IK Multimedia Master EQ 432
Master EQ 432 is the latest addition to the T-RackS Custom Shop series of mixing and mastering plugins, emulating the MES-432C - an early design by Sontec, and one of the original parametric EQs.
"The Sontec MES-432C garnered legendary status among mastering engineers in particular"
While we have to roll our eyes a bit at the introduction of yet another EQ plugin to an already-rammed market, this one is based on one of the most sought-after hardware models ever built, having garnered legendary status among mastering engineers in particular.
Master EQ 432 runs within the T-RackS Custom Shop 'shell' interface (free from the IK Multimedia website) or as a plugin (VST/AU/RTAS/AAX) in your DAW (although CS still has to be installed). When run within T-RackS Custom Shop, Master EQ 432 can be chained with your other installed T-RackS modules.
You get three parametric bands with stepped controls and two shelving filters, and all the usual mastering-orientated channel configurations: left, right, mid, sides, mid/sides, mono and stereo. We began our testing by running a few mixdowns through it, and as long as our settings were sensible (ie, we didn't deliberately overdo it just to hear what might happen), Master EQ 432 never seemed to adversely affect the character of the mix. It seems to inflate sounds when boosting, adding size and presence.
Overall, though, it's quite unobtrusive to the point of coming across as underwhelming - you never feel that the sound is being hyped as you push the gains up. However, bypassing the plugin usually left us feeling shocked at how much of a difference it was actually making.
Who's the master?
Next, we went through a variety of other EQ plugins from a host of developers also aiming to replicate the MES-432C, but we couldn't get any of them to sound quite the same. The top end of Master EQ 432's output is particularly remarkable - silky, smooth and very classy.
The other EQs we compared it to produced results that sounded notably manipulated and a little rough around the edges, in contrast to Master EQ 432's impressively natural, clean and polished tone.
Vocals, drums, synths, pianos... everything we threw at Master EQ 432 we were able to enhance in just a few quick moves. The plugin makes it easy to add punch to the lower mids without creating mud, and sparkle to the top end without introducing harshness.
This is an EQ with a very musical tone, and one that sounds surprisingly different to other plugins in its category. Its sweet yet transparent sound is suitable for full mixes, sub-mixes and individual tracks, although it is pretty CPU-intensive, so definitely ought to be demo'ed before you buy, to see if it's something your machine can handle in the quantities required. That won't matter for mastering, of course, where only one or two instances are required, but it could be an issue in mixing situations, where large numbers of them would be required.
Also, as with quite a few other classic EQ plugins, the fixed shelving options feel anachronistic and needlessly limiting - authenticity at the expense of flexibility. Still, once heard, Master EQ 432 is a very difficult proposition to resist.
Truly outstanding sound quality. Very transparent. Easy to learn. Quick to set up. L/R and M/S operation.
CPU-heavy. Some limitations of the hardware.
Demanding on the host computer it may be, but Master EQ 432 is a classic reborn, complete with the original's limitations.
Plugin emulation of the Sontec MES-432C EQ hardware