- Looking to expand your VST library but short on cash?
- Bored of your go-to EQ plugins?
- Here are my 5 favorite freeware EQ plugins in 2020.
In Pursuit Of The Best Free EQ Plugins
Equalization needs little introduction for anyone that is interested in sound. For many, playing with the ‘bass’ and ‘treble’ knobs on the family stereo was their introduction to EQ (and if you were really living large there might have been a ‘mid’ knob too).
You can think of equalization as the scalpel of the sound world; it’s a staple of the audio engineer’s toolbox for good reason as nothing else is so readily capable of altering the tone quality of audio with such precision.
It’s vital for mixing and it’s no stretch to say that the music we love would sound flat and lifeless without it.
We’ve rounded up 5 great EQ VSTs that you can grab for free right now, so you can get your tone into shape without eating into your budget.
These plugins work just fine on Windows and Mac systems and most are available in both 32 and 64 bit for widespread compatibility.
So what’s wrong with your DAW’s stock EQ?
The honest answer is absolutely nothing, and this is precisely why it can be boring.
Like all stock effects, it is designed to be as clean and transparent as possible without adding any extra colour to the signal. While it may seem contradictory to seek equalization to ‘dirty up’ audio, highly paid mixing engineers have been doing just this for years, coveting the colorisation that certain high-end analogue units add to sound.
While some of these VSTs seek to replicate this behavior, others are more useful just for offering a novel alternative to traditional parametric EQ, allowing for new possibilities simply by taking an unfamiliar approach.
5 Best Freeware EQ VSTs
1. TDR VOS SlickEQ
The first plugin to be tested is the very fine and professional looking TDR VOS SlickEQ, an EQ that boasts a range of tone-shaping possibilities with a variety of EQ and saturation models.
Sound + Features
The four models (American, British, German and Soviet) change how the EQ controls respond rather than the actual sound itself, and the manual includes helpful charts for those that want to nerd-out over the specifics.
Subtle touches of saturation are applied designed for gentle harmonic enhancement rather than extreme heat.
If you’re really struggling to hear it, first check that the ‘EQ Sat’ button is pushed in – it’s off by default and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s merely a label.
Saturation shaping can be found in the ‘output stage’ section, offering 4 different models (‘silky’, ‘mellow’, ‘deep’ and ‘funky’).
Once again, subtlety is the key here and it’s difficult to hear much distortion even when playing with the ‘calibration’ control, though there certainly is a character that stock parametric EQs lack.
Another handy feature is the automatic volume leveling to ensure that the audio coming out of the plugin is the same volume as what goes in, avoiding careless mixing mistakes where the louder signal is perceived as being better.
Unfortunately, automation of the controls seems to be a no-go – presumably, the plugin has to do too much number-crunching every time a setting is changed and this results in clicks in the sound.
Those that need a quick tone-shaper with handy presets and a fresh look will find SlickEQ gets the job done with little fuss.
If you’re a real big fan of what this plugin does, you might also want to check out the premium “gentleman’s edition” that adds a Japanese EQ model, several extra distortion types and other goodies like automatic tone matching.
2. PTEqx (Ignite Amps)
If you’re no stranger to chasing classic studio tones, Ignite Amps have provided this generous freebie modeled on a famous suite of hardware equalizers.
Sound + Features
PTEqx excels at shaping the mid-tone in particular and most controls are geared towards this range, but it absolutely can add beef in the low end or air in the top if you need it. If you really don’t, you get both high and low pass filters on the output to limit the overall range of frequencies.
Like SlickEQ, different tube models are available and their effect on their sound is subtle but more pronounced with softer sounds as the extra harmonics are more clearly heard.
EQ is all about tone and Ignite Amps have taken great care to ensure that everything here shapes it in a pleasing, musical manner. This does mean locking off some controls or reducing their accuracy to a fixed set of values, but this actually lends purpose to each setting and enhances workflow by making sure you don’t fret over the exact details if they don’t matter.
Because of this, it is best to think of PTEqx as a tone shaper rather than as a problem solver. The GUI is clear and fresh, just be careful to note that CPS is Hz and KCS is kHz, a quirk of the original units that IA have kept.
There don’t seem to be any presets included which is a missed opportunity, but you can copy and paste settings between multiple plugins with ease which is awesome for duplicating tones or mixing parts against each other.\
PTEqx is a real gem of a freebie generously provided by Ignite Amps. For those looking to bring the sound of an expensive studio classic into their DAW, this plugin is a no-brainer and deserves a place in anyone’s collection.
3. Colour EQ (DDMF)
While Colour EQ appears to be a standard parametric EQ, lurking beneath the surface is a novel twist that shakes things up.
Sound + Features
Alongside more traditional EQ controls, Colour EQ includes a second Q parameter for creating exotic filter shapes.
When “Type A” is selected this merely scales the bandwidth, but with “Type B” this control combines with the Q setting to create resonant peaks similar to a formant filter.
Getting custom shapes like this on a standard parametric EQ would take several controls and some patience, but with Colour EQ it can all be done with one fun little knob.
While the controls can be safely automated for the most part, the frequency knob will create clicks if moved too violently. However, with slow glides, you can create unique phaser sweeps that are entirely controlled with automation.
The GUI can be readily scaled to any size by clicking and dragging the bottom right corner, a feature that is fast becoming a standard for any plugin.
Though the colors can be customized in fine detail I did experience crashes in Live 10 when trying this so be warned!
Unfortunately, there are no presets included so expect to get your hands dirty dialing in some settings before you get started.
ColourEQ is an ultimately inessential but nonetheless interesting and novel equalisation plugin for anyone looking to get some unusual tones. Its versatility as a vanilla parametric EQ makes it a good option when working outside of your DAW, forcefully estranged from your go-to stock EQ.
For those after a bonus freebie, another EQ tool from DDMF can be found on their website in the form of IIEQ, a 10 band parametric EQ that promises character and low CPU consumption.
4. Triple EQ (Blue Cat Audio)
At first glance it may seem as though Triple EQ has little to offer – we’ve already looked at a few alternatives to your DAW’s standard equalizer and this doesn’t seem to do anything that different.
Sound + Features
Thankfully, Blue Cat have some tricks up their sleeves to keep things interesting. For starters, there is a whopping 80db of range here should you need it, and thanks to the automatic volume leveling you can go extreme without blowing up your speakers. (For reference, Ableton’s EQ8 has a range of 30db which is more than enough for standard tone correction.)
Another defining feature is found in how the low shelf, high shelf and mid-range frequencies are all cleverly calculated from a single control. This makes automation a breeze by packing several frequency and gain parameters into a single control that serves as a neat alternative to traditional filters and an excellent DJ effect to boot.
Blue Cat Audio deserve props not just for providing a handy freebie, but for also making sure the darn thing looks good and has all the little niche options and touches that are easy to take for granted. The undo/redo function that remembers where you were many moons ago is super handy, and you can even make the whole plugin transparent. Presumably, so you can pretend it’s a ghost?
Triple EQ can also be found in the BC Freeware Plugin pack alongside a bunch of other great freebies if you’re just getting started and need some quality plugins to play with.
5. TDR Nova (Tokyo Dawn Labs)
Rounding out this collection is another luscious offering from Tokyo Dawn Labs that adds dynamics processing into the mix, essentially giving you a full multiband compressor with EQ style controls.
Sound + Features
This is a winning combination for mixing and mastering; multiband compressors are awesome for adding beef on the drum bus or getting that extra level of frequency control in a mastering chain.
You get four frequency bands which can be either shelf or peaking filters, and inside these filters is the compression stage. Nova manages to cleverly ensure the different bands are added together without any weird phasing effects or anything nasty that ruins the fun.
The interface is smart and seriously responsive.
You get to see how each frequency band is being processed by the plugin with intuitive visual feedback. A freely scalable GUI means both those with smaller setups and others with acres of screen space can comfortably resize everything to suit their hardware.
The presets are useful as starting points only, there are no magic drum or vocal settings for you to pounce on though it would be difficult applying broad strokes with a plugin that is better suited for fine-tuning.
Nova is best used as a mixing tool with careful consideration for how the settings apply to the specific input as opposed to just another tone enhancer or secret ingredient.
Free multiband compressors are hard to come by regardless of quality, compatibility and visual style. Somehow, Tokyo Dawn Labs have managed to excel in all these areas, providing a spectacular free plugin that deserves a place in anyone’s collection.
For those that want to push things even further, TDL offers another premium edition that gives you a total of 6 bands, plus advanced frequency matching.
This isn’t a shoot-out to find the absolute best plugin that leaves the others in the dust, instead, you’re likely to find yourself using a few of these side-by-side in the same song for different reasons.
Equalization comes in many flavors and the selection here is varied enough that no plugin can properly substitute the other even with a lot of common ground between them. So test them out, have a listen, and most importantly, make some cool music with these awesome freebies.
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