One tool that is certain to be in every artist's and producer's toolset is an EQ plugin. EQ is a critical step in music production, and there's no shortage of EQ plugins to fill the need. Some plugins are designed to reproduce the character of their hardware counterpart while others are neutral (transparent) and impart no character of their own. FabFilter's EQ plugin is called Pro-Q and it is a transparent EQ. How does it fare in the crowded space of EQ plugins? Keep reading to find out.
FabFilter is well-known to those who spend any amount of time in a DAW. Their Pro-C compressor is one of the most highly-regarded compressors around, so when they dropped Pro-Q on the market, plenty of people were chomping at the bit to try it out.
The first thing you notice about Pro-Q is the trademark FabFilter look and feel. Pro-Q is intuitive and inviting, and you can easily be productive without even peeking at the manual, but if you want to reveal the true power of Pro-Q, we recommend that you spend some time reading the user's guide. However, if reading manuals just isn't your thing, hover your mouse over anything in the Pro-Q interface for a helpful explanation and tips in a popup. FabFilter calls these popups help hints, and they provide truly useful and generous information. Unlike many other plugin developers, Pro-Q takes documentation seriously and the help hints in Pro-Q are an indication of FabFilter's desire to ensure you are making the most out of Pro-Q's features.
When you first launch an instance of Pro-Q, you'll see a yellow line representing a flat EQ frequency response. You can add a new EQ band by clicking on that line. (You can add up to 24 EQ bands in Pro-Q.) Drag the new band left and right to change the frequency, and drag it up and down to adjust the gain.
The Q can be adjusted using your mouse wheel or you can hold Command (Ctrl on Windows) while dragging up and down. As you adjust any particular band, a popup provides realtime feedback that shows the frequency, the gain and the Q. This is especially helpful when you are trying to carve out room for a particular instrument or vocal because you can precisely adjust EQ by glancing at the interactive popup.
Individual bands or groups of bands can easily be disabled and enabled with a click. You can also easily delete bands, and if you want to compare two EQ settings, Pro-Q provides a convenient A/B comparison so that you can switch between two EQ configurations with the click of a button.
Another wonderful feature in Pro-Q is the Solo button. The Solo button looks like a pair of headphones (you can see it in the screenshot above), and when you click and hold it, you hear only the part of the frequency spectrum affected by that band. We found this especially helpful with low-cut or high-cut bands because it allows us to hear only the frequencies that are being cut.
Keyboard shortcuts abound in Pro-Q so that you can make precise adjustments. Holding shift while dragging bands allows for very precise editing. Holding Alt while dragging constrains movement to the horizontal plane and adding the Command key allows you to adjust the Q without inadvertantly changing the gain or frequency.
It goes without saying that you can also adjust bands using the knobs at the bottom of the Pro-Q interface. FabFilter claims that their knobs are "perfectly tuned", and we can attest to the fact that they feel perfect to us. You can drag knobs to move them, but you can also simply hover over them and use your mouse wheel to adjust them. For extremely precise settings, you can double-click on a knob and enter a precise value.
We strongly feel that technology should be a silent partner when you're creating music, and because Pro-Q is so intuitive and so flexible, it fulfills that requirement in every way.
You aren't limited to adjusting bands individually. You can select multiple bands by holding Control and clicking on the desired bands. To select multiple contiguous bands, click on the first and then hold Shift while clicking on the last. You can even drag a selection rectangle around multiple bands to select them. Once you've selected some bands, they can all be adjusted together. Adjusting the gain or Q using the knobs will set all selected bands to the same value. However, dragging the selected bands will allow you to adjust them while maintaining their relative values.
The impact of the enormous number of options for selecting and adjusting bands in Pro-Q cannot be over-emphasized. We strongly feel that technology should be a silent partner when you're creating music, and because Pro-Q is so intuitive and so flexible, it fulfills that requirement in every way.
Pro-Q's spectrum analyzer is a great way to focus on the exact frequencies you're interested in. It's particularly useful when you want to fix phase issues in your mix. You can view pre-EQ, post-EQ or a view that shows both pre- and post-EQ so that you can see at a glance how your EQ changes are impacting the mix. You can adjust the display resolution for more precise display on low-end frequencies. You can also adjust the update speed so that you can more easily visualize a spectrum before it disappears from the display. Pro-Q also adds an output knob so that you can easily increase output from the plug-in. For more accurate and precise settings, Pro-Q allows you to adjust the vertical scale (showing dBs), and it will also automatically adjust the scale if necessary.
We were pleasantly surprised at how easy Pro-Q made it to do both mid/side processing and left/right processing, and all without introducing any color of its own or any artifacts.
Many EQ plugins offer the ability use mid/side processing, and Pro-Q is no exception. Mid/side processing allows you to separate a band into the audio data that makes up both the left and right channels (the mid) and the sounds that differ in the left and right (the side). You can then EQ these separately. Some EQ plugins will introduce some artifacts when you use mid/side processing, but Pro-Q provides quality mid/side processing without introducing any artifacts into your mix. We were pleasantly surprised at how easy Pro-Q made it to do both mid/side processing and left/right processing, and all without introducing any color of its own or any artifacts. What more could you ask for in a transparent EQ?
Pro-Q offers the ability to EQ with zero latency or with one of four linear-phase processing settings. By default, Pro-Q uses the zero latency setting, but in some situations, zero latency can introduce subtle phase changes in your mix. (FabFilter rightly points out that these phase changes aren't necessarily bad.) If you want to avoid any phase changes, you can use one of the linear-phase settings. While the linear-phase settings will introduce latency due to increased processing, they will avoid any phase changes and most DAWs will automatically compensate for the latency. (Pro Tools users will need to deactivate and reactivate Pro-Q after changing linear-phase settings due to the way that Pro Tools handles such changes.) We strongly encourage you to read the excellent information in the Pro-Q manual regarding processing settings in Pro-Q. It will guide you on choosing the right setting for a particular situation.
Pro-Q is available in VST2/VST3, AU, 32-bit and 64-bit versions in AAX and AudioSuite, as well as RTAS in 32-bit only. You can get it for both Mac OS X and Windows. We tested it in Pro Tools 11 HD on Mac OS X Mavericks. You can download a free 30-day trial from http://www.fabfilter.com/download/pro-q-equalizer-plug-in.