IK Multimedia EQ 73 and EQ 81 Review
There is a new era emerging in the plug-in EQ universe. We’ve all seen and heard the emulations before, and they’re great. But IK Multimedia is breaking new ground with their EQ 73 and EQ 81 T-RackS modules. Based on classic Neve 1073 and Neve 1081 channel strips, IK Multimedia have beautifully and faithfully modelled not only their tonal characteristics, but also the preamp stages of these units. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is.
The ability to drive the input and output separately into and after the EQ stage, combined with the very colourful sound of these EQs and how they interact with the level being fed into them, creates an exciting palette of tone shaping possibilities.
Before even touching an EQ knob, these units can add a subtle (or not so subtle) unique warmth and colour to the sound, simply by running the signal through it’s virtual preamp circuitry. The EQ 73 and EQ 81 both have a dedicated Line/Mic switch next to the input knob. This allows for preset attenuation or boosting of the signal before it even reaches the input stage. From there, the Input knob controls the level of the signal being fed into the EQs.
In the following example, I’ve attenuated the gain on the EQ 73 by 20 db, and boosted the output by 20db. All EQ bands are flat. First you’ll hear the unaffected version, followed by the line level version, and finally the Mic level version. You’ll notice a subtle difference with the line level version, but the colour of the unit really shines through with the Mic level button engaged. Both modes result in a super clean and warm sound that any track can benefit from.
Remember in the “old days”, us Logic Pro users would set up Logic’s Tape delay plug-in with no feedback, no delay time, and wet signal only in order to run audio through it and slightly saturate the signal? These two units perform the task beautifully by setting the input and output knobs opposite the example above. Boost the input knob to overdrive the signal being fed into the virtual circuitry. Attenuate the output by a corresponding value, and you can saturate your signal from subtle amounts right up to beautifully nasty colourful distortion.
When it comes to EQ, I’m generally a meat and potatoes kind of guy. Give me a handful of parametric bands so that I can sweep around and pull down some problem frequencies, a couple of shelving bands for broad boosting or cutting, and I’m happy. The EQ 73 is not about this. It is about painting broad tonal strokes to give the signal running through it a distinctive tonal personality.
The low shelf band has preset notches at 35 hz, 60 hz, 110 hz, and 220 hz. There are no slope controls, only a gain knob. I have found that every one of these frequency values is useful. 35 hz with a steep roll off is great for getting rid of unwanted and unneeded harmonics and overtones down low. 60 hz is great for bringing up the low end in a kik drum. And 110 hz is great for bass, either boosting or cutting – depending on your mix. 220 hz is great for getting rid of low mid thickness on a variety of higher range instruments.
The mid band is notched at 360 hz, 700 hz, 1.6 khz, 3.2 khz, 4.8 khz, and 7.2 khz. The wide range offers a broad palette of possibilities. There seems to be some gain/width coupling going on under the hood with the gain knob that makes it hard to get a bad sound from this band, no matter how much you boost or cut. I found that this mid band is most useful for tonal shaping rather than zeroing in on and correcting problem areas. Basically, you can’t really make a “mistake” with this band!
The single knob high shelf band’s frequency is unlabelled. I suspect it is dynamically set with the amount of gain or cut dialled in. Boosting adds just the right amount of bright air and sheen to audio passing through it. And cutting seems to dull the higher frequencies just so with a broad gentle slope. Using this knob is a no brainer. Adjust to taste, there’s no right or wrong here.
Directly below this is a single knob hi pass filter with preset notches at 50 hz, 80 hz, 160 hz, and 300 hz. It’s no coincidence that these values are staggered with the low shelf notches. Cutting low end overtones with this band is smooth and clean, freeing up the low shelf to get in the cracks and do what it does best, boosting or dipping the level where needed.
In the next example I’ve put the EQ 73 to work. First is the unprocessed version followed by a processed version with some unusual colourful settings. The input is slightly driven going into the EQ stage, and then slightly attenuated as it leaves the plug-in. Notice how the low shelf is set to boost 60 hz while the high pass band is set to cut below 80 hz. Although an unusual choice, the built in gain and slope coupling allows this to create a nice clean tight focused low end. The mid range cut feels almost like a mid band of multi band compression, and the high shelf boost adds a bit more cut than I might normally add, but demonstrates it’s qualities nicely.
Modelled after the Neve 1081 channel strip, the EQ 81 offers the same preamp modelling interaction with the virtual EQ circuitry as described above. The EQ 81 is comprised of four bands of EQ, plus a high and low pass filer contained within a single knob with two virtual dials.
There are several things which make this EQ unique. The low shelf and high shelf bands are notched at different preset frequencies than the EQ 73, giving them a different feel and different colour. The inclusion of a button toggling these bands between shelf and peak modes is a very nice touch. Switching to peak mode allows steep boosting or cutting to sound smoother and more controlled, while shelf mode behaves as expected, with wider band roll offs or boosts. In practice, I found the toggle to yield more of a useful result on the low shelf than the high shelf with the material I tried it on.
The two mid bands offer an additional button each to toggle between two different Q width settings. There is still some very pleasing and musical sounding coupling going on with the respective gain knobs, but two different algorithms are available. And they both yield sonically gratifying results. The two mid bands are each designed with ten notched values in non overlapping frequency ranges. This offers an accurate and broad palette of fixed frequency values to work with.
The EQ 81 is rounded out with a very nice smooth sounding high pass and low pass filter. It feels like they are designed with a gentle slope that is great for rounding out the high and low range of the frequency spectrum without drawing too much attention to themselves. I found the dual dial layout a bit awkward to control with my mouse at first. But once I figured out exactly where to grab for each band, I never had to think about it again.
Here is an example of a short clip first dry, and then processed with the EQ 81. I boosted the low end to give it a bit more oomph, cut away some low mids at 470 k, and boosted the high mids at 4.7 khz. I set the low pass filter to 12 khz. It’s barely perceptible there, but definitely doing it’s job; which is what you want from this sort of unobtrusive filter. I drove the input stage a few db, and compensated at the output stage.
Both the EQ 73 and EQ 81 are rounded out with the standard T-RackS ability to unlink the left and right sides of stereo files for separate processing. Similarly the mid and side signals in M/S encoded files can be treated separately. I don’t often use these functions, but am sure glad they are there when I need them. IK Multimedia added in a phase reverse button as well, which is a very nice touch. I love that the T-RackS interface allows for storing four discreet settings for real time switching and auditioning. I found this very handy with these two EQs. The reset and bypass buttons are useful and placed out of the way so that they are not pressed accidentally. It would be nice to have some bypass buttons for the individual bands. But truthfully, these units really are meant to function as a whole, and not for surgical style operations. So the global bypass button fits the paradigm.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, let me say that I love the preamp modelling! Boosting or cutting the input going into the EQ stage allows you to experiment with the gain adjustments in different ranges. Combined with the Q coupling, this really yields a wide palette of sonic colours from these EQs.
I’ve been a long time T-RackS fan. I think IK Multimedia have hit a home run with the EQ 73 and EQ 81. And there are14 day demos available from the T-RackS Custom Shop. I can see already that I will be reaching for the EQ 73 often to really give some personality to individual tracks. And the EQ 81 for when I want more pinpoint control over specific areas of the frequency spectrum. But both, with their integrated preamp modelling and broad colourful EQ bands, have already changed the way I think about using EQ.