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Equalization helps music breathe and shimmer. And it’s crucial for anyone who craves fine-tuned audio fidelity — from teenagers cranking the low-end of their car stereo, to recording engineers smoothing the high frequencies of a pop chorus, to audiophile nerds experimenting with the intricacies of their vintage stereo equipment.
We all benefit from equalizers — even those among us who couldn’t distinguish a filter bank from a spectrum analyzer. In the simplest terms, these products help enhance audio signals: in the studio, onstage, in your family sedan, even in your basement home theater.
For musicians, it’s an essential part of production and mixing. The best audio equalizers can be used to either repair poorly-tracked sounds or spritz up good ones. Just by adjusting EQ, studio pros “boost” or “cut” certain frequencies in order to clarify vocals or instruments, separate these elements from each other in a mix, blend them together or create unusual effects.
Electronic artists often play around with EQ to create drama and dynamics: You may hear a song drop out the higher frequencies only to roll them back in — sort of like stepping outside a nightclub for a cigarette, hearing the muted kick drum thump against the walls and then opening the door as the chorus hits. An average song can’t be rescued by outstanding equalization techniques, but a great one can become essential.
Digital EQs now come standard in most recording software, but some musicians need the analog feel of physical hardware mounted among their gear. For those looking for a solid equalizer to play around with, here are three of the best options.
1. Behringer MiniFBQ FBQ800 9-Band Graphic Equalizer
Behringer has a long track record on its side, having produced a wide range of audio equipment — including microphones, audio interfaces and amplifiers — since the company’s founding in 1989. And the MiniFBQ unit lives up to their track record.
This is a sturdy, compact unit, offering nine frequency bands, six-segment LED input/output meters, and a feedback detection system that detects danger-zone frequencies. It also has a low-cut filter that helps eliminate problematic frequencies that might crop up in the studio or in a live setting (like the rumble of floor toms on a drum set).
At around 9.5 inches wide, it’s the most portable option on our list, great for taking with you to the studio or a live performance. It’s an accessible unit for beginners to start with too.
PROS: Super versatile for its small size (under three pounds).
CONS: Some say LED effects are spotty.
2. dbx 131s Single Channel 31-Band Equalizer
Where the more entry-level Behringer unit offers only nine frequency bands, the dbx 131s (or its big brother, the dual-channel 231s) allows more fine-tuning with its 31 bands. That range may be overkill, depending on your needs, but we think it’s worth the upgrade for the added flexibility, allowing you to sculpt frequencies with even more precision.
The 131s, which features a switchable 6 dB or 12 dB boost/cut range, is straightforward in design and construction, making it easy to utilize without much fuss.
PROS: Praised for its durability, and we like the solid center-click of its controls.
CONS: If you want a more professional setup with more options, you may want to upgrade to the dbx 231s.
3. Rockville REQ231 Dual 31 Band 1/3 Octave Graphic Equalizer
Rockville’s rack-mountable REQ231 is a dual 31-band unit, offering a selectable 6 dB or 12 dB boost/cut range, low- and high-cut filters, and a bypass switch with LED indicators.
Sound comes through crisp and clean, with less rumble from microphones and low distortion. We like that there are adjustments for every frequency.
The company proudly touts the unit’s subwoofer output with frequency controls, noting that it fills a gap in the marketplace.
PROS: Versatile, with an array of features. Comes ready for easy mounting.
CONS: At just over 20 inches long and weighing seven pounds, this is the largest and heaviest unit on our list.