My mix bus is a little crowded. Generally, I have three to four units doing very subtle things. I enjoy the cumulative effect of several stages of iron and discrete op-amps soaking up transients and warming things up. I seem to get away with a single bus compressor, like many may use. Often, before or after my analog mix bus chain, I find myself needing a little additional EQ to sweeten or polish things a bit. I tend to reach for a more transparent, phase-linear, digital EQ for this stage. This works well, but I have been looking for an analog solution to replace the plug-in I've been using and have had my eye on the TK Audio TK-lizer 500 EQ for this purpose. What I found, just like when I pulled the trigger on the TK BC501 VCA compressor [Tape Op #112], was exactly what I was looking for – and then some.
The TK-lizer 500 is a, dual mono, three-band Baxandall style EQ, with a high-pass filter and level control on each channel. Handmade in Sweden, in 500 Series form, the big advantage of the TK-lizer 500 is that it also has an internal mid/side matrix. At the flick of a switch, the left channel controls the middle, and the right channel controls the sides – no need for any extra routing. While this EQ begs to be strapped across stereo sources, it's useful in dual mono, and can be employed on single channels while tracking or mixing – all at a very nice price. All controls are stepped, making it easy to recall settings with minimal notes.
Let me just get to the guts of this review. Big, wide EQ curves used in mid/side are awesome! The amount of front to back control that you have is powerful – both as a problem solver in a mastering scenario, or as a creative exciter in a mixing situation. Maybe even used to turn down something like those annoying percussion tracks ruining the intro to Don Henley's "Boys of Summer"? What ever you want to do with it, a little goes a long way as it refocuses and enhances the stereo field.
I inserted the TK-lizer 500 across a mix I wasn't exactly happy with. I didn't record this song, and I was struggling to deliver it with the tracks I was working with. On the mid channel, a subtle low shelf boost at 48 Hz left the bass and kick a little more solid. Boosting the sides at 132 Hz brought out an additional fatness in the overall track. These two adjustments together helped this particular mix sound considerably more deep and powerful. Having the option to use separate high-pass filter settings on the middle versus the sides is very tactical. I found on the sides that a boost at 870 Hz added some richness and width to midrange instruments like guitars. It also helps add some stereo excitement to the ambience and effects. A boost at 12 kHz down the middle added some crisp top end to many of the important elements, like snare, vocal, and lead instruments. On the other hand, cutting a little high end on the sides is nice for softening the overall feel without altering things too much – for example, taming cymbals that may be a little too wide or brash in the mix. All of this works well because of how smooth sounding the curves are.
I tend to be a little sensitive with high frequencies, but even on a heavy, blown out rock track I was able to add some air that never really sounded harsh to my ear. Although I'm using small 1 to 3 dB boosts in the above description, even cranking the knobs to the max still had a smooth effect on the audio. You just need to be careful to not overdo it and end up with a phasey stereo image. While enhancing in mid/side, the music was just livelier and more 3D, and in bypass the mix sounded dull and less exciting. The level knob on each channel (in addition to the bypass switch) makes accurate A/Bing simple. Independent level control of mid and side makes the TK-lizer 500 a great tool for subtle stereo widening. Level knobs also let you monitor just the mid, or the sides as well – very cool!
While mid/side operation had me excited, the TK-lizer 500 was also very nice on stereo overheads. I was able to totally reshape the cymbals while maintaining a natural sound. On tracks like guitars, the EQ is a little too clean and wide for my taste. I prefer a more colored and vibey EQ for guitars and bass generally. While tracking, the TK-lizer 500 was great for shaping kick and snare drums. Even a large boost of high end still sounded sweet on a snare top mic – something that can typically make cymbal bleed get raunchy. Back to mid/side really quick; I was able to do some real rad stuff with a spaced pair of room mics. This is a great tool for re-biasing poorly recorded drum overheads and drum rooms.
An EQ of this quality that is stereo matched, works in dual mono, and offers a built-in mid/side matrix is an amazing value – it's worth the ticket price for its mid/side capabilities alone. I keep discovering new things this EQ works well on and I have the feeling my mix bus will be even more crowded than before!