Dynamic EQs are phenomenal. I use them all the time for precision mixing. They are for when the hard, static filter cuts and boosts won’t suffice. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had hands-on experience with many high quality EQs with some sort of dynamic capability or another over the years, so I wanted to share with you my favorites. Don’t worry if some of the bigger names aren’t in the budget right now, I have two free ones for you as well! Here’s my run-down of some of my favorite Dynamic EQs and a little bit about each of them.
First, we should talk a little bit about EQs, compressors and dynamic EQs. If you already know about these concepts, feel free to skip ahead. An EQ filter is generally static. It boosts, cuts and shapes incoming frequencies in a linear fashion. A compressor is non-linear. It “reacts” to incoming signals to boost, attenuate and shape sounds being fed through it dynamically.
A dynamic EQ takes the best of both worlds and combines them in one place. An EQ that cuts, boosts, or shapes the sound depending on what is being fed into it. So instead of just a frequency node, gain, Q, and filter types we have additional tools like threshold, attack and release which can drive those EQ parameters. They react to internal or external sources.
Internal mode listens to the sound source itself; de-essing is a common application for this as an example. External mode listens to a different sound source and makes cuts or boosts the audio. Alright? Now that we have basics out of the way, let’s check out some great dynamic EQs.
Neutron 2 is pretty much the crème-de-la-crème of Dynamic EQs. It has incredible precision and many years of world-class algorithms developed by iZotope behind it. You have the ability to turn on Dynamic Mode for any of the 12 filters and either increase or reduce the gain of the filter node. That reaction is dictated by either an internal or external sidechain audio source. Not only that, but Neutron 2 has a number of different band presets for the sidechain options making things even more precise. Add to that the “Learn” and “Masking” features which will actually show you where you might want to pay attention to and place your filter nodes and you have a truly first-class Dynamic EQ.
SurferEQ 2 is a different type of dynamic EQ than that in Neutron 2’s EQ when set up for external sidechaining. Surfer EQ, instead of responding to gain values, responds to pitch. That means the filter nodes follow the incoming pitch of a signal instead of the volume. It’s awesome. You can turn on the “Surf” function to follow the incoming audio’s pitch and you can choose which harmonic too. There are 5 main filters which can cover all the main harmonics (3, 5 ,7, 9) and the fundamental. This makes SurferEQ 2 great for precision when you are mixing similar sounds and want one to always stand out.
You have global controls for the pitch tolerance, pitch threshold, “surf time” which is how long the filter takes to move to the new pitch, as well as attack and recovery times. The filter’s gain value is more-or-less static though unless you enable GTE mode, which will use a gate, so the filter will only be active when the threshold is crossed giving you even further control.
For example, when I use the SurferEQ to carve space out of a pad for a vocal. Turning on the GTE mode and setting a good threshold means that the filter node won’t be active if there is no vocal which will let the pad remain completely full and unaltered. I only recently found out about this gem, but I’m really excited I did!
I’ve been raving about this plugin for the two years I’ve known about it. It just does such a great job so quickly that it’s a must-have for all music producers! Also, the price tag isn’t too bad. Trackspacer has a 32-band dynamic EQ behind the scenes. Once you set up the sidechain you can instantly and easily carve out room for anything in the sonic spectrum. Each band reacts independently making for decently precise sound carving. You don’t have as much control of each one of those bands as you might in SurferEQ and Neutron but if you are looking for a quick and clean job, Trackspacer has you covered.
I actually wrote a long tutorial on how to build your own dynamic EQ in Ableton Live using Max and Live’s devices here on Ask.Audio a while back.
You should check it out. You can follow along with the tutorial or download the completed Effect Rack for free. It only has 4 bands, but it does the trick. Plus, there’s the extra bonus of following along with the tutorial to learn more than a few things about dynamic EQs, Live and Max along the way.
This is a completely free Dynamic EQ VST and works wonders. Many people swear by it. So if you don’t have the cash and want to see what the Dynamic EQ fuss is about, this is the right option for you. The free version is the younger sibling of a much more parameter-packed bigger EQ, but it still has the Dynamic EQ part and a boat load of other goodies; Parametric equalization, Dynamic equalization, Frequency selective compression, Multi-band compression, and Wideband compression to name a few.
While I have had hands-on experience with a large number of plugins, I haven’t tried them all. That means I might have missed your favorite. Not because it’s worse, but because I can’t speak from experience about it. So, if I did miss your favorite or something of note, please drop us a comment below to help us all.