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1000 Reasons Your EQ Plugin Should Have An RTA

Brandon Drury —  March 6, 2014 — 18 Comments
RTA GlissEQ

Some say mix with your ears. Some say drive with a car. Nothing lets me fight through audio issues like a full-featured EQ with a well-tuned RTA and stay focused on the prize.

Note: All of these assessments were done using Voxengo GlissEQ. This is not a review of Gliss EQ. I know of no other EQ with an RTA that is setup to expose problems so well although Voxformer http://www.recordingreview.com/blog/plugins/voxengo-voxformer-snags-bulletproof-award/ is close. I urge all of you to play around with the RTA in GlissEQ. Try out the demo.

#1 – The Transient Sweep Problem

There are PLENTY of freakin’ times where you hear mud in this one syllable of a vocal. That mud can’t be there when you are finished. While I use the sweep technique WAY more often than I use socks, the sweep technique doesn’t help me when the little booger I want to nuke doesn’t last long enough to do that sweep.

#2 The EQ Guessing Problem

I can use my ears and hope they are good enough to hear 5.6Khz vs 6.1Khz. Mine aren’t and that doesn’t hurt me one bit in studio land. Not anymore. If you wouldn’t bet your thumb on the difference between a 200ms transient at 5.6Hz or 6.1Khz, you are guessing. There’s no need to guess at finding a tricky wicky frequency.

#3 – The No Brainer Solution

Just look at the damn screen and see where that booger is popping up. Send full power to those things hanging off the side of your head, pinpoint when the problem occurs, and take a look at what that little RTA is telling you and then confirm it with the ears. They eyes don’t do any “mixing”. They just sometimes give your ears a clue.

I’d take an anonymous tip from Al Keida if it made my mixes better. SMILEY

#4 – Not SPAN This Time!

I’m a huge fan of Voxengo SPAN. It’s the best RTA-style meter I’ve seen for audio land and the price is wrong. (Free!). I use it any time I need to learn something. (It’s interesting that SPAN teaches humility. If you’ve used it and haven’t learned humility you are just stubborn.) Anyway, I don’t like SPAN for identifying quick problem frequencies. Why? Because I shouldn’t need to open up two plugins (the EQ plugin and SPAN) and I don’t have a lot of free time.

#5 – The “You Go, Girl” EQ Problem!

If your EQ plugin of choice does not have an RTA, they are most likely attempting to sell to you using a famous brand name from the Apollo Program era. It’s a shame that very few companies make distorted EQs with RTA’s. They all seem to insist on putting on a fashion show to get your money. Sleazy!

It’s sickening to me that they’d put their marketing over the effectiveness of the plugin and your results as a mixer.

UAD 1073
I wish this EQ could strut on a “cat walk” with Right Said Fred blasting while an excited male with a lisp shouts: “You go girl!”. Only gay males and audio plugin GUI developers seem to know anything about fashion. Sorry my limp-wristed, but exceptionally clean friends but I came here to rock. Give me REAL tools even if they aren’t “fabulous”.

#6 Isolating Problems

A huge issue I always had when notching out a low mid problem was I was worried about sounding “too thin”. That’s a fear I’m done with, and the main reason for that is now I know if I have an excessive amount of “mud” at 234Hz, for example, now I can clearly see that in those sections where the mud is missing, there ain’t much going on at 234Hz anyway. In other words, cutting out “mud” almost never results in “thin” if I cut the right frequency. If there was something good I was missing, I’ll be able to see that on the RTA as well and adapt.

By being more aware of the EXACT problem frequencies, I don’t have to worry about cutting out good stuff.

#7 You Realize Why De-essers Suck And Certain Preamps Rule

Most de-essers are multiband compressors. When the “ess” shows up, they clamp down on that one band. Any audio outside that band doesn’t get compressed (usually under-4Khz range). That’s when you get the lisp sound, which currently I’ve decided is the worst audio artifact imaginable. Put a lisp on Eddie Vedder and he’ll beat you. I don’t blame him. It’s very easy to hear how badly most de-essers sound. It’s even easier to look at GlissEQ and know why.

Note: I’ve got Boz at Boz Digital Labs cooking up a few solutions for that which meet my standards in ways that far exceed anything else I’ve seen out there. That’s in the future, though. Anyway, the RTA on a EQ makes this painfully obvious. It makes you scratch your head and wonder what all these people making de-essers were thinking.

An RTA-equipped EQ being used in day to day travels teaches you stuff. You learn thingies that make you a lot better and a lot more aware. This leads to confidence to everything from mix decisions to realizing your aren’t an idiot for using a certain inexpensive preamp.

#8 – Identifying Perpetual Issues

You begin to see quirks in your setup. As you all have heard many times, I LOVE the ADK Vienna MK8 > Rane MS1b combo. I use it on everything I can. On vocals, it does have a few little kinks I often have to work out that are consistent from singer to singer. These quirks are super easy to see and I’ve devised ways of dealing with these issues. When I can attach actual #s in Hz to what I’m hearing, I become empowered.

#9 My Ears Improve

My ears have gotten better since I’ve gotten addicted to the RTA. Now when I hear a thing and see that thing is 1.75Khz, my brain registers that. When I heard a thing before, it was never so validated. Sometimes a hear a thing and take a wild guess before looking at the RTA. Since the RTA is built in to the EQ I immediately see if I guessed correctly. It takes no additional time to make such guesses, which persistently improve my ability to associate audio issues with a given frequency. Multiply this times every EQ instance I have and I get a whole bunch of ear training while I mix. It’s impossible to beat that.

#10 – 1,000: Your Focus Stays On Mixing

When you clearly see at exactly the right time some annoying 163Hz thingy pop up on the meter, you quickly move your EQ band to notch out the mess at 163Hz. You never have to take your eye off the ball. You don’t have to continually revisit that vocal. You can scratch that 163Hz problem off the list almost immediately and you go back to making a song completely rock, which was the whole damn point of mixing in the first place.

It’s a little odd when solving problems goes from this epic waste of time that used to take up hours on a terrible day to something that you can usually do in seconds. When you don’t lose your focus, I can’t even put into words how valuable that is.

Conclusion

Using all resources at your disposal to knock out problems is the only way to go. Refusing to use an RTA is flat out absurd to me now that I’ve done it for so long. I can’t imagine ever going back. Again, this is based on the Voxengo GlissEQ. I’ve never had such a positive experience with an RTA.

Look for a full review of GlissEQ soon.

If your results are perfect with no eye usage, then don’t do anything different. I’d imagine the curious are going to gravitate towards a well-tuned RTA.

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
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18 responses to 1000 Reasons Your EQ Plugin Should Have An RTA

  1. Brandon-san — great article, I concur completely. I wanted to make one comment and that is the RTA in Logic is really useful, and now that Logic ProX is around, their “Linear Phase” EQ really rocks, and the built-in RTA is even better. One feature that is super cool is that each freq band has a separate translucent “color box” with a “Q-couple” feature which is superimposed over the RTA waveform. This box stretches side to side as you adjust the Q of the filter so you can see which frequencies are about to be affected by subsequent cutting or boosting operations.

  2. One other comment is that if a person DOES have outboard EQ’ing gear, using the RTA function on your in the box plugins helps you learn how to work with those outboard pieces, as well.

  3. Careful with your words, dude. We’re not living in the 90′s anymore:

    “… an excited male with a lisp shouts: “You go girl!”. Only gay males and audio plugin GUI developers seem to know anything about fashion. Sorry my limp-wristed, but exceptionally clean friends but I came here to rock. Give me REAL tools even if they aren’t “fabulous”.”

  4. Speaking in terms of mixing. I think both kind of EQs have their own merit. EQ with RTA is a cool thing to have when your mind is doing analytical / surgical work. But I always go to “plain knobs” EQs when it comes to enhancement/sweetening or feel.

  5. 1000% agree! Use what works, an ignore all the folks that are still living in the books from their classes…

    Gliss is a good EQ, but I use the DDMF IIEQ Pro most of the time. As tweakable as Reaper, and cost about the same..been a fan since the $5 days….

  6. Thanx for great article!

    Another EQ+RTA worth checking out is Melda Production – MEqualizer (freebie too), it’s RTA makes finding any harmonics easy, and there’s feature where you can select which harmonics could be cut/boost with fundamental, and how much, etc. Another time saver.
    SPAN + MEqualizer = killers.

    Cheers!

  7. I’d imagine the super duper pros laugh at such a tool, but for those home recording this could definitely speed up the learning curve. Although I’m still waiting for the EQ that will make me a better singer. It’s too easy for us DIY guys to fall into the trap of buying more plugins in the hopes that those odd vocal tracks really are just a matter of more precise EQing (spoiler: those crappy vocals are a result of a lack of practice, not a lack of magical EQ.)

    An EQ for $100 seems a bit steep, but for a learning tool it seems like a good deal. I suppose if one invested in a highly utilitarian EQ, compressor, and reverb/delay they wouldn’t have to waste money on other band-aid-at-worst-gloss-at-best plugins. But for $100 I’m still not quite ready to take the leap, not that others shouldn’t…

  8. Careful with your words, dude. We’re not living in the 90′s anymore:

    “… an excited male with a lisp shouts: “You go girl!”. Only gay males and audio plugin GUI developers seem to know anything about fashion. Sorry my limp-wristed, but exceptionally clean friends but I came here to rock. Give me REAL tools even if they aren’t “fabulous”.”

    If gay people don’t say, “You go girl” while listening to Right Said Fred on runways anymore, what’s the point of being gay? That’s the ONE thing that separates them from straight people….except the cleanliness. SMILEY

  9. Gliss Eq has ben my go to for a while now, and i think its worth every penny, in fact i rarely use another eq. Dont quote me on this, but i think you can make it linear phase as well, it just eats up more cpu. Brandon didnt even mention any of the other cool features but as of now im counting 4 nods minimum from Brandon on Voxengo plugs. They are not flashy and have so many features that they dont seem to be on anyones A-list, but IMO they are some of the best plugins money can buy.

  10. It’s reaffirming to start the day by reading someone else’s opinion that perfectly coincides with your own. Well said, Brandon!

    I got on the visual-EQ bandwagon when GlissEQ was first released, although it wasn’t for the spectral display; what I was actually looking for was a dynamic equalizer. But the ability to overlay spectra from multiple tracks quickly won me over to the plugin.

    I have to say, though, that I haven’t used GlissEQ in over 3 years. It’s still a great equalizer. It’s just that Pro-Q fits in my hand better.

  11. I like EQuality

    http://dmgaudio.com/products_equality.php

    Seems to tick all the boxes and gotta love the low CPU overhead. My CPU struggles with all the Voxengo plug ins…

  12. I like tonebooster’s Flx. Dynamic eq. I’m not troubleshooting, just like to tweak sounds. Probably should’ve cared more about mixing. I do care about good sound, but time and opportunity… oh well…
    Reading this blog makes me want to invest time to learn to mix better. Guess I’ll check your guide when I see free moments on tge horizon. Thanks for doing this

  13. You owe it to yourself to try the Metric Halo Channel strip. It has RTA for not just EQ but also de-ess, and on top of which it is a very useful and smooth/surgical sounding EQ that seems up your alley. Between that and some kind of character/modeling eq I feel quite enpowered eq wise.

  14. Brandon didnt even mention any of the other cool features

    Yeah, I didn’t want to make this a review of Voxengo GlissEQ. That’s coming a little later. This is just a discussion of RTAs built in to equalizers. Voxengo happens to have nailed that one, too.

    4 nods minimum from Brandon on Voxengo plugs

    Yeah, Voxengo consistently cranks out outstanding stuff. Soniformer was a game changer for me. The idea of a 32-band multi-band compressor was a breakthrough and comes in handy very often. Voxformer is the fastest channel strip in existence…that I’ve tried. I’ve not done a formal review yet of Voxengo Elephant, but it KILLED in the Brickwall Limiter Stress Test. SPAN is absolutely outstanding.

    Brandon

  15. Hey Brandon. I def dig what you’re saying… I know you mentioned you don’t feel like putting an RTA on said channels you’re EQ’ing, but why not put SPAN on your 2Buss and solo that channel when you want to “look”? Obviously that wouldn’t work EQ’ing a channel in the context of the mix, but I feel like in these scenarios you can just put an RTA right after your EQ… (for the sake of saving $$$ buying ANOTHER EQ) I def agree w you that mixing w/ an EQ that has an RTA is fantastic, but am I supposed to abandon all my bitchin’ sounding UAD and trusty Sonnox Oxford EQ’s and go drop another $200 on a FabFilter Pro-Q (my EQ w/ a RTA of choice)?? Are you saying you ONLY mix with an EQ that has an RTA? Or do you use it “as needed”?? Just curious. Keep the good stuff coming :)

  16. I kept SPAN on my 2bus for the longest time and used it when I solo’d a track. It’s a slow way of working, although quite doable for someone on a budget. My biggest problem with this is I was terrible at managing my screen in Cubase. If I could setup it up so SPAN is always pinned on the screen, that would be awesome. I found myself needing 10 clicks sometimes to get SPAN and the EQ up. After experiencing GlissEQ, I didn’t have to think about any of that.

    I def agree w you that mixing w/ an EQ that has an RTA is fantastic, but am I supposed to abandon all my bitchin’ sounding UAD and trusty Sonnox Oxford EQ’s

    The Oxford is meant to be clean and therefor should sound extremely close to your DAW EQ. It’s main benefits are its filter options. GlissEQ has very similar options, plus all the dirty options.

    I guess my problem is I’ve never heard an EQ that I considered bitchin’. I could never find any benefit from the colored EQ thing. I may have been doing something wrong.

    In my ultra-budget head, I find GlissEQ EASILY worth $100 and that’s coming from a guy using a $51 preamp these days. SMILIE

    Are you saying you ONLY mix with an EQ that has an RTA?

    Yes, I put GlissEQ on every track. Done. Now, GlissEQ does have harmonic modes for the guy who hears benefit in that. I struggle with that one. Maybe I’ll do some tests to figure that out sometime. I just use the clean mode in GlissEQ and I radically better and faster results than I ever did with any vintage-style EQs. I just don’t hear enough of the colored EQ doing anything I view as significant.

    If you know of any shootouts where they match a colored EQ with a clean EQ, I’d love to hear this. Maybe I should just do one myself.

    As dropping even more cash, I think that depends on the person. I’ve outlined all the reason that a GREAT RTA built into an EQ is awesome for me and how bored I’ve been with supposed “vintage” EQs. YMMV

  17. Good points, Brandon… I do believe you’re onto something. I appreciate the reply! Thx :)

  18. I found mention of the Metric Halo Channel Strip here when I did a Google search. I thought that I would share a special “No Brainer” sale that we are offering (at up to 85% off).
    Details are here:
    http://www.rspeaudio.com/No-Brainer-s/2420.htm?searching=Y&sort=7&search=brainer&show=15&page=1

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