Finding myself in what seems to be the largest surge of interesting studio gear development in history, I'm always surprised when someone asks me if a piece of gear does enough. Maybe it's the fact that many plug-ins, especially EQs, seem to have found a valid place alongside their outboard equivalents. Perhaps the fact that these tools exist -with their surgical precision and plethora of options unheard of in their analog counterparts -is the reason people are expecting too much from their outboard.
Personally, I've been driven in the opposite direction. I have enough overpowered, ninja-esque plug-in EQs to hack every sound I've recorded into oblivion. What I don't have is an unlimited number of EQs that sweeten things up in a way that's impossible to represent on a virtual graph. Here enters Purple Audio's contenders into the world of 500-series equalization.
The boom in 500-series development seems to have coincided perfectly with my own purchase of a console. The API 1608 at Strange Weather came out of the factory half-loaded with 550A EQs. I think the 550A is a great piece of equipment, but having spent years working on the Auditronics 501 desk at Studio G (now installed at The Bunker Studio, also in Brooklyn), I longed for the fluidity of workflow allowed with inductive-coil EQs. For those not in the know, inductive coils are the components behind the long-adored Pultec EQs as well as plenty of others, including Sphere and Cinema Engineering units. When I heard that Ed Anderson had designed an Auditronics style EQ for Purple Audio, I had to try it out.
Ed's first of the 500-series designs, the ODD, seems to owe quite a bit to its Auditronics forefather. Luckily I'm an owner of a rare Auditronics PEQ-82 stereo equalizer. It's a 1RU-height stereo unit with just the EQ from the 501 console. The faceplate of the ODD makes it look extremely similar. It's a 4-band EQ with switches to choose between two different frequency points per knob. There are also fixed high and low-cut filters on buttons at the bottom of the unit, as well as a bypass button. The only things that set the EQs apart functionally are the addition of a changing color level LED on the ODD and the ability to switch the high and low curves from bells to shelves.
Inside, it's a whole different story. The Auditronics EQ is an IC-based design with extremely limited headroom. On the other hand, both the ODD and TAV are based around the Purple Audio KDJ4 and KDJ3 discrete, socketed op-amps. Having worked with these before, I can tell you that they have an amazing sound -pristine, with a huge usable frequency range; however, there still remains a certain degree of color. On top of that, the ODD and TAV both have input and output transformers, which help a ton when considering how they play with others in a studio full of esoteric vintage gear. All of this means that the ODD has considerably more usable headroom than the Auditronics and maintain far better extension into high and low frequencies.
One of the first albums I worked on with them was Jolie Holland's The Living And The Dead. A couple of mixes had already been done by Joel Hamilton at Studio G, and I knew it was going to be a bit of a struggle matching his work on G's Neve 5316. I knew from prior experience that while the Auditronics EQ is extremely smooth, sometimes it can feel like it's sneaking away with part of the aggression in your signal. The ODD quickly showed itself to have no such issues. The signal stayed as aggressive and clear as ever, plus or minus whatever frequencies I chose to effect with it. I found it surprisingly easy to quickly dial in an emulation of what had been going on in the previous mixes, which gave me plenty of time to focus on the details. Immediately after that session, I sold off all but one pair of my API 550A units (which now reside outside the console in a 500-series rack) and purchased as many ODDs as I could.
That all happened about a year ago. This year things have gone well at Strange Weather, and I began to look at the still empty slots in my console and think about what to do next. I ran into Purple Audio owner Andrew Roberts on the floor at AES, and he told me that the TAV EQs were shipping. About two weeks later, a pair showed up at my door to demo and review.
Aesthetically, the TAV seems to share quite a bit with the API 560 graphic EQ. It has ten horizontal sliders which share similar, if not the same, frequency points with the API as well as a simple bypass button at the bottom. The TAV also adds a three-color input level LED to match the one on the ODD. However, after plugging it in, it became clear that this is where the API comparison ends. The TAV is also an inductive-coil EQ with a similar internal design to the ODD. The difference is that to fit more useable bands on the faceplate, it was necessary to go to sliders instead of knobs. Along with the added bands, the width of each band was tightened considerably. Moreover, the bands tighten up as more boost or cut is applied.
This time, my guinea pigs for this new toy turned out to be the band Pale Brother from Washington DC. First things first -I threw the TAV onto the channels I primarily use for drum room mics. It turned out to be a perfect compromise between the 560 that I normally use and the ODD. It has quite a bit more precision than the ODD, but even at full boost or cut, the signal doesn't seem overly tampered with, in the way it does with the API 560. It almost seemed more like carefully moving a microphone around than tweaking a traditional EQ. For the next track, I moved the bass guitar onto those channels, and the low end retained all of the umph I would expect from the 560 while staying far more soft and malleable.
Though these two EQs look quite a bit like classic designs, Ed Anderson and Purple Audio have made them into something completely new. They are EQs that can stand up in the world of high and low-frequency extension in which we all seem to work, while bringing to that table the smooth texture of an inductive-coil design. And at the price, which is substantially lower than many other 500-series options, I don't think there's any chance that they'll be beat out in the near future. ($725 MSRP; www.purpleaudio.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.