I recently bought the brand new FabFilter Pro Q 2 EQ plugin.
I’ve been using it for a few weeks now, and I have to say it’s become one of my favorite plugins ever! However as far as plugins come, at 149€ it may seem a bit costly.
I am all about sharing information about the stuff I like and use so let’s see what the deal is. Here’s my little review.
Why buy another EQ?
Inevitably we must start with a question:
All DAW’s these days come with perfectly fine EQ’s. So why spend a good bunch of money on yet another EQ plugin?
I don’t think everyone should. However if you work on music/audio a lot, there are benefits in finding the tools that are just right for how you want to work. It enables you to work faster and makes the whole experience more enjoyable.
Add to that some groundbreaking, innovative features and you begin to get better and more consistent results too.
There are basically two kinds of EQ’s I like to use depending on the situation.
- For coloring/tone shaping work I prefer to use an EQ with a more classic interface that doesn’t give you too much visual feedback, and by doing that forces you to focus on actually listening properly and make decisions based on what you hear. My current weapon of choice for that kind of work is the free TDR VOS SlickEQ.
- For more surgical precision work then, I prefer an EQ that gives me exact visual feedback of the filter shapes, and preferably a spectrum display as well.
I’ve been using many different plugins for surgical purposes. The one I’ve liked using most so far is the EQ8 in Ableton Live 9. It’s a good EQ but I can’t use it when I’m working in Logic or Pro Tools. The channel EQ in Logic 9 (I still haven’t upgraded to Logic X) is ok but not great, and keeps freezing out on me. Pro Tools then again has nothing like that – I’ve been using the Waves H-EQ which isn’t bad but the interface feels a bit clunky/slow to me.
So I’ve been wanting a solid EQ plugin that fills this void once and for all and works on all DAW’s that I use. I’ve been eyeing the first version of Pro Q for a long time actually, and now that the Pro Q 2 came out with tons of new features, I finally decided to go for it.
The FabFilter Pro Q 2 is a very smart plugin in so many ways. It is full of interesting functionality. Simply packing in the features is clearly not enough for the people at FabFilter though.
It’s all carefully considered and the user experience is balanced and uncluttered. Tons of of work and thought has clearly been put in on making the Pro Q 2 as easy and intuitive to use as possible.
One example of this is how they’ve provided an interesting way of creating new EQ nodes. Different kinds of filters are created depending on which part of the plugin display you click on. So if you want to create a quick low cut, simply double click somewhere below 20 Hz in the EQ display and a low cut filter is created and activated. If you want a low shelf instead, double click somewhere between 20 and 30 Hz. And clicking above 30 Hz produces a bell filter. Similar rules apply in the high end of the spectrum.
It’s the small, simple things like these that end up affecting your workflow in a big way over the long haul. All the small things like text data entry and mouse wheel integration just work the way they’re supposed to.
Something I really want to point out here is that I think the workflow is especially important with plugins like EQ’s, which you use a lot.
I don’t mind if a saturation plugin or a soft synth gets a bit fiddly – you get things dialed in and then forget about it. But an EQ is something you use all the time. You use it on lots of channels and you keep coming back to the plugin instances to tweak settings as the mix progresses. So I really, really appreciate the intuitive user experience there.
Pro-Q 2’s smooth user experience also extends to the documentation. The manual is well written, clean and informative.
There is also a very handy online version (check it out here) that shows you the ropes and gives you many additional tips and ideas.
The Pro-Q 2 is brimming with features. For the purposes of this article I am only going to highlight my favorite ones. For the full lowdown you should check the FabFilter website.
This is huge for me. When switched on, spectrum grab gives you the ability to select a peak on the spectrum display and simply drag it up or down. A bell filter that matches the selected peak is automatically created (of course everything can be adjusted later).
Making surgical cuts is so quick and easy now, I love it.
Full screen mode
This is great for when using the EQ as a spectrum analyzer. Looks stunning too. Besides the full screen mode, there are four size options for the plugin window ranging from small to extra large.
Each filter instance has a little solo button incorporated. This helps a great deal when sweeping for problematic frequencies.
Loudness affects our judgement. When making mixing decisions we easily tend to gravitate towards thinking that the louder version of what you are working on sounds better.
This can become a problem especially when doing EQ boosts.
When switched on, the auto gain feature attempts to counter the volume changes and maintain the original loudness.
The TDR-VOS SlickEQ was the first EQ plugin to introduce this feature (as far as I know), and I am very happy to see it being implemented here as well. I use it all the time.
Mid-Side processing is nothing revolutionary these days, but there are a lot of EQ’s out there that don’t offer this option. The M/S functionality combined with Pro-Q 2’s other features makes this plugin a very capable tool for shaping the stereo image.
This is great. With EQ match, you have the ability to automatically apply the spectrum of another track to what you are working on. This works via the sidechain input.
Pro-Q 2 not only matches the material to the incoming signal – it also shows both spectrums layered on the screen, so you can see what is going on in both tracks in real time.
Out of curiosity I tested this feature to replicate some mastering work by the mastering legend Bob Katz (matching a premaster to the master he did of it). I would not have believed it before trying it out… But the matching algorithm made the unmastered version sound pretty damn close to the mastered one (I did some limiting as well in order to match dynamics and loudness too). The semi-professional (at best) sounding premaster was transformed into a professional sounding master.
There were subtle differences, as of course there’s a lot more that goes into mastering than just EQ and limiting. But in this case, in a double blind test I would not have been able to tell which one is the real master anymore. Both sounded great.
Of course this doesn’t mean that EQ matching gives you mastering superpowers. My test only really underlines what great ears Mr. Katz has. But I do think it is a great testament of how well the EQ matching in this plugin can actually perform.
Here’s an example of a more real life scenario for using the EQ match in Pro-Q 2:
You could use it to make room in a synth track for a vocal to come through better. This would be done by placing Pro-Q 2 on the synth track and setting the vocal track as the side chain source. Then match, invert the response and adjust the amount to your liking.
3 different operation modes
Depending on what you are working on, you can switch between Zero Latency, Natural Phase and Linear Phase modes. For a further explanation on these, check the online guide here.
Tilt shelf filter
The tilt shelf is a small but very cool filter option. Tilt shelf does exactly what the name implies – it tilts the frequency spectrum on both sides of the selected frequency. This is another feature that I have been using on the TDR VOS SlickEQ for a long time. In my experience it works great when you just want to brighten/darken something a little bit.
96 dB/oct filter slope option
Another small thing, but great to have. I do a lot of low cuts and I hate it when EQ’s don’t have proper steep filter slopes for that.
Most good EQ’s have a 48dB/oct slope which is good, but the 96 dB/oct slope in Pro-Q 2 is just brilliant in the low end. Well done.
The Pro Q-2 is a forward thinking plugin that boldly takes the concept of an EQ to a new level. It does all you can think of and more. It is a very inspiring tool to use.
Surely at 149€ it is an expensive plugin. That perhaps would be my only critique – there is no doubt that many people are going to pass because of the price (I always did with the first version of the plugin).
Having said that, you do get an awful lot of value for your money – for me Pro-Q 2 has definitely been worth the price.
You should also be aware that FabFilter are offering a very fair 50% educational discount for students and teachers. Other discounts also apply if you already own some of their other plugins, or are buying more than one plugin at once. They also have several bundles available.
The FabFilter Pro-Q 2 is available in all common formats: VST, VST3, Audio Units, AAX Native and AudioSuite formats (all both 64-bit and 32-bit), as well as RTAS (32-bit only).
You can download and try the FabFilter Pro-Q 2 for free for 30 days. If you are on the lookout for a good EQ plugin, I wholeheartedly recommend you check it out.