This is one of the best sounding EQs I've ever used. I'm a big fan of passive EQs for their smooth sound, especially when boosting. The Pultec is one of the best-known examples of a passive EQ. In layman's terms (and I'm definitely a layman), a passive EQ doesn't actually boost the signal when you boost a frequency. A passive EQ cuts the entire audio spectrum by about 30 dB, and then when you boost, you're actually un-cutting a frequency range, not really boosting it in the strict sense of the word. Think about it for a minute. That's gotta be a good thing sonically-not actually amplifying a signal, but just decreasing a passive cut. In a Pultec, there is a full-range gain-makeup preamp after the EQ section that restores the signal to line level. One really unique thing about the Pullet is that it has no gain-makeup section; it is completely passive. There is nowhere to even plug in an IEC power cable. Thermionic designer Vic Keary figured that many recordists already have mic preamps that are sitting around unused during mixing, and he designed the Pullet's outputs to be at mic level so they can be plugged into any mic preamp to bring the signal back to line level. This keeps the cost much lower than most passive EQs on the market. Another benefit of this design approach is that you can use different preamps to change the sound of the Pullet. (Interestingly, Thermionic's Earlybird 2.2 tube preamp has dedicated inputs for the Pullet, as well as having standard mic and line inputs.)
I have several passive EQs in my studio: a Pultec EQH-2; a Summit Audio EQP-200B, which is based on the Pultec EQP-1A and utilizes a tube gain-makeup stage like a Pultec; and a pair of completely passive (like the Pullet) Fairchild 665 EQs. All these EQs sound great, and they all have in common that they are, like the original Pultecs, intended as "program EQ." That is, they were originally designed (like a lot of what is now considered great audio gear) for use in radio to gracefully shape the frequency output of the "program." To this end, they are mostly just addressing the bottom and top of the frequency spectrum. My Pultec has no frequencies available between 100 Hz and 3 kHz-in other words no midrange. (Pultec did make the passive MEQ-5 midrange EQ, but this is a much rarer piece than the other two program EQs.) Besides the Summit, several other companies like Manley and Tube Tech already make EQs based on the Pultec program EQs. Here is where Mr. Keary made another really interesting design decision; the Pullet is almost exclusively a midrange passive EQ. The Pullet operates from 230 Hz to 8.5 kHz-in other words, all the places my other passive EQs won't go. The Pullet does a have a high-end control that lets you cut or boost by a preset amount in the 6-15 kHz range. But, this is a very gentle slope and while useful as an adjunct to the Pullet, not even close to my other passive EQs for tweaking in this higher range. But I just don't care. This is the best sounding midrange boost I've ever heard on any EQ. In my initial tests of the Pullet, intending to mimic the original Pultec designs, I used two different tube mic preamps: my UA 2-610 (re-tubed with NOS tubes), and my vintage Telefunken V72s. Both sounded great and worked perfectly with the Pullet. I am looking forward to experimenting with Neve or API mic preamps for a more aggressive tone when I want that.
After my initial tests, we installed the Pullet into our Neve broadcast console. By this I mean it sits inside a wooden frame built for the console and is essentially inside the
acoustic shadow of the console. We were able to do this because the passive Pullet is so shallow and has no power supply or power requirements. Rather than using the XLR connectors on the back, we actually hard-wired the cable to points inside the unit, which kept the depth to less than four inches. To do this, we had to open up the unit, which revealed the very sturdy and quality build within. I do have one small gripe with the Pullet. Within minutes of using it, the switched knobs all slipped from their shafts, and you couldn't tell where anything was set any longer. One fell off, and in trying to put it back on the pot, it kind of exploded and fell into the unit. Luckily, our tech/engineer Bryce Gonzales was able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. We've since tightened up all the knobs a bit more than they were from the factory, but like I said, this is a minor gripe.
Once the Pullet was installed front and center as part of the console, it got used daily as we had nearly a month of mixing work with Bryce and engineers Robert Cheek and Thom Monahan. All three of them used the Pullet and commented to me how amazing it sounded, especially in the midrange. Using it with a console, like our little Neve, is super easy as you can just put a channel into mic input and away you go. Phantom power will damage the Pullet however, so you'll need to be careful there. We put a little note on the Pullet to warn engineers about this.
To be honest, I expected to plug this thing in, compare it to my other passive EQs, write this review, and then send it back to Thermionic, thinking I just don't need seven channels of passive program-type EQ. But as soon as I heard the midrange EQ boost on this, I was blown away. I've never heard a midrange EQ that sounded this good, and I almost immediately emailed Thermionic to enquire about buying the unit. In fact, now that we've used it for a few weeks, I'm thinking of buying another. Bottom line-the Pullet is like having two Pultec MEQ-5s but with a much better range of frequency selections. I suspect this will get used on just about every session, particularly on guitars. ($1750 MSRP; www.thermionicculture.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.