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best outboard equalizers

Best outboard equalizers

While software equalizers can do things that hardware just can’t, hardware EQ definitely has its merits. It can impart a particular analog flavor to a signal that most software just can’t, especially when used on the front end. The best outboard equalizers tailor the sound in ways that make things really easy when it comes to mixdown.

There are a lot of great hardware EQs available today, from full rack units to 500 series. These are some of the best outboard equalizers available today. Here are some of the best hardware EQs on the market.

Neve

As one of the progenitors of top-shelf recording technology, Neve has a storied history of creating fantastic outboard gear in addition to their legendary consoles. They are renowned for their preamps and compressors, but their equalizer designs are just as expertly crafted.

The sound of countless recordings over the years, the EQ from their 1073 and 1081 models are still just as popular today as ever, and many companies have put their own spin on the circuits.

Best Neve style outboard EQ: Rupert Neve Designs 551

rupert neve designs 551 equalizer
Best Neve style outboard EQ
Rupert Neve Designs 551
The Neve sound is classic for a reason. The 551 is a 500 series equalizer with adjustable frequency bands and superior sound and build quality.
Pros
Classic Neve EQ in a 500 series format
Adjustable frequency bands
Cons
500 series only

Neve has been making some of the best outboard equalizers for decades. This 3-band inductor equalizer is one of Neve’s first 500 series model. It takes its inspiration from the company’s classic consoles, and is built upon Class A gain stages with transformers and inductors that are custom wound.

The different bands offer a number of ways to sculpt your signal. The low and high frequency bands can be used in shelf or peak modes, and the highs can be adjusted to 8k or 16k. The midrange offers proportional bandwidth, and there is a high-pass filter at 80Hz.

Pultec

Perhaps the most mythical of all types of equalizer is the Pultec. It is unique in that it can boost and attenuate the signal simultaneously, creating some very interesting and musical EQ curves. It fell out of fashion for a while but has made quite a resurgence in both hardware and software formats.

Best Pultec style outboard EQ: Warm Audio EQP-WA

warm audio eqp-wa equalizer
Best Pultec style outboard EQ
Warm Audio EQP-WA
The Pultec is a great sounding and unique type of EQ circuit. It’s dialed in differently than traditional EQs, so there’s a little bit of a learning curve…pun intended!
Pros
One of the most unique styles of EQ
Tube and solid-state hybrid circuit
5 flexible EQ points
Cons
Need to understand how a Pultec works differently than other EQs to get the best sounds

Warm Audio‘s take on the Pultec mimics the original device in sound and sight. It uses fully-discrete components and dual tube (12AX7/12AU7) topology with custom CineMag transformers. Five frequency points add greater flexibility than vintage Pultecs.

Best budget Pultec style outboard EQ: Klark Teknik EQP-KT

klark teknik eqp-kt equalizer
Best budget Pultec style outboard EQ
Klark Teknik EQP-KT
If you want a Pultec EQ in your rack but budget is tight, this model is a great choice.
Pros
Good budget choice for Pultec EQ
Musical and affordable
Class A circuit design
Cons
Takes up two rack spaces
Doesn’t sound as good as other rackmount Pultec hardware

Another Class A design, this model features custom wound Midas transformers in a very affordable 2U rack unit. It offers 2-bands with seven frequency points as well as XLR and TRS balanced I/O. Its musicality and low price point makes it one of the best outboard equalizers for people on a budget.

Best graphic outboard EQ: DBX 231s

dbx 231s Dual-Channel 31-Band Graphic Equalizer
Best graphic outboard EQ
DBX 231S
1-2 sentence decription about why it’s a great product
Pros
Cons
Takes up two rack spaces

Graphic EQs are more popular for live sound, but there is some merit in using them in the recording studio as well. The 231s offers two channels of 31-band EQ. Graphic EQs are really easy to dial in, as you only have to adjust the sliders at your chosen equalization points.

Each band can be switched into cut or boost mode at a range of 6dB or 12dB. There is 108dB of dynamic range, and each channel goes from 10Hz all the way up to 50kHz!

Best outboard EQ for live sound: Art 351

art 351 graphic equalizer
Best outboard EQ for live sound
Art 351
If you’re looking for a versatile graphic equalizer for live sound this option from Art is convenient and powerful.
Pros
Single rackspace
Constant Q circuitry
Balanced and unbalanced I/O
Cons
Not as precise as a parametric EQ

Live sound is a much different animal than sculpting frequencies in the recording studio, and due to the varying sources seen in the field graphic EQs are the popular go-to.

The 351 is a 31-band, single rackspace graphic equalizer, but it has some interesting features that set it apart. “Constant Q” circuitry provides 3% center frequency accuracy, the sliders have detents for easy recall, boost/cut can be switched between 6dB and 12dB, and the I/O is active balanced and unbalanced.

Graphic EQs offer a “broad strokes” way to equalize signals, but they offer a wide range of frequency bands that are perfect for live sound.

500 Series

With 500 series modules becoming increasingly popular, manufacturers are coming up with new and exciting innovations in regards to equalization. There are some products available in 500 series modules that aren’t available in standard rack units.

Best transparent 500 series outboard EQ: Maag Audio EQ4

maag audio eq4 500 series equalizer
Best transparent 500 series outboard EQ
Maag Audio EQ4
Transparent 6-band EQ that really lets you focus the top end. All controls have detents to make recall easier.
Pros
Transparent 6-band EQ
AIR BAND technology lets you focus the high end
Musical, adds good “sparkle and shimmer” to top range
Cons
500 series only
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This is a console-style 6-band EQ with Maag’s proprietary AIR BAND technology that provides a transparent high-end and presence. It is entirely musical, especially useful at adding sparkle and shimmer to the top end, and all controls are detented for easy recall.

Best full spectrum 500 series outboard EQ: Kush Audio Electra

kush audio electra 500 series equalizer
Best full spectrum 500 series outboard EQ
Kush Audio Electra
This Class A EQ is great for adding harmonics to your signal. A proportional sweep means the more you boost or cut the more focused the bandwidth is.
Pros
Class A, full spectrum EQ
Adds harmonics
Proportional, full-range sweep
Cons
Only comes in 500 series format
No Q control
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Electra can do interesting things with the harmonics and transient profile of any signal that is run through it. It’s a Class A, 4-band EQ with two sweepable proportional bands and high and low shelving filters. A proportional sweep means the more you boost or cut the more focused the bandwidth becomes.

The low shelf is fixed, but the high shelf is sweepable. All in all it covers 25Hz all the way up to 20kHz at the top end. All of these unique and useful features make it one of the best outboard equalizers.

Best transparent 500 series outboard EQ: DBX 530

dbx 530 500 series equalizer
Best transparent 500 series outboard EQ
DBX 530
DBX compressors are known for their transparency. This 3-band model is easy to dial in and helps maintain the core sound of the signal.
Pros
One of the best clean EQs
Up to 15dB of boost and cut
Infinite Notch lets you turn any of the bands into a notch filter
Cons
Only 3 bands

A fully parametric, 3-band 500 series equalizer, this selection is a versatile and cost-effective addition to your 500 rack. Each band can be boosted or attenuated up to 15dB, and the high and low bands can switch between shelving filters or peak.

The frequency ranges can also overlap for unique sound sculpting. But perhaps the coolest feature is the “Infinite Notch Mode” which lets you turn any band into a notch filter.

Best console-style 500 series outboard EQ: Midas 512 

midas 512 500 series equalizer
Best console-style 500 series outboard EQ
Midas 512 
If you’re looking to put a transformer balanced, console-style EQ into your 500 series rack, this is one of the best.
Pros
Great console EQ sound
Dual concentric controls
Transformer balanced input and output sections
Cons
Overlapping frequency bands won’t work for every EQ scenario

The 512 is a 4-band, fully parametric EQ based on the same module that comes with the Heritage 3000 console. Dual concentric controls set the frequency point and gain for each band. The frequency bands overlap, meaning you can get some interesting EQ curves out of it.

Additionally, there are bell switches that switch the high and low shelves into parametric mode. Transformer balanced input and output stages ensure silent operation. 

Best semi-parametric 500 series outboard EQ: Fredenstein Artistic EQ

fredenstein audio artistic eq 500 series equalizer
Best semi-parametric 500 series outboard EQ
Fredenstein Artistic EQ
The Artistic EQ runs on Fredenstein’s proprietary OPA2 op-amp. It offers three semi-parametric EQ points.
Pros
Runs on proprietary op-amp
Semi-parametric design offers better control
High and low bands can be used in shelf or bell mode
Color switch adds tube flavor
Cons
Only 3 bands

Another unit built upon Fredenstein’s proprietary OPA2 op-amp, this 500 unit provides classic sound with modern reliability. It features 3 semi-parametric frequency bands, and the high and low bands can be used in shelf or bell mode. The “Color” switch lends a vintage tube flavor. 

FAQ

What is the most versatile equalizer?

EQs come in a few different types, but parametric EQs generally offer more specific ways to shape your sounds. This is especially true when it comes to setting the bandwidth or “Q” of the curve. This control lets you set how wide or narrow the equalization band is.

Do equalizers affect sound quality?

Equalizers are intended to affect sound quality. They’re one of the best processing tools in audio to tailor the sound of tracks. They let you cut out areas of the frequency spectrum you don’t want or need and increase the areas that sound good.

What is the best EQ for bass?

There really isn’t a “best EQ” for bass. Ideally you want an equalizer with a wide selection of frequencies, especially those that offer good low end and mid-range frequency bands. A parametric EQ is a great starting point considering you can get more specific with your equalization.

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