SurferEQ 2 by Sound Radix is a dramatic and radical rethink of what an equalizer should be. It is rare to find a genuinely innovative studio tool on today’s market, especially when it comes to essential utilities like compressors, equalizers, limiters, and the likes.
The real significance of SurferEQ 2 is that it manages to improve on the classic EQ concept and incorporate itself as an integral part of your mixing workflow without you even thinking about it. In this review, I’ll go through some of the essential features of SurferEQ 2 and explain its usefulness in a few real-life examples.
Mixing engineers commonly regard equalizers as static mixing tools. You would set one up on a channel and forget about it unless some additional tweaks are needed while mixing. But for the most part, it would live in your mix unchanged, doing what EQ’s do best – filtering the frequency content of the processed audio. And although this is undoubtedly more than sufficient in most situations, there have been many times in the past I have wished for an EQ that could continually adjust itself to whatever is happening in the source material.
And this is what SurferEQ 2 does, in essence. It tracks the fundamental frequency of your monophonic sound source, be it an instrument or a vocal, and dynamically realigns the EQ curve accordingly. Such precision would never be achievable with a standard equalizer, except when automating the curve manually. In practice, this preserves the original tone of the sound source, helps remove clashing or resonant frequencies, and generally makes the mixing engineer’s life a whole lot easier.
SurferEQ2 does this by using each of its seven bands to, quite literally, “surf” the sound waves, using an advanced algorithm to track the changes in pitch. This can be done on each of the plugin’s seven EQ bands individually by engaging the corresponding “Surf” button.
Along with a spectrum analyzer, the plugin then displays the note names at the top right of the plugin. It also tracks those notes on a piano keyboard displayed below the equalizer when Surf mode is enabled, helping you to visualize changes in EQ. Residing at the bottom are three encoders that allow you to set the pitch threshold, pitch tolerance, and the “Surf time” encoder. The latter parameter defines the amount of time it takes for changes in pitch to be detected and “Surfed.”
More than just a pretty Bass
SurferEQ 2 does well to function as your everyday equalizer, too. The seven bands do an excellent job of general EQ duties (although the Qs are not extremely adjustable), and don’t make it difficult to get to the advanced functionality, either. And oh boy, does SurferEQ 2 pack a punch in terms of advanced features!
Not discounting it’s already brilliant Surf functionality, it has even more goodness under the hood. The central band can operate in “harmonic filter mode,” which allows you to boost or cut a fundamental frequency of your choice and its harmonics. All the EQ bands also have a spectral gating functionality that can be turned on and off individually. It allows the user to gate a specific frequency when the level of that frequency crosses a particular volume threshold (Snare ring, or Kick-drum boom removal anyone?). This can be done in either a forward or reverse gating mode, with two encoders at the bottom of the plugin allowing you to set the attack and recovery time of the spectral gating function, and a volume display on the left of the plugin showing you the frequency volume and gate threshold.
SurferEQ 2 also has side-chain functionality. It allows you to route signals from other sources into the EQ, using them to determine boosts or cuts on selected bands. The side-chain can also activate or deactivate the EQ, which can be very useful when you need to make an instrument more prominent in the mix.
Also featured is built-in midi functionality that gives you the ability to use MIDI notes to trigger parameter changes on the EQ. Clicking the cog icon on the top-left of the plugin, you can bring up several MIDI options that allow you to enable or disable MIDI control of the EQ. The user can decide to override the automatic pitch detection and use MIDI input instead. There is even a setting to “play” the EQ like a MIDI instrument.
Kicking it Live
For us live people, SounRadix has included a low latency “Live” mode in SurferEQ 2, which you can enable by clicking the “Live” button on the bottom left of the plugin window. This activates the zero-latency mode, allowing live monitoring of SurferEQ 2, and lowering the response to around 20 milliseconds.
SurferEQ 2 builds on the success of its predecessor to bring a higher level of functionality and innovation in a simple and easy to use package. Even though the Qs are not as adjustable as some would like, SurferEQ 2 is a musical tool that can find a home in any sound designer, musician, or engineers toolkit.
If you are looking for an EQ that does more than just cut or boost frequencies, also serving as a tool for inspiration and creativity, you cannot go wrong here. The price may seem slightly on the high end, but one could spend as much or more on separate plugins that only have half the functionality and usefulness of SurferEQ 2. This gem from Sound Radix truly sets a new standard.
More info: Sound Radix SurferEQ 2 ($199)
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SurferEQ 2 Review
SurferEQ 2 builds on the success of its predecessor to bring a higher level of functionality and innovation in a simple and easy to use package.