I’d been curious about Marshall Terry’s passive/active EQ beast with hieroglyphic-looking markings since before the pandemic hit. He pulled me over to his booth a few years ago during the 2019 AES conference to have a look-see, and after months of coordinating, we were able to ship two units to engineers with different perspectives; they write about their findings below. -SM
GB: Marshall Terry, the Chief Technician at Shadow Hills Industries, played a major role in tuning and building during an era of their flagship products, and he also developed/designed one-off builds for “secret” clients. Recently, he’s branched out with his Terry Audio brand to build an impressive five rack space EQ that is catching the eyes (and ears) of many engineers. The CEQ is intended for use on a stereo mix bus, or for mastering purposes, so I’ll be writing about the CEQ and how it performs in mixing, while my friend and go-to mastering engineer, Adam Gonsalves of Telegraph Mastering, shares his thoughts from a mastering perspective.
First, let’s talk about what makes this EQ unique: The CEQ is a dual passive and active inductor-based 6-band EQ, where every audio component is meticulously chosen from critical listening tests. You have the six major EQ functions: Resonant shelf bass boost, resonant shelf bass cut, mid cut, mid boost, a high shelf cut, then a high boost selectable in seven bell or five shelf frequencies. One of the first things I noticed about the front panel of the unit is the colorful display of markings that indicate each band as either shelf, filter, boost, or cut, and pseudo hieroglyphics above the four toggle switches (which we’ll get into later). There are no numerical markings or verbiage – obviously hinting that you should use your ears with this EQ. Each inductor is custom wound, using “heritage” powder core toroids (the type found in the original Lang PEQ-2 Program Equalizer; predecessor to the Pultec), and the transformer is sourced from custom winders in Chicago and New Jersey. At 23 pounds, this is a heavy-duty build, and every single aspect of it is intentional and chosen for maximum musicality. In fact, in my interactions with him, I found Marshall to be such a perfectionist that about two weeks into using the CEQ, he sent me an email asking if he could ship me a new unit to review because he had made a “breakthrough” in measuring a type of polarity in each individual tone cap, and then aligning them in the circuit musically. I wish you could read this email to see the passion Marshall has for the ultimate tone quest. Okay, but how does it sound? Incredible. This EQ is the perfect example of something that simply cannot be replicated in the digital realm with plug-ins.
AG: In use, the CEQ sounds excellent. Its Pultec-style low frequency cut and boost circuits are highly usable. The low boost is broad enough that it captures midrange frequencies, and works as an excellent tone shaper of the entire low end (as well as the low mids). The low cut circuit has a gentle 6 dB per octave slope and sounds sweet and natural as it tightens low end. Using that cut before sending the signal into my Maselec MLA-2 [Tape Op #93] or MLA-4 compressor yielded great results; more control over the music with less dynamic swings due to unruly subsonic information. In the middle of my evaluation, Marshall sent a second unit, which he claimed featured tweaked film capacitor orientation. I preferred the revised version, as it sounded a little more defined and less “soft” than the original version.
The switchable bell or shelf shape of the treble control yielded tremendous flexibility, and sonically has the character of adding a classic sheen that resists ever giving the high end a sharp or aggressive character. It’s always a thrill when you can achieve high-frequency detail and increased clarity without wincing when the hi-hats hit. The CEQ’s treble section excels at enhancing a mix’s clarity without moving into unpleasant territory.
GB: For the past five years or so, the UAD Manley Massive Passive (Mastering Version) has lived on my mix bus. First, I tested the CEQ placed after my Shadow Hills Equinox [#55], and A/B’d it with similar settings to which I typically set the Massive Passive. The first thing I noticed was how three-dimensional the mid and high frequencies sounded. Boosting and cutting frequencies felt different than other EQs I’ve used; I perceived it as tangible, like you were molding clay. There is laser focus when boosting – almost as if other frequencies surrounding it stepped back to let your boost shine through without any cluttering effect. I rarely boost 800 Hz on a full mix (in fact, I’m usually doing the opposite), but for some reason, it sounded thick and beautiful on a recent jazz/hip-hop song I mixed using the CEQ. Remember: Use your ears, not your eyes. When cutting frequencies, it doesn’t leave the mix feeling hollow. Instead, it mellows out that frequency while providing space to the surrounding areas. It polishes a mix rather than “correcting” or “fixing” it. It adds clarity, depth, and a sparkle that is often hard to obtain without an array of well-maintained and absurdly expensive vintage EQs.
AG: Speaking of clarity, the active mid cut section of the EQ does a lovely job at reducing frequencies that mask others, taming vocal and percussive resonances, and cutting down on midrange “woof” that can obscure other mix elements. Crucially, the Q for the midrange circuit is dynamic, so as you dig out more of a frequency the Q changes to hit that frequency harder while at the same time leaving less of a footprint as it does so. “Oh, that’s bothering you? Let’s just focus on taking it out with laser-like precision.”
The mid boost circuit is an absolute joy. The topology of the Neumann PEV (an EQ found in ‘60s mastering transfer consoles which the CEQ’s mid boost is based on) is a delight. A broad and sweet mid boosting circuit, it adds a luminescence to vocals, guitars, strings, and synths that sounds like it’s straight out of your favorite mid-century albums. For mixes that have hyped low and high-frequency definition, with mid ranges that sound flat by comparison, the mid boost circuit brought these to life: The smooth growl of driven guitars and synths; the harmonic complexity of multitracked vocals; the tremendous body of a well-recorded snare – the mid boost circuit excelled bringing these beautifully into focus.
The CEQ has a few flexible features that were quite useful in mastering. First, is the Shift control. This allows you to change capacitors in the low boost section of the EQ. Essentially, this switches between a classic and softer equalization tone to a more precise and modern vibe. This is a terrific feature that allows you to tailor the EQ’s low frequency voicing to the nature of the mix, and I applaud Marshall for including it. The output transformers can also be switched in or out of the circuit. When the transformers are in, there’s a slight low frequency bloom but without imparting an obnoxious footprint. For mastering purposes, I tended to leave the transformers out, running the output single-ended, but there are certainly occasions where mixes could benefit from the body that the transformers impart. Secondly, there is the Buffer control that places NOS transistors in the circuit path, adding upper-mid excitement and verve: A versatile option if you want part of the mix to lean forward slightly.
GB: Yes, in mixing with the transformer engaged, I hear a slight bump to the low mids. I noticed it gave a pleasant chestiness to vocals when engaged on a full mix. The Shift feature is magic; resulting in a subtle yet powerful tone change across the mix. The bass staging focuses more on the tone and less on the sub. I’d say 90% of the time for my use, I had the Shift control engaged because of how punchy it makes the low end sound, however, when disengaged you get a full hi-fi sound without any added hype. The Buffer control is also a surprisingly powerful tone option for mixing, by providing that colorful sound famously found on “records from the late ‘60s thru mid-‘70s.” It gives the upper mids an exciting pop while also adding a very slight low-pass filter starting at about 7 kHz. It worked perfectly on a song I was mixing that needed an authentic James Brown recording vibe.
AG: With all these wonderful sonic options, my only quibble with the CEQ is the front panel’s slate of colors and squiggles. Nothing is labeled with plain alpha-numeric indicators to aid in usability. I had a “what the fuck?” moment upon first unboxing the EQ. The user manual doubles as a catalog of the CEQ’s benefits (and a Rosetta Stone for deciphering its symbols). With no familiar visual guide, I mostly just stared straight ahead and turned knobs until the master sounded right. That is neat and sort of fun, but it’s not something I wanted to do in a normal session. After several weeks of evaluation, the controls did eventually make sense, but getting a handle on the CEQ’s ergonomics was an unnecessary hurdle. Complaints aside, the CEQ sounds fantastic and has the versatility to handle many tasks in mastering.
GB: The CEQ is not something that will fix your bad mix. It is an uber-tonal EQ that adds that extra 10% to a great mix that we’re always searching for. There is a noticeable sheen and “expensive” sound missing from my mixes when I don’t have the CEQ in the chain. It should be said that the manual for the CEQ is thorough and very helpful, and it comes with recall sheets that do show all of the frequency markers for each band (for easy recall), so you can always double-check what you’re hearing. I’ll most likely end up buying this unit, and I highly recommend considering it for yourself if you want to take your mixes to another level, which for my work can only be achieved through the painstaking efforts of mad scientists like Marshall Terry. Price includes shipping.