In this article our friends at The Audio Hunt are going to share their most popular 5 hardware EQs that work, in their opinion, as a musical EQs. The EQs listed in this article all have their own vibe and character may they be super clean, warm or gritty... there will be at least one EQ you'll know.
There is no one absolute tool for any given job; selecting a plug-in or hardware unit is all subjective and selecting the right tools for the job is always based on experience and personal taste.
But as far as EQs go there are a few worth mentioning. Surgical EQs can pinpoint a frequency with extreme accuracy enabling us to manipulate it beyond our wildest dreams. Then there are the musical tools, the units with a story behind them; those that can be ‘played’ more like an instrument. These types of musical EQs apply broad strokes to our audio rather than being surgical precision tools.
The year was 1972 and the 42nd Audio Engineering Society was under way. A young and enthusiastic 25-year-old George Massenburg was submitting a paper titled ‘Parametric Equalisation’ which would completely change the way we talk about EQs. It was the first time the audio world had heard the term parametric, used by Massenburg to coin the sweep-tunable EQ, an EQ which would soon become the GML model 8200.
Arguably the archetype Stereo Parametric Equaliser, model 8200 can be found in most major studios across the world and finds its place generally on the master bus. Historically, one of the first EQ models to feature an adjustable bandwidth or Q setting for each of its five broadly-overlapping frequency bands, the 8200 provides 15dB of boost or cut. The unit is preferred in mixing or mastering applications for its pristinely crystal-clear sound, its extraordinary resolution, high precision and generous headroom space.
Manley Labs Massive Passive
Sometimes referred to as sounding ‘like a Pultec on hyper-steroids’, The Massive Passive is a two channel, four band equalizer, with additional high pass and low pass filters. A passive equaliser, as the name blatantly suggests, the Massive Passive can deliver a pristine sound even when pushed to the limit.
Passive equalisers work by shaping the sound through the use of metal film resistors, film capacitors and hand-wound inductors as opposed to active circuitry which can impart artefacts or add distortion to the signal. The result is a unit which produces twice as much eq with half the coloration, making it ideal for mixing or mastering uses or for fine vocal shading, to name only a few. The Massive Passive is designed to be a fundamentally different EQ which incorporates the best strengths of Pultecs, choice console EQs, parametrics and graphics.
It’s the sort of unit that you just have to hear for yourself in action on your own tracks, to get a sense of its full potential and capabilities. We recommend getting in touch with Mark over at The Audio Hunt who will gladly tackle your tracks and work them through Manley’s brilliant machine for less than a 100th of the price of the unit.
A less known sound-sculpting tool, Hendyamps’ Michelangelo is a true hidden gem designed by Chris Henderson in mid-2015. The units built to order by Chris and his team are discrete, Class A, all tube, full stereo units, with Jensen transformers in and out.
Michelangelo is not aimed at precisely targeting certain frequencies but rather it is a sound sculpting tool meant to be applied in broad stroke while also boasting a harmonic generator. The unit has six intuitively named knobs which control the level of five fixed frequencies manually tuned by Chris himself and a Trim pot at the very right of the unit. Apart from the six knobs, Agression, Love, Mid, High, Air and Trim, the EQ has two switches to toggle between Flat or Full response in the mids and a Modern or Vintage setting for the highs along with two calibration pots for the left and right input levels.
This is a truly remarkable piece of hardware which works great on individual tracks and in mixing and mastering applications. Words are not enough to describe the vibe of this unit and we strongly encourage you to try this for yourself on anything you want to infuse some character, whether it is a bass line, vocal track or across the entire mix. The beauty of the Michelangelo EQ is that it’s such a versatile piece of kit; it can be very clean if you only need to balance out the frequencies, but it can also add a truckload of grit and weight or sparkle a layer of fairy dust on top of the mix.
If you haven’t checked out Chris’ videos, visit his website and see for yourself what can be achieved with only five fixed frequency bands – it’s astonishing. The unit is available to use on any of your tracks via Matthew Gray over at The Audio Hunt at a fraction of the cost of buying the unit.
At first glance, the MÄAG EQ4 might seem like a fairly typical 6-band equalizer, but in reality, it is anything but that. Presumably chosen with vocal processing in mind, five of the six bands have fixed frequencies labeled on the front panel as 2.5kHz, 650Hz, 160Hz, 40Hz and a rather mysterious ‘Sub’ for the lowest knob on the unit.
What makes the EQ 4 different from most other units are the extreme low and high bands. I mention ‘extreme’ because the black ‘Sub’ knob at the very bottom of the unit controls the gain of a fixed bell curve set at an earth-shattering 10Hz. If you don’t have an old NS10 speaker lying around to re-wire into a sub-kick mic, try adding just a touch of 10Hz with the MÄAG and let us know what you think. Conversely, the ‘Sub’ control can also add a tone of weight to a plethora of sources, but use it wisely or else risk killing headroom in the mix. The other special ingredient of the EQ4, and perhaps what makes the unit popular, is the ‘Air band’. At its very basic, this band is a high shelf with five frequency options set at 2.5, 5, 10, 20 and a sky-scraping 40kHz. The latter two have an addictive nature in that we found ourselves wanting to add a generous boost to every track in the mix. Even if these frequencies are not audible to the human ear, they add a very distinctive sheen and sparkle, and can change the character of the sound all-together. We found it to be particularly useful for pushing the breaths in a vocal performance or for adding interest to cymbals, but if you have access to two of these units, it can work wonders on the mix bus - we strongly recommend trying this option.
Even if you can’t afford two of the MÄAG EQ4 hardware units, you can add this heavenly touch to your tracks for as little as €10 per track via Alex from Unreal Studios at The Audio Hunt.
Chandler Limited Curve Bender
A faithful recreation of the classic EMI TG12345 issued in celebration of the 75th birthday of Abbey Road Studios, Chandler Limited’s Curve Bender is based on the design of the vintage EMI console used to record the likes of Pink Floyd and The Beatles.
The Curve Bender is effectively an externally powered, solid‑state, four-band EQ. Conceived by Chandler’s designer Wade Goeke, the Curve Bender differs from the original by featuring a whopping 51 EQ points instead of only 9, a multiply switch that sharpens the Q and increases the boost/cut to 15dB and filter shape selection toggle for the high and low bands. Because of these modifications, the unit has found uses where surgical precision is required, with the added benefit of imparting the character of that era to the sound source. The Curve Bender also works wonders on natural recordings of small groups of sources such as jazz trios, singer-songwriter scenarios, or a classic 4-piece band. It definitely has a distinctive vibe which makes it a rather unique sounding unit as well as a masterpiece from an engineering standpoint.
Having mentioned this, Chandler’s website boasts a long list of testimonials from top industry professionals who have found uses for the Curve Bender in every possible situation. For example, Michael Brauer uses it both as a mixing and a mastering EQ while the mix busses of award winning titles including Adele – Rolling in the deep, Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines and Lady Gaga – Born this way, to name only a few.
Due to its intricate design and heritage values it puts forward, the unit is not for the budget-conscious engineer, however Neon Audio’s chief engineer Greg is more than happy to run your tracks through the Curve Bender and experiment with different settings, at a price similar to that of a replacement knob for the front panel of the unit.
Your Experiences Of Hardware EQs?
- Have you used any of these hardware EQ's before?