Thursday, January 31, 2013

SplineEQ Review - Definitive Mastering-grade Audio Scalpel

Twenty dollars doesn't net you much these days. More often than not, you haven't enough change left out of a twenty dollar bill, to even tip the pizza delivery guy. If you've ever had to rely on pizza delivery money to earn a few urgent dollars during your high school or college years, you know that it's better to have $25 or $30 for pizza. *wink.

So what can $20 buy, that you will know was very well spent and beneficial? (well, $19 actually) Surely it couldn't be an incredibly powerful, linear-phase, mastering-grade EQ plugin . . . . Could it?


Mr. M. Rouzic (aka "A_SN") contacted me back in the middle of June, 2012, via a personal message and invited me to test and review PhotoSounder's wonderful new Linear Phase EQ plugin, SplineEQ. I was honored that he thought well of my writing skills and audio engineering skill. Of course, I didn't apprise him otherwise. *wink* Many progressional, mastering-grade plugins of this ilk are often very expensive and require strict (read: bothersome) anti-piracy mechanisms. I was somewhat skeptical that a plugin costing a mere $19 could even pay admission to watch the game, let alone get on the playing field.

I'd been very busy with work, ministry engagements, and an overdue (3) week vacation and finally, at the end of July, 2012, I was at liberty to bench test SplineEQ. My findings are most nearly all positive. I will attest to my fellow KVR reviewers' testimonials that there can be quite a bit of latency induced if you operate this plugin at its higher quality settings. That aside, it does sound very, very clear and free from ringing, fuzziness, or other fatiguing audio artifacts. As such, this plugin shines brilliantly in a final mix/mastering scenario. I'm not one to encourage price increases, but it would not be unreasonable if this plugin cost 3 or 4 times as much. (I hope PhotoSounder doesn't get any ideas after reading my review . . . .)

It seems that every time I need to perform any type of surgical EQ tweak, SplineEQ has become my absolute GO TO plugin. Need to cleanly edit an acoustic upright bass track to retain rich sound while lessening "string buzz" or "click"?
SplineEQ to the rescue.

Need to bring out the 'shimmer' of a Hammond C3/Leslie combination?
SplineEQ to the rescue.

Need to tweak that nasty 'reverb ringing' in an otherwise satisfactory vocal track?
You guessed it! SplineEQ is a must have.

Once you get accustomed to working within its color-coded graphics assisted environment, your ears will become better trained (visual & auditory mental associations) and you will easily *find* offending frequencies.

Sound Quality:

Upon early review, I was immediately impressed with this EQ plugin's wonderfully CLEAN sound quality. The equalization curves are sophisticated and smooth-sounding; even when adjusted in steep, narrow bands. SplineEQ's tonal shaping qualities are easily adjustable in very granular steps or in large swaths. Yet, the caliber of audio quality remains high and transparent. Yes, I indubitably mean 'transparent'. This EQ's control of the frequency spectrum can be very obvious, but it adjusts frequencies - it DOES NOT 'color' the sound. I like to describe this plugin as a 1st class, blue-ribbon, utensil to garner accurate and extensive tonal shaping - without "coloration" or audio graininess.

SplineEQ is a precise, powerful tool for surgically removing unwanted aural tones. This mastering-grade plugin incontestably furnishes an engineer with a prodigious, auricular scalpel. The degree of tone-shaping control realized with this hallmark EQ plugin, is nothing short of amazing. Using greater 'resolution' (Over Sampling?) values ensures that the low end spectrum isn't damaged when making adjustments in this range. Many linear-phase EQs have trouble filtering frequencies lower than 500hz and the resulting processed waveform is negatively affected with audible 'ringing'. As a linear-phase equalizer, SplineEQ addresses lower frequencies tremendously well.

I often use SplineEQ as my EQ of choice on piano/keyboard tracks. I apply lower 'resolution' settings, while tracking, to reduce latency, yet the signal quality remains pleasantly satisfactory. In conjunction with a dedicated high pass filter, such as Melda Productions' free mBandPass, SplineEQ gives my piano/keyboard tracks exceptional clarity. Midrange and upper frequency increments, even in the +6 dB range, produce smooth, sweet sheen without sounding harsh nor grainy. If the instrument or vocal track is predominant in the mix, temporarily applying high resolution will gratify immensely.

** NOTE: SplineEQ's frequency points can be incremented/decremented by as much as (-/+) 60dB!


The plugin is attractively presented in a comfortably-sized, colorful, eye-pleasing graphical interface. It measures approximately 760px wide x 576px tall. Each of the plugin's categories are cleanly labeled with white text made especially legible against black background. The plugin's primary color is a subtle, easy-on-the-eyes, light silver/gray. The plainly visible knobs are charcoal colored highlighted with amber-like outer rings. The buttons are evenly proportioned and are simple to navigate. Button values are displayed in brght, neon-blue and lend a very polished look to the plugin's overall appearance. The plugin window is elegantly adorned with  slightly rounded bevel edges.

SplineEQ's button values are adjustable with smooth, linear mouse movements. Alternatively, convenient 'right-click' mouse action on any button allows direct keyboard input.

Photosounder have designed a unique visual frequency analyzing system, introducing us to vertical color-coded bands to display frequency energy. While many frequency analisys tools use osciliscope or spectral techniques, PhotoSounder's unique design is a greatly effective aid to visually locate "troublesome" frequencies. In essence, the 'stronger' the frequency energy is, the stronger its associated color will be displayed.

While the topic of frequency slope should technically be discussed in the above "Sound Quality" section, I am including it here due to the unique method by which PhotoSounder have implimented it. Unique to SplineEQ, is the feature to control the 'slope' of the frequency bands with  Bézier splines. This methodology is not lost on photo editing and graphics artists. Without indulging in overt technical terminology and definitions,  Bézier curves are considered to be the absolute smoothest method to create, well . . . . curves.

Those looking for traditinal "Q", will raise a puzzled eyebrow. I find the easiest way to "narrow" the frequency points is to simply add two addional frequency centers; one closely on either side of the intended frequency. For example: the dreaded 1200hz midrange area. I'll add a point at 960hz, and another at 1400hz. This constrains  a tight, narrow control over the intended frequency, 1200hz.


On a recent CD track for my upcoming Gospel album, I used Spline's lower resolution settings to make Acoustica's Pianissimo (Steinway Model D sample VSTi) really come to life, without noticeable latency, and without losing the warmth and character of the classic "Steinway" tone. When played at higher velocities, Pianissimo does somewhat over-accentuate sympathetic resonance and upper register "ping". When played at lower velocities, Pianissimo tends to become a little too "dark/mellow" sounding. Nevertheless, it really is a remarkably good sounding piano VSTi and it competes very well against sample libraries costing 2 or 3 times as much. By lowering the velocities of louder notes and enlisting SplineEQ as an insert effect on my piano track, I was able to balance the tone of Pianissimo to sit in the mix perfectly. It retained the warmth without sounding "boxy" or dull. The piano's upper register rung though cleanly and pleasantly without any shrillness. The mids were tamed nicely without losing definition.

Using subtle high frequency increase @ 2k, 4k, & 8k (+1 dB, +2.4dB, +2.1dB respectively) made my favorite B3 VSTi absolutely come to life and "shimmer" with gorgeous, breathtaking clarity. We are talking about taking the sweetness of Gospel-style Hammond Organ "through the roof, people!" The VSTi B3 emulator in question? Genuine Soundware's VB3.

Any time I've attempted to "fine-tune" Piano sample libraries or piano VSTIs, such as Acoustica's Pianissimo, with conventional (minimum phase) Parametric EQ or classic multi-band EQ plugins, the processed audio was sometimes contaminated with slight grainiess or fuzziness. These negative effects were most obvious on percussive note tails and decays. SplineEQ neutralizes these unwanted anomalies.

I won't directly compare this remarkably affordable plugin to much higher priced products such as FabFilter Pro-Q, EQuality, and other expensive Linear Phase EQ offerings; that may be bad for those "other guys". *grin* Notwithstanding, SplineEQ is an amazing plugin that allows tremendous control over tone-shaping. It's very simple to use, and I can attest that your mixes will benefit expotentially using this professional, expensive-sounding, studio-grade plugin.

I emphatically declare: It is very, very good. It's also very, very reasonably priced.

I rank SplineEQ way up there with other exceptional products from other independent developers as ToneBoosters, SKnote, Klanghelm, etc..


-  Attractive design.
-  Clean, transparent audio quality.
-  Ease of use.
-  Capable of extensive, equalization fine tuning.
-  Granular control (when needed).
-  Very affordable.

:: CONS:

-  Latency - it is linear phase after all. This type of plugin is best suited for mastering purposes.

Visit the PhotoSounder website.

Brother Charles is a freelance writer, Gospel music artist and minister. Charles had been a professional touring musician during the nineties; working primarily as a lead guitarist in the Canadian country music industry. Brother Charles is also involved with music production and quality home recording.

Intellectual Copyright - 2013 - All rights Reserved. This review may not be copied or reproduced in whole, nor in part, without express written permission from the author.

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