I've been looking for 500-series parametric EQ modules for our API 1608 console [Tape Op #81] for a while now. I love the sound of our API 550 EQs, but sometimes, I want to hit frequencies in between the fixed points that the 550 offers, especially when EQ'ng drums. For this surgical style of subtractive EQ, having at least one sweepable band is a must, and adjustable bandwidth on a fully parametric EQ is a bonus. I first saw the dbx 530 three-band parametric EQ on Sweetwater's site <www.sweetwater.com>, and the most impressive feature of the 530 immediately jumped out at me — its $199.95 price! So, I got us a pair of 530 modules to try here at Panoramic House, and when they arrived, I continued to be impressed.

This EQ may be inexpensive, but it does not look cheap, and the build quality is great — for any price point. The pots and switches feel solid, and the look of the colored knobs contrasting against the black front panel is very "pro," unlike the wacky color schemes of gear from some other manufacturers. The guts of the 530 are enclosed in a solid steel case, which makes the module easy to insert into racks, while shielding and protecting the componentry inside.

The 530 has three fully parametric bands covering 20–500 Hz, 200 Hz – 5 kHz, and 800 Hz – 20 kHz, with adjustable Q and ±15 dB of cut or boost — plenty of range, overlap, and gain for most EQ needs. The low and high bands can be switched between peaking or shelving, and there's a master bypass button too. There's also an almost-hidden, but very cool feature; when you rotate each band's gain knob fully counterclockwise, it engages a switch that converts that band into a sweepable notch filter with 40 dB of cut and an extremely narrow bandwidth. This is obviously a great tool for zeroing in on troublesome rings and buzzes.

While overall, the 530 is great for making surgically precise cuts to drums and guitars, it will obviously also boost frequencies, and it sounds just fine doing so. But compared to some of our other EQs from Mäag Audio, Avedis Audio, and SSL, the 530's top end is not quite as open-sounding when boosting higher frequencies. But, it's 1/5th the price of most of the other EQs in our console, and it still manages to outperform most of them for subtractive EQ!

I think any studio, whatever its budget, could use at least a pair of these EQs. If I was outfitting a console with 500-series slots, and I had spending limits to consider, I wouldn't hesitate to load it fully with 530 EQs, and then later, augment them with some pricier, more specialized EQs as budget allows. Bottom line — the dbx 530 is a super versatile workhorse EQ at a great price.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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