Gregory Scott of KUSH Audio is one of those guys that seem to really think about the process of making music. In talking with him at trade shows or seeing his posts in recording forums, he communicates his ideas in a way that is informed, intelligent, and artistic. His company has in recent years released a handful of products that offer a slightly different take on familiar tools. One innovative product is the Clariphonic Parallel EQ.
Wait......it's another EQ? Why would I need another EQ? I've already got a couple.
Well, this isn't designed to serve all the same functions as your ordinary EQ. It's intentionally designed to do things a bit differently. It's a 2-channel EQ with two high shelves per channel, switchable frequencies, and gain controls that boost but do not cut.
But that sounds really limited. Why would I want that?
Well, because in use, it's one of the coolest things I've heard. A couple of unusual design features set it apart. First of all, the signal is EQ'ed in parallel to the original signal. In contrast, a traditional EQ will affect 100% of the original signal when cutting or boosting frequencies. The Clariphonic leaves the original audio untouched, affects the frequencies of the parallel signal, and then sums the boosted frequencies to the original audio. This is something that never would have occurred to me as being a good idea, but in practice, it sure seems to be. It seems to be smoother and less obvious than a traditional EQ - providing as much of a "feeling" as it does an obvious frequency adjustment.
The second unusual feature of the Clariphonic is the bizarre set of frequencies that are available - and how they are labeled. There are two rotary gain knobs for Clarity and Focus. Toggle switches let you select Silk, Shimmer, Presence, and Sheen frequencies for Clarity; and Lift and Open for Focus.
Wait... what? Dude, what are you TALKING about?
Like I said, Gregory seems to like making sure that the feeling of music is never overlooked. Those names are meant to reflect the "feeling" of the frequencies they affect. But, if you need to know the actual frequencies represented by the shelves, they are listed in the manual: Lift - 800 Hz; Open - 3 kHz; Presence - 5 kHz; Sheen - 9 kHz; Shimmer - 18 kHz; Silk - 34 kHz. (These are the frequencies stated in the most recent revision of the manual. Neither the circuitry nor the actual EQ curves were changed, but due to the nature of this EQ, it's difficult to assign an exact numeric designation to each setting.)
Um... are you joking? No one can hear 34 kHz, and I'm pretty sure my equipment can't even record that high.
Yeah, I know. It seems silly, but it sounds fabulous. I'm completely addicted to 18 and 34 kHz boost. As you know, analog EQ's do not always behave in a perfectly linear fashion. Even an EQ boost at 39 kHz can affect frequencies well within the spectrum perceived by the human ear. I'm hooked on running the stereo bus of my console through this thing while mixing. Man, it really opens things up without a hint of harshness. Flipping between 18 and 34 kHz, or even down to 9 kHz really changes how obvious the effect is, and of course, how far you're reaching into the normal audible range. Sure, you can go too far. Sometimes it's tough to keep from over-tweaking things and making them too bright, but that's just because it sounds so smooth.
Using the other rotary knob, the Lift and Open frequencies can really articulate the midrange and make vocals and guitars cut through. One thing I haven't mentioned - those midrange frequencies also have the option of acting as shelving or peaking bands.
Well, what if I mix strictly "in the box"? Do I need this?
Although I am really getting used to using this when mixing and mastering, this box also has many uses while tracking. I found it very useful with ribbon mics if some top end is needed, without inducing any harshness. Tracking electric guitars was fabulous with the Lift or Open boost. I was able to add some life to a rather boring acoustic guitar with a very natural sounding result using the Sheen band. Using a combination of the bands on room or overhead mics really allowed me to tailor the character of a drum kit to make it fit a particular style.
Okay, but can't I really get the same result out of the EQ I already have? It has a shelf at 15 kHz.
No. It's just not the same. Before the Clariphonic came along, I had been trying to achieve a similar result by strapping a very high-quality, hand-built EQ across the stereo bus. It has a 15 kHz shelf that sounds wonderful. Although that EQ was cool, the Clariphonic delivers a much better dimension to the high end, with less of a heavy-handed approach. It's a combination of the parallel circuitry and the unusually-high frequency choices that contributes to the sonic character of this unit.
The Clariphonic has also become a mainstay of my mastering setup. It's kind of a secret weapon for bringing mixes to life. Again, even if you don't need an obvious high-end boost, the 34 kHz shelf can give you a wonderful feeling of openness even if you don't perceive a big high-end boost. I demonstrated this effect at a mastering seminar for the local AES chapter, with a really positive response from the crowd.
As far as the construction of the unit, the chassis is very well built, without a hint of a wiggly knob or switch anywhere. The rear-panel includes both XLR and 1/4'' jacks. There's a switch that selects between balanced and unbalanced operation. While that is not a unique feature, a secondary function of that switch is; when switching to unbalanced mode, the operating gain of the unit is increased by 6 dB, so the actual level remains the same. (If you were to disconnect either the hot or cold pin of a balanced cable, the level would drop by 6 dB. This compensates for that level difference.)
Okay. All this sounds cool. But can I survive without this thing?
Yes, you can. But you won't enjoy life as much. This isn't magic, or a trick device. It's just a great tool that can help accomplish your goals in a way that other EQs aren't designed to do. It certainly won't replace a traditional EQ - but it will add different colors to your crayon box. It's not cheap, but damn is it good!!! ($1599 street; www.kushaudio.com)