Equalization is one of the most powerful tools we have as mixers. It can make instruments sound better, make instruments sound different, carve out space in a mix, add clarity, remove muddiness, and so much more. In that sense, the flexibility of EQ is unmatched; it can be a subtle and transparent enhancement, or it can be a colorful creative effect. These are some of the best EQ plugins out there!
Best Paid EQ Plugins
FabFilter’s award-winning Pro-Q is an absolute monster. It’s the perfect example of a plugin that isn’t trying to recreate something from the past, but instead makes brilliant use of features only possible in digital recording. Pro-Q 3 is excellent for precise and surgical edits, and often ends up as one of the first EQ plugins in a signal chain. Any band can also be dynamic, where a boost or cut applies only when the frequency passes a certain threshold—great for de-essing or taming harshness without completely removing the offending frequencies altogether.
2. Eiosis AirEQ
AirEQ by Eiosis is an elegant EQ. The whole point is to make it intuitive for mixers to use, helping them focus on creativity and reacting to the sounds they’re hearing. To that end, Eiosis includes Earth, Water, Fire, and Air in its design, where Earth and Air are low- and high-end shelves, and Water and Fire are elegant ways to describe a broad or narrow bandwidth respectively. This a great all-around EQ with a very original design.
Mäag Audio’s EQ4 is one of those legendary and ‘magical’ pieces of hardware that simply makes things sound better. The software emulation by Plugin-Alliance is no exception. Famous for use on vocals, EQ4’s Air Band adds that extra bit of sauce to sum up an instrument. This is not a surgical EQ but more of a musical one, so its best use is for adding a bit of character to a track, group, or mix bus.
4. Any flavor of Pultec you wish
The Pultec EQP-1A is one of the most renowned pieces of hardware ever invented, and there’s a reason it’s been a studio staple for 70 or so years now. The best known feature of the Pultec is the ability to boost and cut the same frequency at once. If that sounds like a strange thing to do, it works because the boost circuit has a touch more gain to than the attenuate circuit and effects a slightly different frequency. This is another one of those musical EQ plugins that has a lot of character and makes stuff sound good. Period.
iZotope’s Ozone 9 equalizer is another good example of a forward-thinking EQ plugin for the modern mixer. Typically used for mastering or on the mix bus, Ozone EQ helps you get loud, clear mixes that clients and audiences have come to expect. It’s pretty transparent in its execution, so it’s definitely a utilitarian plugin as opposed to a colorful one.
The folks over at Soundtoys make awesome stuff that’s fun and easy to use. Sie-Q, based on the practically unknown Siemens W295b hardware, is no exception. This 3-band thing is all about vibe and character. You can boost/cut the highs and lows at a preset frequency, or boost/cut the mids with a selectable frequencies between 1.5 and 5.6 kHz. It’s a straightforward, no-frills EQ plugin with a ton of mojo.
Best Free EQ Plugins
7. Ignite Amps PTEq-XLook familiar? That’s right, you can actually get a Pultec emulation for free thanks to the good people over at Ignite Amps. This plugin bundles three legendary Pultec EQs together—the inimitable EQP-1A, the formidable MEQ-5, as well as the lesser known HLF-3C filter.
8. lkjb LuftikusDoes this look a little familiar too? The Luftikus by lkjb Plugins is a riff on the Mäag EQ4—and it’s totally free. It hits the same 40 Hz, 160 Hz, 640 Hz, and 2.5 kHz bands as the EQ4, and of course contains the Sub and Air Band. As far as the best free EQ plugins go, this one is near the top of the list.
9. Sonimus SonEQHere’s another cool free EQ plugin that’s pretty simple in design and use. SonEQ by Sonimus is a three-band EQ with low shelf, mid bell, and high shelf. The low shelf, like the Pultec, can be boost and cut simultaneously. There are also high- and low-pass filters to further refine the sound with very intuitive controls.
10. Tokyo Dawn TDR Nova
TDR Nova by Tokyo Dawn is one of the most flexible free EQ plugins out there. It’s best to just list its varied uses rather than try to explain the inner workings. With TDR Nova, you can perform parametric EQ, dynamic EQ, frequency specific compression, multiband compression, and finally, wideband compression.
11. Stock DAW EQ
Maybe not technically free since you bought the DAW, but stock EQ plugins can be really, really good. Logic Pro X’s equalizer is a great example of this, complete with a spectrum analyzer and the whole works. Actually, Logic’s analogue EQ emulations are fantastic as well (but this article isn’t about Logic!).
No matter what DAW you use, get familiar with the stock plugins—you might be surprised just how well they work!
To be very clear, this article is in no way intended to advertise any specific plugin or company. There are hundreds and hundreds of EQ plugins out there, and this is just a short list of some of our favorites. At the end of the day, the best EQ plugins are whichever ones work best for you, your workflow, and your own unique mixing style.