Sometimes there comes along something that just let’s you do stuff in ways you never imagined. Pro-Q 2 is one of those things. Ok, let’s not waste any more time shall we? Just buy this plugin. Do it now, you won’t regret it. While you’re waiting for it to download or whatever, read on.
FabFilter has quite a few plugins in various categories and they have made quite a name for themselves in the quality department. The Pro-Q 2 pushes them even further away from the competition. The Pro-Q is the fastest EQ plugin I have ever used. Fastest? Yes. Best sounding? Define “best”.
There are a lot of EQ plugins available, no doubt. Some are “exact” mathematical models of some analog hardware units and some are trying to be something derived from hardware and some are plain digital fantasy creations.
If one stops for a second and think about what an EQ really is there is not that much to it really. The ability to change the level for a particular frequency and it’s neighbours so you get a more balanced sound from the selected instrument, bus or master. Simple. There are just about as many ways of doing this as there are EQ models. Some EQs work better on electric guitars, some on a drum bus, one on female vocals and whatnot. What it comes down to is how fast a particular EQ model can get you where you want, sonically.
This ones fast!
FabFilter Pro-Q 2 gets you there. Fast. That in my book is better than replicating the exact sound of something from hardware. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the UAD Neve 1081 EQ as well as the UAD Harrison 32 to just name a few. Each has it’s own “color” and I’m quite comfortable in selecting the right one for the job, where I want the sound to be, sonically. When it comes to those troublesome snippets of audio (you know you’ve got hem too!) where there are problems that needs correction instead of putting some added colour on top. That’s when the Pro-Q 2 can help you like no other.
The combination of the visual spectrum analyser with the excellent interface makes this the fastest EQ available, if I may say so. Ok, I hear you. I’ve been writing about speed and ease of use but nothing on the sound itself. What does it sound like? Well, that’s the thing. It doesn’t, really. If I should put a single word on it it has to be “clean” or rather “superclean”. Pro-Q 2 doesn’t impart any colour, it just gets the job done. Cleanly.
FabFilter lets you choose between three different ways of handling phase, Zero Latency, Natural Phase and Zero Phase. To be able to hear the difference between them you need to do some heavy tweaking. After reading the manual and tweaking a bit I settled for doing it the FabFilter way, Natural Phase.
Ok, lets get to it then! Pro-Q 2 is a graphical equaliser with a lot of functionality packed away in a very nice GUI. Everything you need is right there, just when you need it. You can choose how you like to change the material. Either with the more usual method of Stereo operation but you can let a single point only affect the Left channel for instance. Or the right. Or you can change mode completely and have Pro-Q 2 work in Mid/Side mode instead. This lets you for instance create a Low Cut Side point in the lower regions and simply lower the stereo information in the bass region. Likewise, you can create a point at around 3 kHz and boosting only the Mid information to get an even more presence.
One of the “bigger” news of the Pro-Q 2 is the ability to hover the mouse for a few seconds over the spectrum analyser and simply click and drag and you have created a point in that particular frequency spot. FabFilter calls this a Spectrum Grab and it is quite handy.
Point of control
You can also just double click anywhere in the spectrum and a new point will be created. If you hover over a point you can change the Q-value via the mouse wheel, nifty. Another way of creating new points is to enable the little keyboard in the lower left of the plugin window. You will then get a piano keyboard along the bottom of the plugin window. With a double click on any of the notes creates a new point at that frequency. Very handy indeed.
Each of the created points can take the shape of one of the following shapes: Bell, Low Shelf, Low Cut, High Shelf, High Cut, Notch, Band Pass and Tilt Shelf. Also, each point can have a slope from 6 dB/oct right up to 96 dB/oct which makes it possible to do some very sharp curves. When you hover over a point you get a little readout box that lets you know the exact frequency, Q and gain values. If you have the keyboard frequency viewer active you also get the note name of that particular point. Also, a little headphone icon is available and when clicked that particular band gets soloed for some very critical listening.
When you hover a split second over the lower right corner of the interface a little box opens where you get access to some very nice features. There is a mute button which mutes all changes Pro-Q 2 and instead lets you listen to the unaltered signal. There is also a phase switch, a switch to hide the level meter, output gain, pan and two more really nice features. First there is an auto gain button and when active tries to make up for any gain lost or take away any gain gained (pun intended). There are a few other EQs with this function and I simply love it.
Using this function makes it easier to hear the actual changes you make. Without it you may need to compensate the output gain again and a-gain (sorry!) but when active you work faster. I must admit that it takes a while to get used to this function. At first I used far to much gain on the different bands than needed. I guess I was wanting some kind of reward for turning up the gain but since Pro-Q 2 automatically adjust my gain changes the real change is not in level as much as in tone control. It’s a bit hard to explain but you’ll get the hang of it quite fast. When you do, there is no going back. Also, there is a very nice option called Gain Scale here. It lets you scale the changes you’ve made from 0% to 200%. Excellent!
The spectrum analyzer is one of the greatest features of Pro-Q 2. Part of it is that you can tailor it to your own liking. There are settings for range, resolution and speed to name just a few. The scale of the analyzer is also selectable and it even adjust automatically should you do some real heavy gain adjustment.
The Tilt Shelf is another new feature. It works in a very simple but effective way. Select the frequency, turn up the gain and the higher frequencies are boosted while the lower are attenuated. Lower the gain below the mid point and you get the opposite effect. In many cases this might be what you need to get 80% of the job done.
One thing that differs the “old” EQs from each other is how they handled Q values. Some starts with a broad Q which gets narrower the more gain you apply. Pro-Q 2 can mimic this to some extent. Between the gain and Q knobs there is an icon in the form of some cogs that links these two knobs to each other. The more gain you apply, the narrower the Q. Just brilliant.
There is more to Pro-Q 2 than you first might think about. I see it as the ultimate sound designer EQ. The image above shows two points, one Mid boosting and one Side cutting with slightly different Q-values in the same frequency band. It’s almost as if you boost the Mid twice. This setting made the filter balance on the edge of self-oscillation with a really nice edgy sound. Run a synth pad through this and your ears will love you. If you like self oscillation that is. I do, for effect.
With all the different shapes and slopes Pro-Q 2 is perfect for sound design. You can create the most wackiest curves ever seen and the sound never lets you down. Not a single time did the sound get cramped, like it can on digital EQs when you apply more and more points of calculation. Pro-Q 2 really shines. Another great feature is the ability to analyze an incoming sidechain signal and letting Pro-Q 2 create a curve for it.
One of the features I thought wasn’t a feature at all was fullscreen mode. I was initially wrong. It’s strange, it’s strange that you actually get a kick of watching not just a spectrum analyzer in full screen, you can actually also work with it. If seeing your music on a 30″ display doesn’t get you a tiny bit excited then I think you’re in the wrong business.
I’m always looking for ways to improve things, it’s in my DNA I guess. The only two things I can think of to improve in Pro-Q 2 after spending a few days with it are these:
- The ability to have each single EQ-point available as M/S/L/R/Stereo and not like it is now, either stereo- or mid/side mode.
- The auto gain could be faster.
That’s it. I think FabFilter has done a fantastic job with upgrading an already good EQ with many new useful features. The interface is great, the interactions second to none and the sound is stunning. I think you can look upon the Pro-Q 2 as the little pill in the Matrix movies. Once you take it there is no going back. Ever.
It feels like I already have used every single praise I can think of and with the risk of repeating myself I’ll just say, buy it! Pro-Q 2 lets you work fast, in control and with a very classy sound. I rate this EQ as one of the very best regardless of category. Bought it yet?
Minimum system requirements: Windows 8, 7, Vista or XP. Intel Mac with OS X 10.6 (10.5 for 32-bit) or higher.
Plug-in formats: VST, VST3, AU, AAX, AudioSuite and RTAS (32-bit only).
More info: http://www.fabfilter.com