In this post we’ll assess and analyze the best EQ plugin for vocals, distilling our choices to a cool 5 picks.
That way we can keep our heads from spinning, since, as you know, there are just so many plugins out there (and so little time).
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Quick answer: for the fast and furious buyers, it won’t be any surprise to know that FabFilter’s Pro-Q3 is the top choice. Followed by the The Hoser XT by Boz Digital Labs.
But if you’re looking for the cheapest solution that’s also top notch, PSP Audioware PSP NobleQ is a top choice.
The rest of this article will go into the plugins more in depth… as no two plugin is a-like, it’s a good idea to know how to choose the one you’d like.
Let’s take a closer look 🙂
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Best EQ Plugins for Vocals
FabFilter Pro-Q 2
FabFilter’s Pro-Q has been widely-recognized as the gold standard for software EQs in recording and audio production circles, ever since the first version was rolled out in 2011. The release of Pro-Q 2 further enhanced the company’s reputation, with new features such as EQ matching, A “Natural Phase” mode, auto gain adjustment, and more.
With Pro-Q 3, users get even more of the same qualities that have made FabFilter the leading name in the EQ plug-in stakes, along with new enhancements and expanded capabilities that make it an even better choice for vocal mixing.
Pro-Q 3 is quite a significant upgrade from the previous version, with most every aspect and feature of the Pro-Q 2 improved in some way. In addition to the integrated dynamic EQ capabilities, Pro-Q 3 now features surround support, mid/side processing per band, spectrum visualization from other Pro-Q 3 instances, and a revamp of the Spectrum Grab feature.
The integrated dynamic EQ is one of the more welcome features of Pro-Q 3. This enables users to set any of the 24 available bands to Dynamic EQ mode. Simply by raising or lowering the Dynamic Range ring as needed, tasteful and musical compression or expansion can be added to specific bands of a vocal track.
As with all FabFilter plug-ins, a remarkable degree of control is provided over every feature. Attack, release, and knee settings can be set automatically via an intelligent algorithm, and threshold can be set manually or automatically based on the level of the vocal track.
The dynamic EQ bands still feature precise analog matching and can be set to Linear Phase. The low-pass and high-pass filters now come with a steep brickwall setting that enhances the Pro-Q 3’s capabilities for creative sound design and experimentation.
With the release of Pro-Q 3, FabFilter once again proves that the best can get even better. Whether you need minor EQ tweaks or expressive filtering, or you want to dig deep into sonic exploration, Pro-Q 3 is a useful plug-in to have in your vocal chain.
PSP Audioware PSP NobleQ
PSP Audioware PSP NobleQ is another Plugin built around a hardware unit of yore. This time the Pultec system – that sounds odd on paper but can deliver cool results.
The “Pultec sound” is essentially a trick of a Low-Q boost and cut in about the same location so it’s not too hard to emulate anywhere. It is the addition of the Valve mode (saturation) that brings this unit up into the same league as The Hoser (mentioned below).
It is when you swap to the included Noble Qex Plugin that you find an extra band of EQ to take you to five that NobleQ pushes ahead on specs. If only working on the bass and treble balance then you don’t really need the extra band, but I’d rather have it than not every time.
Commonly an EQ offers a Boost or Cut centered around a vertical 0 position. NobleQ has one-way knobs and then lets you switch to Cut with the flick of a switch. Not wrong, simply different.
This is the least pricey unit by a noticeable margin so perhaps any of those oddities come out in the wash. It looks like price hasn’t damaged the quality of the emulation as feedback has generally been very positive.
Softube Trident A-Range
Another great Softube plugin. The A-Range Plugin may be showing its age with a few years under its belt, but being that it’s an accurate emulation of a module from a mixing console used on classic 70’s records from David Bowie, Queen, Elton John, and so on, then age isn’t an issue at all.
The A-Range Plugin appears to be the complete opposite of the Pro-Q 2 as it seems to offer virtually no features at all. This is in fact a feature in itself… that is potentially worth far more than you think
You get four bands and a few pre-set frequencies they can operate at. Then sideways cut/boost sliders with hardwired curves. You also have some pre-set High & Low Pass Filters.
A-Range includes Saturation which, along with great attention to solving DSP artifacting, is the real secret sauce in the pudding. Push everything hard and your sound changes not only tone but color and presence.
But it’s how these work with each other in where A-Range shines. It is really all about the results and the “happy accidents” that really only happen when you are using your intuition instead of making purely visual and academic/technical decisions.
A-Range is pretty expensive, especially if you only look at the feature set, but many swear by it for good reason.
Boz Digital Labs The Hoser XT
The Hoser XT is also based on an analog Channel EQ. Unlike Softube, Boz Digital Labs have added a few features like side-chaining and mid-side. Being that you may not tend to do these things to vocals then, we will ignore these features.
Think of this Plugin as being a bit of a step between the A-Range and Pro-Q 2 units with more overall flexibility but not a trillion possibilities for pedantic surgery or special effects.
You get four bands of EQ with two set to High and Low Shelving. Each band is more adjustable than A-Range. There is also an overall Gain to offset any level changes. With 15db of Boost/Cut, you can get a bit more aggressive with your material.
Where users seem particularly chuffed with The Hoser is in the sound, especially as The Hoser seems to do a very nice job of emulating the behaviour of analog gear when pushing the boost harder.
This is a Holy Grail sort of thing in DSP so while easy to dismiss based on the feature list, it is worth the price if the resulting sound pleases you.
And it must be said that many engineers really like a well implemented saturation, as it adds shine and punch that clean EQs simply cannot provide.
IK Multimedia T-Racks Vintage Equalizer EQP-1A
EQP-1A is another Pultec emulation, and price-wise this is a bit less than most others for good value. The Pultec EQ was designed for altering overall tone of a whole mix and this emulation is true to that.
If you have the whole T-Racks Suite (of which this plugin is a part of) then you can start with one of the other more surgical EQs for a band or two of tight EQ and then EQP-1A to finesse the overall tone with more sweetness and perhaps a bit of low roll off.
The inherent color of the tubes used in the original Pultec EQP-1A made music put through it seem warmer and more exciting at the same time. Warmer because the unit rolled off really high frequencies. Yet more exciting because the valves added extra harmonics, in effect making the music sound more lively, or brighter.
As mentioned before, the plugin comes with the T-Racks suite, or you can purchase it individually on its own. Many know of IK Multimedia through the T-Racks suite which offers a bevy of mixing and mastering plugins, though as of late it has been losing some amount of popularity.
That said, the EQP-1A plugin is a great non-visual plugin to have if you’re into some vintage EQ emulation.
Each of these devices has advantages. Simply put though, we essentially have two styles:
a) the Surgical, Swiss Army Knife of the FabFilter Pro-Q 2, against
b) analog/valve emulations in everything else.
If you already own the T-Racks suite and are already familiar with products, you can probably scratch PSP NobleQ off the list, as you’d only be adding another emulator plugin of the same hardware device (Pultec).
Pro-Q 2 could be the undisputed winner of vocal EQ plugins. Only downside is that it doesn’t have saturation. Otherwise it is the best EQ plugin for vocals in dollars to donuts as you can do so much.
However the other options have saturation on them and there is magic in them there hills. No amount of EQing can replicate that.
That brings us to why we might use one style over another.
So here are a couple of points to consider in your analysis when choosing an vocal EQing plugin:
- Surgical EQing lets us dial in specific solutions – Pro-Q 2 lets you target and process from what you see. Unique here (and with most EQs). This method is most directly useful for vocals.
- Saturating EQs mostly work on overall tone – PSP NobleQ adds to that with another band. The Hoser has the ability to set very tight Curves so that too can get surgical. Saturation adds character so if you are lusting after the vibe of vintage (or high quality modern) recordings then you have to consider this too.
What should you do?
Get the Pro-Q 2 to enhance the core EQ in your DAW, and then The Hoser for analog saturated yumminess.
Of course, you could also swap that around if you are happy with your core EQ and want to enhance with non-linear loveliness.
Extra cost I know but there is no one-fix solution here.
Vocal EQ Plugins Buying Guide
What is an EQ Plugin?
EQ is short for Equalization. A cursory defintion by Wikipedia will tell you that it is the act of adjusting the tone of your overall sound by boosting (raising or amplifying) or cutting (lowering or attenuating) the level of certain sections of an audio signal’s frequency range relative to each other.
Head exploded yet? Don’t panic as EQ can be as simple or as hard as you want it to be. Like many things in music production circles, people seem to want to make EQ seem overly complex or even magical. Not useful.
You change tone by adding or subtracting to the volume (level) of the sections you want to hear more or less of. That is EQing.
The options and methods for doing this are where it gets interesting – or confusing if you let “marketing speak” lead the game.
Basic Features to look out for
The features commonly considered in an EQ are the Curves.
Curves define how an EQ performs or “sounds.” Sometimes curves are visible like in the FabFilter Pro unit we will look at, other times they are hidden like in the Softube unit. Each method has advantages.
Primarily, seeing you are looking to enhance the sound of your mix then I am going to say that the most important features to look for in an EQ Plugin are Sound Quality and Workflow.
Anything can adjust the EQ of your mix (and your DAW probably has at least one workable unit already) but if you are buying something then it needs to be special so you keep reaching for it.
Many people will comment on the technicalities of a plugin, which is, in the end, quite subjective…
… but it is how you, the mix engineer, will settle with the workflow of the device you use.
How to choose for vocal mixing?
Vocals are the most important part of most mixes. They need to shine. A good performance is the fundamental but a bit of cut and polish makes a vocal shine. Listening to an artist like Annie Lennox and you can tell the performance is superb…
… but the right polish of an EQ plugin helps that performance cut though in a mix.
The one piece of advice past learning how EQ works is to make sure that the EQ you use has the least negative artifacts, as you don’t want to take your vocal from “bright and shiny” to “harsh and brittle.”
High quality Plugins tend to offer solutions to these issues, which is why they go for mucho coinage.