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Best EQ plugins: Sculpt your sound

Equalization is one of the most important types of processing. There are a lot of options when you’re looking into the best EQ plugins, even though there are a lot of free EQ plugins available to you. Some of them sound great, but it’s a different game when it comes to officially licensed versions. 

Going with paid plugins has a lot of advantages. You get access to updates as they’re released and can lean on manufacturer support if you experience any issues. If you’re looking for some of the best paid EQ plugins, these are just some of our favorites!

Most unique EQ plugin: Soundradix SurferEQ2

Soundradix SurferEQ2
Most unique EQ plugin
Soundradix SurferEQ2
This unique dynamic EQ shifts with the source signal to provide a musical, adaptable equalization style.
Dynamic EQ that adapts in real-time
Maintains sound balance
Only works on monophonic sources

It’s likely you’ve never come across an EQ that can do what SurferEQ can. It’s billed as a “pitch-tracking EQ plugin”. How it works is really unique. It tracks along with monophonic sources and moves the chosen band points with it!

Using synthesizer filters it maintains the timbre signature of the source. Static EQs have always fallen a little short when it comes to how dynamic sources can be, especially in something like a vocal.

This dynamic style of EQ adapts in real-time and maintains the balance of the sound. You really have to hear it to believe it. And there’s nothing static about it. 

Best Neve EQ plugin: Arturia Pre 1973

Arturia Pre 1973
Best Neve EQ plugin
Arturia Pre 1973
The 1073 is an EQ with a lot of color and character. This accurate model of the hardware comes in single and two-channel versions.
Accurately models 1073 EQ
60dB of input gain
Comes in single and two channel versions
L/R and M/S modes
TAE analog modeling provides realism
Might have too much color for some situation

Neve’s 1073 unit is a favorite when it comes to preamp and EQ combinations. Using Arturia’s proprietary TAE analog modeling, this plugin does an excellent job of bringing the legendary hardware into the digital realm.

It’s got 60dB of continuous input gain, and an automatic gain control alters the output volume based on how the input gain is set. Switchable transformers from Carnhill and Marinair give you different voicing options.

It comes in one and two channel versions, so you can use it on single sources, busses, even the master. The two channel version can be used in left-right or mid-side modes. Visually and operationally it functions just like you’d imagine and provides the thick, warm British sound the mastermind Ruper Neve pioneered all those years ago.

Best API EQ plugin: Waves Audio API 550A+B

Waves Audio API 550A+B
Best API EQ plugin
Waves Audio API 550A+B
Put two of the most famous API compressors in your virtual rack with this single plugin from Waves Audio.
Two legendary API EQs in one plugin
30dB of headroom
Repeatable, reciprocal filtering
Very affordable
Can’t adjust Q on everything

Like Neve, API is a company that has multiple legendary EQs to their name. As pioneers of the 500 series, their 550A and B models are some of their most popular. Waves Audio combined them in this plugin to give you the best of both worlds.

The 550A is a 3-band EQ with five pre-selected center frequencies per band. There is a maximum of 12dB boost and cut on each, stepped in 2-3dB increments. At +30dB, you don’t really have to worry about running out of headroom. Proportional Q widens the bandwidth at lower settings and narrows at higher settings.

The 550B sports 4-bands with seven frequency centers on each ranging five octaves. It’s got the same repeatable, reciprocal filtering of the 550A and the same amount of boost/cut and all bands offer shelf or peak EQ styles. 30dB of headroom gives you plenty of sonic space. 

Both of these classic equalizers are crazy affordable, so you can finally put the characteristic API sound in your virtual rack.

Best mastering EQ plugin: iZotope Ozone 10 EQ

iZotope Ozone 10 EQ
Best mastering EQ plugin
iZotope Ozone 10 EQ
iZotope makes some of the best mastering plugins and this EQ is one of the best. Multiple filter types and shapes give you enough options to cover any style of music.
Great for mastering
Eight bands
Can do analog or digital sounds
Really only meant for mastering
Buy From

iZotope makes some of the best mastering plugins in the business. Best practice dictates that when using equalization in mastering you should make very gentle moves. Of course it’s dependent on the material, but with Ozone 10 EQ you can make the moves that you need to.

It includes two modules that each have eight bands with a variety of shapes and adjustable filters. The filter shapes include analog and digital, Baxandall for bass and treble, Proportional Q inspired by API designs, and shelving for Band, High, and Low.

Truly meant for mastering, you can alter the EQ at the center of the mix independently from mid/side. The GUI is sleek, providing good metering that shouldn’t present too much of a learning curve.

Best clean EQ plugin: FabFilter Pro-Q 3

FabFilter Pro-Q 3
Best clean EQ plugin
FabFilter Pro-Q 3
Pro-Q3 is a versatile EQ plugin that offers 10 band types. You can have up to 24 bands total. A number of features ensure you make the best EQ decisions for the production.
Dolby Atmos support
Easy to locate unpleasant peaks
10 band types

Some EQs are meant to add their own character to the signal. Some are meant to be surgical tools that are clean and efficient. Pro-Q 3 is the latter. And FabFilter made a lot of updates in this third iteration.

It’s got Dolby Atmos support that lets you make EQ moves based on the individual speaker. The Overhauled Spectrum Grab feature lets you locate unpleasant peaks.Frequency collision indication means you won’t get any more unpleasant band or slope overlap. And there are more than 10 band types to choose from.

Clean EQ sounds are what it does best, but if you want to add some analog flavor there is a Natural Phase mode. You can have up to 24 bands, and can even make frequency selections by note value in the Piano Roll view.


Do EQ plugins sound different?

It’s always been a hot debate in pro audio on if plugins could ever be comparable to hardware. These days plugins sound every bit as good as hardware. Many are very accurately modeled to represent hardware, and there are countless that have a sound all their own. Plugins can also do a number of things that hardware can’t.

What is the best EQ for vocals?

This is a loaded question. It depends on what you want to do. A lot of engineers and producers use multiple EQs on a vocal. Generally, something clean and surgical like the FabFilter Pro-Q3 is good for cutting out unwanted frequencies. 

When it comes to boosting, you’ll usually want something that colors the sound like a Neve or API. The Pultec is a very unique EQ that adds some serious sonic character to any signal, and they work especially well on vocals. Using them is a technique in itself, but once you realize what they can really do you’ll want to use them every chance you get.

Which EQ plugin is best?

There really is no “best” EQ plugin. It all depends on the source signal you’re working with and how you need to equalize it. The general consensus is that clean EQs are best for cutting and EQs that provide color and character are preferable for boosting. But in mixing, there really aren’t any rules. The best thing to do is experiment to find out what sounds best!

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