Acustica Audio’s new Diamond Color EQ is the first collaboration between Acustica and legendary mastering engineer Luca Pretolesi (Calvin Harris, Jack U, 2 Chains, Major Lazer, Diplo, Nicki Minaj). Renown for its Nebula and Acqua plugins, which are widely regarded as the best analog emulation plugins on the market, Acustica’s Diamond Color EQ is a major step forward in both the sound quality and usability of their plugins.
Setup & First Impressions
Diamond Color EQ was released concurrently with Acustica’s new Aquarius Lite authorization software, which is a huge upgrade from AA’s old authorization system (which was time consuming and sometimes difficult), and it makes authorizing both Diamond Color EQ and older AA plugins an absolute breeze. Download the installer from AA’s website, install your plugins, and open Aquarius Lite to authorize them with one click. Acustica has what might be the most generous license terms I’ve seen, allowing you up to 10 authorizations of one plugin on your machines (not for multiple users) - this is a stark contrast from many developers which allow 1 or 2 authorizations.
First impressions with the plugin were as favorable as we’d hoped. The interface is well laid out with huge knobs for all EQ bands, and can be easily bypassed internally. Diamond Color EQ comes with two versions, as is standard for all Acustica Acqua plugins - one “regular” EQ and one Zero Latency plugin, which offers comparable sound with no latency in your DAW.
First, let’s cut to the chase - this is hands down the best sounding plugin EQ ever made. As a bit of a plugin junkie, I’ve tried just about every EQ on the market, ranging from precise digital equalizers to emulations of analog devices - and I have never heard anything like this in the box (ITB). The realism, depth, and width of this EQ are spot on with high end analog gear, and the high band is the most natural and forgiving band of EQ I’ve ever heard in the digital realm.
Diamond Color EQ is marketed as a high-end mixing/mastering EQ which doesn’t model any one particular device from Luca’s DMI mastering studio, but rather is a hybrid of several of his go to EQ’s and saturation devices which he uses in his mastering work. It features 3 continuously variable (non-stepped) bands; Low Band (20/40/60hz), Low Mid Band (80-120hz), High Band (15K, 20K, 50K(!)) one frequency-locked mid band, and a low cut filter. In addition, there is a switchable preamp that colors the signal substantially, which can be bypassed without dis-engaging the EQ. Finally, the plugin features input and output gain controls which provide a generous +-24dB of gain.
As I stated previously, while each band of Diamond Color EQ holds its own, the high band steals the show here. Good analog EQ’s have a way of sounding like they’re uncovering high frequencies that were already present in a sound, while almost all digital EQ’s sound like they’re adding unnatural high frequencies; using the 50K boost, even at full gain, sounds natural, open, and like you’ve taken a veil off the sound or mix you’re processing. Using the EQ from the get-go on the master channel of a recent major label production allowed me to use far less EQ on individual channels than I normally would, while achieving a mix that sounded full of analog tone. It’s almost impossible to make this high band sound bad.
While the high band is the standout here, the rest of the EQ bands are phenomenal as well. Low bands are also an easy way to tell a plugin from a real analog EQ; analog EQ’s tend to sound rock-solid and powerful, while never getting boomy or overbearing even when adding heaps of low frequencies - digital EQ’s often turn boxy and overly heavy even when adding modest amounts of low frequency gain. As you would expect from Acustica, the low bands here are capable of rescuing weak sounds with just a touch of gain, all while retaining the natural character of the sound. Additionally, although Diamond Color EQ is not marketed as a linear phase EQ, I found it did not have any negative effects on low end phase whatsoever. If you’re looking for a drum EQ, this has got you covered. The low cut filter is also outstanding, clearing out the muddy low end of tracks/mixes without making things sound weak.
The preamp section adds a considerable amount of color to your signal, and true to analog gear, it will respond with varying levels of saturation and color depending how hard you hit the input (input/output gains come in very handy here!). I personally found the preamp to add a bit too much color on a full mix, as I was running several other analog-emulation devices in my master chain, but it’s exceptional for single tracks/busses which need some added vibe.
Conclusion / Recommended For
It’s hard to find fault with this exceptional sounding EQ, but there are a few very minor areas which could use improvement. The gain knobs can be a bit fiddly, and I did sometimes find it difficult to get a precise amount of gain on a particular band, but I didn’t find this to be a big deal - partially because this EQ can add so much gain and never sound bad. Personally I would love to see a user-adjustable HMF band instead of it having a fixed frequency; there were several times in the mix where I had to use another plugin to tackle an issue in this area of the spectrum, because I wasn’t able to dial in an exact frequency. That being said, the HMF band is usable much more often than not, and I trust AA had good reason for leaving this at a fixed frequency. Compared to older Acustica plugins, this plugin feels very responsive, without the lag some of AA’s older processors exhibit.
If you’re a producer just starting out, you may want to get a more precise digital EQ as your first purchase, as that will allow you to get surgical and tackle resonance issues in a more exact way than an analog emulation like Diamond Color EQ can. But if you’re in the market for an EQ which can apply heaps of gain without ever sounding bad, and an EQ that shines on busses and full mixes, you simply can’t find a better option than Diamond Color EQ. 10/10.
- Absolutely stunning sound. Hands down the best sounding digital EQ on the market.
- Easy authorization. Huge step up for Acustica in this department.
- Bands are highly useful and frequencies have been selected with care.
- High band is the best on the market.
- Offers genuine-sounding analog saturation via switchable preamp.
- Knobs can be a bit difficult to get to precise values without DAW automation.