Tokyo Dawn Labs Slick EQ M - Mastering Edition by Sound-Guy
TDR SlickEQ Mastering Edition from Tokyo Dawn
Tokyo Dawn are a record label and a software company, and make some truly fine plugins including the excellent NOVA GE parallel dynamic EQ (Tokyo Dawn Labs Nova GE 2.0) and the TDR Limiter-6 GE dynamics processor (Tokyo Dawn Labs Limiter 6 GE) which I reviewed on Gearspace a few years back and use frequently in mix projects. Their latest updated product I've just tried is the SlickEQ Mastering Edition (SLEQ), a comprehensive parallel EQ system designed for mastering duties. If you’ve looked at Tokyo Dawn in the past few years you know there is a free version of Slick EQ and a paid version, Slick EQ GE (Gentleman’s Edition) with additional filter modes, a real-time analyzer, tilt control and other added features. Both of these were developed by a joint project of Variety of Sound and Tokyo Dawn Labs. The mastering edition is a further enhancement of Slick EQ GE, with significant differences such as additional EQ bands, a unique meta-filter control, a low frequency mono filtering mode, and flexible low and high frequency harmonic exciters.
What is It?
SlickEQ Mastering Edition is an EQ with a vast range of functions including six EQ bands, low and high pass filters, harmonic generation, stereo image control, a fascinating meta-filter control, and low frequency image centering. It has some of the same features as Slick EQ GE like Smart Operations which can analyze the audio input’s spectral properties to provide spectral matching and removal of static resonances caused by the recording environment. Smart Ops can also be used between different instances of SLEQ in a project to spectrally match or differentiate one track or bus from another.
Slick EQ M opens with all filter controls showing and the Frequency Magnitude display hidden.
SLEQ is aimed at mastering with six parametric filter bands that operate in parallel with controls for both stereo position and image width for each of the filter bands (below the gain controls). There is also a final output stereo imaging control at the far right along with an output gain trim. In addition to the six bands there are both LP and HP filters with a selection of slopes (6, 12, 18 and 24 dB/octave), and a sophisticated meta-filter in the center section that can adjust the brightness or hardness of the processed sound, or provide an adjustable equal loudness curve to compensate for the Fletcher-Munson effect. And there are flexible low frequency and high frequency harmonic exciters with controls for both harmonic level and adjustment of the corner frequencies of the generated harmonics that enable shaping the harmonic content over a wide range.
Clicking the Display button opens the Frequency Magnitude panel above the EQ controls.
The Display button in the upper toolbar turns on (or off) an optional Frequency-Magnitude display with pre or post processing spectral plot that can exhibit left and right EQ plots separately, show separate left and right spectra, and visually indicate extended (or reduced) stereo separation when its stereo imaging controls are engaged. Very slick! Well, it is the Slick EQ M!
What Can It Do?
SLEQ EQ curves, like other TDR EQs, are a bit different than most EQs in that pushing up one frequency band immediately lowers the gain of other bands in an attempt to provide continuous loudness compensation. If you use a single band and dip it 8 dB, you will see the gain at that frequency drops only about 6 dB but the rest of the EQ curve rises about 2 dB – I found this to work reasonably well, but tests with an accurate LUFS meter indicated that the output loudness can vary up to about a dB for the higher EQ settings. As with other TDR processors, there is automatic EQ loudness compensation that can be used to reduce loudness bias when bypassing the EQ – this appears to yield the same results as the continuous loudness compensation. While not perfectly matching the EBU R128 standard, this compensation system helps a great deal compared to most EQs I have used.
Here all six EQ bands have positive gain settings, yet above 700 Hz the EQ curve actually reduces gain (left scale).
Speaking of EQ gain variation, the nominal maximum range is +/- 8 dB, which for most mastering applications is plenty, but there is a handy Range control in the left-most panel than nominally sits at 100% – this can be increased up to 200% which expands all EQ band ranges to +/-16 dB. It can also be lowered so that at 50% the full range is +/- 4 dB. And it can be taken right down through 0% and into negative percentages which will flip peaks to dips and dips to peaks. This can be handy to check for harsh frequency ranges, although Smart Ops is generally faster and more accurate for taming resonances.
Another useful tool that I have not seen in a general EQ is the dedicated low frequency mono filter – it has a control that adjusts the “LF Mono” filter’s cutoff frequency – signals below this frequency gradually become mono. I found this effective on a few commercial recordings I played, focusing the low end in the center which delivered more “punch”. And if you are mastering for vinyl, this function could be critical.
While I found all the functions of SLEQ very useful, the stereo imaging controls were a particularly fun surprise. Each of the six EQ bands has its own width and pan control, as does the master output section. When testing an EQ on some of my commercial CD reference songs, it is rare that I feel an improvement can be made, but playing with some “perfect” mixes of classic rock I found stretching and compressing the stereo image of some EQ bands could create alternate “masters” that I liked better than the original.
Stereo width expanded in bands 4 and 5 – +2dB and +1dB respectively – shows as tinted green area in EQ plot.
The stereo controls use mid-side processing, and if you push the width too high you can get phasey effects, but in some cases I found this to be a good thing, especially with some psychedelic music from the 60’s and 70’s! Used sparingly it can create a very useful modified sound stage for a finished stereo track, and using several instances on buses in a mix project provides a staggering array of possibilities. Although some other EQ programs I have include mid-side controls tied to EQ bands, this is about the most intuitive implementation I’ve seen.
There are more functions and alternate modes such as a Fixed Latency Mode which compensates for dynamic latency changes when using the Mixed Phase options. This Mixed Phase mode enable improved phase linearity for the width and balance filters, so if you are really after critical processing, it’s an option though it introduces additional latency and CPU load, which is not a significant concern when mastering.
Of course all the controls can use DAW automation too, so you can vary EQ and imaging effects, even the settings of the low frequency and high frequency harmonic exciters, over the course of a song. There is comprehensive documentation online which you can download, and the toolbar has Undo/Redo, A/B comparisons and advanced preset management.
SlickEQ Mastering Edition is available for VST2, VST3, AU and AAX formats for Windows (Win XP SP2 or above in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions) and Mac OS X 10.9 or above (64-bit only). In my test system (PC Audio Labs Rok Box PC with Windows 7, 64 Bit, 4-Core Intel i7-4770K, 3.5 GHz, and 16 GB RAM) SlickEQ M used from 0.35% to 1.5% CPU resources depending on the processing quality mode: Live mode has zero latency and has the lowest CPU load, but with reduced functions. Eco mode used about 0.5% CPU with 172 samples of latency unless the Fixed Latency Mode is engaged which sets latency for all modes (other than Live) to 1,708 samples. The Precise mode uses about 0.75% CPU resource and the truly insane “Insane” mode ran from 1% to 1.5% depending on settings. However, the Precise mode exhibited no aliasing down to -200 dBFS unless the harmonic exciter levels are cranked all the way up and the input level exceeds 0 dBFS – and if you push things like that you are likely going for a “trash metal” sound and will appreciate some aliasing in addition to the harmonics!
Tokyo Dawn provides another truly excellent product! A fine, powerful and extremely flexible EQ/stereo-image processor with superb audio fidelity. Aimed at mastering, but can be effective on mix buses or a few tracks. A winner for sure!
Very flexible and comprehensive EQ and stereo image manipulation with an intuitive user interface
Excellent audio quality in all processing quality modes – “perfect” audio quality using the Insane mode!
Smart Operations feature can analyze audio input to provide spectral matching and removal of static resonances, and can be used on several instances with shared analysis curves.
Real-time auto gain feature automatically compensates for changes of perceived loudness.
Unique stereo width display in the frequency-magnitude EQ plot with optional spectral analysis.
Good value for money.
Does not provide dynamic EQ, but that’s what NOVA GE is for.
A bit high on CPU use, but it’s intended for mastering, so that’s hardly an issue.