We’ve talked about EQ filters in the past, but what about the type of EQ plugin which we’re using itself? There are a lot of different types of EQ plugins which are based on different types of hardware, but they all fall into 2-3 categories. Let’s talk about those categories in specifically covering the types of EQ you can use to shape the sound you want and which works best in each situation.
Types of EQ
While virtually every EQ falls into 2-3 categories, there are some specific types of EQs within each category I’ll talk about, as well.
Let’s get into the first type of EQ: parametric.
First, we have parametric EQ, and I begin with this as it’s the most ubiquitous and practical EQ plugin in mixing. This is because it gives you the most control over creating custom frequency bands and affecting them however you see fit.
A LOT of EQs fall into this category.
It’s a bit of a lazy term, but parametric EQ just means an EQ with adjustable parameters.
This is in contrast to the much simpler graphic EQ which we’ll talk about later.
The most common “parameters” or settings of a parametric EQ are frequency, Q, gain, and filters.
This is simply the frequency you want to affect. Whether you’re pulling it up or down, this setting dictates which frequency is going to be affected.
Some parametric EQs let you create or affect over a dozen bands simultaneously regardless of what ranges they exist in.
Others are more stripped down like an SSL style EQ like the Waves SSL G-Equalizer which limits you to four bands (plus a filter which we’ll talk about in a moment).
Here you turn the dial to the frequency which needs attention and move on to the next settings.
The enigmatic Q setting on a parametric equalizer. This is generally what makes a parametric EQ parametric. This extra parameter allows you to choose how wide the boost or cut you’re going to make is.
A smaller number for your Q means a wider range. As such, the boost or cut you make at this frequency will affect more of the surrounding frequencies.
A higher number for your Q means that less of the surrounding frequencies will be affected. This results in a more narrow Q which is ideal for surgical cutting when there’s a problem at a very specific frequency range.
Smaller/wider Q values sound more natural to the ear as opposed to cutting out or boosting a very small frequency range, especially if it’s a bigger cut/boost which is dictated by gain.
As I just mentioned, the gain is the degree to which you’re pulling up or down the frequency range which we created from the aforementioned frequency and Q settings.
These are measured in decibels which you’re adding to (boosting) or taking away from (cutting) that frequency range.
While some parametric EQs allow you to set what kind of EQ filter type you want to use (see my guide on EQ filters), many (like the previously mentioned SSL) simply offer bell curves for the mids and high or low pass filters at the low and high ends of your frequency spectrum.
For instance, a high pass filter is a typical filter you’ll find available to set at the low end of your frequency range, allowing you to rolling off unwanted low frequencies, resulting in a cleaner mix (see my causes of a muddy mix).
Best Parametric EQ
My go-to EQ, parametric or otherwise, is the Pro-Q from FabFilter.
It’s the most versatile EQ I’ve ever used, which is why it’s typically on every single track in my mix. Even if I’m just high or low pass filtering, there’s a Pro-Q every track.
With the option to create 24 EQ bands per instance of the plugin, make any band adjustment mid or sides only, make any band dynamic, or even use linear phase (more on all of this in a moment), there’s literally nothing better.
It’s arguably the most important plugin in my entire collection and I cannot recommend another plugin higher than this one, EQ or otherwise.
Best Free Parametric EQ
It doesn’t have the bells and whistles that Pro-Q has, but it has all of the parameters you need to sculpt your audio as necessary.
As types of EQ go, I’ll call dynamic EQ a subset of parametric EQs. A dynamic EQ adds one last feature to your EQ band you’ve created: the ability to cut or boost a frequency at changing (dynamic) amounts.
Working a bit like a compressor, a dynamic EQ has you create a threshold for a frequency range. Once the signal/level in that specific frequency range passes that threshold, the dynamic EQ will begin pulling up or down that frequency range.
This is helpful when a frequency range on a track is only a problem sometimes.
A good example is from my recent tutorial on how to remove plosives from vocals. The “P” sound can sometimes be boomy on a recorded vocal. Making a cut at 150Hz generally removes the plosive, but if we did a conventional EQ cut here, it would gut the important low end body from that vocal throughout the whole track.
Instead we can put a dynamic cut at 150Hz which only triggers when there’s a surge at that frequency like in the case of a plosive. The plosives get pulled out so the vocal sounds natural, and without sacrificing the body through 99% of the track.
Best Dynamic EQ
Dynamic EQ is a standard feature on the Pro-Q. Simply right click on any existing filter, click “Make Dynamic”, and set your threshold. Easy!
Best Free Dynamic EQ
When you need a dynamic EQ, this will get the job done. No more, no less.
This is more another feature typically of a parametric EQ, (and one included with the FabFilter Pro-Q).
Mid/side EQ refers to EQing the same band differently depending on where that audio is in the stereo field.
This is especially useful in the mastering process, where you just have the rendered mix to work with.
We typically want the kick and bass in the middle of the mix, and we usually want the fundamental low frequencies which they occupy to be freed up for those instruments.
As such, using a high pass filter to roll off all the low frequencies specifically on the sides can be a great way to create space for the low end in the middle and clean up your mix in general, even in the mastering stage.
A normal EQ wouldn’t be able to accomplish this, which is why the option to differentiate how we treat the mids and sides is useful.
Best Mid/Side EQ
Sure, I sound like a broken record, but it just reinforces how good FabFilter’s Pro-Q is.
Not only can you designate a band to be mid or sides only, you can also set it specifically left or right only.
This gives you a little extra control which is especially useful in the mastering stage when there’s a problem specifically in the left or right channel which needs to be addressed via EQ.
Best Free Mid/Side EQ
The SCL EQ gives you five bands to control for the mid and sides of your track separately, and it’s free!
Linear Phase EQ
By its very nature, when you boost or cut a frequency, this opens the door to potential phase issues or potentially unwanted coloration of the sound.
Linear phase EQ works to give you the same control as a regular parametric EQ, but it corrects the phasing issues as it goes. This results in a cleaner sound while achieving the same frequency adjustment.
While you’d think from this that linear phase EQs are superior, the subtle coloring “issues” from conventional EQs aren’t generally thought of as being bad.
If you record a track with multiple microphones like an acoustic guitar and already addressed phasing issues, this can be a practical instance where you might want to use a linear EQ to ensure everything is kept in phase.
Linear vs conventional EQ is not something to lose sleep over, but that’s the difference.
Best Linear Phase EQ
I doubt I’m shocking you at this point when I tell you that FabFilter’s Pro-Q has a setting at the bottom to turn the EQ to different degrees of linear phase.
Best Free Linear Phase EQ
When you just need a linear phase EQ, look no further than the free Filtrate by Liquid Sonics. Eight bands to work with and customizable frequencies and bandwidth (Q), it’s got everything you need with linear phase workings.
Semi parametric EQs are much simpler compared to their parametric peers as they offer less features.
Instead of giving you control over the width of a cut or boost, meaning no “Q”, you just select the frequency and pull it up or down.
Some semi parametric EQs don’t even offer the ability to select specific frequencies.
Ableton Live’s stock 3 band EQ is as simple as it gets when it comes to semi parametric EQ.
As the name suggests, you have 3 bands: low, mid, and high.
You set the cutoff for the low and high bands, and everything in between is the mid.
Then you just pull them each up or down as you see fit.
Broad strokes like this can be useful in some instances, but I rarely find myself using a semi parametric EQ to do it.
As such, I don’t have a pick for best parametric EQ. Your DAW likely has a very serviceable 3 or 4 band semi option which will work in this case.
The famous Pultec EQ is a cross between parametric and semi parametric EQ. It’s a parametric in that it features a single bandwidth control, but with only one for the midrange, it’s limited, moving it partially into the semi parametric camp, as well.
The main thing which sets a Pultec EQ apart is its ability to both boost AND attenuate the same frequency range. Rather than giving you one dial to turn the signal up or down, you get a specific boost and attenuate dial each.
This gives you the ability to create a filter configuration which you wouldn’t be able to recreate with another single plugin.
You’d think boosting and cutting a frequency range by the same amount would negate the effect, but it alters the sound nonetheless. Doing this alone can be used to create some interesting effects on your audio.
Many mixing and mastering engineers find Pultec EQs useful not just for sculpting but for coloring the sound.
Best Pultec EQ
Waves’ PuigTec actually breaks the plugin into two separate units which they sell together, one for the low and high (EQP-1A) and one for the mids (MEQ-5). It’s brilliant for getting meatier kicks, punchier bass, adding warmth to just about anything, the only limit is… well you know.
Best Free Pultec EQ
A great free option is the PTEq-X from Ignite Amps. Unlike the Waves option, everything is included on one unit. As mentioned before, try boosting and attenuating the different frequencies to the same degree to get some unique results. As you favor more boosting or attenuation the sound will continue to evolve in a wide variety of different effects.
Lastly, we come to the simplest type of EQ.
The name graphic EQ can be a bit misleading. When you think “graphic” you might think a visual based EQ which shows you how the bands are being affected through a visual representation like the aforementioned Pro-Q.
Instead, a graphic EQ looks like a a host of static frequency sliders you’d see on a live mixing desk or an old home sound system.
Graphic EQs can give you individually labeled faders to affect anywhere from a few to several dozen specific (static) frequencies in your mix. If the frequency you want to adjust isn’t one of the sliders, then you have to reach for the next two closest sliders on either side.
The GEQ from Waves offers 30 bands (with individual left and right controls) which you can pull up or down as necessary.
Because of the lack of versatility in the specificity of the frequency or frequencies you can control and the width of the moves you make, graphic EQs aren’t as practical in studio mixing.
Live sound engineers still use them for mixing live sound on tour when the artist is playing a different room every night. Different rooms/environments have feedback issues at different frequencies, so live engineers use graphic EQs to meticulously find and attenuate problem frequencies.
As such, you won’t find too much information about graphic EQs here as we mostly cover studio mixing, but it’s a type of EQ nonetheless.
Types of EQ Summarized
- The major types of EQ generally boil down to parametric, semi parametric, and graphic.
- Parametric EQs offer the most control over your track and are ideal in studio mixing, featuring the typical settings we think of when we think EQ.
- The frequency setting dictates which frequency range is affected by your move.
- The Q setting dictates the width of your band. A lower Q means a wider cut or boost, a higher Q is narrower.
- Wider Q bandwidth settings affect more of the neighboring frequencies but sound more natural. Narrow Q settings are for more surgical moves.
- The gain setting dictates how much you’re bringing the bandwidth up or down (boost or cut).
- High or low pass filters are typical settings to roll off frequencies above or below a certain point (respectively).
- The Pultec EQ is a type of parametric EQ which allows you to simultaneously boost and cut the same frequency, resulting in interesting effects.
- Mid/side EQ is a feature of parametric EQ which allows you to specifically adjust the bandwidth in the middle or sides of a piece of audio (very useful in mastering).
- Linear phase EQ is a type of parametric EQ
- Semi parametric EQ is similar to parametric EQ while offering less features/control.
- Semi parametric EQ typically doesn’t feature bandwidth (Q) or occasionally frequency selection and is for more macro frequency spectrum adjustments.
- Graphic EQs offer specific frequency knobs which are tied to static frequencies.
- Graphic EQs aren’t as practical in studio mixing and are used by live sound engineers to identify problematic frequencies in different rooms.