Most of us who spend our days recording and mixing audio in computer-based DAWs probably don’t think too much about the utilitarian effects in our plug-in arsenals. Let’s face it, step-sequenced filters or primo reverbs are way more sexy and worthy of gear lust than a simple EQ, right? But lately I’ve started to feel differently — I’ve become more concerned with the quality of my “basic” effects, and, in particular, the EQs at my disposal. Why? Because a while back it dawned on me: Though often overlooked, EQ is the tool I use most when it comes to mixing and “home mastering.” With a good EQ I can dig into a stereo overhead track to carve out a great sound, or perform delicate surgery on a lead vocal. These are exactly the situations where a high-resolution equalizer such as Massenburg Design Works’ 5-band EQ can make all the difference compared to the parametric EQ included free with whatever host program you use.
There aren’t many dedicated software EQs on the market, and the MDW EQ is at the high-end in both price and performance. Available only for use with TDM HD-equipped Macs, MDW EQ is a straightforward-looking 5-band parametric equalizer with a couple of twists. For starters, it over-samples audio in sessions at 44.1 and 48 kHz to 88.2 and 96 kHz respectively. Running audio through the EQ at a higher sampling rate yields higher resolution results. There’s more to it than this, but it’s all behind the scenes; you don’t have to worry about switching resolution, etc.
On the surface you’re presented with a series of knobs for dialing in frequency, Q (bandwidth), and cut/boost. You can adjust the values simply by clicking and dragging vertically, which is a lot easier than having to twist or rotate the knobs with the mouse. There’s been some bashing of the EQ’s look in several web forums, and I have to admit, the interface isn’t as glamorous or eye-catching as some I’ve seen, but this thing sounds so good, it doesn’t really matter. To play devil’s advocate, the light pastels are easy on the eyes, even after hours in front of the computer, and the large controls are easy to read from a distance — say, from behind a Pro Control.
I tested MDW EQ on our Pro Tools HD2 system equipped with a 192 interface. Installation was painless and quick, and in moments I had a new session open for the review. Over the course of several days I performed a series of tests and applied the MDW EQ to mixes and individual tracks I was familiar with (from commercial CDs and my own projects). In one situation, I pushed the EQ beyond what I’d normally do, setting a high Q and a boost of over 25 dB. Most software EQs would exhibit a scratchy, almost grainy quality under such conditions, but Massenburg’s proved to be a smooth operator. I also compared it to my usual first-call EQs — Waves Q and Ren EQ — and to the Digi Rack EQ that comes bundled with Pro Tools. I made an extreme cut and boost at 1 and 2 k, with a tight Q. I applied this to solo vocals, submixed drums, and full mixes. As I expected, the Digi Rack sounded “phasey.” The Waves EQ sounded better, but not nearly as open and natural as the MDW EQ.
Color me impressed. The Massenburg Design Works EQ is an incredibly transparent EQ. It does use up a considerable amount of DSP — two mono instances or one stereo instance per DSP chip — so I probably wouldn’t try to use it across every channel in a session. But using a bit more DSP is a small price to pay for what this plug-in delivers.