Ah, Neve EQ... the stuff dreams are made of. Famous for the 1073 and 1081. Fixed EQ points and basic controls. Warmth, silky smoothness, robust and solid lows. What if you could have all this in a reasonably priced, feature-rich, high-quality 500 Series module – the only 500 Series EQ designed by "the man" (Rupert Neve) himself? In walks the RND 551 inductor EQ (to much applause). It's true – this EQ is a welcome guest to any party.
The 551 EQ is a lift out of the stunning RND Shelford Channel [Tape Op #118], broken out into a 500 Series format, giving those who do not need the mic pre or compressor sections of the channel an option for some of that Neve EQ magic at a greatly reduced price. It has the tone mojo of its Neve-designed predecessors, but also adds some nice features like the Hi Q that can get you into more surgically precise removal of trouble frequencies. I love that the modules in this range of products are not simply clones, but new designs meant to meet the demands of modern music production while still maintaining a healthy dose of the famed modules from yesteryear.
What is an inductor EQ, anyway? This is how RND describes them: "Wires wound around a coil that provide a form of frequency dependent resistance. When they saturate, they bring out beautifully musical harmonics that give your tracks the smooth, polished sound that has made Rupert's consoles and equipment so desirable for over fifty years."
RND builds and winds their own inductors and transformers for their products. This attention to detail is perhaps the extra step in the process that delivers the A to Zed sonics that Rupert Neve is known for. It's like the chef who makes their own molé. Sure, they could use something off the shelf, and it would be pretty good and taste like it should, but because they take the extra step, their dishes have that je ne sais quoi – that special something perhaps not definable by words. That special something that makes it stand apart from the rest. RND makes its own sauce.
Here are the specs: The 551 has a high frequency shelf/peak section selectable at 8 or 16 kHz with continuous +/-15 dB of gain and, as mentioned, selectable shelf or peak curves. The mid frequency section is parametric, selectable at 200 Hz, 350 Hz, 700 Hz, 1.5 kHz, 3 kHz and 6 kHz, with continuous +/-15 dB of gain and a selectable Hi Q. The low frequency EQ section is selectable at 35, 60, 100, and 220 Hz at +/-15 dB of gain, and selectable shelf or peak curves. The HPF button engages a, yep, you guessed it, high-pass filter at 80 Hz. Green LEDs indicate both the EQ and HPF being engaged.
It's all a very elegant and easy to use module with plenty of power. Moving mix elements forward or pushing them back into the fabric of the soundscape with the midrange section was a treat. I used the 551 in this way on vocals and guitars with great results. Things never sounded harsh – in fact the module tended to sweeten things up while adding a bit of sparkle and chime. Kick drum and bass benefited from boosts with the 551. I often love a little nudge at 60 Hz on bass to help it poke out of small speakers, and the 551 delivered by adding a bit of mojo to the tone in addition to being a functional EQ. I also like a touch at 1 or 1.5 kHz to add a bit of "nose" or more note to the bass. The 551 was also great for this task –the same went for any other low frequency needs. This EQ was always firm and thick sounding while maintaining plenty of focus. It was hard to move the module to other sources and the need/desire for several more of these compact beasts was made quickly apparent to me . When I find something I like that works well for a specific track, I tend to leave it there until it no longer suits the need. The 551 fit the bill for so many sources that a full rack of them would always be in service at my studio.
I cleaned up some mud on a piano track with the midrange section by cutting a bit at 200 Hz. It achieved this result in a musical way. If there was a need to really focus in more specifically on a problem frequency the high end, the 551 is certainly up for that task as well.
As is true with many RND designs, I liked passing audio through the modules even with the settings at null. When paired with the 535 Diode Bridge Compressor [#133] the duo was a formidable chain. Often I preferred the EQ following the compressor, but configurations with the EQ had its benefits and drawbacks too. There's no right or wrong – these decisions come down to your needs and personal taste.
I love the form factor, flexibility, and cost of 500 Series modules, and I often recommend the format to my pals that have small home or project studios and are ready to move into hybrid use of outboard gear when tracking and mixing. Throw some mic pres in the rack for tracking, then replace them with some EQs and compressors for mixing. Even with a small two, four, or six space rack you can add some nice analog color to your mix. If cost is no issue and you are looking for one of the best channel strips your hard earned cash can buy, go get a RND Shelford Channel... you won't be sorry! For the rest of us, save your pennies and consider getting pieces of this mojo box one at a time in the combination of a preamp, a 551, and a 535 500 Series module from RND. Find a source this EQ doesn't sound great on – go ahead, I dare you! Highly recommended.