The ULTRAVIOLET EQ from SSL is a 500 Series format expansion of the Fusion processor’s [Tape Op #131] Violet EQ. It retains the high-pass filter and four-position stepped high and low bands and builds upon it with two parametric midrange bands. The ULTRAVIOLET goes one step further with the addition of a Focus switch on each band, further narrowing the Q while increasing the amount of available boost/cut from +/- 9 to +/- 18. There’s also a convenient output Trim control and an In button for bypass. It’s easy to overlook one of SSL’s great achievements with the ULTRAVIOLET, precisely because of how well they did it – there are 15 controls jammed into a two-space 500 Series slot! SSL has laid out the controls of this EQ incredibly well. You won’t notice how much has been packed in there because it never gets in its own way. It reminds me of the first time I worked on an SSL console – an immense 72-input 9000J that quickly won me over – from terrified to enthralled – with how welcoming its layout was behind the intimidating expanse. Well done, SSL.

The high and low bands are a pretty straightforward affair – shelves with 4 frequency positions each that SSL refers to as “minimal phase shift” equalizers. While I didn’t bring up any testing software, they sound clear and forgiving. These aren’t equalizers that assert themselves (particularly in the highs) the way some “vibe” EQs do; I found boosts with the ULTRAVIOLET to feel true to the source in a way that highlights what’s there rather than adding a new character. While that can seem underwhelming in cases where you’re turning to the EQ and hoping maybe that’s where the magic is going to be (come on, we’ve all been in that unfortunate place), it does mean that as a general tone shaper, you’ve got lots of room to work, comfortably knowing the EQ isn’t going to start adding new harshness to your decisions. As a bus/group EQ, in particular, that’s a definite positive in helping finesse positions in a mix that are already taking shape. The high-pass filter is handy to have, and something I wish was included with all equalizers that are shelf-only on the lows. It’s a feature that buys you a lot more usable range on the low EQ dial, knowing you’ve got an attenuation curve to play against and control for bass-heavy sources.

The two mid bands introduce some possibilities we don’t often see – particularly at this price point and in 500 Series format. The ULTRAVIOLET is fully parametric, so it brings a plug-in-like ease to sweeping for troublesome resonances and notching them out without otherwise drastically altering the tone of the source. The Focus switch really drives this home, and aside from being a useful problem-solving tool, also opens up some creative processing effects. With the gain cranked, the Focus button engaged, and Q fully narrowed, you’re essentially sweeping a resonant peak across your sound. The frequency spike is so narrow that the gain control feels almost like a blend, which you can use to dramatically change the character of sources. I was able to dial in pointed tones on otherwise normal upright piano recordings to simulate a hardened-felt saloon sound with the low mid and an almost tack-piano tone with the high mid. Unfortunately, the low mid band doesn’t go quite low enough to create deep, synth-like kick resonances, but there’s certainly room to explore here. Of course, the midrange is also excellent for your usual EQ needs – defining the crack of a snare or bringing a vocal right to the front of the speakers is no problem, and the constantly variable Q with Focus disengaged gives a rewarding amount of flexibility for general use.

While it’s an all-around handy companion for tracking or refining mono sources, the ULTRAVIOLET was made for stereo. I love the ganged controls, and the Trim knob is an appreciated creature comfort for little tweaks, balancing buses, or finessing gain into a following device. I got outstanding results with the ULTRAVIOLET over the drum bus and on grouped acoustic guitars, and surprised myself with how much I liked it on the mix bus – a place I’m usually not doing anything more than a gentle presence lift. I found myself making very small, intentional moves in the midrange that, when bypassed, left the mix suddenly feeling a little sleepy. Equally adept at making dramatic changes as it is doing a lot with a little, the ULTRAVIOLET’s ability to fine tune what you want – and give you the tools to find what that might be – makes it an exceptional entry into the 500 Series field.

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

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