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Softube Passive-Active Pack (Mac/Win) Quick Pick Review

March 19, 2010
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Focusing Equalizer is one of the three high-quality equalizer plug-ins included in Softube Passive-Active Pack.

Focusing Equalizer is one of the three high-quality equalizer plug-ins included in Softube Passive-Active Pack.

Three equalizer plug-ins comprise the Passive-Active Pack software bundle. The Passive Equalizer is modeled on the passive equalizer in the vintage Neumann 
PEV 930-00 console. The classic, Swiss-made Filtek Labo mk.5 console''s equalizer was modeled to produce the Active Equalizer plug-in. The models for both hardware equalizers were combined and modified to produce the hybrid 
Focusing Equalizer.

The Passive-Active Pack is cross-platform and available in three formats: AU, RTAS, and VST. I reviewed Version 1.0.2 of the AU versions of the plug-ins in MOTU 
Digital Performer 6.02, using an 8-core Apple Mac Pro running OS X 10.5.4. All three plug-ins operate in either mono or stereo configuration and at standard sampling frequencies up to 192kHz.

Start a Band
Passive Equalizer is a 3-band affair. The filters for high and low bands are so broad that they act similar to shelving filters. The mid (presence) band has a bell-curve filter whose variable bandwidth, which is automatically set and not user-controllable, is widest at lower center frequencies. As in passive hardware equalizers, adjusting one filter affects the others.

Passive Equalizer centers its low-frequency adjustments around 60Hz for its low band and 10kHz for its high band. In these bands, you can boost (up to 9dB) or cut (as much as 15dB) in 3dB steps. In the presence band, you can boost (in 2dB steps up to 8dB) at any of seven center frequencies ranging from 700Hz to 5.6kHz; you can''t cut in this band. As with the other two plug-ins in this bundle, an output-volume control is provided, which ranges continuously from 12dB gain to infinite attenuation.

Active Equalizer also has three bands, not counting additional low- and high-cut filters. You can boost or cut up to 16dB at any of 12 frequencies in each band. Select a fixed broad or narrow Q for each band. The low- and high-cut filters each offer five corner frequencies and an 18dB-per-octave slope. All bands and filters can be independently bypassed.

With Focusing Equalizer, begin by adjusting corner frequencies for high- and low-cut filters. Within the resulting frequency range, the center frequencies for low, mid, and high bands of EQ are automatically chosen for you. You can only boost the low and high bands, whereas the mid band provides both boost and cut. Choose either passive or active EQ mode, or bypass both. Active mode provides narrower filter responses and steeper high- and low-cut filters (18dB per octave vs. 6dB per octave for passive mode).

Focusing Equalizer also provides saturation controls, which you can use with or without all EQ bypassed. Dial in the amount of tube-like saturation you want, and apply it to just the low or high frequencies or the entire spectrum.

Test Tone
Passive Equalizer is one of the sweetest, most musical digital EQs I''ve ever heard. It uncannily produces the smooth, sweet, round, focused, and silvery tones of a passive analog equalizer. Passive Equalizer''s broad filters are not meant for surgical tweaks. The wide gap of frequencies between its low band (60Hz) and its lowest mid frequency (700Hz) make it inadequate for use on tracks in need of upper-bass and low-midrange tweaks. That said, Passive Equalizer gave me absolutely magical results on bass guitar, snare drum, and lead vocals.

Active Equalizer, with its overlapping bands and variable Q, allowed the most precise tone sculpting of the three plug-ins. That said, I wish its low-cut filter went lower than 80Hz to roll off rumble. Active Equalizer lent pleasing coloration to lead vocals. By boosting low and high bands and cutting mids, I made a kick drum sound meaty and nicely clicky.

Focusing Equalizer was the most aggressive and colorful-sounding of the three plug-ins. It provided gorgeous, creamy tones that sounded slightly veiled compared to those produced by the pristine Passive Equalizer. The saturation controls added wonderful size and luster to vocals, electric guitar, and bass.

Focusing Equalizer''s lack of frequency and gain readouts in all three bands made equalization tasks a mostly by-ear exercise, and the inability to cut gain in low and high bands was somewhat limiting. Focusing Equalizer nevertheless brims with character, making most other EQ plug-ins sound boring and dimensionless by comparison.

All three plug-ins imposed very negligible CPU draw. Despite its ergonomic flaws (which are partly due to faithful modeling of the original equipment designs), I gave Passive-Active Pack a “5” rating because of its superb and multidimensional sound quality. At $179.99, this bundle is an outrageous steal. High-quality equalization doesn''t get better than this.

Overall rating (1 through 5): 5
Passive-Active Pack Product Page
Distributed by MV Pro Audio

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