My dad used to have two sayings that he liked to use. One, use the right tool for the job and two, put it back where you found it when your done. The right tool for me these days is the z-Systems z-Q2 stereo digital mastering equalizer. It's the EQ I reach for and use the most. Why, you might ask? In a word: Accuracy. The z-Q2 is one of the most accurate sounding equalizers on the market which is due in part to the high bit rate and mathematical code that the unit uses to do its calculations, thanks to inventor and owner of z-Systems, Dr. Glenn Zelniker. I'm not even going to pretend that I understand the internal working of a processor as elaborate as the z-Q2. What I do understand however is the most important part of any piece of audio gear: Sound. What I have gleaned over the years is that the main difference between a good sounding equalizer and a great sounding equalizer is the amount of phase shift that is induced. Here at Silvertone Mastering we have three different types of analog equalization and three types of digital. When I need an EQ that is not going to impart its own sonic signature the z- 02 is the tool I reach for. The z-Q2 is a six-band equalizer with four fully parametric bands 28 Hz to 20 kHz and a Q width that goes out farther than any other I have seen before - from a gentle 0.4 to a tight 8.0. Both the high and low band are of shelving-type configuration. The boost/cut of the equalizer is in one-tenth decibel steps for the first 3 dB then half dB steps from there out. You can add up to 12 dB of attenuation or up to 90 dB of cut! Many times in a mastering situation you are only working in tenths of a decibel so the fact that the z-Q2 gives you up to 12 dB of gain with such accuracy is just another one of the over-the-top designs in the z-Q2's favor. On top of that, Dr. Zelniker has added a powerful M/S encoder/decoder in the z-Q2's arsenal. This feature allows one to change the relationship between center and side information in the signal path. Some might wonder why this would be useful. If you think about a typical panning situation in a mix down, 9 times out of 10 the kick, snare, vocals and bass guitar sit straight up at twelve o'clock and usually stereo guitars, stereo effects returns, cymbals and the like sit out at the far panning reaches of the mixing universe. Now imagine you're listening along to your mixes, one song ends with lots of punch, kick and depth and the next one comes in all wimpy and distant sounding. Don't reach for that compressor bubba and affect all the program content, instead go to that beautiful M/S feature and dial in a little center information punch. Amazing! But be careful not to over do it - large amounts of this can induce phase anomalies when the mix is summed to mono. Even more amazing is the fact that the EQ works in conjunction along with the M/S processor, so it is possible to just equalize the center or side information. All this happens in real time at the turn of a knob, no time wasted waiting for some EQ program to render what you want. Now Dr. Zelniker didn't just stop there - he went and added the beautifully sweet sounding POW-R type 2 and 3 dithers allowing one to retain much of the high bit rate information down to the 16-bit level. Along with being able to dither down the internal 32 bit floating point processing straight to 24 bits, 24 dithered, 20 bits, 20 dithered, 16 bits, 16 dithered. While it is true that dither should be applied at the last step of the signal processing chain, usually after limiting, there are times when you just don't need to do as much processing. The type of dither you choose may be all that you need to transfer a well-recorded and mixed project. I use three types of dithering everyday, Apogee UV22, IDR and POW-R and the song usually dictates which will work best. I rank the POW-R dither up there in the top two. The Pacific Microsonics HD2 processor being the best. However, that unit alone costs eleven grand. I'd say for the three thousand dollar list price of the Z-Q2 processor you are getting major bang for the buck. Oh, yeah, besides being able to store and recall 99 presets and A/B two presets against one another you get full midi implementation for doing large sys-x dumps or controlling your equalizer from within your DAW program. Did I say right tool for the right job or what? One thing is for sure - I will always be able to find where I placed this tool. It sits in the first chair position in my mastering console and the only thing that would ever replace it would be the elegant z-Q6 surround sound equalizer. Three times the pleasure, three times the fun. (

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

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