Eiosis Air EQ – Breathing life back into your mix
French developer Eiosis has entered a very crowded marketplace with the refreshing and powerful AirEQ plugin. As the name suggests it’s capable of adding ‘air’ to your mixes, and as we found out, a whole lot more.
As is the trend these days, you will need an iLok and a spare USB port to authorize your copy, which probably puts some people off. I won’t go into another rant about iLoks, but why developers force end users into paying exorbitant prices for a $5 piece of plastic is beyond me, and it seems to have zero effect on reducing the piracy of the product. The included user guide only explains the very basics of the control functions – you’ll need to visit the website to download the full manual.
Haute Couture for your studio
In typical French style, the interface is beautiful. Featuring gorgeous retro-style brushed aluminium fascia with rotary knobs and a large digital graph, the UI is not only nice on the eyes but surprisingly intuitive. The top half of the screen is reserved for the multifunction display, showing either analyzer, EQ curve, EQ bands or meters – or a combination of all if you wish (you can toggle this off for ‘ears-only mode’).
You can show EQ bands as thick white lines or as colour bands. You can also adjust the amplitude by scrolling the middle mouse button, then drag the analyzer out the way up or down by simply clicking and dragging on the screen. So plenty of UI customisation, which is great. Until you’re more experienced with AirEQ, it’s worth right-clicking and shift-clicking around the screen, you’ll find a lot of clickable hotspots for behind-the-scenes options.
The Frequency Finder (shift-drag the frequency knob) is brilliant, allowing you to boost to max gain while you sweep to find the correct frequency location, then release to restore to the original gain, very handy.
It’s a little strange having a vintage-style interface with such a modern-looking display above it, but when you see Eiosis is considering releasing a hardware controller that matches the look, the styling makes more sense.
There is a definite feeling of indulgence about the design. Long throw faders with EQ knobs that offer fairly standard gain, Q width and frequency dials. You get 5 standard bands to play with as well as extra low and high cut and M/S processing. In addition, are four extra controls for the plugin’s party tricks – character, strength, Earth and Air. While the front end is clean and well laid out, there are plenty of settings to tweak in the options menu to set everything up for your workflow.
Elegance and functional
Firstly, it’s important to understand Eiosis’s new ‘Analogue Matched Linear Transform‘, or AMLT – designed by Fabrice Gabriel (one of the lead designers from Slate Digital), is intended to capture more lifelike analogue characteristics while allowing the EQ to operate more naturally, somewhat emulating an analogue mixing consoles response curves.
We found the plugin required nearly double the amount of processing as a comparable instance of Pro-Q2 from FabFilter, though still under 1% per instance its not really a huge problem unless you’re running 20 or 30 instances – all this fun comes at a cost.
The large Character fader on the left-hand side allows you to morph between Neutral, Fire and Water. This has no effect until you induce some EQ changes, of course, but once you have some EQ bands plotted you can then adjust the amount of fire (punch) and water (smoothness) as a global change to the curves. The Water curve flattens off the EQ curve producing a much smoother result. According to the manual, water has a shorter response time, meaning the resonance of your boosts will be shorter – resulting in a tighter sound.
Fire is pretty much the opposite, the response time is actually the same as a standard EQ curve – giving you much more detailed control. While both of these controls could be thought of as fine-tuning, in practise we found the subtle harmonics really do add that extra bit of ‘je ne sais quoi’. Added on top of your final EQ settings just seats the overall effect in nicely.
AirEQ is a very simple concept and surprisingly effective. Sometimes we found experimenting with the slider gives unexpected and pleasing results. Instinctively I tended to want to soften things out all the time, inducing more ‘Water’, however sometimes I found going against the grain and pushing more ‘Fire’ helped bring sounds forward a lot, especially if a track was falling too far back in the mix. You can disable the global Character fader and change to an individual per-band character too – resulting in the knobs producing a blue or red glow depending on how you’re using them. Finding that option was a ‘hallelujah’ moment for me, as the global Character fader can be a little heavy-handed.
On the opposite side of the UI is the Strength fader, which is simply an effect mixer in use, but behind the scenes, it’s actually working pretty hard to limit phasing and retain the character of the EQ that still remains in effect – unlike a standard effect level which simply blends wet with dry (hard to explain, and hard to hear – but good to know its working). Like the Character fader, you can exclude individual bands from being affected by Strength.
The Earth and Air dials kinda do what they say. If you want more sub rumble without the boom, dial in some earth. The air, of course, is the namesake and does a great job of cleaning up the top end. It’s not the same as, for instance, adding in some 10k or 14k, it’s a lot smoother without the sizzle or bite you might get from using an EQ band.
Interestingly, the Q width affects the band gain. It’s a little off-putting at first, but you quickly become used to it and realize it’s actually very musical in the way it works. Annoyingly you cannot simply grab a node on the graphic display and create bands, you need to use the knobs, but this kinda works with the whole ‘old school’ aesthetics going on here.
In The Mix
While Eiosis has put great effort into making AirEQ simple and intuitive, it will require some time to learn the tricks before you can get proficient use it. While technically even a dribbling idiot can operate this EQ, there are many nifty tricks you can learn with the interface, such as soloing bands and the excellent frequency finder – holding shift while sweeping a freq band boosts the gain etc. Pretty clever stuff. There are a bunch of cool things that you should learn before I would say this plugin becomes simple and intuitive
We’ve spent quite a bit of time playing with the AirEQ, on many different sources and styles and it sounds pretty amazing on all sources. If you are like me and use EQ for gentle sculpting of sound, there are no real audible differences between this and say the excellent (and free) Baxter EQ from VoS. On single tracks, we found AirEQ really shines more on reverbs and complex instruments like acoustic guitars and orchestral sounds, less so on say drums and bass – not that it’s bad, but it’s just a lot better than anything else you might have at hand. However, used subtly over a large mix the results are outstanding and in some cases simply jaw-dropping. It’s not often you get three sound engineers in a room collectively going ‘oooooh’ together over a plugin as we did the first day we tested AirEQ.
We scratch-mixed 3 songs using AirEQ, FabFilter Pro-Q2 and Reapers free ReaEQ – and constantly our AirEQ mixes resulted in a wider, warmer and more creamy mix. It’s a very subtle difference, admittedly, and you need to A/B your mixes often sometimes to hear it – but there is no doubt all three mixes done using AirEQ were consistently more pleasing, even when blind tested.
Presets, 0oh-la la
I love, love – love the presets included! A great selection of EQ starting points for popular instruments. So, for instance, with the ‘Track EQ/Track Fixing’ preset you get a flat EQ setup with a bunch of preset frequency settings ready for you to twiddle – such as ‘Un-Ooh’ (200hz), ‘Un-Box’ (300hz) and ‘UnThin’ (7k) etc. Really cool stuff. Another example is in the acoustic guitar preset. They have set up frequencies for UnOom (180hz), body (300hz), attack (6k), UltraBrite (14k) etc. Vocals preset include UnClose (300hz), UnNasal (600hz) and DeEss (10k). Very clever use of presents. We found new areas to try boosting and cutting where we wouldn’t normally think to look.
The air control was a bit hit-and-miss for us. Mostly it sounds very nice, however some instruments we found it emphasized the brittleness too much, particularly on vocals. We found applying more ‘air’ to vocal reverb tracks sounded a lot better than applying it to the original source track. We thought at first this was simply bringing out the worst in cheap microphones, but even on recording done with some fairly pricey vintage gear, the high-end sizzle was too brittle to be pushed any harder than subtle.
We compared AirEQ to a bunch of other plugins we run in the Music Nation studio, and there’s no doubt you get a lot of bang for your buck here. While ProQ2 for instance was a lot more flexible, it doesn’t come anywhere near the character and vibe. I’m still a huge fan of Harrison’s MixBus EQ, but AirEQ is pretty damn close with a lot more features to boot.
If you’re currently finding no amount of EQing to get your mix to sit right, this might be your golden ticket. In my opinion, AirEQ is a better mix than surgical EQ – the subtleties of it on a single track to my ears don’t outweigh its cost. But when used as a bus EQ, especially boosting wide frequency ranges, AirEQ simply sounds amazing – reminds me of my old analogue console days when the more EQ you added, the better things sounded (alas, in today’s digital world that’s pretty the opposite of reality)
At under $200 NZD this is one of the best investments you can make. If you’re an experienced audio engineer and are comfortable with your skills you are going to find a lot here, while the novice user may be in a little over their head. There is a fully functioning 30-day trial on their site, jump into it and see for yourself – be prepared to swipe your credit card though, as I bet you won’t want to uninstall it.
Is it the best EQ plugin in the world? Well, we can’t answer that – but it’s very nearly the best we have in the studio, and we have a lot.
$149 USD (plus iLok)
Test Machine Specs
Core i5-6500 3.20 Ghz 16gig RAM. Library installed on secondary 7200 drive.
Windows 10, 64bit.
Focusrite Scarlett 214 Interface
Yamaha MOTIF and Roland Jupiter 80 controllers
Presonus Eris E44
Shure SRH940 monitors