FabFilter Pro-Q 3
The ‘dynamic’ evolution of an industry standard, top-shelf EQ plugin
Review by Alex Hawley
Based in Amsterdam, FabFilter is widely known for creating some of the best plugins on the market. Its product line includes a range of bread and butter mixing essentials, as well as creative effects and synths.
Pro-Q has always been at the heart of the FabFilter lineup.
Released in 2009 [followed by Pro-Q 2 in 2014], Pro-Q firmly established itself as an industry favorite with its robust feature set, pristine sound quality and ease of use. In 2018, FabFilter set out to improve on Pro-Q 2 with the release of Pro-Q 3. Last October, Pro-Q 3 won an Engineering Emmy® Award from Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
Pro-Q stands out in a sea of hardware modeling and emulation plugins because it doesn’t attempt to emulate the design, operation, or sound of a hardware EQ. The GUI is designed to maximize workflow and usability. The feature set is robust and presented logically for effortless usability. Under the hood, Pro-Q is highly optimized and can be used in natural phase mode, linear phase, or zero-latency mode. Zero-latency mode makes it an ideal candidate for use on every channel of a mix.
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The most notable new feature of Pro-Q 3 is dynamic control. Any band can enable dynamics, allowing for even more tonal shaping. Dynamic EQ acts very similarly as multiband compression, even though under the hood, they have two very different ways of accomplishing it. Pro-Q 3 implements dynamics very fluidly, as the attack, release, and threshold controls are set automatically—you need only to set the desired range. When more surgical applications are required, the threshold can be taken out of auto mode and set manually. In a recent update, FabFilter enabled sidechain triggering of Pro-Q 3 dynamics, making it possible for an external source to trigger frequency changes (ducking in particular). For example, you can set it up so that a kick drum momentarily attenuates a selected bass guitar frequency band, thus carving out a bit of extra space for the kick attack to cut through clearly in the mix.
Pro-Q 3 can communicate with other instances of the plugin to help make more informed mixing decisions. In Pro-Q 2, the sidechain input spectrum superimposes over the primary input spectrum to show both simultaneously. Pro-Q 3 also allows you to superimpose the frequency spectrum of any other instance of the plugin, making it easy to see the guitar and vocal spectrums at the same time, for example. A red shading appears on the spectrum where frequencies intersect between the two selected sources. This makes it quick and easy to identify areas of frequency buildup in the mix.
Pro-Q has always had mid-side capabilities, but now Pro-Q 3 can quickly select the channel placement on a per-band basis, within the same instance of the plug-in. This provides the ability to treat the mid channel independently from the sides or the left from the right. The same concept applies for surround mixing, with the ability to group stereo pairs (such as Ls/Rs), and even use mid/side processing within those stereo pairs. For post-production, this is extremely useful to have on every surround bus. The Pro-Q 3 update brings support for up to 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos.
New filter types have been added, including brickwall and flat tilt. In Pro-Q 2, the steepest LPF or HPF slope was 96dB/octave—quite aggressive. Pro-Q 3 takes it a step further with a new brickwall setting. This filter is surprisingly transparent for how aggressive it is, and it can be useful for sound design or noise reduction applications. The flat tilt filter, on the other hand, is an extremely gentle tilt shelf that’s great for making subtle tone shaping moves.
Spectrum grab is a Pro-Q feature that slows down the spectrum response time to illustrate the curves in play. In this mode, frequency tooltips highlight specific frequencies, with an option to create a bell-shaped curve anywhere in the spectrum.
Pro-Q 3 is one of the easiest and most powerful EQs that I’ve ever used. I love the ability to double-click anywhere on the spectrum to create a new band, double-
click the edges to create an LPF or HPF, and single-click an edge to create a shelf. The GUI is attractive, informative, and very intuitive. While it ultimately comes down to mixing with your ears, it’s lovely to have the level of visual feedback that Pro-Q 3 offers.
The mid/side capability is integrated beautifully in Pro-Q 3. One trick I like to use for mid/side is a slight boost on the mid-channel at around 60Hz to add punch while using a gentle HPF at around 65Hz on the sides. This can help tighten up the bottom end and give it more focus.
In post-production, mid/side processing in conjunction with sidechain dynamics capabilities brings impressive mixing options to the table. A cool trick: try enabling a mid-channel dynamic band on a music track and triggering it with a side-chain input from a voiceover track. The resulting music track remains full and energetic on the sides, while bracketing a spacious zone in the mid channel for the voiceover track to fill.
One challenging thing about the dynamics function is the small window to grab the range parameter. It’s easier to catch it in the spectrum window, which is also an option, but I’ve accidentally grabbed the gain control a few times while aiming for the dynamic range.
Not new to Pro-Q 3 but worth mentioning: the ability to preview a band while sweeping it around is a great way to find problem areas. It pairs nicely with the new ‘invert gain’ feature, which automatically toggles the gain between boost and cut functions. The EQ matching feature also comes in handy, especially in post-production applications when you need to match multiple dialog sources.
The FabFilter Pro-Q 3 is one of the best EQs I’ve ever used. Whether you’re a mixing, mastering, post-production, or tracking engineer, Pro-Q needs to be in your plugin collection. The efficient workflow, sound, depth, and ease of use are unmatched. It’s been on every single channel of my mixes ever since I got it, and I don’t see it going anywhere anytime soon.