Equalizers are essential utilities for any recording musician. They don’t make your sound, but they shape your sound. Given that EQs in Logic Pro X, FL Studio, Ableton Live and other DAWs are powerful and free, is it worth spending extra for a paid equalizer plugin?
Let’s start at the beginning and talk about the installation. This is frustrating in many plugins. But FabFilter makes this straightforward and user-friendly. You simply enter the licence key (which you receive via email after your purchase), enter the text string in the plugin window, and restart it. That’s it. No ilok dongle or account needed. No internet is required either, so you can use FabFilter Pro Q 3 offline. A good start.
When you first open the plugin, you look at a clean, dark interface FabFilter is known for across its plugin range, dominated by the frequency spectrum. No EQ parameters are shown. Instead, you simply see a flat EQ curve, fashioned in “FabFilter Pro Q 3 Yellow”, and the grey realtime analyzer showing the incoming signal. By default, the frequency spectrum extends from 10 Hz up to 30 kHz, with an amplitude of +/- 12 dB. So whether you want to manipulate subsonic whale recordings or ultrasonic bat noises, FabFilter Pro Q 3 is probably going to work for you.
With such a clean interface, how do you actually use the EQ? One easy way is to click on the EQ curve and drag the band up to boost the gain, or down to reduce it. A coloured dot represents each new band, with FabFilter assigning a new colour automatically for each band. The quickest way I found is double-clicking above or below the 0 dB line to create a new band instantly. Its frequency and gain are set relative to where you just double-clicked. Now I am used to Apple Logic Pro X EQ, which also allows dragging each band. But the double click functionality in FabFilter Pro Q 3 is welcome.
When creating new bands, the plugin is intelligent enough to choose a low shelf EQ when creating a band below 30 Hz, a high shelf above 10kHz, and a bell EQ in between (using a default setting of 12 dB/octave, and 0.3 Q for the shelf or 1.0 Q for bell EQ bands). I would have preferred different defaults, as I chose high and low cut filters far more often than shelf EQs, or to have an option for changing the default. But on the whole, creating bands is a breeze.
Changing each band's settings is as quick and intuitive as creating them in the first place. What I loved is how you can change basic settings cleverly with the mouse. Hovering over a band shows a mini display with frequency, gain and Q factor. Using a combination of the mouse wheel and keyboard modifiers, changing the gain, Q factor, of frequency is done in seconds. You can even perform more complicated functions, such as dynamic cuts or boosts using the ALT key with the mouse wheel, or mute a band ALT clicking on a band.
For more precise editing, the lower half reveals a control panel that includes the expected options of filter shape, slope, frequency, and gain.
Filter shapes in FabFilter Pro Q 3 include:
The filter slope (how drastic the filter acts from the centre frequency) can be changed between 6 dB/octave and 96 dB/octave, for every filter. Even a brick wall slope is included, offering a near infinite slope. Gain extends from -30 dB to +30 dB, and the Q factor stretches from extremely wide 0.025 (about 20kHz) to an ultra-narrow 40 (about 100 Hz wide).
Sometimes I found it tricky to identify unwanted resonances in the spectrum, despite like many using a narrowly boosted bell-curved band to find those. To help in those situations, FabFilter Pro Q 3 has a function I have not seen in any other EQ plugin, called Spectrum Grab. When selected, it averages the frequency spectrum over a few seconds and labels precise peaks. All you then have to do is grab a highlighted peak and reduce it with a filter. This works brilliantly in practice, making the tedious job of finding and reducing those nasty resonances a cinch.
“FabFilter is a pleasure to use. With every function in the ‘right’ place, little slows you down.”
FabFilter Pro Q 3 also includes a dynamic EQ function, allowing you to not only statically manipulate the audio spectrum, but also adjust it depending on the input signal. The plugin offers both auto threshold and manual threshold settings, and the side-chain option allows you to dynamically control the gain using an external signal. It works well in practice, and the intuitive interface helps you dial in subtle changes. The Dynamic EQ starts to set FabFilter's EQ apart from others, in particular free EQs, which come with DAWs such as Apple Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, FL Studio, Steinberg Cubase and Avid Protools.
Another handy feature is the Frequency Collision function. This is based on inter-plugin communication, meaning that several FabFilterPro Q 3 instances can communicate. Opening the Analyzer menu at the bottom gives you a list of all instances with real-time spectra. Selecting the Frequency Collision button highlights any build-up of frequencies across tracks.
Using this feature, I was able to reduce clashing bass frequencies, clashing between 40 and 180 Hz in bass and kick tracks, using a dynamic EQ and side chain. The bass track was only reduced when the kick exceeded the threshold I selected, cleaning up the song considerably. This works well, and the frequency spectrum and amount of compression are easily dialled in. If FabFilter added Attack and Release to the Dynamic EQ in the future, this would allow users to be even more precise.
Now whilst the functionality may seem daunting, FabFilterPro Q 3 rarely becomes cluttered or overwhelming due to its stripped-back user interface, which only ever shows what is needed. I appreciated the built-in Help function. Once selected, the plugin shows a comprehensive explanation of the function you hover. The explanations are easy to understand and comprehensive enough, whether you are a beginner or a more advanced user. In practice, that means you can confidently dive into using the plugin, without looking once at the manual. FabFilter is just a pleasure to use. With every function in the ‘right’ place, little slows you down.
However, I encountered some quirks. Changing the gain accurately with the mouse using the big display was rather difficult. I expected to simply click and hold the knob, and then change its value with a vertical up/down movement of the mouse. However, unlike other plugins I am used to with rotary encoders, you have to follow the outside circle of the knob with your mouse instead, making accurate changes tricky. Oddly, changing the auto gain in the dynamic EQ works as expected with up/down mouse movements.
To finish this in-depth review, let's look at some nifty options that FabFilter Pro Q 3 offers to customize its functionality. Over 50 Presets are built into the plugin. Presets for various genres like EDM and instruments such as Guitar, Drums, Mix and Vocals serve as a great starting point. Furthermore, simple settings are included, such as a ready-made flat EQ with 7 bell filters and high and low cut, and the obligatory default setting. You can also experiment with changes using the A/B setting, or using the undo function.
For automating filter settings, a MIDI Learn function is included, and FabFilter Pro Q 3 offers three settings of zero latency, natural phase and linear phase. You can choose an EQ match function to automatically create an EQ curve to shift your audio to another reference imported. A handy AutoGain function allows you to focus on frequency changes, while the plugin compensates for gain changes. Finally, comprehensive Stereo options include per-band Mid/ Side/ Stereo/ Left/ Right placement. There is not much functionality that this equalizer leaves to be desired, apart from perhaps Attack and Release settings for the dynamic EQ.
FabFilter Pro Q 3 is a pleasure to use. Not only does it sound clean and precise. FabFilter excels in how quick and easy the plugin is. The user interface allows you to make quick boosts and cuts when this is all you need. Yet it also cleverly includes extensive functions when you want to go further. With its 9 filters, wide Q and gain range, and dynamic EQ, you can also make surgical changes. The plugin never becomes cluttered. Useful functions such as the Spectrum Grab or Frequency Collision helped me understand why FabFilter Pro Q 3 seems to have become a benchmark for EQs, used by many professionals, and why it is so highly rated.
All in all I recommend FabFilter Pro Q 3 wholeheartedly. Why not try the plugin for free for 30 days? But be careful, you might want to keep it. While it is not cheap at full price, you can sometimes buy FabFilter Pro Q 3 on a deal or at an educational discount for students.
Get this if you want today’s quasi standard EQ, which is flexible, precise, comprehensive, and easy to use.
Don't get this if you have a limited budget or are after vintage flavour EQ.
Full Price $179 | €149 | £134
Upgrade Price $87.87 | €71.96 | £66
Education Price $89.50 | €74.50 | £67
Typically FabFilter offer their plugins at 25% discount on their individual plugins on sales, such as Black Friday.
FabFilter also offer a student discount/ education discount of 50%.
FabFilter offers a 30 days free trial period on all of their plugins. Trial versions are fully functional.
Check out our special article on how to buy FabFilter plug ins at the cheapest price, including how to buy FabFilter licence used at around 50% discount, and save 60% discount if you own FabFilter plug ins already.
Below are the best three alternatives to FabFilter Pro Q 3. If you want a more comprehensive list of parametric EQs with realtime spectrum displays.
Whether you use Logic Pro X EQ, Ableton Live EQ 8, Pro Tools EQ III or FL Studio Parametric EQ2, the EQs that comes with your DAW for free DAW are very capable as parametric equalizers with realtime spectrum analyzers.
A good value alternative at $29, when you buy during one of the near-permanent Waves sales, boasting a dynamic EQ that built-in DAWs do not offer.
Even though you can only buy the EQ as part of a bundle, the latest Izotope Neutron 3 EQ is very capable, and good value for money, when bought on sale at typically $29 as part of the cheapest Neutron Elements bundle. The equalizer is easy to use, with a clean interface, and many filter shapes. You will need to upgrade to the Neutron 3 Standard bundle though (costing $249 full price) to add a dynamic EQ and a masking feature found in FabFilter Pro Q 3.
"I'm not sure if there is such a thing as a desert island EQ plugin, but if I was stranded on a Pacific atoll with only one tool to tackle problematic audio files, FabFilter's Pro‑Q would be that tool. It sounds good, it's amazingly flexible, and best of all, its graphical interface makes it a joy to use."
"Pro-Q 2 was always going to take some beating but FabFilter have done it with plenty of significant and welcome additions."
"It sounds superb and is so very easy to use."
"I’m awarding FabFilter Pro-Q 3 with an Expert Choice award as FabFilter has taken an already fantastic plug-in and improved it well beyond a point that I ever thought was possible, however, I do feel a bit disappointed to see that FabFilter Pro-Q 3 doesn’t feature any pitch tracking EQ as we’re seeing this type of technology introduced in more and more EQ plug-ins these days."
"The results you can achieve with FabFilter Pro-Q 3 are sonically excellent. This EQ plugin delivers outstanding results while staying incredibly efficient with the CPU load. FabFilter’s 3rd gen EQ plugin comes with essential and useful enhancements."