” post, this time about my top 10 equalizers. These are hardware or plug-in EQs that I find myself reaching for during the course of most mixes.
Remember, gear choices are very personal, so what I like might not work for you, or in web gear parlance, YMMV (your mileage may vary).
Even though the following are numbered, the order will change for me all the time. Here we go:
1. API 560. This is the most musical graphic equalizer ever built, in my opinion. If you can’t make something sound good with another choice, this one always seems to work for me. It just has a sound. I love it on bass especially, but it works great on snare as well.
2. Maag EQ4. It you need sparkle and/or girth on a track or even the entire mix, the Maag is the way to go. Even in the midrange, it can help define a mix element in a way that you might not expect. This is the one I go to if the bottom end needs some help.
3. Manley Massive Passive. This is my go-to plug-in for vocals. It can add sparkle and heft to a vocal done even on an SM58 in a way that few others can. It’s perfect for carving out space in the mix for a track.
4. Pro Tools Digirack EQ III. If I can’t get the sound with any other EQ, I know that I can always come back to the Digirack and make it work. Plus, if your computer starts to run out of horsepower and you can’t add any other plug-ins, there’s always room for a few more EQ III’s. I find that I use this one on guitars and things that live in the mid-range because it’s perfect for carving out space where multiple tracks have to live together. I also use this all the time on effects to make them sit in the track better, and for the filters, which I use on almost every track.
5. Harrison 32C. I was never a big fan of the console, but I sure do like the plug-in. Once again, I find that I use this on instruments with a lot of mid-range or top end information. The only drawback is that it works a little too much like the real thing in that the control increments aren’t detented.
6. PSP McQ. I love PSP plugins in general, but this one really works for me when juggling frequencies in the mix. If two instruments are clashing, chances are that the McQ can keep them out of each other’s way. You don’t need to add or subtract much for it to work.
7. Pro Tools Digirack EQ III single band. I use filters a lot, and I mean on almost every track. If a track is working in the mix without any EQ, the first thing I’ll reach for is this handy filter to get rid of any unneeded low or high frequencies that just clog up the mix.
8. API 550A. A number of companies make this plugin and they all have basically the same flavor. I grew up with API consoles so I’m partial after using it for so long, but this equalizer is definitely unique and can be surprisingly precise. I love it on the drums, especially toms.
9. Trident A Range. I worked on an A Range on a number of projects so I know what it’s supposed to sound like, and while the feel of the UA model is a little different, I do like the sound of it. Once again, this is something that has a definite sound that won’t work on all types of music (at least for me), but there’s an aggression that I love, especially on drums again, and bass.
10. Little Labs VOG. The VOG is meant to either add girth or help define the bottom end of instruments that live in that frequency area like kick and bass. It’s not something I use all the time, but it’s really helpful when you need it.
There are a number of others worthy of the list, but I’ll stop here for now. Let me say that I haven’t tried everything out there, as I don’t collect plug-ins or try new ones as long as I have ones that work well for me, so I’ve probably overlooked many fine units/plug-ins.
Bobby Owsinski is an author, producer, music industry veteran and technical consultant who has written numerous books covering all aspects of audio recording. He’s the author of numerous books on a wide range of recording and music topics. Check them out here.