Drawmer's affordable EQ brings a '70s vibe to your studio.
Drawmer remain under the ownership of founder Ivor Drawmer, and they still design and make their equipment in the UK. I've owned and operated one of their 1960 valve compressors without incident since 1986 and have no desire to part with it! The longevity of Drawmer products such as the 1960 and their DS201 Dual Noise Gate — their very first product, which continues to be made 38 years after its release — points not only to both their build quality and reliability, but also to the intuitive nature of their front-panel controls, whose function, design and layout is underpinned by a deep understanding of the real-world needs of audio engineers.
In recent years the company have developed a '70s series, populated with new solid-state products that draw on the technology of that decade. One of the most recent additions to that growing range is the 1974 Stereo Parametric Equaliser, reviewed here.
A single glance at the 1974's white-on-black front panel and its yellow-skirted control knobs is more than enough to mark this out as a Drawmer product. The controls' layout and labels sets out the purpose and function of every knob, switch and LED with commendable clarity. (Being a true stereo unit, a single set of controls governs settings on both channels.)
The physical layout of the controls deserves a mention too, because, despite there being 13 rotary control knobs and six push-switches, they're all arranged in a way that avoids any issues with access or operation, and it leaves the 1U front panel feeling quite spacious. Such apparent simplicity is harder to achieve with this many controls than you might think.
As you'd expect of a four-band EQ, the controls are divided into four main frequency areas: Low, Low Mid, High Mid and High. These are topped and tailed by switchable High Cut (low-pass) and Low Cut (high-pass) filters. Balanced XLR input and output connectors for the left and right channels and a fused IEC mains connector and power switch are the only occupants of the rear panel.
A signal entering the 1974 passes through it in the order of the controls, from left to right: from the input stage to the Low Cut filter, then the Low, Low Mid, High Mid, and High bands, and on, via the High Cut filter, to the Output. The signal can be boosted or cut by the ±15dB Input knob which (as with all the rotary controls) turns a 21-position detented, precision-matched, twin potentiometer. There's no input metering — in fact, the only level indicator is an Overload LED that illuminates at 6dB below the unit's maximum output level of +26dBu. Having left the input stage, the signal passes through the Low Cut filter, whose cut-off frequency can be varied continuously between 10 and 225 Hz. A button switches this filter in and out, and an associated green LED illuminates when the circuit is active.
Following the Low Cut filter is the Low band, whose shelving response delivers ±12dB of cut or boost over a continuously variable range of centre frequencies from 35 to 700 Hz. The shelf has three available slopes, selected by a combination of two buttons with status LEDs. The gentlest option is a 6dB/octave slope and, as you'd expect, there's also a 12dB/octave option. But the other, at 9dB/octave, is less commonly found — it offers a happy medium between the other two slopes, with a slightly more noticeable impact on the low end than 6dB/octave but without sounding as obvious as 12dB/octave, particularly when used at the higher cutoff frequencies.
To help mitigate the musical impact of, for example, a steeply sloping shelving cut, a fourth slope setting called Peak adds a narrow bell-shaped boost to the -12dB/octave filter at the selected corner frequency, just before it begins to roll off. The idea is to preserve the weight and heft that would otherwise have been removed, so avoiding the collateral damage often caused by the start of a steeply sloping downward curve. Similarly, the Peak setting places a narrow, bell-shaped cut at the corner frequency when boosting using the -12dB/octave slope setting. So this is a very versatile shelving band.
The Low Mid and High Mid bands are fully parametric — in other words, each possesses not only frequency and gain controls, but also a Bandwidth control (often labelled as its inverse relation 'Q' on other equalisers). This allows you to focus the effect anywhere you want it, from an extremely narrow to a much wider range: each of these mid-range bands can deliver ±12dB of gain and has a bandwidth that's continuously variable from a third of an octave to 3.3 octaves around the centre frequency. Speaking of which, the centre frequencies run from 55Hz to 2.1kHz for the Low Mid and 400Hz to 14kHz for the High Mid, so there's a useful amount of overlap between the bands (of which more later).
The 1974's fourth EQ section is the High frequency band, which, like the Low band, has a shelving response. This time, though, there are only two gentle slopes on offer: 6dB/octave and 9dB/octave. Finally, the signal flows to the switchable High Cut filter, whose cutoff frequency is continuously variable between 4 and 32 kHz.
The Low Cut and High Cut filters can be bypassed individually, but the entire 1974 signal path (including input gain) is hard-bypassed when the main Bypass switch is activated. While such a global bypass can be useful at times, I'm not personally so fond of this setup — I'd much prefer to have seen individual bypass switches for each EQ band. That would make checking the effect of any EQ changes within a single band much easier, especially when working on 'corrective surgery' in that 35Hz to 14kHz region (in which the frequencies of all four EQ bands' corner frequencies overlap) and/or the areas between 35 to 225 Hz and 4 to 20 kHz, where the Low Cut and High Cut filters overlay the Low and High bands.
The 20Hz-20kHz (±0.2dB) frequency response and 0.007-percent distortion (1kHz at 0dB) mean that, when set flat, the 1974 isn't going to colour any signals passing through it, and this gives the unit what I think of as a natural, transparent sound that reveals any EQ problems in the source audio passing through it.
Drawmer's designers have come up with an original, comprehensively featured, great-sounding equaliser.
With the control layout reflecting the signal flow, the 1974 is as easy to use as you'd expect. But particularly practical are the detented control knobs, which make the recall of settings simple and precise. With conventional analogue outboard such as this (ie. that isn't digitally controlled), recall is inevitably slightly time-consuming, so I've got into the habit of taking a snapshot of the front-panel settings on my mobile phone. (Experience has taught me that it is pretty much essential to make a written record of exactly what a particular panel setting relates to, and to photograph that note before snapping the front panel — this prevents you from ending up with a bunch of anonymous images!) The detented controls make this process easier.
For me, part of the pleasure in using an analogue multiband equaliser like the 1974 comes from physically turning control knobs to create and refine the musical balance — I find it much easier than moving a mouse — and I often like to use the EQ band's interactions to achieve the desired artistic result. The broad frequency ranges make that possible with the 1974; building your EQ curve sequentially, stacking one of the EQ bands on top of its predecessor (where their frequencies overlap) allows you to make some pretty radical EQ changes should you wish. And not only can you create overlaps between the bell curves of the parametric Low Mid and High Mid bands, but you can also choose settings that mean they'll interact with the slopes of their Low and High counterparts.
If, like me, you're one of those who habitually tops and tails a track's bandwidth using high-pass and low-pass filters, you'll find that the 1974's Cut filters make this a fast and easy task. Of course, the filters can also have a role in low- and high-frequency tone shaping too.
The closest comparison I can draw between the 1974 and a classic equaliser design of the 1970's, in a conceptual sense, is with the channel EQ of the Harrison 32C — the console famously used in the production of Michael Jackson's Thriller. Whereas the 1974 has fully parametric bands, though, this one was a four-band, 'proportional-Q' equaliser with high- and low-pass filters. 'Proportional Q' means that the bandwidth of each individual EQ band narrows around its centre frequency as the gain (positive or negative) is increased — this played a large part in the 32C's musically pleasing sound. When using the 1974's fully parametric mid-bands, this 'proportional-Q' approach is a good place to start, choosing narrower bandwidths for more assertive boosts/cuts.
I like to EQ tracks as I record them, only revisiting their EQ if there are problems in the mixing stage, and the 1974 is perfect for my needs in that regard. Being a stereo equaliser, it makes an excellent tracking tool. It's not only useful on stereo instruments or stereo microphone setups, and coincident pairs and M-S setups with identical mics in particular, but a single channel of the 1974 can easily be used as an EQ for mono sources.
When it comes to mixing, the 1974 again has a dual role to play. It can be used to good effect on tracks or stems that need tonal boosts or cuts to help them sit nicely in the mix, or to subtly shape the mix's overall frequency spectrum. On drum tracks, for example, the 1974's Peak function in the Low band is a very effective tool for keeping the kick solid while the -12dB slope is used to attenuate lower frequencies. This gives a different-sounding (and often better) result than when you pair the Low Cut filter with a Low shelving boost.
In addition, you also have the option of using the Low-Mid overlap with the Low Cut or the Low band to get into deeper low-frequency detail — and that still leaves you with the High Mid, High and High Cut sections to take care of that lack of cowbell, or make any other higher-frequency adjustments.
Divining the sources of the Drawmer 1974's 1970s inspiration was a bit of a trip down memory lane. There's the Harrison 32C channel EQ I mentioned earlier; the Sontec MES 432C parametric EQ, with its variable slopes, could well be another influence; and I'd hope that the Trident A-Series EQ, being British, wasn't overlooked either.
But in the grand scheme of things, none of that matters — what matters is that, in the 1974, Drawmer's designers have come up with an original, comprehensively featured, great-sounding equaliser, and that they're offering it at a truly competitive price.
For my own workflow the 1974 does lack a few small features. I'd have found an input level meter and individual band bypass switches useful. Ideally, I'd also have liked the option to switch the Low and High bands between shelving and peak responses. But inevitably, no hardware EQ can cover all bases for every user, and none of these points are deal-breakers that would stop me adding a Drawmer 1974 to my outboard rack — they're far outweighed by what if does offer. It can be good as a subtle overall EQ enhancer, a forensic tonal scalpel, a tracking EQ, a subgroup or mix-bus EQ and a mastering EQ. In short, it's versatile and delivers an all-round price-to-performance ratio that competitors will find hard to equal, let alone better.
Around this sort of price, most parametric and semi-parametric EQ designs now appear to be available only in the 500-series format — with mono and stereo models ranging from the competitively priced MIDAS modules to those from the likes of IGS Audio, Wes Audio, Radial and Elysia. If you're looking for a stereo rackmount device, I can't think of direct competitors to the 1974 until you enter higher (and much higher!) price brackets, where you'll find models from Elysia, JDK Audio, Empirical Labs, SPL and Sontec, amongst others.
- Superb audio performance.
- True stereo operation.
- Variable-slope Low and High shelving EQ.
- Nice low Cut and High Cut filter options.
- Detented control knobs make accurate recall simple.
- I'd prefer to see more by way of signal–level metering.
- Most bands cannot be bypassed individually (only the cut filters can).
With a clean signal path, versatile filters and shelves, and overlapping parametric EQ bands, this stereo EQ holds promise as a high-quality studio workhorse — and the price is right too.