Five bands of parametric EQ plus useful high-pass and low-pass filters, all for a bargain price.
I'm not sure exactly who's behind Alto, but their manual describes them as having R&D centres in Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and Taiwan. I get the impression that their equipment is built in the Far East — I'd have thought that it would have to be to sell at these undeniably attractive UK prices.
The Alto Q is a single-channel, 1U parametric equaliser with both balanced jack and XLR input/output connections. It features a nicely contoured aluminium front panel and 'wart-free' mains operation via a traditional IEC inlet. There are five independently bypassable bands of equalisation, with tuning ranges of 20Hz to 400Hz, 60Hz to 1kHz, 150Hz to 2.5kHz, 500Hz to 8kHz, and 1kHz to 20kHz, providing plenty of overlap between bands. In all cases the bandwidth is variable from a tight 0.03 octaves to 1.6 octaves, and all bands have a ±15dB cut/boost range. The nominal operating level covers the range +4dBu to -10dBu, with the output able to deliver up to +18dBu, and a very nice touch is that the manual illustrates all the different cable wiring details for balanced, unbalanced and insert operation.
In addition to the five main filter bands, there are also variable 12dB/octave high-cut and low-cut filters (2.5kHz to 30kHz and 10Hz to 400Hz respectively) plus an input gain control. The master bypass works via a relay (the oddly named Audio In/Out button) and a 12-segment meter can be switched to read either the input or output level. Every switch incorporates a status LED, including the master power switch.
I checked out the Alto Q with some tracks I've been working on, in particular a female vocal part, and, despite the low cost, its performance wasn't at all bad. It could add air without harshness and add warmth without losing focus at the bottom end. Most importantly, it could be used to create very narrow cuts at specific points in the audio spectrum when circumstances demanded. It doesn't have the silky clarity of a really high-end equaliser, but it goes way beyond what a typical desk EQ can offer and it goes about its job in a workmanlike and efficient way.
I also liked the high and low filters, as these made 'bracketing' sounds within a mix relatively easy and they were also useful problem solvers where I needed to skim off some high or low end without causing too much damage. My only minor niggle is that the control grouping isn't as obvious as it might be, so it's easy to start adjusting a control belonging to an adjacent band, but that's pretty much it for negatives. For work on a completed mix, I'd prefer to use something a little more refined, but for tweaking individual tracks within your mix, the Alto Q is hard to fault, especially at this UK price.