Chameleon Labs has been around since the early 2000s, when they made their mark with their popular inexpensive British-style mic preamp and EQ, the 7602 [Tape Op #51]. John Baccigaluppi reported in his review of the 7602, that when compared with a real 1073, "...the 7602 is pretty much dead on." In 2014, Chameleon Labs was acquired by Marcelo Vercelli, but all their products are still "designed, engineered and manufactured by nice folks in Woodinville, Washington." In the past, I'd used John's 7602 (and the Neves of course) on several occasions, so I knew what level of quality to expect here. British-style sweet top-end shimmery high shelf grind with hairy low end bulk, and perfect midrange Q points for electric guitar, bass, and snare drum (anything rock 'n' roll, really) that can also easily push a lead vocal to the front of the mix. Inductor EQs are objects of wonderful harmonic beauty, and the 560EQ is no exception. After using a single module on varied sources during a one-day mix session, I bought it. Here's why: it sounds fuller, wider, smoother, and beefier than any of my seven British EQ-style/modeled plug-ins (duh!); it only costs $50 more than my favorite 1073-ish EQ plug-in; it's compatible with all operating systems/DAWs. (snorting laugh)

As with most 500 Series modules, the Chameleon EQ's black faceplate is crowded. Seven gold, silver, and blue, milled aluminum knobs control frequency, frequency level, and makeup gain/attenuation respectively. At the top of the faceplate (next to a power indicator LED) is a high-pass filter that allows for cuts at 40, 80, 160, and 320 Hz. Next is the low frequency shelving filter (35, 60, 110, and 220 Hz). I love fighting a boost of the low frequency shelving filter against the high-pass filter to bring out some gnarly low end oomph on electric guitar (or any appropriate source in need of girth). After is the midrange EQ (700 Hz, 1.6 kHz, 3.2 kHz, 4.8 kHz, and 7.2 kHz) followed by a high frequency shelving filter (3.4, 4.9, 7, 12, and 16 kHz). All frequency selection controls are stepped and include an Off setting. Shelves and midrange filters have rotary +/- 15 dB knobs. All three EQ bands employ Chameleon's custom-wound inductors. A post EQ makeup/attenuation knob (-60/+20 dB) and an EQ Bypass button finish off the faceplate. Note: this is an EQ bypass only – the high-pass filter and makeup gain/attenuation controls both remain active in Bypass mode. At first, I found this to be a little weird, and without a true bypass, it's difficult to level match. However, I treated this EQ module as a miniature line level console strip. The 560EQ employs Chameleon's custom-designed input and output transformers, and with the EQ bypassed, we get a versatile high-pass filter (super handy for artfully un-clouding a source) paired with a colorful trim function that adds a little transformer vibe when summing from a DAW. Not surprisingly, there's something about a nice analog cut filter that leans in with more vibe and smoothness than a plug-in.

The 560EQ is wrapped in a sturdy metal casing (no exposed circuit board, thank you) and slipped easily into my 500 chassis. In use, I felt immediately at home with the 560EQ. The small white lettering on the faceplate is a little hard to see at first, but I quickly got the feel for this EQ. Though my fingers often obscured the markings on the faceplate during adjustment, auditioning fixed frequencies with the stepped controls was decisively easy, and I preferred using my ears to select the Q. These control knobs are tight (which is a good thing in my opinion) – there's no way I'm going to accidentally move any settings here! I did find myself occasionally grabbing the wrong level control for an associated filter, so I added pairs of different colored round stickers to the EQ controls and their correlating levels.

Every source bloomed in a groovy way with an artful forwardness through this EQ, and I don't recall any discernable noise or hiss – it's darn quiet. Though I won't claim the Chameleon will go toe to toe with a vintage Neve 1073 EQ, this unit does evoke an undeniable vintage British-style character at a price point that most of us can afford (less than the cost of two good plug-ins). We don't live in the '70s anymore. Gear is more expensive in our era and we get paid less. I'm not apologizing to any elitists for totally digging or recommending the 560EQ, and I'll be buying another one for my rack.

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

Or Learn More