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Plugin Alliance Brainworx Amek EQ200

Plugin Alliance Brainworx Amek EQ200

This Brainworx EQ is inspired by esoteric mastering hardware.

Despite the Amek branding, Plugin Alliance's new Brainworx Amek EQ200 is actually inspired by owner Dirk Ulrich's love of certain mastering hardware, notably EQs made by Sontec and GML. Before you rush out to compare it with those frighteningly expensive mastering units (or plug‑in emulations of them), I should point out that this doesn't directly emulate either. Rather, the Brainworx team set out to create a hybrid that builds on what Ulrich considers the most desirable control elements and tonal characteristics of those processors. They've taken the opportunity to extend the functionality in software too, with new features and some that were introduced on previous Plugin Alliance software.

The Amek EQ200 is available in the common plug‑in formats for Mac and Windows. Installation on my MacBook Pro (Mac OS 10.14.1) was hassle free, and I tested the AU and VST2 and VST3 versions in Reaper and Cubase.

Workflow

This is a dual-channel five-band parametric EQ, each band of which is individually bypassable, but it boasts many other features. There are additional 12dB/octave high- and low-pass filters plus a Mono-maker elliptical filter, a Mid‑Sides-based stereo width control, and a THD harmonic distortion control. There's generous overlap between the five parametric bands. The two channels can be linked/unlinked as you prefer, and can be configured to process the Left and Right or Mid and Sides channels. So there's plenty of flexibility here, though you can't select L‑R/M‑S per band, which would be nice.

There's no frequency analyser or visual representation of the changes you make to the frequency response, of the kind we've grown accustomed to seeing on so many digital EQs, but I actually like that. Much as I like to think I'm not swayed by what I see, I find I make different decisions, and largely better ones, with less assertive boosts and cuts, when I use an EQ with this sort of interface — where the sound and the position of the knobs are all I have to go on — than I do when using something like, say, FabFilter Pro‑Q3.

Despite the profusion of virtual knobs, buttons and LEDs, the layout is clean and intuitive, particularly when you have the lower panel hidden. The LP/HP filters are at the outside of each channel, and on each channel the bands run, reading left to right, from low to high. Gain is at the top, bandwidth in the middle and frequency at the bottom. Beneath each gain control is a switch to change the scale from ±15 to ±7 dB. The latter generally proved more useful to me in mastering and on master-bus EQ — both roles in which this EQ serves well — as it makes fine control much easier. Worth noting is that if you've already moved the knob from its neutral position, and then click the ±7/±15 button, you'll change the amount of boost/cut on that band. I'd have preferred it if the value remained constant (when still in range) but the knob moved accordingly, and a global button for this might be helpful too. Nonetheless, it's a useful facility.

Between the two channels, are more controls. The Gain Scale knob and Invert button are thoughtful features. Many is the time that I found I'd boosted/cut the right frequencies, but had generally overcooked things, and backing things off on the Gain Scale control delivered the desired result really quickly. On occasion, I also found it useful to exaggerate what I'd done — rather like a magnifying glass that led me to refine some decisions before dialling the Gain Scale back again. Its real use, though, is for boosting to find undesirable resonant frequencies, then hitting Invert to take them out, and then scaling those cuts to taste. Very handy.

The EQ In button is a bypass, as you'd expect, except that it applies not only to the EQ bands but also the various other top and bottom panel controls. By default the two channels are linked for L‑R stereo operation, so clicking either bypass button bypasses both channels. In the lower panel, though, you can choose to unlink the channel controls, including the bypass. (Very occasionally, in v1.0, changing the link/unlink setting triggered a bug in the master output level control, making it apply only to one channel.)

What you can't do is to first unlink the channels and apply a corrective offset to one, and then apply a linked boost/cut to the same band. If, say, I'd applied a 1dB boost to the Sides channel while unlinked, and then I linked the channels and tweaked the same band in the Mid, I'd lose that 1dB Sides boost; the Sides would jump to and follow the Mid setting. I'd prefer it if there were an option for the second action to apply an offset to the first, so boosting the Mid by 1dB would increase my 1dB Sides boost to 2dB. Of course, this being software you could use two instances to achieve the same thing.

The remaining control in the middle of the GUI engages an Auto Listen facility. Switch this on, and when you click and drag a Q or frequency control it will solo that band. More helpful still is that you can achieve the same thing using a modifier key. There are also modifier keys for fine control and to jump between the default and last settings — the actual keys for these modifiers vary according to the plug‑in format and the OS, as detailed in the PDF manual.

The top panel includes a number of useful utilities, not least a 32-step undo.

A feature in the Advanced panel is Plugin Alliance's Tolerance Modelling Technology. The idea is to simulate the per-channel differences of analogue hardware that result from variations in the tolerances of components. You can choose one of two stereo modes. The first has both channels identical, while the second uses different profiles for each. In either mode, you can select which two of up to 20 modelled profiles are used. I can't say I found it of much use in this particular plug‑in — it's a feature that really comes into its own when using many instances on different channels, such as you might with PA's SSL channel-strip emulation. But it's a nice extra, and if you work with lots of top-down EQ on the stereo mix bus and various subgroups it could be useful here.

This lower panel also hosts the master input/output level controls, each with a 0 to -60 dB LED-style meter. A correlation and stereo balance meter nestles between the Mono Maker and Stereo Width controls. A Mid‑Sides stereo-mode selector and THD control complete the lower-panel selection. The former is self-explanatory, the THD control less so. It threw me a little at first because the 'T' stands for 'third', not 'total' as I'd anticipated. Turn the knob clockwise and you increase the prominence of the third harmonic in the modelled distortion, and when you then boost an EQ band, its associated harmonics rise faster than the overall frequency response. It's all pretty subtle stuff in the grand scheme of things, but the character is generally easy on the ear, and this is one thing that sets this EQ apart from a lot of others I've used.

The top panel includes a number of useful utilities, not least a 32-step undo. An ABCD facility allows you to compare different settings and to copy and paste between them, without having to save/load presets. It's the sort of unremarkable, workmanlike feature that I wish every developer included. A Reset button sensibly 'zeros' the controls on the current ABCD instance, rather than for the whole preset (for the latter, you'd use a zero'd preset). Nearby, you'll find useful Mid and Sides solo buttons, a GUI scaling button, and another to show/hide the lower panel.

Finally, there's V-Gain, which models the noise inherent in analogue electronics and gives you control over the level of that noise floor. This defaults to being on, and can become quite obvious once you've lifted the high end and applied some compression and limiting. I can't complain that it's there (some folk like this sort of thing, and Brainworx are not alone in modelling this stuff) but an early move for me was to switch it off and save that over the default settings preset!

Sound Judgment

Whether the Amek EQ200 sounds precisely like the mastering hardware that inspired it I can't really say; I don't have easy access to those units and it isn't intended as an accurate model anyway. But I did compare it with some of Acustica's 'sampled' mastering EQs, including their Green 3, which is based on the GML8200. I compared them both on a range of material for mastering and bus processing. The Amek EQ200 generally acquitted itself fairly well in these comparisons, though sounded a touch 'softer' in the high end in particular. The Amek EQ200 won hands-down when it came to versatility, though, given the additional band and the various lower-panel features.

The price of the Amek EQ200 isn't trivial but might make one of Plugin Alliance's subscription plans very appealing. If you already subscribe to their Mix & Master or Mega bundles, you just got a very fine plug‑in for 'free' and I'd urge you to check it out.

Pros

  • Sounds great.
  • Useful additional mastering facilities.
  • Gain-scaling, invert and auto-listen features are genuinely useful.

Cons

  • Expensive to buy outright.

Summary

The Amek EQ200 sounds good, is thoughtfully designed and encourages you to use your ears.

information

$399. Also included in subscription bundles from $14.99 per month.

www.plugin-alliance.com

$399. Also included in subscription bundles from $14.99 per month.

www.plugin-alliance.com

Published September 2020