Essentials – Hofa IQ Limiter, IQ-EQ v3 and IQ Reverb
Hofa is a company that joins quality with imagination. IQ Reverb, IQ Limiter and IQ EQ v3 are quite unique tools that can improve your tracks without changing their character.
by Alex Arsov, Sept. 2016
My friend Google and I went on a search for a good limiter. I need it on my main output for some cinematic orchestral tunes buffed up with big percussion, being fairly quiet as orchestral things can be. I have several limiters, having downloaded loads of different demo versions from various developers. Most of them were great, with one small issue: as soon as you increase the input by more than 2 dB, the character of the source sound starts to change. Some limiters added some kind of blurriness, others some discrete distortion, and in the worst case some sort of pumping. Stubborn as I am, I continued with my search, changing the search criteria, and came to the Hofa site. To be honest, I’d never heard of this company before and I’ve been reviewing gear since 2008, so I though I knew them all. Fifteen minutes later I was so pleased with the results that I decided to give a few of their other products a try and was very pleasantly surprised. Many companies claim that they offer intelligent solutions. The fact is, Hofa really offered that. A limiter with one knob, input/output indicator and an option menu with three options that works great with all material. Then there is a reverb that analyzes the incoming signal and uses that on the output for gating the source, adapting the tail to note length. Yes, that’s something that we can call an intelligent solution. I have already seen an EQ that offers compression to separate bands, but this one pushed everything a bit further.
Hofa IQ Limiter
I tried this limiter with all sorts of material, increasing the gain up to six decibels, always getting the same results: clean and unchanged, just louder. If you run into distortion, just switch Limiter mode to Slow and there will be no distortion anymore. This limiter mode is aimed at different input signals: Slow, Mid or Fast. If you use it as the last effect in your mastering chain that Dithering option (that you can find in the middle under the enormous input gain knob) will come in handy, offering 16- and 24-bit dithering to tame your final master. The Input gain knob is for input gain and to the right of dithering button is an output gain window where you can set the amount of output gain, having -0.2 dB as default, so don’t touch this. The Output indicator shows RMS on left side of stereo signal and output level on right. That’s more or less it. It is really simple to use and at least for my ear (I checked it constantly also through headphones) it doesn’t change the source sound in any direction except by being louder. Actually, that is all I want from a limiter.
It costs $129,90 USD.
More info about Hofa IQ Limiter
Hofa IQ Reverb
This is a convolution reverb, one of a many, but I found it to be quite indispensable as it offers a big well-defined wet signal without getting any additional muddiness or massive uncontrolled long tail that rings a long time after the unaffected sound ends. Even when gate is not switched on – and yes, IQ Reverb also has a Gate function implemented as an option – it actually comes with a great bag of really cool tools, controllers and options that can be implemented on any reverb impulse that is represented in a great number of ready-made presets optimized for various tasks and group of instruments. It is possible, and even quite easy, to implement any of your own reverb impulses just by dragging it to preset library. But I found that the existing ones sound better than those I found on many other convolution reverbs that I own. I presume there is also some under-the-hood programming there along with the carefully chosen impulses that makes this IQ Reverb sound so good.
The main window is divided in two sections. On the right is a big browser window with a group of most common instruments listed in the upper row, some sort of spreadsheet where every impulse uses a set of dots suggesting which group of instrument for which this impulse is best suited. It is quite transparent and easy to find the right one.
On the left is a big 3D impulse spectrum display where you can even set some parameters. The first tool window is set for testing impulses containing various musical clips, from orchestral and vocal to guitar or whole band loops that can be automatically triggered with any parameter change, or if you prefer, manually triggered with the stop and play button. Another one is A Frequency Dependent Reverb Time, where we can dampen, actually increase or decrease reverb time for a specific frequency preventing those low frequencies lasting forever and muddying the picture. Then we get Cut and Gate windows where, with Cut, the impulse can be chopped after the desirable length, ideal for some big drum effects, and a Gate where the dry input signal is triggered effecting the wet signal, keeping big reverbs quite clean and well-defined no matter whether long or short notes are played. The next one in the bottom row is modulation, adding a few variations, modulations that algorithmic reverbs usually have. The last is the Positioner where we can set a position for an impulse just by dragging it around. With a double-click we get separate controls for left and right channel of a stereo signal.
There are a few another functions in the row under the 3D impulse spectrum display, like In and Out options, letting you to set input level along with Wet/Dry level. And Time, actually Reverb time with Stretch and Dump options in percents, and an IR compensation window where you can set the level for the direct signal, early reflections and tail, setting the time offset for the last two along with setting the so-called Border, actually manually setting transitions between those three signals with an additional two sliders or setting the Auto option that will take care of it for you. You know the rule: if it ain’t broken …
All in all, great sounding, quite easy to operate with great additional features and big, up to the minute presets made from custom made impulse responses. The thing that I like the most is that it doesn’t change the character of the input signal too much, just adding some well-defined space around it.
For €149 EUR you get much more than you might expect.
More info about Hofa IQ Reverb
This one is quite a unique tool. As I said, I’ve seen this combination before, but Hofa brings this Equalizer with dynamic band up to a new level, adding more controls and going a bit deeper with the settings. More equalizer curves, acting like some analog unit adding a hole before boost when using shelf filters, or simply offering more precise editing, not to mention the Auto option in the compressor part of every band. A sidechain option added on every band can be external, from some other instrument, or simply internal, so we can apply compression without changing any gain. With IQ-EQ v3 you can fix many problems, using it as de-esser or taming the annoying peaks on any instrument without reducing that frequency in general for the whole take. It serves almost as a classic channel strip as it can dynamically control EQ curves, it works also as an expander, and as a fancy addition, every band has its own set of presets.
Let’s introduce a few more details. It is a six-band equalizer / multi-band compressor with additional Low and High pass filters that can go quite steep. A multi-band compressor can apply compression only on a strict frequency range, while the IQ-EQ v3 compressor follows the frequency curve, making this band compression function quite a bit more flexible than is the case with most multi-band compressors.
In the upper row we can find an Input/Output section along with a Low and High pass filter section. In the middle of the main graphical interface is a big graphic display with three different types of frequency response displayed at once: adjusted frequency response, a current dynamic procession and realtime display.
Below we find a set of four blocks for each of the six bands, where we can Solo a band to hear what exactly is going on or even to find that disturbing frequency. In the next block are basic filter controls: a drop-down menu with a huge set of filter types, plus the standard gain, Q and frequency. The third block brings a Dynamic section. My favorite button here is Auto. Trust me, it works beautifully. No brains, no tumors, just press it and enjoy. In Auto mode you can also set ratio values manually depending on whether you would like to compress or expand a band. You can find more details about this in the manual and with a touch of practice everything falls into place. Of course if you are one of “those”, you can set all the standard compressor attributes manually.
The last block brings a Sidechain section with quite a unique and flexible set of controllers. Not only can you choose filter type for Sidechain, making it ultra effective and precise, there is also an option to use it internally or externally, using it to tame some frequency without applying equalization.
If you don’t use the Dynamic section then CPU consumption is more or less the same as using any other equalizer, so it can serve as your one and only tool for this task as it sounds as all Hofa plugins: clean, precise and well-defined. I’m a master of habits and probably will still use my main equalizer for all the usual tasks that are required on every channel, having already a million presets adapted to my needs, but whenever I will run into any problem or if I need to tame any sound, then IQ-EQ v3 will find its place. The dynamic processors also give a totally different experience, being linked to different frequency ranges and curves with the brilliant auto function. IQ-EQ v3 maybe doesn’t bring such a great number of general purpose presets as some other equalizers on the market, but those additional Band presets that can be found in the first block of every band are priceless. For the normal price of one plug-in you get a multi-functional Swiss Army knife for all equalization tasks. As they wrote on their site: €129 EUR only!!!
More info about Hof IQ EQ v 3
I felt sad that I hadn’t discovered Hofa’s set of plug-ins until now. They really added new components to my production, becoming indispensable tools for every song I make. All three plug-ins are available inside the Production bundle, and at the moment it costs €289.90 EUR. All their plug-ins are unique in some way, offering intelligent solutions. I’ve seen this “intelligent solutions” slogan on many products, but it really make sense with every product from Hofa. I was surprised with the sound quality that all three products offer, with a pristine sound even if you increase the gain up to 6 dB on the Hofa IQ-Limiter. Clean and well-defined, vivid, big and natural sounding without a muddy tail from IQ-Reverb. I know, a lot of adjectives, but be so kind as to download a demo and try it for yourself. Regarding IQ-EQ v3, not to mention how many times I come across the problem of how a few lead guitar tones can ruin the whole take, bringing in some unwanted frequencies just on a specific note, or various wind instruments that can kill the whole arrangement with some annoying frequency that can’t be cut out without losing definition and there is no other way to make it right, or a problem with an acoustic guitar that jumps all over the place. IQ-EQ v3 is the right tool for all those issues. Unique, intelligent and top sounding. Looking forward to trying some other Hofa products in the future. Keep up the excellent work.
ESSENTIAL for: All three plug-ins are easy to use and do not change original sound in any other way than just making it better. High quality at its best. I’m really impressed with effects from the company that until recently I didn’t even know existed.