Every DAW has a built-in EQ (or two) as part of its virtual mixer or included plug-in collection, and these are often very good in a solid, functional kind of way. But if you just stick to using that stock EQ on every track, you’ll be missing out on the wider world of different EQs out there.
In both physical (hardware) and virtual (software) realms, there are many different EQ designs to be found. When people first start working with EQ, they often wonder why there are so many—what’s the specific appeal? After all, with a few notable exceptions, they all pretty much do the same thing, and most are laid out in a very similar way, following the conventions of the classic parametric equalizer design. But there’s more to an EQ than just its basic functionality and layout.
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Everyone who’s been at it for a while knows that if you dial up the exact same settings on half a dozen different EQs, you’ll get different results—the differences can range from subtle to obvious. This is partly a function of technical aspects like different curves, and differences in the way the bands interact. Hardware EQs and virtual models based on classic hardware also bring the sound of their particular circuit designs to the table, ranging from the pleasing edge of transistors and transformers to the warm glow of tube-based gain circuits.
Many classic EQ designs are currently available, both as physical re-issues and virtual models. Some of the most well-known and widely-used of these include versions of the EQ sections from classic analog consoles—these include the Neve 1073, SSL 4000 E & G-series, and the API 550, all of which have their own characteristic response and specific sound quality. On the tube side of things, the mother of all EQs is the passive, tube-based Pultec EQP-1A, also available as hardware replications and virtual emulations by the dozen, and famed for its unique layout and analog warmth.
All of these options, and the many more out there, are referred to as “character” EQs, and they deliver that character in spades. This video, from 10 Common EQ Mistakes course, goes over the differences and benefits of character EQs as alternatives to the stock DAW EQ.
When you decide it’s time to leave the nest, and its stock utilitarian EQ, you should have no trouble finding new EQ options that will bring another dimension to the traditional task of tweaking tone.