Recently I switched to Pro Tools 9 as my main DAW (from Digital Performer). There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is I like it better. I also find myself using the University of California San Diego recording studios regularly, all of which run on Pro Tools. There are still two areas lacking in Pro Tools for my needs: 1) Non-Real Time Bouncing of mixes (not the point of this blog entry) and 2) A few of the standard plug-ins, in particular the EQs, are not enough for me. So I decided to go shopping for an EQ on my student’s budget.
What I was looking/hoping for was a single EQ that would not only sound great, but one that would function well in many situations from use on individual tracks to mastering. (Note: I already own the Waves Mastering Suite, which I'm fairly happy with, but that interface for their EQ is clunky and it is not appropriate for individual tracks.) And of course I wanted a price that I could afford on a student budget. What I learned was there were a lot of other features, in addition to sound quality, that I would come to value as I demoed all these EQs.
Here is the short list, developed from my reading, work and friends recommendations (in alphabetical order):
McDSP Filterbank and NF575
First off: I think they *all* sounded great. Really, any of these are quality, but different beasts. This really did boil down to features and to my personal preference of how I like to work. Originally, I thought I would just get the Masterworks or the Oxford, but they left the list early. The Masterworks while affordable if I was making more money and having probably the cleanest and easiest interface and a great visualizer, did not offer an academic discount, so it was gone. The Oxford interface was just not happening for me, so it was gone. I know, some people will disagree with basing my decision on this, but when mixing a lot, interface becomes important. McDSP was also excellent, but I found that I would need to get two of theirs to do all of what I wanted (in particular, to do surgical notching of problem frequencies I would need to add the NF575). And also: that retro oscilloscope color scheme was not happening for me. The price is very reasonable, and it is on sale at the moment of this writing as well. Flux Epure is simply glorious, and the interface is unmatched for its beauty, but too expensive for me, so it was off the list early.
At this time, it boiled down to the Sonalksis and the iZotope, I did a lot of A/B’ing the EQ and really liked them both, but for just EQ, the SV-517 edged out the Alloy (the Alloy as a channel strip offers way more than an EQ, but EQ is my focus here) purely on sound preference. THEN, while reading online about EQs, I ran across DMG Audio’s Equality and downloaded it. Now the race was between Sonalksis and the newcomer DMG. I did more research and found that Dave Gamble had worked for several plug-in developers, including Sonalksis. I found this interesting thread at Gear Slutz about the development of Equality: http://www.gearslutz.com/board/product-alerts-older-than-2-months/452980-dmgaudio-equality.html and read a few online reviews.
My preference for the sound was still leaning heavily towards the Sonalksis, but then I emailed Dave Gamble and told him I was trying to get his EQ to sound like the SV-517, probably not the most tactful thing to ask, but he does say it is the only EQ you will need. He promptly emailed me back, had me change the preset (which I hadn’t noticed) and a few other settings (detailed on technical issues, super helpful) and I must say, it sounded like I wanted it to sound. I also emailed him a few other times, and he got right back to me, pretty awesome. Plus: I preferred the interface (larger, easier to read, easy-on-the-eyes colors), the auto-listen makes surgical work easier, large boost/cut range, great visualizer, linear phase option (I like this when mastering), analog and digital options, pretty over-the-top in features. A note on the plethora of features: this is an EQ with a learning curve, but if you use the presets, you will find yourself getting right on it. (I’m so used to presets being on the top of the plug, that I at first missed them on the mid/lower right hand side.)
SO, I go to pay, but before I do, I start to work on a session with acoustic guitar, trumpet, drums...I was looking for some dynamic control on the drums and my demo for the iZotope Alloy plug was functioning so I threw it on there for the dynamics...ended up LOVING it. So I ended up deciding to purchase two plugs...DMG Equality and iZotope Alloy, both of which I’m sure will be a regular part of my arsenal in Pro Tools 9.
A note on sales and support. DMG, admittedly a smaller company, also wins hands down on this. Prompt, knowledgeable and courteous (great combination), Dave Gamble got back to me very quickly answering technical questions and about sales. Meanwhile, I'm still waiting to hear back from iZotope sales after sending them from my school email address, as proof of my student status: a photo of my letter of support, a photo of my school ID and a link at the UCSD music website showing them my active status....waiting....Maybe DMG will have a compressor out by the time I hear from iZotope...
After hoping to mix with Alloy over the weekend, and in spite of several emails starting early Friday morning (I know, weekend...), I did not hear from iZotope until I emailed yet again late Monday afternoon their time, at which point I did receive the code for the academic discount. I admit, I would've liked to have had it sooner for work.