REVIEW: Plugin Alliance Bettermaker EQ232D

Mastering engineer Stephen Kerrison puts the Plugin Alliance Bettermaker EQ232D through its paces.

What is it?
The official plugin emulation of the Bettermaker mastering EQ.

What’s great?
Quick to dial in, surprisingly versatile, sounds fantastic.

What’s not?
Initially daunting interface, doesn’t work on everything.

The bottom line
Your new go-to shaping EQ?

The verdict:
The Bettermaker EQ232P MKII EQ has become something of a modern classic over the last few years, so when Plugin Alliance announced its partnership with Bettermaker earlier in the year to release a native, plugin version called the EQ232D, this opened the door for a whole new ITB audience to experience this revered unit, or at least a pretty faithful emulation of it.

Developed by the Bettermaker team themselves and described by Plugin Alliance as “the Pultec of the 21st century”, you certainly get the impression that this plugin isn’t messing around. This isn’t a surgical, Pro-Q 3 type affair, this one’s about big, wide musical curves, although after using it on a few mixes I found myself pleasantly surprised at how versatile it actually is.

On first impressions the EQ232D does look a bit weird, sort of modern and retro looking at the same time. It’s a unique and slightly daunting looking interface, but it doesn’t take long to get used to. In a nutshell, what you have to play with are two LF and HF Pultec-style Boost and Attenuate dials with a few fixed frequency points, two semi-parametric bell filters for the midrange, and a high-pass filter. So far, so simple. But it’s in it’s deceiving simplicity where this EQ’s beauty lies.

If you’ve ever used a Pultec or an emulation of one, you’ll know that its USP is the ability to cut and boost frequencies at the same time, creating unusually musical and smooth low and high ends. Being a tube EQ, however, the Pultec also introduced a grit and distortion that of course in many scenarios sounded amazing and became a sought after sound, but here’s where Bettermaker’s ‘modern twist’ comes in; this thing is super smooth.

In use, what struck me first about the EQ232D is just how quickly you can dial in something that sounds great. It was conceived as a mastering EQ and on the number of mixes I tried it on, it shone on most of them. Its popularity amongst hip-hop, EDM and pop producers is immediately understandable, anything with a deep low-end seems to take on an extra dimension with the P EQ section engaged, with the smallest of boosts and cuts. Just a 1db boost with a 0.5db cut at 30hz, for example, will more often than not open up the bottom end of a track beautifully. I found that with more mid-rangey, guitar based material these low boosts worked less effectively however, or at least had to be used more cautiously. It seemed too easy to accidently lose a bit of grit from distorted guitars in the quest to make the drums thump more, but I get the impression that’s not really the type of material it was designed with in mind.

The two bell filters in the middle are equally musical and broad, which is a good job really because with all that lovely pumping up of the deep lows and smooth highs, it’s easy to go a bit too far and find yourself with a somewhat scooped mix that needs a bit of body reinstating. They run 45hz to 1khz and 650hz to 15khz respectively, and you can change the bandwidth from a relatively narrow ½ an octave to a big, wide three octaves, which gives an impressive amount of range and control across the spectrum. Add to that a high-pass filter (fixed at a rather steep 24db per octave) and I was repeatedly surprised how comprehensively I could shape a mix with such a seemingly limited set of controls.

The icing on the cake is that everything I’ve talked about so far has been just using stereo mode, but the EQ232D also operates in full MS. The interface simply doubles, giving you two identical sets of controls, one for mid and one for side. So in a mastering scenario, as well as being able to EQ the mid and the side signals independently, stereo image manipulation such as width, mono-ing low frequencies etc can all be done from this one EQ.

How close this emulation sounds to the original hardware is obviously difficult to judge without a side-by-side comparison (alas, I don’t have one kicking about), but the bottom line for me is the EQ232D is a fantastic sounding, intuitive and unusual modern EQ that I can see becoming a ‘go-to’. Which, given the somewhat crowded market of software EQ’s jostling for space in your DAW, is high praise indeed.

Available now – $299 or as part of the ‘Mix and Master’ and ‘Mega’ bundle subscriptions from Plugin Alliance.