My go-to EQ change.
For the better part of 15 years, I've been using the Waves Renaissance EQ's and they come in 3 varieties, 2-band, 4-band and 6-band. For most of that time, the 6-band EQ (Req6) has been my go to EQ for almost everything. Almost. In Pro Tools, when you click on an insert, you can have your go-to EQ and Compressor live ABOVE the plug in category menu and this makes reaching for it even easier while simultaneously making reaching for another one feel like a chore - when you're in the zone mixing, getting technical even for seconds can be a drag. I have a good sized pile of EQ and compressor plug ins, so those menus are stacked with options and too often, lots options can be a bad thing.
So, the Req6 has been living there for a long, long time. I think it's a VERY easy to use EQ and it sounds good on just about everything. It's not overly clinical, but it doesn't make it's presence known with lots of added harmonic content either. I guess it sort of splits the difference between the two and maybe leans a little to the "clinical" side, sonically.
I can't say enough about how easy it is to use. Same goes for their Renaissance Compressor, but I'lll get to that in another post. I LOVE using dots instead of knobs as well (as turning knobs with a mouse is like some kind of sick joke that UI designers are playing on us), so this EQ is great for that. You can get the EQ in shape pretty easily and then tweak with the knobs below.
I wrote an email to the folks at Pro Tools Expert after they were talking about it on an episode of their great podcast and they ended up posting that email. Check it out for more on my thoughts about UI with modeled plug ins in particular.
The reason I wanted to make a change to a new, go to EQ was simple. I began to notice a trend in what my audio for picture clients were asking for. Several of them all at once wanted most of their pieces to be less rock and roll sounding and more "NPR" sounding - less high end and low end on the dialog. Clean and proper and not banging vocals like everything is meant to sound a like a VO. For some pieces, one would NEVER go for that sound anyway, but there seemed to be a push back on what had been very popular for a very long time for both TV commercials and corporate videos. In cases where I needed to add a lot of high end to get any clarity at all due to bad mic placement and/or cheap sounding mics, I wanted something smoother as some of what I heard back from clients wasn't that there was too much high end, but that it was harsh sounding to them. This complaint was coming from long standing clients that had used the same mics on the same kind of voices for years and I had more or less been doing the same thing. What changed? A trend was happening. Smooth was replacing loud and I loved it. That said, I needed to rethink my EQ and bus structure. More on the bus structure another time.
So here's the challenge: I needed to be able to smooth out cheap mics that inherently had a LOT of high end and I needed to be able to bring up the high end in mics that didn't naturally have enough in a much smoother fashion than before. I also wanted to stay away from EQ's that would force me to use virtual knobs with a mouse and instead find one similar to the Req6 that would have me moving dots at least to start the shaping process.
This wasn't an easy conclusion to come to and it severely limits my choices. Sure, there are a lot of EQ's that use a dot-based GUI (and I'm either starting to be annoyed by typing DOTS or I'm beginning to really like it). But, we're in the middle of what I and others are calling, "The clone wars", where just about every manufacturer of plug ins is making digital "copies" of hardware based, pro audio tools. Everything from mic pre modeling to EQ's, compressors, harmonic generators, etc - it goes on and on and on and on.
There's a new clone being released weekly and it's gotten way out of hand. Are they getting better? Sort of. The earliest ones I remember were the McDSP plug ins that looked nothing like the old hardware, but they sure did sound like it. Waves probably made the biggest splash and showed that there was a huge future in modeling hardware into the digital age with the SSL bundle that is now 10 years old and is still lauded. I don't think they nail everything they've tried to clone, that's for sure, but that one is still a standout and I use it on every audio for picture mix I do and I have for as long as I've had the bundle (that also includes API and Neve cloned tools - a great package of tools). That's close to 10 years and every single mix since I bought it. With thousands of mixes behind me and hundreds of other options that I've tried out there, that's saying something - it still sounds great to me and has held up against piles and piles of other attempts by other companies to model it "better". Recently, Slate Digital has done some great work in this area and I LOVE all of their plug ins, but I still use the Waves SSL over Slate's despite owning both. This is more out of convenience than anything else though - I build templates and import them into my audio for picture projects like a madman. I know the Waves stuff and if you're mixing as much as I am, you only have time to try new stuff once in a while. Deadlines, deadlines and more deadlines.
I found that for extreme EQ work, adding or removing 8dB or more of certain areas, especially high frequency energy, the Req6 was a let down. I had to reach for clone-modeled EQ's that sounded more like a Pultec - a passive EQ that's wonderful for adding high end or smoothing out high end. These EQ's don't add a lot of harshness to the high end the way others do. They're in fact designed to do this well, but that's about all they do. There are very few knobs and very little flexibility on them. I use these CONSTANTLY on music content, but on voices in audio for picture, they only work using very broad strokes, so I'd need to use another EQ inline to manage the rest of the EQ shaping. I want to use ONE tool that gets it all done and move on. The ones that model these passive EQ's also tend to model the noise floor of the original hardware as well, so I can't always use them on dialog.
Deadlines folks. Deadlines. I sometimes have 30 mins to mix and upload a 3 min piece with 3 voices and two music cues and often times, I have to de-noise the heck out of them before I can start. Yup. Happens all the time. If I need to start piling EQ plug ins together to get a sound on nearly every voice in every piece, I won't make it, simple as that. I needed an EQ that does it all.
Some of projects I was working on over that last year or so forced to me to use the dreaded lavaliere microphone, which is usually under their clothes and sounds like it has a pillow over it (that moves right against the mic capsule, which is yet again, another story for another post). It's like you put an EQ shelf from 1K and above and nudged it down about 6dB. When you start to add high end to bring it back, there's usually not much there, but it can be finessed to bring it out with the right tool and some patience. Again, that really only works if the mic was super stable and didn't rub against their clothes. It can work nicely for material where you want a more gentle approach as you don't hear the room and it makes for a very intimate sound. More on that another time too.
The "mic rubbing against the clothes" sound used to happen constantly, but I can say that most of my regular clients are using better audio capture guys that know how to use a shotgun mic and can place a lav mic in a way that makes it usable if needed. Again, more on that another time.
With all of this in mind, I started an elaborate search for a new EQ and honestly, it wasn't all that much fun.
I started by first just looking at them online and sorted out the ones with knobs from the ones with dots. I ended up trying about 10 EQ's, which was pretty much every one that I could find that has dots and had some reputation of being a good EQ. Every plug in company has timed demo periods where you get at least 10 days to use the tools and most allow you to have full functionality. Every EQ I tried allowed me to do this.
I won't get into which ones I liked somewhat or didn't like at all, but here's a short list of the highlights. These are the ones that were very good sounding and almost won the battle.
- Fabfilter, Pro Q2. Couldn't get my head around the controls. Nice sounding EQ though. I guess I should have given this more time, but wow, that thing was hard to use.
- Acon Digital, Equalize. I really, really like this one and I own it already. Close call for me. Just about went for it with this as again, I already own it and it sounds great. Using the mouse is a breeze with it as it's designed with that in mind in some really well thought out ways. By the way, the guy that creates all of the Acon Digital products couldn't be a nicer guy too.
- Waves, Hybrid EQ (HEQ) - This sounded quite good and I almost went with it. My final choice was actually quite similar to this EQ.
- McDSP Filterbank - I really like this EQ a whole lot. It's great. Not as smooth as another I tried, but this is an EQ I'll probably get down the road. It's very, very good sounding. This is my close 2nd to what I bought.
- DMG Audio, Equilibrium. Ahem. It's last on the list for a reason - I absolutely loved this thing in about 10 seconds of using it.
Again, each of these sounded very good. Some left me feeling like they were just a little better than the Req6, others blew it away but had other issues like being hard to use or were just a bit harder to use than I'd like.
The one that blew me away and had me salivating to use it on dialog with 10 seconds of trying it was the last one on the list, DMG Audio's, Equilibrium.
This thing is insane. I was adding 15dB of 6k on a male voice and it didn't flinch. The top stayed incredibly clean and didn't get gritty AT ALL like the REQ6 does. In fact, every EQ move I made smooth and beautiful sounding. The high pass filter stood toe to toe with the best one I ever heard, the TDR VOS Slick EQ (which is free btw: http://www.tokyodawn.net/tdr-vos-slickeq/). I almost don't see any reason why I'd use VOS in combination with this EQ. I can't imagine why I'd need to. The HPF's in Equilibrium are incredibly smooth and there are multiple option per band, which makes things even better for really dialing in what I want without having to leave this one EQ. It also has an analyzer built in that can be turned on and off with a single click. Fantastic.
I was sold and in love. It's by far the most stunningly beautiful EQ I've ever heard. It's now my go-to on dialog and I'm sure I'll be using it on instruments and lots other things for a long, long time to come.
I've since started trying it on lots of stuff. Snare drums and overhead mics, acoustic guitars, bass, electric guitars - you name it and it sounds killer. It doesn't impart vibe at all, it's just SUPER clean. If you want vibe, look elsewhere. If you want clarity and zero phase shift, Equilibrium should be first on your list to check out. I've been recording and mixing since the mid 90's. I haven't tried everything there is to try, but I've used hundreds of both hardware and digital EQ's on thousands of recordings and mixes. This thing is very, very special and shouldn't be overlooked.
SO - it's been a month or so since I wrote all that and the love affair continues. I'm just now starting to work it into my mixing templates as I've found more and more good start up settings for different situations. It's a fantastic EQ and I expect to be using it on everything under the sun for many years.
I'd like to give a shout out and say thanks to my friend Tom Eaton, a brilliant artist, producer, engineer and mix engineer who recommended this EQ to me. I don't think I ever would have found it without him. Thanks Tom. You were right again.
Hope you enjoyed that rather long winded post. More to come. Hopefully, shorter ones. ;)
The best way to learn how to be a better mixer is to mix, constantly.