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FabFilter Pro-Q2 v2.02 WiN MAC-R2R

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Fabfilter’s Pro-Q already did everything an EQ should do — so what can they have added in version 2?

When the original version of Fabfilter’s Pro-Q was released in 2011, it had probably the best user interface of any EQ plug-in I’ve seen. Simple, informative, flexible and unhampered by trying to look like a piece of hardware from 1968, Pro-Q made it easy to do whatever needed doing, whether that was gentle tonal correction, notching out an annoying resonance, clearing up a muddy low end or any of the other innumerable tasks for which one might reach for an equaliser.

It quickly became my first-choice EQ plug-in, and I’ve spent much of the last four years happily popping Pro-Qs into insert slots. If I’m honest, in fact, it hadn’t really occurred to me that there might be ways in which it could be made even better! Fabfilter themselves, though, have not been so complacent, and version 2 of Pro-Q offers a positive avalanche of new features.

Wheels Within Bands

Some of these are quite subtle, like the small gear wheel that now appears between the Gain and Q dials when you create a parametric EQ band. This enables ‘Gain/Q interaction’, a common property of some analogue EQ designs whereby the bandwidth narrows as more boost or attenuation is applied. The range of Q values available in Pro-Q 2 also goes further into the realms of vertiginous steepness than the original. Another novelty is a ‘Natural Phase’ mode which is said to match the phase response of analogue EQ designs very accurately; in most practical situations I found it hard to tell the difference, but it is said to help preserve audio quality especially when using very high Q settings.

Pro-Q already offered the usual shelves and filters alongside its parametric and notch options, but Pro-Q 2 adds a couple of interesting ‘compound’ shapes. The band-pass option is like having high- and low-pass filters centred on the same cutoff point, and is useful for isolating a small area of the frequency spectrum, for instance if you want to create a ‘telephone’ vocal effect. Probably more useful more of the time, though, is the new ‘tilt shelf’, which is like having high and low shelving bands centred on the same point, with one cutting while the other boosts. By setting a very low Q value, you can indeed ‘tilt’ the frequency response of a source in surprisingly effective fashion. One of my vanishingly few niggles, though, is that if for instance you change an existing band from a low shelving cut to tilt shelf mode, it ‘tilts’ the other way from what you’d expect, with a low-frequency boost and high-frequency cut.

Going All GUI

The most telling improvements have been made in the area where Pro-Q already stood out from the crowd: its graphical user interface. In the original, real-time spectral analysis was available, but you had to enable it manually, and decide whether you wanted the input or the output signal to be displayed. In Pro-Q 2, it’s enabled by default, with the input and output signals superimposed so that you can see exactly what your EQ settings are doing to the sound. You can also display the spectrum of the side-chain input, if you’re using one (of which more in a moment), and in case all this extra information makes things cluttered, you can now resize the entire window to a choice of four dimensions, or zoom in horizontally on a particular area of interest. A button at the top right-hand side of the Pro-Q 2 window puts it into full-screen mode, and a button in the opposite corner brings up a musical keyboard along the bottom, so that you can visualise the spectral display in terms of note pitches, and quantise the frequencies of individual bands to them.

And that’s not all. Hover the mouse pointer over the spectrum analyser for a few moments, and a thicker white line appears, displaying the integrated peak level over time. As the peaks and troughs build up, you can then simply click one with the mouse to create an EQ band targeting that area.

Hover the mouse over the lower right part of the screen, and you’ll see that the output gain control has, er, gained some new features, too. These include a Gain Scale slider, which lets to simultaneously vary the amount of cut/boost that all bands are applying, and an effective Auto Gain button, which automatically adjusts the output gain to maintain a consistent subjective level, so you can get an unbiased verdict on the benefits of your EQ settings.

There’s more, too, including even more flexible stereo options and a global polarity switch, and the plug-in as a whole is said to be twice as CPU-efficient as its predecessor. It will even load version 1 presets. For me, though, the most impressive thing about Pro-Q 2 is that Fabfilter have added their shedload of new features without ever compromising the immediacy and usability that made the original so good. It sounds great, it looks great, and it does everything you could possibly want from an equaliser. What’s not to like?

Alternatives

The only directly comparable EQ plug-in I know of is DMG Audio’s Equilibrium, which has a ridiculously comprehensive feature set but is perhaps a touch less streamlined in use.

Match & Mix

EQ matching in Pro-Q 2. As you can see, it is also trying to match the level difference between the source and reference, resulting in a hefty boost!

If you’re working in a DAW that supports side-chaining, you can take advantage of Pro-Q 2’s simple but very effective EQ Match feature, which lets you transform the spectrum of your source to match that of any reference. Simply route the reference audio to Pro-Q 2’s side-chain input, press Play, and when you’re happy that its analyser has built up an accurate picture of both tracks, hit Match to create an EQ curve. The really neat thing here is that you can then use a simple slider to vary the number of EQ bands anywhere from zero to 24; reducing the number of bands used obviously gives you a less precise recreation of the reference sound, but can be a very useful way of obtaining broad-brush tonal correction. Note, though, that Pro-Q 2 does not automatically compensate for any level differences between the reference and source tracks, so if one is much louder than the other, the Match curve will be doing a lot of broadband boost or attenuation as well as tone-shaping.

Slope and glory

Pro-Q 2’s basic functionality remains unchanged from that of its forerunner: double-clicking the spectral display creates a new EQ band, with its adjustable parameters appearing in a floating panel below. These are all familiar: Frequency, Gain and Q, as well as the band’s filter shape and slope.

The number of available shapes has been raised to eight with the addition of Tilt Shelf – essentially a combination of high- and low-shelf filters that can be used to quickly adjust a signal’s tonal balance by boosting the highs and damping the lows, or vice-versa.

Also, while Pro-Q’s filter slopes only went up to 48dB/octave, Pro-Q 2 has 72 and 96dB/octave modes available for every shape, too, and by using the steeper slopes with the bell filter, you can get the kind of useful flat-topped bell shapes that only a few EQs are currently capable of.

These additions work and sound just as you’d expect, and the new slopes will be well received by sound designers and practitioners of surgical mixing.

“Spectrum Grab really is an astoundingly clever and well-executed feature”

EQ connoisseurs will also be excited to learn of the new Natural Phase mode. This is a low-latency mode with a more analogue-like response than Pro-Q’s regular Zero Latency mode, and we found that it gives clearer results when working at the extreme top-end.

With Natural Phase mode, it was possible to pick out regions in the highs above 12kHz and adjust them with a degree of finesse not possible with Zero Latency mode.

While many users will probably never need to switch from Zero Latency, the Natural Phase option will be reason enough for the more anal to upgrade. Of course, Pro-Q 2 retains the Linear Phase mode from its predecessor as well, making it a powerful tool for the discerning mix or mastering engineer.

GrabFilter

So far, it’s all been pretty bread-and-butter stuff, so you’re probably wondering where the sexiness mentioned earlier comes in. Well, allow us to introduce the genuinely game-changing Spectrum Grab.

The concept is simple: hover your mouse pointer over the spectrum analyser and it freezes, and the EQ handles disappear. You can now pull errant peaks or troughs into the desired position by dragging them directly.

Let’s say you can see a peak in your mid-range frequencies that you want to get rid of. With Spectrum Grab, you can just grab that peak in the spectrum and drag down, instantly creating the required EQ band, which can be tweaked later. It really is an astoundingly clever and well-executed feature.

Another excellent new addition is the Piano Roll display: activate this and a keyboard graphic appears at the bottom of the spectral analyser, complete with colour-coded dots marking the pitches of all the EQ filters.

These dots can be dragged up and down the keyboard, snapping to notes on the way, making it easy to target your cuts and boosts at specific pitches. Again, simple but clever stuff.

The last of Pro-Q 2’s big new features is EQ Match, which cleverly imbues one signal with the tonal characteristics of another. There are several other convenient but comparatively minor enhancements thrown in, too, including optional Q/Gain interaction, Auto-Gain and Gain-Scale functions, plus CPU and memory optimisations. All solid, sensible stuff that’s likely to speed up your workflow.

FabFilter Pro-Q 2 is practically impossible to fault, being absolutely stunning in terms of usability, functionality and sound. The fantastic enhancements over the original version make the discounted upgrade a no-brainer for existing users (the discount starts at 50% but can be up to 65% depending on how many FabFilter products you already own), while the reasonable pricetag makes it hard to resist for newcomers. Honestly, our only criticism is that you can only ever view the parameters of one band at a time – slightly inconvenient, but not exactly heartbreaking.

Even if you’re happy with your current EQ solution, we fervently recommend giving the demo version a try to see what you’re missing. Audio processing tools just don’t get better than this.

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