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Gainlab Audio Empress

Passive Valve Equaliser By Neil Rogers
Published April 2022

Gainlab Audio Empress

Hungarian company Gainlab impressed us with their Dictator compressor, so we were looking forward to putting their EQ through its paces.

Gainlab Audio are a Hungarian company, formed fairly recently by the engineers at Budapest’s Gainlab Studio — after years of servicing and modifying the equipment in their own studio, they decided to develop their own designs. I reviewed their Dictator stereo valve compressor back in SOS December 2021 (https://sosm.ag/gainlab-audio-dictator) and found a lot to like — and not only because I considered the price to be very keen for what was on offer. For review this time is another of Gainlab’s early releases: after my positive encounter with the Dictator I was very much looking forward to spending some quality time with the Empress!

Overview

The Empress is a dual‑mono valve EQ that attempts to combine the attributes of a passive, Pultec EQP‑1A‑style EQ with some additional features. The headline addition is an extra mid‑band that you wouldn’t traditionally find on this style of EQ, but there are also a few other features that attempt to add more flexibility to a studio classic that has been around in one form or another since the 1950s. Gainlab explain that they were keen to maintain the heart of what people like about passive EQs of this kind — that curious simultaneous cut‑and‑boost of the highs or lows being perhaps the most obvious example — whilst also including a valve amplifier stage that’s intended to allow the user more control over their EQ moves, and over the saturation effect of the electronics. I’ll talk a little more about these features as I explain how I got on with the Empress in my studio.

All three bands offer more frequencies than most EQs of this type. All the controls are stepped (ie. switches), the cut and boost controls operating in 1.5dB increments, and the unit generally feels good to play with. A very small niggle was that, due to the combination of extra control features, the dual‑mono control set and some quite small switches/labelling, I often found recalling settings a little time‑consuming (you have to do everything twice when used on a stereo signal, of course). Electronics‑wise, the Empress features the sort of high‑quality components you’d expect to find on this sort of...

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