Antelope Audio recreate a cult mastering equaliser for their unique AFX platform.
Outboard gear intended for high‑end mastering has to meet particularly stringent design criteria. It must be entirely free from unwanted distortion and noise. It must be optimised for stereo use, with both channels perfectly matched. It should have switched or stepped controls, for precise recall, with ranges appropriate to the job in hand. And, of course, it needs to sound amazing.
These requirements can’t be fulfilled on the cheap, and premium mastering equipment is often even more pricey than the analogue gear you’ll find in a mix room. A classic example is the Sontec MES‑432C equaliser. Designed by George Massenburg and Burgess Macneal and made in small numbers to a no‑expense‑spared philosophy, these rare beasts change hands for five‑figure sums. And although the Sontec was always intended as a pristine, clean‑sounding device, and contains no transformers or valves to add coloration, devotees claim that it has a very characteristic sound that cannot be matched by other equalisers.
Go On My Son
As far as I know there is no official software emulation of the Sontec 432, but there are several unofficial ones. The latest, and the first to cross my path, is Antelope Audio’s VEQ‑432C. It differs from the others in not being a conventional native plug‑in; rather, it’s part of Antelope’s AFX suite of processors. These run on the Synergy Core platform that is a part of most current Antelope interfaces.
Consequently, there are several ways in which VEQ‑432C can be integrated into a project or session. You could route audio to be mastered out of a pair of line outputs, through a hardware processing chain and back in via a pair of line ins and a VEQ instance. Or you could treat an AFX chain like a hardware insert in your DAW, with no need to tie up physical I/O and cables unless you want to. And finally, if you’re a Mac user and your interface is connected via Thunderbolt, you can take advantage of Antelope’s AFX2DAW plug‑in to host it directly within your DAW. This last approach has the advantage that VEQ settings are recalled with the DAW project.
Bands Of Gold
Functionally, VEQ‑432C is straightforward, with simple high and low shelving bands and three peaking bands of equalisation. However, whereas most stepped equalisers offer perhaps half a dozen frequency options per band, the Sontec — and hence Antelope’s emulation of it — have no fewer than 24. You’d need a pretty good monitoring system to be able to hear the effect of switching from a cut at 11Hz to one at 13Hz! This means that, practically speaking, you’re never going to find yourself in the situation where the ideal corner frequency lies between one setting and the next.
The same is true of the gain control. This too is stepped, but in quarter‑decibel intervals, with each band offering a total ±12dB of boost or attenuation. The peaking bands also feature a bandwidth control offering a comparatively miserly five switched positions. These, unusually but authentically, are labelled in dB per octave, as if they were filter slopes. Unlike some analogue EQ designs, bandwidth does not narrow with increased boost or cut on the Sontec, which perhaps accounts for some of its distinctive character.
You’d need a pretty good monitoring system to be able to hear the effect of switching from a cut at 11Hz to one at 13Hz!
‘Character’ is possibly the wrong word to describe the sound of the Sontec, and by extension, Antelope’s VEQ‑432C. It doesn’t introduce any sort of veil or coloration across a mix; nor does it add richness, warmth or any of the other qualities associated with some vintage equipment. Rather, it has that impressive knack of making things better without it sounding as though there is any processing going on at all. Even quite drastic EQ moves come across as completely natural, but at the same time, quarter or half‑dB changes can make a noticeable and positive difference. You can apply dramatic high‑end or midrange boosts without ever making the material sound harsh, and the narrowest bandwidth setting is focused enough for some relatively surgical work.
Compared with other software versions, the main USP of Antelope’s VEQ‑432C is that it runs on the Synergy Core hardware rather than natively. As mentioned earlier, this means jumping through a few routing hoops if you don’t have the AFX2DAW plug‑in. On the plus side, it also means that it doesn’t load down the host CPU, though that is perhaps not such a big issue today as it once was. VEQ‑432C makes it obvious why hardware Sontecs are so coveted, and although I didn’t have an original on hand to compare, it’s clear that Antelope’s emulation is a very classy and versatile mastering equaliser in its own right.
Other unofficial software recreations of the Sontec equaliser include IK Multimedia’s Master EQ 432 and Acustica Audio’s Scarlet 4.
- A clean‑sounding and very flexible mastering equaliser.
- Closely models the original hardware.
- Does not burden the host CPU.
- Can only be used within a DAW if you have AFX2DAW and a Mac/Thunderbolt system.
A faithful recreation of the classic Sontec mastering EQ at a tiny fraction of the cost.
€195 including VAT.