Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Like with most things in life, the term „best EQ“ is often subjective and situational. That means that one equalizer plugin can work in one situation, but not be too useful in another. Therefore, we will go through our favorites today, and pick out a few for every use situation. Also, we will cover both free and paid best EQ plugins. After all, budget is always important, right?
Just because a plugin costs money, it does not guarantee that it is better (but in most cases it will be at least decent), so keep that in mind. If nothing, the choice of paid plugins will be greater, and it will be easier to find your own best EQ plugin.
Table of contents
- Best EQ plugins that are free
- Best EQ plugins that cost (some) money
Best EQ plugins that are free
Your DAW’s EQ plugin!
In most cases nowadays, it is all you need. Maybe not the best EQ plugin out there, but always ready to go, and for zero money! Depending on the DAW, it might or might not have bells and whistles – analyzer, keys, phase options etc. Also, depending on the DAW you could have more than one built in.
Airwindows EQ Plugins
These plugins offer the minimum in the graphics department, which might be a turn off for some. On the other hand, they are extremely light and stable. They might not look like the best EQ plugin in the world, but they sound great, they are simple to use and very effective… if you don’t mind the generic interface. And there are quite a few of them that are free!
Acustica Audio Coffee The PUn
An analog emulation, this could be the best EQ plugin for you if you are looking for color and attitude. A free plugin from one of the greats, Acustica’s Coffee gives you power and punch in a vintage package, along with integration into their general plugin system.
The best EQ plugin if you are looking for vintage and modern in the same package. Also, the package is free! The MEqualizer brings a spectrum analyzer, flexible EQ bands, tube saturation and much more. MeldaProduction is a company with a strong reputation, and this equalizer plugin confirms it!
If you like the look of vintage consoles, this could be the best EQ plugin for you! The SonEQ is a very capable and characterful equalizer plugin. With three parametric EQ bands, two filters and a drive, this vintage EQ comes with tons of mojo!
Luftikus by lkjb
If you like your EQs simple but colorful, this is the best EQ plugin for you! On one hand, it offers „only“ six bands, five of which are fixed. On the other hand, there is quite a bit of sonic magic going on.
Tokyo Dawn Labs Nova
If you are looking for the best EQ plugin that also has compression built in, this might be for you! The TDL Nova offers four distinct EQ bands. Also, the TDL Nova offers compression on those bands. See what we did here? This equalizer plugin is also a very capable multi band compressor! If you want to spice your setup up, this could be the ticket.
Blue Cat Triple EQ
This is one of the best EQ plugins, according to a fair amount of users. As its name says, the Triple EQ offers three adjustable EQ bands. These bands are reactive and help you do more with less clicks, which is always helpful. Overall a simple but effective equalizer, definitely worth a try.
What exactly is an equalizer and which types of eqs exist you can read in our types of eq article!
Best EQ plugins that cost (some) money
FabFilter ProQ 3
One of the best EQ plugins on the market right now. Very widely used, updated fairly often and very stable. This equalizer has everything you might need out of a „clean“ unit, and then some. Phase control, dynamics, several modes of monitoring, an insane plethora of filtering options… and an unlimited amount of bands, to top it off. It can do mid/side and L/R in the same instance, with any kind of filter curve you can imagine. A lot of people consider it the best EQ plugin in a workhorse sense, since there is not much that it cannot do. This equalizer remains transparent even with massive changes to your sound.
Soothe 2 EQ
Maybe not the best EQ plugin for some, but definitely one of the more interesting! Soothe is a dynamic resonance suppressor, meaning that it will do its magic to help your material. The plugin analyzes and removes problematic frequencies (think sibilance, resonance and boominess). So, although it is not a „regular“ equalizer, it definitely does the work of one. Also, it is fairly automatic, so it saves you time… and did we mention that it sounds great?
UAD Manley Massive Passive
Getting into the UAD ecosystem costs a pretty penny, but it is worth it if you are looking for the best EQ plugin! It is modeled after one of the most revered hardware EQs, and how! Incredibly musical, with two channels, four bands (each) and filters. The bands have an overlapping stepped frequency control, so you can get pretty creative. The faceplate itself looks a bit intimidating but the plugin sounds absolutely stellar.
Izotope Neutron 4
One of the best EQ plugins for getting the most out of your mix, partly automatically! This equalizer has a plethora of goodies built in – 12 bands, dynamic EQ mode, sidechain and so on. One thing that makes it absolutely stand out is the frequency masking detection, which analyzes your audio and tells you which frequencies are being masked by which instruments and helps you deal with that very easily. Nifty!
Another analog staple, and one of the best EQ plugins out there. The Waves API collection contains three equalizers (and one compressor), which all have the distinctive punchy, round and open character, along with the “glue” the API hardware has. Very simple and straightforward to use, reach for this EQ when you need simplicity and character!
Softube Summit Audio Grand Channel
If “smooth” is your keyword, this is the best EQ plugin for you! Faithfully modeled after legendary hardware, it brings butter to your sound. You can expect four adjustable bands with stepped frequency, filters, beautiful interface and characteristic saturation. The sonic character is very soft, smooth and mellow. Also, it comes as a full channel (similarly aimed compression) and it is compatible with Softube’s Console One hardware.
Sometimes the best EQ plugin is a simple looking one! This five-knob EQ is another analog emulation. Therefore, expect lots of character and simplicity of use. Now, where this equalizer shines are the high frequencies, which sound polished, musical and never harsh. In general, it is very difficult to make this plugin sound bad! A great first foray into the “grown up” EQs or a flavorful addition to your existing plugin collection.
The best EQ plugins are often inspired by hardware – in this case the classic Pultec. The famous “Pultec trick”, cutting and boosting the low end at the same time, is very present in modern music. A good way to balance a kick and bass, and give your low end that distinctive character. On the other side, there is also the unmistakable high end sheen.
But which Pultec? Several companies offer great Pultec EQ emulations: UAD, Waves, Softube and so on. These plugins technically attempt to do the same, so we will leave you with the decision which way to go.
The search for the best EQ plugin is often unending. The result changes as we grow as producers and as technology advances. Take this list as a stepping stone – check the plugins out, find your faves and… then just keep on looking because we love nothing more than getting new plugins, right?
The question about the „best EQ plugin“ is often subjective and situational. So the best choice depends on the situation and the preferences of the music producer. In this article we present our personal favorites.
Paid EQ plugins are not per se better than free ones. However, paid EQ plugins achieve a reasonable and decent quality that justifies the price. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve your goals in decent quality with free EQ plugins as well. In our selection you’ll find plugins from both categories.