Drumforge DF-Q by Diogo C
Formats: AAX/AU/VST (32/64-bit) Plug-ins for Mac (10.7+) and Windows (7+)
DRM: Unique download link
Demo: Not available
Price: $79 USD MSRP
The scope: DF-Q is a drum-oriented equalizer that puts together many tricks developed over the years by mixing engineers on an intuitive to use plug-in that tries to “bridge the gap between technicality and musicality”. DF-Q presents three equalization bands, but instead of the usual lows-mids-highs it uses a different and more empirical terminology: “punch” (lows/mid-lows), “clarity” (mid range) and “attack” (upper mids/highs). To put it in very simplistic terms, “punch” and “attack” are most boosting the low and high frequencies respectively, while “clarity” scoops the mids. Each band has a big knob for amplitude, a “range” controls that sets the center frequency and three possible configurations to determine its shape, which are accessed by three buttons below each EQ band. On top of that DF-Q has seven different operating modes: kick, snare, rack tom and floor tom, which are labeled as “direct” and meant to be used on close-mic'd sources, and to cover all spots there are also overheads, room and “drum kit” modes. Wrapping up there are sweepable low and high pass filters with fixed slopes with a bit of resonance, a mix knob that blends the processed/unprocessed signals for parallel equalization, input/output trims and a big VU meter (where 0 VU = 0 dBFS) that shows the output levels. On the outside DF-Q looks like straightforward and relatively simple plug-in, but under the hood it's doing a lot of EQ moves, so to shed some light on the subject here goes some frequency plots:
Scroll down to the attachments for more full-resolution (1080p) screenshots.
As we can see above some of curves can be quite radical and will deeply transform the sound in some unexpected ways. Also important to note that the filters are always engaged. I should also mention that the "DF" in the name stands for Drumforge (the developer), some may think that "D" may hint on a dynamic element but there's no dynamic component in play here.
Sound quality: A very powerful plug-in and capable of some pretty amazing things. DF-Q can be both very bold/aggressive or very subtle/gentle and overall it’s a very effective sound shaping tool. It’s meant to be used on acoustic drums but it can definitely work on other sources, including percussion or electronic loops and anything that’s transient-heavy. I wouldn’t put it on the “surgical precision” side of the fence due to its rather esoteric controls, so in my opinion this a “color EQ”, even though it’s totally clean in the sense that it doesn’t have any distortion and saturation. It’s all down to the equalization curves it can achieve and they’re quite impressive. When used judiciously it can be a great reinforcer, adding some good weight and power without sacrificing detail or definition, but just like any other EQ it will obviously sound a bit whacky and overdone when pushed too hard.
Ease of use: It’s surprisingly easy to get something good out of this plug-in. Just select the desired drum kit piece (or set) and go by your instincts, push those buttons, turn knobs, set the filters, maybe back off a bit with the mix knob and it’s will probably sound good. The interface is clean, there are no sub menus other than the drum piece selection drop-down. Operation is really effortless on most cases, but there’s a caveat here: although I had no problems dialing good sounding settings, initially I had a hard time dialing the sounds that I wanted and more often than not I’d arrive at something very good sounding but not necessarily what I was actually looking for. I don’t mind being drifted away from my initial intents, but the obscure nature of the parameters can be a bit frustrating, which leads us to the next aspect - features.
Features: I’ll confess that I’m a bit troubled by the complete lack of information regarding some parameters, so in that regard I’d really welcome a “geek mode” (or should I say Gearslutz Mode) mode with parameters label with common terms like Hertz and dBs if possible, or have a frequency plot at least - anything that helps us figure out exactly what’s going on by turning those knobs and pressing those buttons. The buttons are particularly obscure since they have no indication whatsoever about their function, and that makes things a bit too random and using them felt like rolling a dice, which definitely is not ideal. In that regard, the documentation could have a little more depth and go beyond the basics of operation. Yes we do have to go by our ears but having everything clearly exposed would definitely help to make this plug-in more easily understood. Last but not least, it’s important to say that DF-Q is light on the system resources and has no latency, so using a high number of instances is perfectly possible on most computers.
Bang for buck: DF-Q is very affordable and it’s great to see high-quality tools at such low prices. On the other hand, there are tons of equalizer plug-ins out there and everybody probably has at least a handful of them, so it’s important to keep that in perspective. Having said that, DF-Q can pull some tricks that may be otherwise pretty hard to achieve, and that counts a lot, at least in my book.
Recommended for: novice mixing engineers and producers looking for a task-oriented equalizer that will intuitively deliver good results or experienced professionals looking for a different approach to the very familiar equalization process.
Easy to dial great sounding settings
Light on the CPU
No demo version or trial period available
Some controls can be a bit obscure