I have been looking for a fully-sweepable EQ for two channels of our API 1608 console that sounds as good as the classic stepped API 550 EQs. I prefer the sound of stepped EQs in general, but sometimes you just need to get in between the selectable frequencies no matter how many there are-on drums and toms in particular. With the Alta Moda AM-20, I finally found what I was looking for. I mulled over a lot of different EQs, with one of the considerations being that I didn't want something too visually out of place in the console. Silly? Yes. But when you're charging clients to use your room, I feel like the console needs to look like a solid, dependable tool, not a multi-colored toy that resembles a DIY kit. So in my opinion, basic black still wins out for 500-series modules that fit into a console. We had a pair of Arsenal V14s (Tape Op #68) in the console for a while, and they sounded fine and did the job, but I wasn't in love with them ergonomically, and they didn't quite hold up sonically to the API 550s. The AM-20s do hold up sonically right next to our vintage 550As, brand new 550Bs, and Avedis E27s. I've done a few mixes now with the AM-20s, and every engineer who's used them has commented very favorably on them. Not only are they fully sweepable, but the middle two bands are parametric and have a bandwidth control as well. Each of the four bands overlaps with its neighbors, so you'll have no problems finding any center frequency you need to tweak. The bottom band can be switched between shelving or peaking, while the top band is shelving only. The faceplate is black with white lettering, and the knobs are solid, knurled aluminum. This EQ is easy to use and looks, feels, and sounds like a professional tool. There's an abundance of buzzwords used by manufacturers, like "discrete, transformer-based I/O" and such, and I have to admit that when I got the AM-20s and looked at their IC-based design-with no transformers in sight-I was a wee bit skeptical. But the proof is in the hearing. I have other gear with chips inside that I like, and the AM-20 has been added to the list. I talked to Paul Ricchiuti a bit about his design philosophy, and he told me he was striving for a clean and low-distortion EQ. After a lot of experimentation and listening-with almost ten different design prototypes-he settled on the National Semiconductor LM4562 op-amp for the AM-20. One benefit of using an IC is cost effectiveness. The AM-20 retails for $599, which makes it affordable enough for stuffing an entire console or just filling a few slots. It's worth noting that the AM-20 is both the most versatile and the cheapest EQ in our console (you can buy two of them for the cost of just one channel of the other EQs we have), and it doesn't require any sonic sacrifices. If you're looking for a versatile, high-end EQ-at any price-for your 500-series rack or console, you should seriously consider auditioning the AM-20. ($599 MSRP; www.altamodaaudio.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.