The first time I found out about frei:raum, I thought, ‘ah well, another EQ? One of a thousand others?’ I hadn’t heard about frei:raum, nor did I know the company sonible. No wonder – in an audio software market with daily new innovative concepts, releases for equalisers, and other audio effects, a new equaliser and company can easily slip past one’s radar.
sonible is a new player in the audio market based in Graz, Austria, who have focused on innovative solutions and products in audio technology. Their first products have been hardware based. The ml:1 is a platform independent USB DI, offering audio playback via USB , and d:24 is a prime solution for all manner of low and mid power multichannel applications. With frei:raum, sonible have now entered the software market, and with great success, it seems. success.
What is frei:raum?
In eight simple words: frei:raum is a three-in-one EQ plug-in. This description would be too simple, so let’s have a look under the hood, and clarify what smart EQ, proximity EQ or entropy EQ (those are the three EQs included in frei:raum) do and mean. And let’s clarify if the audio world really needs another equaliser.
- interactive EQ with 3 unique smart bands for quick EQing
- frequency dependent control of direct sound and reverb
- frequency dependent control of tonal and inharmonc components
- all processing stages operate fully parallel and in real-time
- no phase distortions, even with critical settings
- small meter indicator to individually monitor each band
- availaple plug-in formats: VST, AU, AAX in 32/64bit
- price tag: 399,00 €
The frei:raum interface
The frei:raum interface is very responsive and structured in four main areas.
- EQ selection: Switch between the three processing layers (smart EQ, proximity EQ, entropy EQ) by clicking on the respective icons
- Parameter section: Here you can fid the parameters of all fiter bands: (basic control parameters of each filter, filter type selection, small meter indicators for each band, bypass and solo options, enable/disable blind:flug (more on this later)
- Interactive equalizer display section: this section is to interactively control the filter curves of the currently active processing layer. All parameters (center frequency, quality and gain) can be adjusted freely
- Master section: Here can be found the color-coded global control parameters for each processing layer (smart EQ = green, proximity EQ = blue, entropy EQ = brown)
Let’s have a closer look to the first EQ: the smart EQ, color coded in green. The core of frei:raum is a fully interactive equalizer, with state of the art mastering quality. Each band can either be used in classical mode for manual EQing, or in the unique “smart” mode, offering automatic detection and removal of problematic resonances in different frequency bands.
sonible has produced some great tutorial videos regarding the EQs, and it is best to let them speak for themselves. So here we go for the smart EQ:
This looked easy enough in the tutorial video, so I wanted to check it on my own. I took a loop that I knew lacked some highs, as well as contained some noise in the midrange – to have a look if I could improve it:
As you can see (and hopefully hear), the result has changed enormously! As I played around with the different filters, I found that they sound really smooth. So I would say that the smartEQ has potential as a workhorse EQ for each signal you want to correct. It sounds transparent, and even extreme settings are not noticeable. Big plus point here for smartEQ!
The second EQ included in frei:raum is the proximity EQ, color coded blue. With a few clicks, you can easily adjust the relation of direct sound and reverb within any frequency range. Use the proximity EQ for reverb reduction and flexible dereverberation – or to increase the natural “diffuse sound” of your recording. So same game here – first the tutorial video:
Same game again: I took a drum loop that I always found too roomy. My goal is to get the kick to be more upfront, move the snare back, and get the hihats more in the front, without losing too much room information. Let’s see if I can master this with the proximity EQ:
I think this worked pretty well, without having lost too much room information. So, also, a big plus point for the proximity EQ!
entropy EQ is the third available EQ in frei:raum, color coded brown. If you are still not happy with your sound, and maybe feel lack of “tightness”, that’s where entropy EQ enters the game. By separating tonal components (e.g. sustained notes) from inharmonic parts (e.g. drum attacks), entropy EQ can be used to freely adjust the tonal characteristics of your sound at any given frequency. Turn up picking sounds and play with the sharpness of your snare drum if you want!
In the video of proximity EQ above, entropy EQ was also covered. So I’ll take my drum loop that I had processed with proximity EQ, and I’ll try to fatten up the kick, and make the highs a bit more present. Let’s see if I can manage this with entropy EQ:
Again, well done here, I’d say. So third full point for the entropy EQ!
If you are one of those people who get too distracted by curves and information on EQs, frei:raum has a great feature called blind:flug. It can be switched on and off at the top right corner of the user interface, and it does nothing apart from blending out the equalizer display section, so that you really can focus on your ears! Now I won’t need to turn off my computer display or close my eyes any more if I want to do this. Some may think there’s little point to this, but if you’ve ever tried to equalise a signal with your eyes closed, only listening without watching the EQ curves moving, you would be surprised at the difference. I can only encourage everyone to try this in general. I wonder why no other developer has this feature? I believe sonible is a pioneer here.
If we go back to our questions in the beginning: what is frei:raum, and does the world need another EQ? I would like to answer the last question first: The world doesn’t need another EQ, but it does need frei:raum! It is a really fresh EQ concept, and I really love the way its workflow and possibilities, and the little things it offers like blind:flug, smart EQ, meter indicators for each band, and, and, and … I personally haven’t seen such a fresh concept in years, and it was easy to get used to frei:raum within minutes.
Of course, you can’t compare frei:raum to competitors like Fabfilter Q2 or others – it’s different! frei:raum is more of a specialist plugin: to give your sound the last refining touch, while at the same time a serious sound design tool and standard EQ. I personally miss features like M/S, but that’s where other EQs can come in, and I personally think that sonible is not aiming for that way.
At first glance, most might think, ‘400 Euro for a software EQ?’ This might look a bit expensive, but if you see what kind of a tool and problem-solver you get at your fingertips, I think it’s worth going for it. I am sure that frei:raum will maintain its steady place in my workflow from here on in. Thank you sonible!