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Digital EQs for Mastering Review - Part 1





Comparison and Review of the Kush Hammer - NSEQ - Maag EQ4 - Fab Filter - SPL - TDR SlickEQ M

Mastering EQs are some of the most expensive pieces of gear floating around for purchase. Highly calibrated and precise but musical, these pieces of gear are some of the most coveted in the industry (at least for mastering engineers they are). Unfortunately the price puts these out of range for many engineers to use, or for all but the luckiest of engineers to run multiple instances of.
Lucky for us a bunch of companies have designed, created or replicated a bunch of digital plugin mastering EQs that are readily available online for much much cheaper than the outboard units, and as a bonus you are able to run multiple instances of them!
So, in this review showcase (part 1) we will be comparing five popular options for digital mastering equalizers: the Kush Hammer, UAD NESQ-2, Maag EQ4, FabFilter Pro-Q2, SPL Passeq, TDR SlickEQ M*.  
We'll run through more potential mastering EQs in future parts (2,3...), please feel free to request any you'd like us to add by emailing or Facebooking us.

 

Here is what they look like. . .   If you want to go direct to the SHOOTOUTS CLICK HERE


Kush Hammer DSP

UAD NSEQ-2



Maag EQ4

FabFilter Pro-Q2

SPL Passeq

TDR SlickEQ M

Shootouts

SHOOTOUT 1

Low End - Soul

Our comments below player - to open the player in the shootout window so you can add to it click here

The Passeq ‘boxes’ up the mid-range a touch on the test - it is not unpleasant and is probably due to really wide curves and that it is a 120Hz boost rather than a 100Hz boost as showcased on some of the other EQs.   The Passeq is great for Pultec style curve techniques which can easily remedy this (assuming you don’t want it) to great effect. The Maag EQ4 does an overall level boost even though the bell is centred on a 40Hz boost - adding overall lushness while still keeping the low end solid. This level boost is an integral part of the EQ4 design, and so in this case we wanted to show it off as it appears in the real world, without adjusting for this aspect.   There may be a bit of smoothing out in the low end but it still retains a nice punch in the kick.   The UAD NSEQ-2 has some great harmonics on it and pushes the width of the signal with some upper harmonics, it is arguably the smoothest or lushest of the group overall for this track.   The Hammer is very neutral with a slight bit of warmth when compared to the Pro-Q2 and the Slick EQ M sits between the Hammer and Pro-Q2, being a very neutral EQ with a touch of warmth.

None of these EQs exhibit any noticeable phase problems when dealing with the low end to our ear - which is pleasing to hear as pre ringing and phase problems in the low end are a massive turn off for mastering EQs.



SHOOTOUT 2  

Mid Range - Rock

Our comments below player - to open the player in the shootout window so you can add to it click here  

To us in this shootout this is the test that really shows the true colour (or lack thereof) of the EQs - Some quite big differences show up here.


The Kush Hammer and NSEQ come off pretty similar to each other in this test, with the hammer having a really nice aggression or special something that suits the song.   They are the warmest, with the curves of the EQ extending the most into the low end - there is a good amount of lushness in these EQs - the NSEQ even more so (maybe because of the vacuum tube setting).   Yes, they are darker when compared to the likes of the Maag as the are not also bringing up the highs - but clearly that is not the goal of these EQs, they are very well controlled boosts.   Again the Maag EQ4 jumps up and out with its overall signal boost, shimmering up the top end even though it is only a tasty mid range boost.   Listen to how the cymbals jump out and widen.   Be careful on EQs like this to actively listen to the whole frequency spectrum of the program and not just hone in on the frequency you (think) you are boosting as even though it might be lovely in the mid range you might be over hyping your top end. The FabFilter Comes off very clean in this test, very neutral.   The curves extending above and below the peak of the crest seem very even on either side. Comes off fairly similar to the SPL Passeq except the Passeq adds a touch more lushness.   Finally the Slick EQM we don’t know how this EQ does it but it is adding some serious width to those guitars, very clean but subtle harmonic boost. No obvious cuts or phase problems at the equilibrium points either side of the boost either, this EQ came out as a favourite to in this mid range test.



SHOOTOUT 3
High Frequencies - Orchestral

Our comments below player - to open the player in the shootout window so you can add to it click here  


Again the Kush Hammer is quite a lush EQ, the NSEQ is lusher and has more extension down into the lower frequency ranges with its wide curves but the Hammer has more shine and width to it. Listen to the slight difference in the body and placement of the snare between these two.   On the Maag EQ4, listen to the lushness of it, the staccato taps on the hats don't get thin and brittle and are pushed forward even more because of this.   This EQ does some serious work for you in this top end, you can get large boosts going in the top end without making anything seem harsh.   Fabfilter ProQ2 is very neutral as expected, nice and transparent with no artifacts.   The SPL Passeq has a slight softening character to the top end with a very unplaced peak - When you listen to it in comparison to something like the NSEQ it still has the same level of lushness and brightness but with a much softer peak around the boost area which is very pleasant for not pushing out anything in particular in that track, everything stays played well - no hihats or cymbals jumping out, so that could be used really well on the right track.   It is interesting to listen to how the synths move in placement between the SPL Passeq and the SlickEQ M.   The SlickEQ M again brings some nice width to the track and pushes up the synths a lot (same width as shown in the mid range boost on the guitars).

 

What We Think

One of the EQs that really jumped out here was the SlickEQ M. It has the cleanness of the Fabfilter but pulls forward just a touch more forwardness and width. Maybe not an EQ for running something as surgically as the Fabfilter (which is super handy with its phase modes), but if you want something still very clean and precise but with a touch more character we suggest checking this EQ out, and it’s a damn good price too. The EQs that come off a bit more vintage vibed and tube sounding in this comparison would have to be the Kush Hammer, the UAD NSEQ 2, and the SPL Passeq - they all shine in different ways and are all very useable EQs. These EQs seem like they would be great in the arsenal for warming up and adding lushness to mixes. Yes they are not the cleanest of the bunch and lend themselves to different styles and techniques than some of the others but they are warm and tasty as. The Kush Hammer really surprised us, being thought of by many (especially in regards to the analog versions it is modelled from) as a mix EQ, but it stacks up solidly and we think it is a good one to consider for its particular sonic strengths.   The Maag EQ4 shows that it is really its own beast in this test and nothing really compares to its style or feel. If you want that sound. IT IS that sound and nothing comes close, which may be part of the reason it has become so legendary, and loved.

 

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Handy Links -

Check out the Kush Hammer here

http://www.thehouseofkush.com/plugins?lightbox=image_1v3h

Check out the UAD NESQ here

http://www.uaudio.com/uad-plugins/equalizers/millennia-nseq-2.html

Check out the Maag EQ4 here

https://www.plugin-alliance.com/en/products/maag_eq4.html

Check out the FabFilter Pro-Q2 here

http://www.fabfilter.com/products/pro-q-2-equalizer-plug-in

Check out the SPL Passeq here

https://www.plugin-alliance.com/en/products/spl_passeq.html

Check out the TDR SlickEQ M

http://www.tokyodawn.net/tdr-slickeq-m/



Extra info for those interested in how we make our calls on what stuff sounds like -

Listening tests and assumptions are determined, double checked or signed off at Gearshoot HQ on ATC110ASL Pro monitors.   We reckon that they give us a pretty good chance at getting it pretty well in the ballpark of what it is going to sound like on most other people’s monitors.   We also headphone check on Extreme Isolation EX-29’s to hear what is going on in that spectrum and to hear what the world of headphones can show us.

 

*This was based on a basic google search we did, totally unscientific to be frank, but these ones tickled our fancy and we wanted to compare them for ourselves and some Gearshoot users who asked.   We’ll get onto doing more plugin EQs that people like to do mastering with in the future, so just enjoy these for now :) Equally feel free to load in any other EQs we have in the shootout players and let us know which ones are your favorite and why.

 

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