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Clean Hardware Eq vs Clean Plug Equalizer Plugins
Old 30th December 2015
  #1
Lives for gear
Clean Hardware Eq vs Clean Plug

We all know plug in Eqs are pretty good these days, but there are plenty to argue that digital simulations of analogue aren't quite there yet. What about the other way round - hardware trying to be clean? Isn't that native territory for plugins (no pun intended)?

Something like FabFilter impresses me, but maybe that's not so hard...For those who've used both, how does a good digital eq like Fab compare to a clean hardware EQ like say, a Millennia? Is the Fabfilter missing something?

Last edited by Shaolin; 30th December 2015 at 03:07 PM..
Old 30th December 2015
  #2
Lives for gear
you can listen couple in the clipalator of zen audio and hear for urself... I think fab filter has its own sound a bit thin .. Is more fair to compare hw eq's to Acustica Ivory,Scarlett,Green as they emulate clean hw eqs.
Old 30th December 2015
  #3
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Nebula is great, granted. So, what's the difference between a clean hardware/Nebula Eq and a digital like Fab? If the Fabfilter sounds a bit thin are the clean hardwares still adding something? Or is FabFilter taking away? Is Fabfilter not a good example?
Old 30th December 2015
  #4
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matucha's Avatar
Fabfilter proq2 is really all you need, the rest is icing on the cake.

[Mastering perspective]
I have Barry Porter NetEQ and it can be very clean sounding, very similar to digital. Overall it's probably more smooth and wider sounding (not the Q or stereo width), it's just because you don't hear the filter so precisely... while the signal still has almost perfect impulse response (no audible softening/muddying). My preference is BP on highs and himids mostly, though there is much less flexibility of course. Lowmids are often great on BP too, less obvious. With bass it's a mixed bag, I often like more controled and precise sound of fabfilter, yet there are times when BP big wide bass (in comparison to ProQ) is a great thing. Cutting in the himids sometimes sounds invisible with BP, though sometimes it just dulls the region and digital wins.
Old 31st December 2015
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shaolin View Post
Nebula is great, granted. So, what's the difference between a clean hardware/Nebula Eq and a digital like Fab? If the Fabfilter sounds a bit thin are the clean hardwares still adding something? Or is FabFilter taking away? Is Fabfilter not a good example?
Nebula if sampled right the eq is basically the same sound if u shootout with the hw u will hear more difference in the converter loop.But is damn close u simply can't tell in blind tests…. Also in Nebula they choose to don't use some of the artefacts so Nebula is greatest ITB eq to my ears tough this is subjective. Algo based are always less transparent somehow u hear the effect on the top of the signal…i like them more for precise cuts there is where they can deliver..
Old 31st December 2015
  #6
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Piedpiper's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by lacnadon View Post
I think fab filter has its own sound a bit thin ..
So are you saying that ProQ2 somehow thins the sounds when engaged but not doing anything? ...that it "adds" its own sound? ...or that you prefer the colorations of HW? If not the former, then there is something wrong with your logic.

There is really no way to do an apples to apples comparison of HW to plugin as the settings will never be identical. Tricky question, but I think that for a plugin that is not purposefully modeling HW, if it is done well, and you are looking for clean, rather than coloration, there is no down side to digital. If you are looking for the "sound" of a particular HW unit, it is difficult to capture truly accurately in software though you can get very close. Whether it is close enough for a given person is a personal choice.

But getting back to the original question, I think the answer is implicit. If you are looking for truly clean, then the best clean plugin is going to have no down side. It is only if you are looking for some flavor of the hardware that the question even becomes a question.

Last edited by Piedpiper; 1st January 2016 at 07:43 PM..
Old 1st January 2016
  #7
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Thansk for the responses so far. I'm marking PiedPiper's post as answer not least because it reinfrorces my own suspicions and becuase I think there's some kind of Gearslutz law that means I have to mark something or they will surgically remove one of my converters...

I'd still be interested in reading more opinions though, as it seems to me that the holy grail of clean, which eludes all hardware, has been achieved by any old freebie eq giveaway pluggie. But people still lust after high end clean outboard. Why? Just snobbery? Emabarassment?
Old 1st January 2016
  #8
Gear Maniac
 

Many slutz are anti whatever-kind-of-plugin here lol
Old 1st January 2016
  #9
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Years back I set up an ABX between my Sonnox EQ and my very expensive Millennia outboard EQ (on SS setting) and nobody including myself could pick between them with any reliability other than guessing which was which!

Now with DMG Equilibrium I seriously doubt anyone could choose on a proper double blind ABX between Equilibrium on it's very highest impulse length setting and any of the hardware it is emulating .... plugin EQ is a done deal, I won't be buying anymore hardware EQ's going forward.
Old 1st January 2016
  #10
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Piedpiper's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shaolin View Post
Thansk for the responses so far. I'm marking PiedPiper's post as answer not least because it reinfrorces my own suspicions and becuase I think there's some kind of Gearslutz law that means I have to mark something or they will surgically remove one of my converters...
honored... didn't even know about that option... I would still keep an eye on your converters though...

BTW, I'll add an emphasis on the fact that I was making no value judgement on what is preferable whatsoever. There is obviously nothing wrong with preferring any aspect of the sound of analogue hardware.

I'lll also add an emphasis that although there may always be some shadow of a hair of unattainable difference between analogue hardware and the best most exhaustive digital modeling, most folks will be well served by the plugs. Takes all kinds though and I'm guessing we will never see hardware disappear.
Old 1st January 2016
  #11
Gear Nut
As mentioned Fabfilter Pro Q2 is excellent, but another eq for about half the price but just as excellent as Pro Q2 is Acon Digital Equalize.
Old 2nd January 2016
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Piedpiper View Post
So are you saying that ProQ2 somehow thins the sounds when engaged but not doing anything? ...that it "adds" its own sound? ...or that you prefer the colorations of HW? If not the former, then there is something wrong with your logic.

There is really no way to do an apples to apples comparison of HW to plugin as the settings will never be identical. Tricky question, but I think that for a plugin that is not purposefully modeling HW, if it is done well, and you are looking for clean, rather than coloration, there is no down side to digital. If you are looking for the "sound" of a particular HW unit, it is difficult to capture truly accurately in software though you can get very close. Whether it is close enough for a given person is a personal choice.

But getting back to the original question, I think the answer is implicit. If you are looking for truly clean, then the best clean plugin is going to have no down side. It is only if you are looking for some flavor of the hardware that the question even becomes a question.
It thins the sound when u start to process the source,simply it has is own a bit plastic thin sound to my ears when u use it on more channels.That's why i switched to other eq's otherwise i must admit that this eq has amazing gui!
Old 2nd January 2016
  #13
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Piedpiper's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by lacnadon View Post
It thins the sound when u start to process the source,simply it has is own a bit plastic thin sound to my ears when u use it on more channels.That's why i switched to other eq's otherwise i must admit that this eq has amazing gui!
what mode do you typically use, minimum phase, natural phase, or linear phase?
Old 2nd January 2016
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Piedpiper View Post
what mode do you typically use, minimum phase, natural phase, or linear phase?
I used all of them to be fair didn't worked a lot with the new Natural Phase mode.Liked the linear phase mode with mid side for mastering it does good job used very gently.
Old 2nd January 2016
  #15
Quote:
Originally Posted by thehightenor View Post
Years back I set up an ABX between my Sonnox EQ and my very expensive Millennia outboard EQ (on SS setting) and nobody including myself could pick between them with any reliability other than guessing which was which!

Now with DMG Equilibrium I seriously doubt anyone could choose on a proper double blind ABX between Equilibrium on it's very highest impulse length setting and any of the hardware it is emulating .... plugin EQ is a done deal, I won't be buying anymore hardware EQ's going forward.
You're missing an important element, box tone. Equilibrium is emulating the eq curves, not the tone of the gear. A Sontec for instance has a very definitive tone to it. I'm confident I would hear that difference. That doesn't mean that the Sontec is the better choice for a given task, that's all up to the circumstances of a session.
Old 2nd January 2016
  #16
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Mania's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by engmix View Post
You're missing an important element, box tone. Equilibrium is emulating the eq curves, not the tone of the gear. A Sontec for instance has a very definitive tone to it. I'm confident I would hear that difference. That doesn't mean that the Sontec is the better choice for a given task, that's all up to the circumstances of a session.
by tone, you mean distortion colour?
Old 2nd January 2016
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lacnadon View Post
It thins the sound when u start to process the source,simply it has is own a bit plastic thin sound to my ears when u use it on more channels.That's why i switched to other eq's otherwise i must admit that this eq has amazing gui!
I'm in a very, very tiny minority here, but I agree with you: FabFilter's EQ has a sound I don't like. Great interface, but the sound is 'thin' (very hard to explain). Never went beyond the trial phase for that reason.
Old 2nd January 2016
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Irvin00 View Post
I'm in a very, very tiny minority here, but I agree with you: FabFilter's EQ has a sound I don't like. Great interface, but the sound is 'thin' (very hard to explain). Never went beyond the trial phase for that reason.
Felt the same with the new Pro C 2 tried it on busses for side chain comp very thin as well… but everyone have opinion different ears and setup to listen to .
Old 2nd January 2016
  #19
Gear Maniac
 

I'm not always in agreement with Irvin, but in this I agree. FabFilter is great for some tasks, but overall sound is neutral for me at best. I like Natural Phase mode. And sometimes for character I like using underrated Q-Clone EQ or Nebula plugins.
Old 2nd January 2016
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by engmix View Post
You're missing an important element, box tone. Equilibrium is emulating the eq curves, not the tone of the gear. A Sontec for instance has a very definitive tone to it. I'm confident I would hear that difference. That doesn't mean that the Sontec is the better choice for a given task, that's all up to the circumstances of a session.
Ah, I suppose this would be why some people use hardware still. Hats off if you can hear the coloration of the box itself! I imagine that at that level of subtlety you'd probably hear the limitations of an emulation.

Recently I've been trying to color with preamp, console and tape - ie tracking - and keep eq and comp transparent so a pure virtual eq suits me.

Thanks all, I don't particularly feel the need for a hw eq.
Old 2nd January 2016
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by engmix View Post
You're missing an important element, box tone. Equilibrium is emulating the eq curves, not the tone of the gear. A Sontec for instance has a very definitive tone to it. I'm confident I would hear that difference. That doesn't mean that the Sontec is the better choice for a given task, that's all up to the circumstances of a session.
I remember Dave saying that once your into the longest impulse length on the Equilibrium then everything is identical to the hardware on the SS EQ's because the SS EQ's are virtually distortion free.

Certainly in my experience this is true.

I personally wouldn't bet more than $1 on picking a Sontec against Equilibrium on it's very highest setting
as the phase is the same (like it's been sampled) and then your into trying to pick the gain amp of a well designed solid state hardware EQ, I don't think I could get that right anymore than a guess.

If you can, I'm impressed and I'd love to see you do it 100% of the time in an ABX :-)

As I said, for me Equilibrium was a line in the sand, and I won't be buying anymore solid state hardware EQ's going forward.

Equilibrium is a very clever EQ as it happens because it's capable of being a digital or analog EQ!

Last edited by thehightenor; 2nd January 2016 at 09:28 PM..
Old 2nd January 2016
  #22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shaolin View Post
Ah, I suppose this would be why some people use hardware still. Hats off if you can hear the coloration of the box itself! I imagine that at that level of subtlety you'd probably hear the limitations of an emulation.

Recently I've been trying to color with preamp, console and tape - ie tracking - and keep eq and comp transparent so a pure virtual eq suits me.

Thanks all, I don't particularly feel the need for a hw eq.
I'm definitely not trying to flaunt some super sonic hearing abilities, but after 30 years of listening to music in a studio, I'm confident I know what I'm hearing, and why I use what I use. I also heavily use digital tools, so I'm not some poo poo digital old school guy. Where as your response has been quite friendly, I also realize that I'm in a forum dominated by those using plugins only so I'm prepared to get some snarky remarks. I think you're workflow is a great way to get sonic depth into a recording. This also greatly depends on those who are familiar with making an analog setup work for their type of production style.

Glad your setup is working well for you.
Old 2nd January 2016
  #23
Quote:
Originally Posted by thehightenor View Post
I remember Dave saying that once your into the longest impulse length on the Equilibrium then everything is identical to the hardware on the SS EQ's because the SS EQ's are virtually distortion free.

Certainly in my experience this is true.

I personally wouldn't bet more than $1 on picking a Sontec against Equilibrium on it's very highest setting
as the phase is the same (like it's been sampled) and then your into trying to pick the gain amp of a well designed solid state hardware EQ, I don't think I could get that right anymore than a guess.

As I said, for me Equilibrium was a line in the sand, and I won't be buying anymore solid state hardware EQ's going forward.

Equilibrium is a very clever EQ as it happens because it's capable of being a digital or analog EQ!
First off I'm genuinely glad that you have found your line in the sand tool as you put it. I'm certainly not trying to talk you into using what you don't want to use, for whatever the reason might be.

My only counter-comment is that plugins are not analog hardware. I've used Equilibrium, and after giving it some time I simply found it's workflow cumbersome for the way that I work. I thought on a sonic level it was excellent, but no more excellent than, as an example: Wholegrain Digital's DynPEQ, but with a better workflow for me.

I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree that Equilibrium is the same as an analog eq. I know saying that I can hear the difference is meaningless to those who don't know or work with me. So here is my quasi technical reasoning, aside from having use Equilibrium myself. Class-a and class-a/b solid state circuits have complexities. Such as the typology of the circuit, types of transistors, amplifiers, I could go on and on. All this adds up to non-linear artifacts, such as "the more common one" harmonic distortion. Certainly one of the most digitally emulated aspect of circuit design. And based on the typology of the equipment design (and this is where Equilibrium differs) different operating levels yield different degrees of these sonic anomalies. As you probably know class-a designs if driven quietly yield very little distortion, and then when driven harder can yield higher levels of distortion. On top of this, add transformers, some are clean types and others are not. Equilibrium is most definitely very clever and very hands-on in terms of tweakability factor. But it is not hardware. And I mean that both for good and bad. It's a tool, simple as that.

Last edited by engmix; 2nd January 2016 at 10:38 PM..
Old 2nd January 2016
  #24
Gear Guru
 
jwh1192's Avatar
my .02 ... my Avalon 2055 EQ is my "Clean" EQ ... does it sound like a Plugin ... NO it does not ... do my SSL Duende Plugins sound like my SSL 502 hardware EQ's ... well, i have to say that the SSL plugs do sound like the hardware ... or damn close ...

plugins seem to not have as much MOJO as hardware ... i use SSL, Avalon, Neve 1073, Neve 1081, Focusrite 215 ... they all have a place ... for recording and inserting if needed ...

the Recall on Plugins is so nice to have though ... I say, get your MOJO on the way In and then Insert for taste if a PLug is not doing it for you ..

cheers and happy new year ... john
Old 2nd January 2016
  #25
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Piedpiper's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by lacnadon View Post
I used all of them to be fair didn't worked a lot with the new Natural Phase mode.Liked the linear phase mode with mid side for mastering it does good job used very gently.
I wonder if the Natural Phase might suit you better.
Old 2nd January 2016
  #26
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Piedpiper's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shaolin View Post
Ah, I suppose this would be why some people use hardware still. Hats off if you can hear the coloration of the box itself! I imagine that at that level of subtlety you'd probably hear the limitations of an emulation.
The coloration of the box itself is not insignificant and is the basis of why we choose different preamps based on their sound, or amplifiers for our monitors if they aren't powered. I've compared the sound of different volume pots, capacitors and resistors in an existing circuit, as many others have. Many of the plugs that emulate HW purposefully model the characteristics of the associated circuitry beyond the EQ curves, or other effects. See post #23 .
Old 2nd January 2016
  #27
Point is, there's no such thing as clean hardware (in the sense of system linearity). All produce harmonics/IMD and comparably huge amounts of noise.

The process of technically "perfect" EQing itself troubles the relation of harmonics vs their fundamentals. This is audible, and exactly where the natural distortion behaviour of all (!) analogue circuitry helps out kitting musical nonsense. Call it "better" if you want, but be aware that this is more than just EQing (and definitely not "clean" EQing). It's excitation, plain and simple. And it comes at a price, such as irreversibility and inevitable distortion build up. Only software EQs offer the unique option to avoid these qualitative costs.

When it comes to "clean" in the sense most ppl define this word ("nothing being added"), there's absolutely no doubt that the software nukes any other offer away. Be it quality, durability, freedom of ageing effects, efficiency, price, controllability (compatible with hundreds of controllers) or reliability, there's no room for argumentation. The quality of DSP can be made arbitrary, up to quasi infinite if you can afford it. Analogue on the other hand reached its physical limits 30 years ago around -100dB. The only way to go beyond is to use software/digital tech!
Old 3rd January 2016
  #28
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LonDonsen's Avatar
 

I did lots of tests with an Amek 9098, a very clean and versatile channel eq, an SSL Mynx 4000 eq and the Waves Qclone. It was very hard to hear any differences! My reactions were: "wow, they could build hardware eq's in the 90's (9098) that sounded as clean as the best sounding digital plugin eq's today" and "sell this thing" and "it's all about matching the curves"! Can't speak for mastering eq's but hardware channel eq's like SSL 4000 or similar stuff is too expensive and limited compared to plugins, because they are 98% close and you can use as much plugin eq's as you like, depending on your CPU! I know some guys will disagree but hey, we all know gearslutz is a huge trademen's and fanboys show, right?
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