TOMO Audiolabs LISA review: Boutique, mastering-grade dynamic EQ from the comfort of your DAW

Take control of your mixbus with 6 bands of smooth opto compression. Is this the ultimate mastering EQ?

TOMO Audiolabs LISA

Review Overview

Our rating

10

Our verdict

Smooth, natural, high-quality sound
Can hone in on specific parts of the mix
Can make anything sound better!
Compression and expansion in one
Additional features add flexibility

Steep learning curve
Heavy on CPU
Cluttered GUI

Short of winning the lottery, or getting a platinum hit record, it’s unlikely any of us will be owning the hardware version of TOMO Audiolabs LISA anytime soon, as it comes in at around $15k. Thankfully the modeling experts at Brainworx have made an exacting copy of this boutique, mastering-grade dynamic EQ for you to use in your DAW. It features 6 bands, each with independent compression and expansion, and a parallel circuit path that means you can get beautifully smooth, natural and transparent sounding results.

There’s no denying that the GUI is a little daunting at first, and you’ll probably need to read the manual to get to grips with its unique features. However, once you get the hang of the workflow, it becomes fairly intuitive. You get two channels that can be run in stereo or mid/side, and each has two parametric mid bands, parametric low and high bands with shelving mode, and two dedicated boost bands, plus a HP filter. Each band has controls for Gain, Frequency and Threshold, and the 4 parametric bands have Q controls, plus the ability to boost or cut, and do compression or expansion. There’s also a dial offering 6 fixed attack and release times, and a button that switches between 3:1 and 10:1 ratios.

In theory, you could just use LISA as a transparent and musical sounding EQ, but it starts to become more of a unique problem solver once you dial in some targeted compression or expansion. There’s a useful button called Dry Mute that enables you to listen to just the boosted or cut audio, which is possible because it uses a parallel signal path. This is an excellent way to hone in on problem frequencies and really hear what you’re doing, and it’s unique to find this degree of precision in an analogue style processor.

The way it works is a little unusual though. To create a dynamic cut, you set the band to Expansion so that the frequency in question is boosted when it passes the Threshold. Then you select Cut mode and it inverts the phase on the parallel signal. This has the effect of cancelling out the boosted and expanded audio, but it does this in a very natural sounding way. You’re able to make effective improvements to mixes and instruments by nudging out harshness and thickening the bits you like, adding punch to beats, or taming sibilance in a vocal. That said, LISA is a fairly big drain on CPU, so although there’s a mono version for use on separate instruments, it will probably mostly be used on the whole mix.

TOMO Audiolabs LISA

Elsewhere on the GUI you have a Master Threshold for tweaking all the thresholds at once, plus the usual Brainworx additions that include TMT component modeling variations, Mono Maker, Stereo Width and Headroom controls. There’s also a new TX Drive control, which lets you dial in more or less transformer saturation and character.

Although it sticks close to the original hardware, we found the GUI a little cluttered. It would be useful if you could hide one of the channels when working in Parameter Link mode, as you don’t really need to see both. That aside, once you get your head around the controls and workflow, LISA is an incredible sounding plug-in that’s able to make noticeable improvements to a bunch of sources. The combination of an analogue EQ sound with dynamics control can really make tracks come to life, and you instantly miss it when it’s bypassed. If you can pick it up in one of Plugin Alliance’s regular sales, or with its Forever29 subscription plan, then it’s a bargain.

TOMO Audiolabs LISA

Key Features

  • Precise emulation of the unique TOMO Audiolabs LISA
  • Independent opto-compression/expansion for each of its 6 bands
  • Two parametric mid bands, parametric low and high bands with shelving mode, and two dedicated boost bands, plus HP/LP filters- Parallel circuits allows greater changes and more transparency
  • TMT “Tolerance Modeling Technology”
  • New TX Drive feature
  • Mono Maker, Stereo Width, Headroom, Auto Listen
  • Mono plug-in version
  • Scalable user interface
  • Artist presets
  • Price: $399 (but PA have regular sales)
  • Also available as part of the MEGA Bundle subscription for $249.99 / year
  • Or you could use the FOREVER29 subscription plan and it would cost $30.99 (more details on the website)
  • Contact TOMO Audiolabs
  • Buy: Plugin Alliance