FabFilter released its latest EQ plugin, “Pro-Q 3” in November 2018, and claims that it offers everything that sound engineers could ever need in an equalizer plugin.
It’s packed with unique features, including all those present in the past two iterations and many new features exclusive to the Pro-Q 3, for example, the dynamic EQ mode.
This article will review Pro-Q 3 by FabFilter and what it offers compared to other EQ plugins in the market.
FabFilter Pro-Q 3 Review
FabFilter is known for making visually detailed and impressive-sounding plugins with easy-to-use interfaces. Here they are again with yet another show stopper, “Pro-Q 3”, with a familiar design but packing many more features under the hood.
A lot of questions come to mind whenever one considers buying a plugin:
- What’s all the fuss about?
- Should I buy it?
- Is it worth the $179?
- Will it be any better than the stock EQ in my DAW?
I will try to answer all these questions in this post.
- Sound Quality and Filters
Pro-Q 3 offers fantastic sound quality and does not color the sound, thus staying extremely transparent. The capability of using up to 24 bands in one instance is more than enough, even in very complex surgical operations. Bands can be placed just by double-clicking anywhere on the visual spectrum.
In addition to standard Bell, Notch, High/Low Shelf, High/Low Cut, Band Pass filters, Pro-Q 3 also offers Flat Tilt and Tilt Shelf filters that can be used to tilt the spectrum around a specific frequency with or without using a flat curve respectively. The ultra-steep ‘Brick-wall’ slope setting for low pass and high pass filters is the highlight. (fig a1, fig a2)
Brick Wall Slope (fig a2)
Filters (fig a1)
- Spectrum Analyzer
An excellent built-in spectrum analyzer with Pre-EQ, Post-EQ, external spectrum visualization, and collision detection is available. Pre-EQ and Post-EQ analysis are pervasive in many EQs, but Pro-Q 3 stole the show with its external spectrum visualization and collision detection. All these analyzers and features can be toggled using the “Analyzer” pop-up menu.
- External Spectrum Visualization and Collision Detection
The first will allow us to view the visual spectrum of any instance of Pro-Q 3 on another, so we can manually identify where the frequencies might be conflicting, but collision detection makes it easier to identify the conflicting frequency region by turning them red.
For example, we have an instance of Pro-Q 3 on a bass track and another on the kick track. By turning on these features on the bass instance and selecting the kick instance in the analyzer tab, we can see the kick’s visual spectrum on this instance, and the red-colored areas would be the problematic regions. So, in this case, we can easily sculpt the bass frequencies to make way for the kick to shine.
- Auto Gain
Let’s say you made a lot of boosts or cuts using the EQ, and now you’re not sure whether the changes you made actually made the sound better or you are just being fooled by the change in volume. To counter this, typically, we have to gain match the output signal after all the processing manually, but Pro-Q 3 has a better solution called “Auto gain.”
The EQ will gain match the output signal volume to the input signal volume in real-time while you are making changes to the sound. Although the results are not perfect, it is a beneficial tool to analyze your decisions quickly.
- EQ Match
This allows us to automatically match the spectrum of the current instance to another instance of Pro-Q 3 or any side-chained signal. It is beneficial where we need to match a reference signal acoustically. We can toggle it by pressing “EQ Match” in the analyzer pop-up menu.
Then we can select a reference Pro-Q 3 instance or any side chain as a reference.
And finally, selecting “Match” to automatically create nodes to match the reference EQ.
A slider will allow us the fine-tune the algorithm.
- Processing Modes
Pro-Q 3 offers three processing modes, Zero Latency, Natural Phase, and Linear phase mode. Without getting too technical, I will try to explain these modes’ purposes and how they differ. Phase distortion occurs when an audio signal is equalized. If the phase distortion is equal at all frequencies, it is linear; else, it is non-linear. So these processing modes are basically responsible for different kinds of phase distortions.
- Zero Latency mode is Pro-Q 3’s most efficient processing mode and absolutely sufficient for most applications, as stated on FabFilter’s official website.
- Natural Phase mode perfectly matches the magnitude response of analog EQs, delivering the most accurate frequency response.
- Linear phase mode only changes the magnitude of the audio while leaving the phase untouched. Linear Phase mode has a 5 stage adjustable latency from low to maximum.
- Other Important Features
- Pro-Q 3 offers multiple display ranges. 12 dB and 30 dB for mixing while 3 dB and 6 dB range for mastering, so you don’t end up making drastic changes in the mastering EQ process.
- Phase inverting / polarity is toggle-able at the press of a button.
- A large output level meter is available. The output meter offers peak level readouts. Panning the left/right signals is possible from within the EQ.
- Auditioning is possible using the undo/redo and the A/B comparison options.
- Multiple speakers selection option with full surround sound support is available while supporting up to Dolby Atmos 7.1.2.
- A very detailed help with hints is available.
A lot of essential features of Pro-Q 3 have already been discussed above, and it already seems like an excellent plugin, but the following features will surely seal the deal.
- Dynamic EQ Mode
Fabfilter has finally decided to jump the bandwagon of Dynamic EQs. Dynamic EQ is basically an EQ that acts as a compressor or expander at different bands. Pro-Q 3 is offering optional dynamic EQ mode for all Bell and Shelf shapes. Any band can be converted to a dynamic band by merely clicking on the rim of the gain knob in the HUD. It gives the option to manually set the threshold or set the side chain to trigger its response.
We should note that FabFilter is also offering a dedicated multi-band compressor knows as “Pro-MB,” but that is another article topic.
- Heads Up Display
Two HUDs are available for each band. One is the mini HUD above the band, and the other is the mega HUD below the band.
- Mini HUD
The mini HUD allows us to toggle a node on/off to audition the change and to change the filter shape. It shows the frequency, gain change and Q information. The band can be deleted simply by pressing the small “X.” One of the essential features that the mini HUD packs is the intelligent solo mode.
Each band can be individually soloed by pressing the little headphones icon to audition and hear the band’s effect. Plus, it is sweep-able, so it can also help in finding problematic frequencies.
- Mega HUD
The mega HUD offers a more sophisticated set of information and controls. Each band can be toggled on/off by a little power button, and filter change is possible from a pop-up menu. It has three giant knobs, first is for sweeping and selecting the band frequency from 10 Hz to 20 kHz. The middle knob is for adjusting the gain of the selected band, and the last is to change the band’s Q.
Pro-Q 3 assigns a different color to each band, and whichever band we select, the HUD takes the color highlight of that node. It is useful because various bands can be selected by pressing the little left and right arrows on the HUD.
- Zoom and Full Screen
Pro-Q 3 offers five zoom sizes ranging from mini to extra large. We can select different sizes by using the drop-down list opened by pressing the double arrows at the plugin’s bottom right. Notice in the image that some sizes may be unavailable due to the screen resolution of the target display.
In addition to these multiple sizes, Pro-Q 3 can also be used in full-screen mode. The full-screen mode can be toggled by pressing the little button on the top right corner.
- Piano Roll
We can see the exact frequencies of the selected bands in relation to an 88-key piano. This feature is highly usable in the case of some tuning scenarios. Let’s say we want to tune a kick drum. In such a case, we will try to bring up our required key frequencies in the kick drum spectrum. The piano roll feature will show us all our created nodes on the piano bar, so we can easily decide which frequencies to cut or boost. Any node can be quantized by double-clicking on the piano bar, and all nodes are also slide-able from the piano bar.
This feature can be enabled or disabled by merely pressing the piano button on the interface’s bottom left.
- Midi Learn
This feature is used to assign the parameters of Pro-Q 3 to a physical midi control surface. The steps to achieve this are very simple. First, we will press the “MIDI Learn” button on the bottom left of our instance. This will dim the interface display and allow us to select any parameter that we want to map to our midi controller.
Secondly, we will click the parameter we want to control and adjust the physical knob or fader we wish to assign it to. This way, we will have successfully set the parameter to our midi controller. To exit the midi learn feature, we will click the “MIDI Learn” button again.
- Spectrum Grab
Arguably the most exciting feature of Pro-Q 3 is the spectrum grab feature. This powerful feature can give us visual cues on the visual spectrum, where there might be some energy buildup. To engage this feature, we hover our cursor over the spectrum while audio is playing, and it will come to life and start pointing out possible issues in the audio. The spectrum will have a purple highlight and hold the peaks.
Most obvious peaks will show their frequencies or the piano note if the piano roll is enabled. Now we can grab and drag one of the peaks to adjust the frequency. As soon as we catch a peak, the spectrum grab feature will be disengaged. If we want to modify more than one peak at a time, we will click and hold the purple spectrum highlight until it turns blue, thus enabling the Permanent Spectrum Grab feature.
Spectrum grab is enabled by default in all instances of Pro-Q 3. If this feature is distracting, we can disable it from the analyzer pop-up menu.
- Signal Processing
The next feature is the ability to process Mid/Side or Left/Right signals separately per band. For example, multiple bands in the same instance of Pro-Q 3 can be either mid/side or left/right, so there is no need for EQing in different instances or different windows. The processing modes can be selected by selecting a band and pressing the stereo button on the mega HUD.
Pros & Cons
- Meager processing power and memory requirements.
- Multiple display ranges for mixing and mastering.
- Beautiful and user-friendly interface.
- A large number of bands and filter options.
- Collision detection using numerous instances.
- The EQ match feature does not consider volume differences between the reference and source signals.
- Too much visual information can be distracting or misguiding for our ears. Due to too much visual information, we might be tempted to make changes that wouldn’t seem necessary while mixing using our ears.
FabFilter Pro-Q 3 supports GPU graphics acceleration so that you can have more CPU power for other plugins.
Specifications & Compatibility
FabFilter Pro-Q 3 supports 64-bit and 32-bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista and higher and additional 32-bit Windows XP support. It also supports 64-bit macOS 10.10 and higher and comes in VST/VST3/AU, AAX Native, and AudioSuite formats.
Check the price and more info about FabFilter Pro-Q 3 – trial version is available.
In my opinion, if you’re an experienced audio engineer or even someone who’s just starting, this will be a great addition to your set of tools. If you have the budget for only one EQ plugin and you want an all-in-one pack, then this should be your choice, eyes closed. It will be a wise investment loaded with features for just $179.
Started as a rapper and songwriter back in 2015 then quickly and gradually developed his skills to become a beatmaker, music producer, sound designer and an audio engineer.