Top 10 Best Parametric EQ Emulation Plugins For DAWs 2021


We’re currently living in the age of digital audio, and in-the-box mixing within a digital audio workstation is commonplace. Plugins are, therefore, invaluable assets for the modern audio engineer. There are plenty of plugins that aim to emulate analog hardware in an attempt to make digital audio sound more like its [arguably] nicer-sounding analog counterpart.

There are plenty of excellent analog parametric equalizers and plugin emulations of such EQs. With so many options to choose from, I’ve compiled what I consider to be the 10 best parametric EQ emulations plugins.

What is parametric audio equalization? Parametric EQ offers full customization of a set number of EQ filters. Each frequency band/filter may have the choice of filter type; centre/cutoff frequency, Q factor/bandwidth, and relative gain (boost/cut). It is the most flexible type of EQ.

Some of the plugins we’ll mention here are emulations of vintage models with semi-parametric designs (they’re without one or more of the typical parametric parameter controls—often adjustable Q control).

To learn more about parametric and semi-parametric EQ, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
The Complete Guide To Parametric Equalization/EQ
What Is Semi-Parametric Equalization/EQ In Audio?

The top 10 best parametric EQ emulation plugins for digital audio workstations are:

  1. Waves SSL G-Equalizer
  2. Waves API 550
  3. Waves Scheps 73
  4. Softube Trident A-Range
  5. IK Multimedia T-RackS EQ 81
  6. Sonnox Oxford R3 EQ
  7. Unique Recording Software URS N MIX EQ
  8. Universal Audio Manley Massive Passive
  9. Softube Curve Bender
  10. Universal Audio Harrison 32C

It should go without saying that any “top X” article is subject to bias. I would expect the next person’s top 10 to be different than mine but hope that there would be plenty of overlap.

That being said, I believe these plugins to be the best parametric EQ emulation plugin options today. The criteria I used to judge these plugins include the following:

  • Sonic performance: how does the parametric EQ emulation plugin sound subjectively/objectively?
  • Graphic user interface (GUI): how does the parametric EQ emulation plugin look when loaded in the DAW?
  • Ease-of-use: how user-friendly is the parametric EQ emulation plugin?
  • Functionality: how many different functions does it serve and/or how many parameters are available for the parametric EQ emulation?
  • Accessibility/compatibility: how easy is it to acquire the parametric EQ emulation plugin, and what are the system requirements?

Let’s discuss each of the top 10 best parametric EQ emulation plugins in greater detail to learn why they made this list.


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Waves SSL G-Equalizer

The Waves SSL G-Equalizer (link to check the price at Waves) is a 4-band parametric EQ modelled after the great rack-mounted version of the SSL G Series EQ292.

Waves SSL G-Equalizer

The Waves SSL G-Equalizer is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.

Though modelled after the EQ292, Waves’ SSL G-Equalizer offers greater gain change than the E-Series EQ and a slightly different curve. In enhancing the original hardware design, Waves has also included a pre-boost dip and a pre-cut rise and a broader Q for more extreme equalization.

That being said, the legendary SSL character is spot-on (the plugin is even developed under license from Solid State Logic), and the plugin works great for mixing and mastering. The additional features make it even more powerful, affording more precise problem-solving control.

In addition to the 4 parametric bands, the G-Equalizer offers a frequency-variable high-pass filter (16 Hz – 350 Hz) with an 18 dB/octave roll-off slope.

To learn more about high-pass filters, check out my article Audio EQ: What Is A High-Pass Filter & How Do HPFs Work?

Along with the marvellous EQ, this Waves plugin also features a phase reverse switch, master output control, trim button and analogue on/off switch. When turned on, the Analogue setting emulates the noise and subtle harmonic distortion of the classic analog hardware.

All in all, this plugin is a superb emulation of a hardware parametric EQ, giving it a spot on this list.

For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Waves SSL 4000 Collection user manual.

Waves Audio is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World.

Solid State Logic is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best Audio Interface Brands In The World
Top 11 Best DAW Control Surface Brands In The World
Top 10 Best Live Sound Mixing Board/Console Brands
Top 13 Best Microphone Preamplifier Brands In The World
Top 10 Best Studio Recording/Mixing Console Brands
Top 11 Best Audio Compressor Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Audio Brands For 500 Series Modules/Equipment


Waves API 550

The Waves API 550A | 550B (link to check the price at Waves) are two semi-parametric EQ plugins modelled after the famed API equalizers of the same name.

Waves API 550A
Waves API 550B

The Waves API 550A and B are compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.

Since I couldn’t decide which emulation is better, I decided to offer both the 550A and 550B as their own list item in this article. Each of these 500 Series parametric EQs is legendary in its own right, and Waves has, as per usual, done an amazing job programming their sonic character into audio plugins.

To learn more about 500 Series modules and EQs, check out my article What Is 500 Series Audio Equipment & Is It Worth It?

Waves API 550A is a 3-Band parametric equalizer with 5 fixed frequency points per band. Since the late 1960s, the API 550A has been making a name for itself as a high-end studio staple.

Each of the 550A’s 3 overlapping bands has 5 frequency options and 11 points of gain. Its high and low-frequency ranges are individually selectable as either peaking or shelving, and a band-pass filter can be inserted independently of all other settings.

To learn more about band-pass filters, check out my article Audio EQ: What Is A Band-Pass Filter & How Do BPFs Work?

Waves API 550B is a 4-Band parametric equalizer with 7 fixed frequency points per band, furthering the technology found in the earlier 550A.

Each of the 4 overlapping bands of the 550B offers 7 frequency options spanning 5 octaves per band and 11 points of gain. Waves’ 550B also emulates the 550B’s “Proportional Q” automatically widens the filter bandwidth at minimal settings and narrows it at higher settings.

Both equalizers offer a vast range of tonal possibilities, and Waves does a superb job at recreating this pair of versatile EQs and the one-of-a-kind API sound.

For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Waves API 550 user manual.

API is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 13 Best Microphone Preamplifier Brands In The World
Top 10 Best Studio Recording/Mixing Console Brands
Top 11 Best Audio Compressor Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Audio Brands For 500 Series Modules/Equipment

Other noteworthy API 550A & 550B plugin emulations include:


Waves Scheps 73

The Waves Scheps 73 (link to check the price at Waves) is a 3-band semi-parametric EQ modeled on the classic Neve 1073 console’s EQ.

Waves Scheps 73

The Waves API 550 A and B are compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.

This colourful parametric EQ emulation plugin features 3 interrelated bands based on the 1073’s original specs and precisely mimic the original hardware. From the EQ and preamps to the acclaimed Marinair transformer, Waves has precisely recreated the sonic characteristics of the 1073.

Use the fixed 12kHz high-shelf band, parametric mid-range and low-shelf band, and the frequency-variable 8dB/octave high-pass filter to shape the tone of the signal.

To learn more about low and high shelving filters, check out my article Audio Shelving EQ: What Are Low Shelf & High Shelf Filters?

This stereo EQ plugin offers independent control over the left and right channels, and thanks to Waves’ MX matrix, it also allows for mid-side equalization processing.

To learn more about stereo and mid-side equalization, check out the following My New Microphone articles, respectively:
What Is Stereo Equalization/EQ In Audio & How Does It Work?
What Is Mid-Side Equalization/EQ (Audio) & How Does It Work?

The warm, fat, and rich sound of the Waves Scheps 73 works perfectly for tracking/recording, mixing and mastering alike. This EQ plugin truly brings the “analog sound” to the digital audio workstation.

For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Waves Scheps 73 user manual.

AMS Neve is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World
Top 13 Best Microphone Preamplifier Brands In The World
Top 10 Best Studio Recording/Mixing Console Brands

Other noteworthy Neve 1073 plugin emulations include:


Softube Trident A-Range

The Softube Trident A-Range (link to check the price at Plugin Boutique) is a very specific semi-parametric EQ emulation, modelled exactly after channel 15 of the Trident A-Range at Sweet Silence Studio ‘B’ in Denmark.

Softube Trident A-Range

The Softube Trident A-Range is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.

Though only 13 A-Range consoles were ever created, the console has become a legendary piece of audio equipment. With modern technology, Softube brings this rare legend to DAWs around the world with the Trident A-Range EQ. Created together with original designer Professor Malcolm Toft, this plugin is as close to the real deal as you’ll get.

This musical EQ has 4 frequency bands that have a way of interacting in rather unpredictable ways. Of course, the EQ wouldn’t be so beloved if its unpredictability sounded awful. Rather, with this EQ (and Softube’s emulation of it), the results are often greater than what could be expected.

Along with the 4 semi-parametric bands, the Softube Trident A-Range also featured a high and low-pass filter, each with 3 selectable cutoff frequencies.

To learn more about low-pass filters, check out my article Audio EQ: What Is A Low-Pass Filter & How Do LPFs Work?

In addition to equalization, Softube has featured a separate Saturation control that provides that vintage analog warmth.

For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Trident A-Range at Softube.

Softube is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World
Top 11 Best DAW Control Surface Brands In The World

Trident is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 10 Best Studio Recording/Mixing Console Brands.


IK Multimedia T-RackS EQ 81

The IK Multimedia T-RackS EQ 81 (link to check the price at Sweetwater) is an emulation of the legendary Neve 1081 parametric EQ unit.

IK Multimedia T-RackS EQ 81

The IK Multimedia T-RackS EQ 81 is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.

IK Multimedia has done an excellent job of capturing the legendary British warmth and tone of the classic Neve 1081 EQ with its T-RackS EQ 81 plugin. This plugin pushes the functionality even further and can be thought of as an evolution of the original rather than a perfect recreation.

The T-RackS EQ 81 features four independent bands (high/low shelving, plus two midrange peaking filters) rounded out by high and low pass filters. The plugin’s tonality is remarkably analog-like, but more surgical equalization is made available compared to the original. This way, users get the best of analog and digital worlds with this IK equalizer.

Arguably semi-parametric (with continuously variable Q controls), the EQ 81 features 2 mid-range bands with switchable “High Q” and 2 outer shelving bands with switchable peaking mode for more articulate tone shaping.

The musical interaction between the preamp and equalizer has been recreated with this EQ plugin, making it a go-to choice in tracking/recording and mixing. This EQ plugin sounds great and works tremendously well.

For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the EQ 81 system requirements at IK Multimedia.

IK Multimedia is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Virtual/Software Instrument Plugin Brands.


Sonnox Oxford R3 EQ

The Sonnox Oxford R3 EQ (link to check the price at Sweetwater) is an emulation of the superb Sony OXF-R3 digital console parametric EQ.

Sonnox Oxford R3 EQ

The Sonnox Oxford R3 EQ is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX DSP/Native, AU and VST formats.

Sonnox’s Oxford R3 is actually the company’s flagship EQ. It’s wildly powerful, and, unlike the other emulations on this list, the R3 models a digital parametric equalizer (from the million-dollar Sony OXF-R3 digital console) rather than an analog EQ.

The user-friendly interface of the Sonnox Oxford R3 EQ makes it a joy to use. Its 5-band parametric EQ is easily adjustable and includes variable-slope HP/LP filters.

Each of the 5 parametric EQ bands can be set to its own distinct filter type, of which there are 4 options:

  • Clinical EQ similar to the SSL4000 E series
  • Tighter ‘cut’ for removing problem frequencies
  • Classic EQ similar to Neve and SSL G series curves
  • Wide and gentle curves perfect for mastering

A 5th filter type (an exact emulation of the highly regarded GML-8200 EQ hardware unit) is available as a paid upgrade.

Whether we’re mixing or mastering, getting surgical or being gentle, the Sonnox Oxford R3 EQ is a parametric EQ plugin that will get the job done in a simple, straightforward manner.

For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Sonnox Oxford R3 EQ user manual.


Unique Recording Software URS N-MIX EQ

The Unique Recording Software URS N Series (link to check the price at Sweetwater) is a parametric EQ plugin modelled after Neve’s 1084 vintage Five Band Equalizer.

Unique Recording Software URS N-MIX EQ

The Unique Recording Software URS N-MIX EQ is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in TDM, MIX, AS, AU, VST and RTAS formats.

This digital recreation of the Neve 1084 vintage equalizer is among the best of the best parametric EQ plugins, giving it a definite place in this list. It’s a very broad-banded and musical equalizer (no surgery here) and, like the hardware unit it’s modelled after, makes a great choice for shaping the tone of practically any source.

Unique Recording Software’s URS N-MIX EQ is extremely well laid out, making it easy to dial in the perfect EQ from the very first use. The plugin offers the following filters:

  • High-pass filter (selectable 45Hz, 70Hz, 160Hz and 360Hz cutoff frequency)
  • Low-shelf filter (35 Hz, 60 Hz, 110 Hz and 220 Hz)
  • LMF, MF and HMF peak filters (350 Hz, 700 Hz, 1.6 kHz, 3.2 kHz, 4.8 kHz and 7 kHz)
  • High-shelf (10kHz, 12kHz and 16kHz)
  • Low-pass filter (6kHz, 8kHz, 10kHz, 14kHz and 18kHz cutoff frequency)

Each filter has its own adjustable Q, variable gain between ±12dB and 12 dB/octave slope. The “Hi-Q” button on the mid-band selects a narrower bandwidth.

The beautifully musical equalizer is a fantastic choice on pretty much anything that doesn’t need surgical subtractive EQ.

For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the URS N MIX at Unique Recording Software.

Other noteworthy Neve 1084 plugin emulations include:


Universal Audio Manley Massive Passive

The UAD Manley Massive Passive (link to check the price at Universal Audio) is the plugin version of the world-class Manley Laboratories Massive Passive passive parametric stereo equalizer.

UAD Manley Massive Passive

The Universal Audio Manley Massive Passive, like all UAD plugins, requires UAD hardware to function with your DAW. UAD hardware is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS, and the plugins are available in AAX, AU and VST formats.

UAD’s Manley Massive Passive has been officially licensed and endorsed by Manley Labs. If the Universal Audio branding didn’t sell this plugin as world-class, this endorsement surely will!

The incredible performance of the hardware Manley Massive Passive has made it a legendary passive equalizer, sought after by studio owners around the world. In typical fashion, UAD has expertly packaged the sound and performance of this superior hardware unit into an easily navigated (and relatively inexpensive) audio plugin.

From the unusual filter curves and multiple band interdependencies to the tube amplifier distortion and characteristic transformer/inductor hysteresis, this UAD plugin mimics its model with pristine accuracy.

The plugin comes in standard and mastering versions.

Access 2 stereo channels, each with 4 parametric bands of passive filtering. Dial-in punch, air, sizzle, and clarity without adding harshness in the equalization section and follow it up with the analog character in this top-of-the-line plugin.

For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the UAD Plug-Ins Manual.

Manley Laboratories is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Audio Compressor Brands In The World


Softube Curve Bender

The Softube Curve Bender (link to check the price at Plugin Boutique) is a parametric EQ emulation modelled after the Chandler Limited Curve Bender, which was itself modelled after the legendary EMI TG12345 console of Abbey Road Studio fame.

Softube Curve Bender

The Softube Curve Bender is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX DSP/Native, AU and VST formats. It also works perfectly in Softube’s Softube Console 1.

Softube’s Curve Bender has been fully endorsed by the creator of the original hardware, Wade Goeke. With presets from Joe Chicarelli, Tony Maserati, Howard Willing, Kevin Kadish, and Maor Appelbaum, this plugin has been blessed not only by expert programmers but also by expert audio engineers. It’s that good.

With component-level modelling of the original germanium and inductor circuits, Softube has achieved the controllability and superior sound quality of this monumental EQ in a plugin. Legendary tone shaping capabilities are now available in DAWs around the world.

The EQ of the Curve Bender is delightfully gentle and musical, and its sonic character helps to improve the sound of tracks before any of the bands are even touched. It’s particularly effective for mastering but also works exceedingly well during the mixing stages.

This plugin offers two more bands than the original for a total of 4 incredible parametric filter bands. There are 51 fixed frequency points, various Q values and superb gain control. There are also low and high pass filters to truly enhance the equalizer’s design.

In addition to superb stereo equalization, the Curve Bender also offers mid-side processing. It’s fully reminiscent of the superb character of the EMI TG12345, with all the functionality one could expect from a top plugin.

For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Softube Chandler Limited user manual.

Chandler Limited is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Audio Compressor Brands In The World


Universal Audio Harrison 32C

The Universal Audio Harrison 32C (link to check the price at Universal Audio) is a plugin emulation of the Harrison four-band 32C channel EQ from Bruce Swedien’s own Harrison 32 Series console.

Universal Audio Harrison 32C

The Universal Audio Harrison 32C, like all UAD plugins, requires UAD hardware to function with your DAW. UAD hardware is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS, and the plugins are available in AAX, AU and VST formats.

UAD has partnered with Harrison Consoles Ltd. and engineer Bruce Swedien to develop a plugin recreation of the classic Harrison 32C Channel EQ. If any plugin developer can replicate a piece of legendary hardware, it’s Universal Audio.

This colourful, rich semi-parametric EQ features 4 overlapping parametric bands, a 12 dB/octave high-pass and low-pass filter, and output gain control. Each of the bands has fully sweepable frequency and gain parameters, and the low band can even be switched from a peak to a shelf filter. Though there’s no Q control, the modelled circuitry of the 32C automatically adjusts the effective bandwidth as the gain is varied, which is a large part of the EQ’s distinct sonic flavour.

When it comes to mixing, the Harrison 32C Channel EQ is a top performer. The UAD plugin emulation of this channel EQ is also a fantastic choice, plus it costs less and can be used on pretty much every channel of a DAW session.

For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the UAD Plug-Ins Manual.


Noteworthy Channel Strip Plugins With Superb Parametric EQ

As a sort of “honourable mentions” section, I’d like to point out a few channel strip plugins that emulate real hardware and feature top-of-the-line parametric EQ. Though the following plugins aren’t strictly “parametric EQ plugins” or “semi-parametric EQ plugins”, they do offer these equalizer types as part of their overall functionality.

A few notable channel strip plugins with superb parametric EQ are:

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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