Born from the lineage of the six-figure Sony Oxford digital console, the Oxford EQ plug-in is a flexible and powerful tool. Let's take a look at the Sonnox Oxford EQ and explore some of the ways you might use it in your productions.
Display Controls of the Oxford EQ
First, note that by clicking on the Sonnox button — just above the EQ Graphics — a box opens allowing you to customize various settings of the Oxford EQ Plug-In. You can decide how long the Over light should be lit when a full level sample is detected. By toggling “Always Display Numeric Values,” you can choose to keep the values displayed permanently onscreen, or just when the mouse rolls over the setting. You can also change the scale and look of the EQ graph, or, if you find the graph is too easily influencing your mixing decisions, turn the graph off completely by switching on the “Ears Only” mode.
Four Distinct EQ Types
Many people don't realize that there are four different types of EQ within the Oxford EQ, and each EQ type has unique sonic characteristics. Each EQ type can be used alone or in conjunction with the cut filters. Additionally, the cut filters can be used without the EQ.
Accessible through the + or - buttons, the various EQ types (1 - 4) differ in their Gain vs. Q dependency, which translates to more sonic options. The differences between the types are found within the curve characteristics of the bell settings; their shelving curves are identical. Q controls allow an amount of “undershoot” to be dialed in for boost settings, and overshoot when a shelf is used in cut settings.
As an example, when applying a HF shelf, adding Q will cause the midrange just below the shelf to be cut, while simultaneously increasing the slope of the rise to the shelf. This has the effect of reducing perceived harshness, while sweetening the overall sound.
The Type 1 setting of the Oxford EQ has a relatively high Q regardless of gain boost or cut, and is said to sound most like the SSL 4000 EQ. Type 2 actually features a different Q depending if you're cutting or boosting, with the cut retaining a constant Q. Type 3 has the Q reducing with gain and is subtler than the others, similar to that on certain Neve and SSL G Series boards. Type 4 provides a wide Q with Gain and is quite smooth-sounding.
As you might guess, the easiest thing to do is try them all on a per track basis, since every sound has its own sonic requirement. I've found that Types 3 and 4 work best on vocals and stringed instruments, with Type 2 being the most useful on transient sounds like drums and percussion.
In the above screen shots, you can see the dramatic difference in the overall EQ curve between the Type 2 and Type 4 EQs. In the left-side example, I inserted a Type 2 EQ on a timpani drum, with a soft filter at 62 Hz and a slight boost at 134 Hz. In the right-side example, I just switched the EQ to Type 4. That is one of the great things about this EQ — you can get many different sounds with it.
Filters and Other Functions
Let’s not forget about the filters here. I'm a big believer in filtering — especially in the low end of mixes. With the Oxford EQ, the filters run in line before the five EQ bands, and the order of processing is as follows: Input Gain, Low-Pass Filter (LPF), High-Pass Filter (HPF), Low Frequency (LF), Low-Mid Frequency (LMF), Mid-Frequency (MF), High-Mid Frequency (HMF) to High-Frequency (HF).
Filtering creates space in the mix for elements to shine through as needed. I've found that placing filters after reverbs can also help prevent low-end buildup from clouding the bottom of a song — especially with big snare drums and drum overheads. I will typically use filters in combination with EQ cuts on many tracks throughout a mix — ranging from bass, guitars, keyboards, vocal tracks, and effects.
As an example, here is a filter I’m using on a remix loop for Argentinean songstress Estella Raval. I wanted to get rid of the kick pattern and lighten the treble so other loops could fill that 'acoustic space'.
Here is an audio example of the loop with the filters in line, and a slight cut using Type 1 EQ at 3280 Hz.
Here is the same loop pattern with the filters out. Notice the low-end content is now back.
Finally, here is an audio example of the combination of loops I wanted to layer on top of each other to achieve a pulsating effect, made possible by using the Sonnox EQ filter section.
Another cool thing to try with this plug-in are the A/B buttons. They let you create two completely different EQ settings (minus the filters) and instantly switch between them. I've found this most useful in densely-packed songs where there are many frequencies competing for the same ear space. For example, sometimes it's difficult to get the snare to cut through, and with the A/B buttons I can test different frequencies and quickly check them.
As you can see, there are a lot of options with the Oxford EQ. Experiment and see what works well on your own mixing projects!