Top 8 Best Passive EQ Emulation Plugins For Your DAW In 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 passive equalizers and plugin emulations of such EQs. With so many options to choose from, I’ve compiled what I consider to be the 8 best passive EQ emulations plugins.

What is a passive equalizer? A passive EQ uses passive filters to sculpt the frequency content of audio signals. However, these equalizers are powered devices and have amplification (either tube-based or solid-state) to apply makeup gain (and even boosting capabilities) for the passive filters.

For more information on passive equalization, check out my article The Complete Guide To Passive Equalization/EQ.

The top 8 best parametric EQ emulation plugins for digital audio workstations are:

  1. Softube Tube-Tech Equalizer Collection (PE 1C & ME 1B)
  2. Waves PuigTec EQs
  3. SPL PassEQ
  4. Waves RS56
  5. PSP Audioware NobleQ
  6. Ignite Amps PTeq-X
  7. UAD Pultec Passive EQ Collection
  8. UAD Manley Massive Passive

It should go without saying that any “top X” article is subject to bias. I would expect the next person’s top 8 to be different from mine, but I hope there would be plenty of overlap.

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

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

To learn why they made this list, let’s discuss each of the top 8 best passive EQ emulation plugins in greater detail.


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Softube Tube-Tech Equalizer Collection (PE 1C & ME 1B)

The Softube Tube-Tech Equalizer Collection (link to check the price at Plugin Boutique) combines two classic Tube-Tech equalizers programmed into plugins in partnership with Softube. The Tube-Tech PE 1C and ME 1B legacy versions are combined into a superb passive EQ emulation plugin.

Softube Tube-Tech Equalizer Collection (PE 1C & ME 1B)

The Softube Tube-Tech Equalizer Collection is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.

Tube-driven passive EQs have been go-to tools in studios around the world for quite some time. The added weight and character of the PE 1C and ME 1B equalizers have made them staples in many high-end studios. Softube emulates these characteristics with near-perfection in this two-for-one plugin.

These EQs sound incredible on drums, synths, vocals, guitars, strings, brass and pretty much every other sound source. The plugin works marvellously well in any genre.

Softube and Tube-Tech have combined these two EQs into a single plugin for improved workflow and signal processing. Use the emulations one at a time or together for superb sonic results.

This combo plugin doesn’t only sound great. It also looks phenomenal, thanks to Softube’s focus on high-res graphics.

Of course, the Tube-Tech EQs are based on the legendary Pultec passive equalizers, which happen to be the poster children of this EQ style. The PE 1C mimics the EQP-1A, while the ME 1B is a recreation of the MEQ-5. Together, they complement each other perfectly, with each separate EQ capable of adjusting frequencies the other is unable to. When used in tandem, they become a fully functional equalizer with tons of character, captured perfectly by Tube-Tech hardware and, now, Softube plugins.

Note that emulations of the Pultec EQP-1A and MEQ-5 will be a common theme throughout this article.

For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Tube-Tech EQ Collection 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

Tube-Tech is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Audio Compressor Brands In The World.


Waves PuigTec EQs (EQP-1A & MEQ-5)

The Waves PuigTec EQs (link to check the price at Waves Audio) are another two-for-one plugin that emulates the renowned Pultec EQP-1A and MEQ-5 passive equalizers. More specifically, these plugins replicate the sound of the original handcrafted Pultec EQs owned by the one and only Jack Joseph Puig. In fact, these plugins are part of a larger partnership between Waves Audio and Puig.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_Waves_PuigTech_EQs.jpg
Waves PuigTec EQs

The Waves PuigTec EQs are compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and come in AAX, AU and VST formats.

The Pultec EQP-1A is well known and cherished for its ability to boost and cut the “same frequency” simultaneously (actually, there is a slight offset between the cut and boost frequencies). The end result of such a design is the ability to produce characteristic resonant shelves that have become of the EQ’s legendary sound.

In addition to the superb EQP-1A, Waves has also emulated Puig’s handcrafted PuigTec MEQ-5 mid-range EQ. As we’ve discussed previously, the two passive equalizers work together to comprise a full-range vintage EQ chain. Waves offers this superb sound in easy-to-use, visually appealing plugins.

The EQP-1A is beloved for the following reasons:

  • The Low-Frequency band provides a low-shelf Boost and/or Attenuation at four distinct cutoff points. Applied simultaneously, the Boost and Attenuation create a resonant shelf.
  • High Band Boost provides a high bell-filter boost with 7 cutoff points and adjustable Q.
  • High Band Attenuation provides high-shelf attenuation at 3 cutoff points.
  • Gain controls the signal gain of the EQ.

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

The MEQ-5 complements the EQP-1A in the following ways:

  • The Low Mid Peak band provides 5 cutoff points and up to 10dB of boost.
  • The Mid Dip band provides 11 cutoff points and up to 10dB of attenuation.
  • The Hi Mid band provides 5 cutoff points and up to 10dB of boost.
  • Gain controls the signal gain of the EQ.

For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the PuigTec EQs at Waves.

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

Pultec is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World.


SPL PassEQ

The SPL PassEQ (link to check the price at Plugin Alliance) is the plugin emulation of the powerful SPL PassEQ hardware. It was developed by Brainworx in cooperation with SPL.

SPL PassEQ

The SPL PassEQ is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.

Looking at the image of the PassEQ, we can see that it has quite a few more controls than the aforementioned Pultec emulations. Brainworx diligently reproduced the original hardware PassEQ to capture the unique sound characteristics of the passive analog equalizer. The deeply complex nature of the many available filters has been made available in plugin format.

This passive EQ emulation plugin features two channels and can be set up in stereo, stereo linked (where channel 1 controls the EQ of both channels) or mid-side (where channel 1 controls EQ for the mid information and channel 2 controls EQ for the side information). The PassEQ plugin also comes in a mono version for mono tracks.

To learn more about mid-side EQ, check out my article What Is Mid-Side Equalization/EQ (Audio) & How Does It Work?

Each channel has 6 individual bands (3 for cutting and 3 for boosting) with 12 switchable frequencies. That equals out to be a whopping 36 potential boosts and cuts per channel. While maintaining the beautiful character of passive equalization (including the emulation of input and output transformers), the SPL PassEQ also offers an abundance of EQ curve possibilities.

Brainworx has done great work when it comes to emulating the original hardware PassEQ. One stand-out characteristic worth mentioning is that as one band changes, the plugin will also affect, to varying degrees, all other bands. In other words, with this passive EQ, all bands are interconnected in processing the audio signal. This special functionality of passive equalization and, particularly the SPL PassEQ, has been perfectly recreated in this software.

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

SPL 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

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


Waves RS56

The Waves RS56 (link to check the price at Waves Audio) is an emulation of the 1950’s RS56 Universal Tone Control passive EQ from Abbey Road Studios. Amicably referred to as “The Curve Bender”, the RS56 was used during recording, mixing and what would become mastering for its enhanced control over the equalization curve of the audio signal passing through it.

Waves RS56

The Waves RS56 is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.

The RS56 plugin is part of a successful partnership between Waves Audio and Abbey Road Studios. The original unit, like the mixing console in Abbey Road Studio, was developed by EMI. Waves Audio and Abbey Road Studios have come together to recapture the magic of this superb passive EQ in plugin form using advanced circuit modeling to program the original schematics.

The Waves RS56 has 3 separate bands, each with 4 selectable centre frequencies and 6 different filter types. Like the original stereo version, which was far before its time, the RS56 plugin offers independent or linked control over the left and right channels.

The original RS56 provided ±10 dB of cut/boost in 2 dB increments. Waves has changed this design to offer additional flexibility by offering ±20 dB of cut/boost in 0.1 dB increments.

Part of the superb emulation done by Waves has to do with intricate modeling of the high-value capacitors and inductors of the filters, along with the make-up gain circuit based on V72 amplifiers (as found in the REDD.17 and REDD.37 consoles).

For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the RS56 user manual.


PSP Audioware NobleQ

The PSP Audioware NobleQ (link to check the price at Sweetwater), though not an emulation of a specific hardware unit, is clearly inspired by the legendary Pultec EQP-1A. This excellent plugin emulates the sound of passive equalization in a software plugin that sounds and looks incredible.

PSP Audioware NobleQ

The PSP Audioware NobleQ is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU, VST and RTAS formats.

The PSP Audioware NobleQ is a passive program EQ offering adjustable low and high-pass filters, low-shelf and high-shelf filters, and boost and attenuation. It’s a highly musical EQ that adds warmth to the signals it processes and sounds amazing on practically all sources.

To learn more about high-pass and low-pass filters, check out the following My New Microphone articles, respectively:
Audio EQ: What Is A High-Pass Filter & How Do HPFs Work?
Audio EQ: What Is A Low-Pass Filter & How Do LPFs Work?

This versatile passive EQ plugin is programmed with a unique rounding algorithm and double sampling to achieve its tube-like sonic character. Like many of the other EQs on this list, the NobleQ offers quite a lot of functionality. Each control will interact with the others to make this plugin EQ sound like a legitimate analog passive equalizer.

Indeed, with the NobleQ, we get a best-of-both-worlds scenario where the smoothness of a passive EQ is obtainable with additional finely-controllable parameters for improved functionality.

For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the NobleQ at PSP Audioware.

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


Ignite Amps PTeq-X

The Ignite Amps PTeq-X (link to check the price at Ignite Amps) is a free passive EQ plugin that digitally emulates 3 famous passive Pultec equalizers. In addition to the famed EQP-1A and MEQ-5, the Ignite Amps PTeq-X also emulates the lesser-known but equally awesome HLF-3C.

Ignite Amps PTeq-X

The Ignite Amps PTeq-X is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AU and VST formats.

Don’t let the price tag (or lack thereof) fool you. The Ignite Amps PTeq-X is a superb plugin. The company has programmed this three-for-one plugin to emulate all the beloved characteristics of the original Pultec hardware units. It has even gone so far as to include additional features to improve versatility.

Whether the task is tracking, mixing or mastering, the Ignite Amps PTeq-X is a professional-grade free plugin available to any DAW with VST or AU plug-in support (so, pretty much any DAW besides Pro Tools).

The 3 different EQ modules work together to provide a fully functional passive EQ emulation with tons of functionality. This plugin sounds distinctly analog and provides beautiful curve responses. In addition to tone sculpting, the PTeq-X features Ignite Amps’s 3rd generation triode stage analog modelling for 4 different tube types. This allows for superb versatility in sonic character and performance.

All controls are fully automatable, and the emulations offer additional frequency options over the original Pultec designs. There is switchable linear-phase oversampling for aliasing reduction along with mono and stereo processing support for a truly remarkable emulation of these classic passive EQ units.

To learn more about linear phase EQ and stereo EQ, check out the following My New Microphone articles, respectively:
The Complete Guide To Linear Phase Equalization/EQ
What Is Stereo Equalization/EQ In Audio & How Does It Work?

For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the PTeq-X at Ignite Amps.


UAD Pultec Passive EQ Collection (EQP-1A, MEQ-5 & HLF-3C)

The UAD Pultec Passive EQ Collection (link to check the price at Universal Audio), like the previously mentioned Ignite Amps PTeq-X, is another three-for-one based on the Pultec EQP-1A, MEQ-5 and HLF-3C. UAD actually separates these plugins into a collection/bundle of plugins.

However, since we’ve been discussing the inter-dependent between these Pultec-style passive EQs, I’ve decided to offer all three as a single list item in the article. Not to mention that UAD only sells these plugins as a bundle.

UAD Pultec Passive EQ Collection

The UAD Pultec Passive EQ Collection, 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.

Like any of Universal Audio Digital’s plugin emulations, these passive EQ plugins are incredibly accurate in recreating the sonic character and functionality of the original units. UAD has made a name for itself as one of the best plugin companies with the most intensive modeling research.

So then, it makes sense for the Pultec Passive EQ Collection to make an appearance on such a list as this. These plugins have been meticulously programmed to breathe and perform just like the original Pultec EQs from the 1950s.

Whether it’s tracking, mixing or mastering, these superb EQs can sculpt the sound to improve clarity or solely be used to add adored analog character to the signal without any boosting or attenuation.

Like the original hardware they emulate, these plugins can be dialled in subtly or pushed to the extreme while maintaining their legendary musicality. The original hardware’s overbuilt transformers and complex tube amplifiers have been precisely coded into this software to provide users with the next best thing to these physical devices.

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

Universal Audio is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Audio Interface Brands In The World
Top 13 Best Microphone Preamplifier Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Audio Compressor Brands In The World


UAD Manley Massive Passive

The UAD Manley Massive Passive (link to check the price at Plugin Boutique) is another superb UAD passive EQ plugin. This time, it’s an emulation of the well-known Manley Laboratories Massive Passive EQ unit. This plugin has been officially licenced and endorsed by Manley Labs and does a wonderful job of reproducing the magical performance of the original Manley hardware.

UAD Manley Massive Passive

The UAD 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.

The UAD Manley Massive Passive is also featured in My New Microphone’s Top 10 Best Parametric EQ Emulation Plugins For DAWs.

This UAD emulation nails the character of the Manley Massive Passive. A character made possible by unique filter curves, multiband interdependencies, tube amplifier distortion and transformer and inductor colouration. The Manley Massive Passive has everything we could want from a passive EQ unit, and the UAD plugin emulates this EQ unit with perfection.

This passive EQ has 2 channels and 4 bands per channel. It’s a modern passive EQ unit with carefully selected passive components (resistors, inductors, capacitors) in the filter circuits. The parameters all interact with each other, as do the gain and bandwidth controls, making this a truly natural-sounding unit. Expert modeling has made it possible for UAD to recreate this organic-sounding passive tube EQ in an easy-to-use and relatively affordable plugin.

Add musical punch, air, sizzle, and clarity to individual tracks, mix buses or master chains without harshness with the highly recommended UAD Manley Massive Passive.

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


Choosing the best audio plugins for your DAW can be a challenging task. For this reason, I’ve created My New Microphone’s Comprehensive Audio Plugins Buyer’s Guide. Check it out for help in determining your next audio plugin purchases.


Other Top Audio Plugin Articles

Here are additional My New Microphone articles regarding the best audio plugins by type:
Top 11 Best Distortion Plugins For Your DAW
Top 11 Best Saturation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 11 Best Digital Equalizer/EQ Plugins For Your DAW
Top 10 Best Digital Parametric EQ Plugins For Your DAW
Top 10 Best Dynamic EQ Plugins For Your DAW
Top 8 Best Graphic EQ Plugins For Your DAW
Top 10 Best Linear Phase EQ Plugins For Your DAW
Top 10 Best Parametric EQ Emulation Plugins For DAWs
Top 11 Best Digital Compressor Plugins For Your DAW
Top 11 Best FET Compressor Emulation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 10 Best Optical Compressor Emulation Plugins
Top 10 Best Multiband Compressor Plugins For Your DAW
Top 11 Best Variable-Mu Compressor Emulation Plugins
Top 11 Best VCA Compressor Emulation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 10 Best Limiter Plugins For Your DAW
Top 11 Best Channel Strip Plugins For Your DAW
Top 11 Best Chorus Modulation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 9 Best Flanger Modulation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 9 Best Phaser Modulation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 11 Best Tremolo Modulation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 10 Best Analog Delay Emulation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 10 Best Digital Delay Plugins For Your DAW
Top 10 Best Tape Delay Emulation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 12 Best Reverb Plugins (Spring, Plate, Algorithmic, Convolution)
Top 9 Best Stereo Imaging Plugins For Your DAW
Top 11 Best Guitar Amp Simulator Plugins For Your DAW
Top 7 Best Noise Reduction Plugins For Your DAW


This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.

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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