Reviews

FabFilter Pro Q2 – the new king of EQ? A Review of the best bits and some user tips

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FabFilter Sotware
FabFilter Software Instruments was founded in 2002 by two Dutch MSc musician/engineers, Frederik Slijkerman and Floris Klinkert.
They loved the sound of old analog gear but were familiar with new software synthesis developments. None of the available software instruments met their high quality standards of sound or design, so they built their own. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Pro Q2 The Techie Bits
Pro Q2 is probably one of the most insanely flexible, beautiful looking, best sounding and fully featured EQ plugins on the market today. So opening gambits of superlatives from me aside, it’s available as VST, VST3, Audio Units, AAX Native and AudioSuite formats (all both 64-bit and 32-bit), as well as RTAS (32-bit only).

Windows 64-bit: Windows 10, 8, 7 or Vista
Windows 32-bit: Windows 10, 8, 7, Vista or XP
VST 2/3 host or Pro Tools

Mac OSX10.6 or higher
AU or VST 2/3 host or Pro Tools
Intel processor

So What Does It Do Then?
There are plenty of reviews of this software out there, so I will concentrate on what sets this plugin apart as top grade wheat and not audio chaff, and why I was such an early adopter, and why (in my humble opinion) you should be adding it to your template too!

24 Bands with 8 types of EQ Per Band! (yes you read that right)!
The first thing that attracted me to this plug-in was the GUI, it’s clean & crisp, uncluttered and with very good use of colour. To me it looks very mac like. Colour is a very useful way of attracting and focusing sensory information, as users of the Avid S3 and S6 are learning.

In post production we can often end up with complex multi band eq with many notches to remove rumbles, camera noise, lighting whine and hiss, as well as bands to correct for mic placement, or to balance the difference in mic placement between camera angles etc.

Pro Q2 has up to 24 bands of EQ available per plug-in. Each band can be any sort of band from the following list: Low Shelf, Low Cut, Notch, Band Pass, Bell, High Shelf, High Cut. The current band (and therefore the attentioned band with its pop up window and rotary controls) has a white highlighting circle around it.

See example here of all the 8 different types available put in at once for illustration (don’t try this at home kids – it will sound mighty weird):

From Left to right:

Green Low Shelf (from 6dB to 96dB/oct)
Dark Blue Low Cut (from 6dB to 96 dB/oct)
Red Notch (from 12dB to 96 dB/oct), Q from 40 (v tight) to 0.025 (v wide)
Purple Bell (from 12dB to 96 dB/oct)
Yellow Band Pass (from 12dB to 96 dB/oct)
Pink Tilt Shelf (from 6dB to 96dB/oct)
Light Blue High Shelf (from 6dB to 96 dB/oct)
Green High Cut (from 6dB to 96 dB/oct)

You can add bands on the fly as you wish – everything is of course fully automatable (a must in post). In reality, all bands are always there, but you only see them in the plug-in when you require them by tapping your cursor on the line to add a band, which leads to a very un-cluttered feel. The display only gets as busy as you need it to be, and is infinitely flexible.

BAND TYPES TIP: I learned this tip from Re-Recording Mixer John York. If you select a band with a bell, you can turn it into the “bathtub shape” (a bell with 96dB/Oct slopes) by shift alt clicking on the band (see below). This is a very useful shape in post production for removing noise floors between useful frequencies.

This example shows a standard bell with 6 dB/oct sides and the bathtub 96dB/oct shape

SOLO Monitoring
Each individual band can be solo’d, so you can hear the effect of varying the Q as well as the frequency.

SOLO TIP 1) The Q can be varied by holding down CMD on a mac. This alone is worth the price of admission.

SOLO TIP 2) The solo volume can be varied by moving the mouse up and down vertically whilst holding the click down on the headphones solo icon. This is very useful for when the atmos between words has a whine you want to EQ out, but it is very low level. Saves reaching for the “I don’t want to change the calibrated monitoring pot” which we have in post.

SOLO TIP 3) Get used to soloing your high pass and low pass filters. You will be surprised when you listen to what you are removing how far you can go without damaging signals. It is an eye opener. We are used to listening to the removed signal band in de-essers, but people rarely listen to filters, mainly I suspect because they haven’t been given the opportunity to do so.

Latency and Phase
Along the bottom of the plug-in you can select three options for how the plug-in operates:

1) Zero latency (which literally adds zero delay to the Pro Tools channel)
2) Natural phase (which adds 6.67 mS of delay to the Pro Tools channel)
3) Linear Phase (which adds 106.67 mS of delay to the Pro Tools channel)

Consult the plug-in manual for reasons why you would use either of the options. In post, zero latency is perfect.

LATENCY & PHASE TIP: beware of changing these under automation as the resultant change in delay compensation in Pro Tools causes a click. This caught me out sharing a session with a colleague when pasting his preferred EQ shape for a series, as the type we ere using was different. This is not a FabFilter bug, but a known side effect of using delay compensation in Pro Tools and will happen with any plug-in.

Zooming
Pro Q made a big hit with me early in its life by being so flexible with its zooming options. On the bottom right of the plug-in is the zoom control.

Here’s a screen shot of my 28 inch Slate Raven screen with small, medium & large versions showing

Here’s a screenshot of my 28 inch Slate Raven screen with xtra large version showing:

Not content with that, FabFilter have also included a full screen button on the top right. Which will completely fill my screen, Here’s a quick iphone photo to show how large this is.

This works very well with the touch screen and is very good for ‘focusing the senses’ on the job in hand.

Spectrum Analyser
One of ProQ2’s biggest assets (which I hope you haven’t failed to notice) is the built in spectrum analyser. It can be set Pre or Post EQ or to a side chain input (mine is welded to Post EQ so I can see what I can hear), and is set to slow response and medium resolution.
The spectrum analyser has a freeze button where it will take the maximum of all measurements and then slowly freeze the display over time. Genius. The ‘post’ indicator in the bottom tray stays blue to indicate freeze has been activated.

There is some snobbery in some audio circles that EQ should only be done only with one’s ears, I wholeheartedly disagree with this philosophy. When we talk to each other we don’t just listen, we observe lip movements and we get visual signals from the face to indicate surprise or irony (not in America). I can get work done faster and more accurately and to a higher standard using a combination of my senses.

SPECTRUM TIP: IF you hold your mouse over the spectrum it will temporarily freeze the spectrum display, and even more cleverly, it will allow you to grab the peak (selecting a bell the exact same shape of the peak) and you can pull it down (or push it up). This is a huge time saving feature for post production, where we are constantly pulling out ugly room resonances or noise peaks & lighting whines.

EQ Matching
Within the analyser is another fantastic nugget that makes ProQ2 rock, EQ match. This is for when you would like your EQ on a channel to make your channel match another source. It’s really simple to use and is very underused.

In the example below I have two channels of cello recordings (same piece, same location, same player, same mic position, same loudness), one with an AKG 414 and one with a Neumann U87.

Often in recording & mixing it is necessary to add overdubs, potentially from different microphone sources. Here I would like to make the 414 recording sound like the U87 recording….a tall order?

The AKG 414 is a much darker microphone. The U87 shows off the acoustic of the room much more because it is more sensitive in the upper mids, which is where the predominant frequency of the reverb of the recording venue (my kitchen) is.

Here’s a description of the process:

On the first channel, the U87 reference, I put a mono send from my IO set up (called ‘Pro Q Dial Match L’).
On the second channel, the 414 input, I instantiated a ProQ2, and up in the top left of the plug-in I selected ‘Pro Q Dial Match L’ as my key input.

I then selected EQ match in the analyser tab along the bottom, the EQ match pop up tab then appears.

Select the reference source (the key chain input) and hit play, the software then begins recording the spectral character of the U87 source from the send on its channel (its automatically in record mode).
After a few seconds the spectrum settles down as an average.

Then select input to record the sound spectrum of the source you wish to change with EQ (the 414). After a few seconds the spectrum settles down as an average.

Select the EQ match button and it will populate the EQ with its suggested EQ bands to achieve your desired result.

You can then adjust the amount of bands i.e. how slavishly accurate the match must be.

EQ MATCH TIP: I tend to go for quite a few bands, often the maximum, but sometimes go in and delete any bands I don’t think are relevant (if there are daft dips like the 20Khz bell in this example that probably will only be heard by dogs).
I will then lasso the entire spectrum (so all bands are selected), and reduce the amount of EQ of all bands to taste. Adjusting just one gain will affect the gain of all bands when they are all selected (as long as you keep holding alt down).

The result:

Here’s the original 414 recording:

 

Here’s the U87 recording:

 

Here’s the EQ matched 414 recording:

 

Here’s a post-production example of a clip mic EQ matched to sound like a boom. In this example, the boom recording is very noisy, but luckily there was a simultaneous clip mic recording. The clip mic recording is much cleaner and is easier to reduce the noise on, but sounds very different as:

  1. it is attached to a resonant chest (making it very bass heavy)
  2. it is hidden from shot, and buried under clothes (dulling it down)
  3. it has no room acoustic on it as it is not a microphone in free space, and will need artificial reverb adding to make it match
  4. it is a different style of mic to the boom and a different polar pattern – so inherently sounds very different by design

If we need to use it for that shot, we may need to make it sound like a boom microphone so that it doesn’t jar against the preceding and following boom microphone shots.

So can we make the two microphones sound the same with EQ match? Can we also add some reverb to make it sound in the same acoustic space as the boom?

Boom with Background Noise

Clip Mic with Background Noise

Clip Mic EQ matched and with Altiverb

Stereo EQ
ProQ2 is very flexible when it comes to stereo operation. It can be used in either an AB or MS mode, without the need for channel decoders.
The choice of AB or MS is global per plugin but within a plugin, individual bands can be MS or split to M or S or if you are in AB mode they can be on both legs, or the A leg only or the B leg only.

The following example is in MS and has three bands of eq:

The PINK band is a dip in bass on the sides of the S signal
The RED band is a corresponding boost in bass in the M mid signal
The GREEN band is a stereo dip on the HMF both on the M and the S bands.

Again, almost unlimited flexibility is the hallmark of this plug-in.

Piano Roll
At the bottom left of the plugin is a piano roll toggle that activates the piano pitch roll at the bottom of the plug-in and note pitch info in the active band pop up. I personally never use this function.

Output Section
Inside this tab on the lower right of the plug-in window there is a bounty of control available. These include a soft bypass, phase inversion, and an auto level correct (which I NEVER use). There is also a switch to turn off the output meters (why would you?). There are also an output volume and some pan controls (can be handy in mid side mode, where you just want to hear one or the other).

Gain Scale Tip: The one control I use is the gain scale, which can be set from 0% to 100% this will only affect bell and shelf filters that actually have gain settings. It is a useful automation trick to “fade in an EQ”

See here at 25% and 75%


CONCLUSION
ProQ2 is an insanely flexible, fantastic sounding, bullet proof powerhouse of an EQ that has all features that you could ever want in an EQ and more.
Fabfilter are to be congratulated in really thinking through what the market really needed and then delivering in spades. A ‘fabulous must buy’ (excuse the pun).

Click here for more info or to buy FabFilter Pro Q2 from the ESV store

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Mike Aiton
Mike Aiton was weaned at the BBC in the 80s, but after breaking free 30 years ago and becoming a senior mixer at Molinare, he ran several London post-production sound departments. He is now mostly found mixing and sound designing in his boutique Twickenham post production studio, mikerophonics. In his spare time, when not thrashing gear to within an inch of its life, he takes therapy for his poor jazz guitar playing and his addiction to skiing & Nikon lenses.