Some love a Pultec. Others prefer a Neumann or a Lang. Marshall Terry decided to combine his favourite aspects of these much‑loved equalisers in one box!
One thing you’ll notice over time if you get to try out lots high‑end outboard gear (which, happily, as a writer for SOS, I do!) is that once you discount the logos, knob choices, colour schemes and so on, lots of products are actually pretty similar from an aesthetic point of view. I don’t mean that to sound jaded or critical in any way, and in many ways it’s a positive thing: it means these tools tend to feel familiar, and that enables us to manipulate audio quickly and intuitively. But as you can see from the main photo, the product I’m evaluating here bucks that trend in quite spectacular fashion! Terry Audio’s CEQ is, without a doubt, the boldest, most original‑looking piece of outboard I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing to date.
Spread over 5U of rack space, the CEQ is a six‑band stereo EQ with a combination of active and passive bands (it’s mostly passive, as I’ll explain). Its front panel displays no obvious settings or values, with just a handful of hieroglyph‑esque markings giving the most basic indication of what control is doing what, and some coloured dots and lines hinting at a scale around the knobs. Boutique, artisan, call it what you like: it takes a very confident audio equipment designer to develop and release a high‑end product that looks like this!
That designer is Marshall Terry, who some readers may know best as the chief technician at Shadow Hills Industries. There, he’s played a major role in developing and building the various products for which that well‑respected brand is known, and through both that role and his own endeavours, Terry has become involved in a number of bespoke builds for high‑end clients. That perhaps gives a little insight into how Terry Audio and this distinctive EQ came into being.
Developed over five years, the big idea behind the CEQ was to combine the best elements of Terry’s favourite vintage inductor‑based EQs, from the likes of Pultec, Lang and Neumann, into a single hand‑wired device. A modern unit that collected together the ‘greatest hits’ of all these designs would offer an engineer access to their magic without any of the burden of maintaining old, rare equipment.
While the CEQ may not come ‘cheap’, it’s certainly much less expensive than acquiring (and maintaining) several expensive vintage EQs and cascading them to achieve a similar thing. But Terry also makes the point that even those who can afford to do that can quickly run into problems. For example, using several such units inherently means the presence of multiple line amplifier and transformer stages in the signal path, and that can easily lead to excessive coloration. Balancing all these considerations to create a device that mastering engineers are happy to use is a technically challenging and expensive endeavour, and I think that puts the price into perspective somewhat.
When you mention the words ‘vintage passive EQ’, most people’s thoughts will turn first to the classic Pultec equalisers, and at least two of the CEQ’s six sections look to these devices for their inspiration.
Starting with the bottom end, the CEQ provides ‘cut’ and ‘boost’ resonant shelves which are designed to offer the low‑end magic of a Pultec EQP‑1A, but with some additional flexibility. The bass boost section has frequency options that range from 40 to 200 Hz, and when used in combination with the bass cut, provide access to more options for shaping the bottom end of a mix than you might expect with this style of EQ. This section was comfortably my favourite during the review period; thanks to the ability of the low‑cut control to carve out ‘low end’ up as far as 480Hz, I found dialling in pretty generous amounts of extra weight across a whole mix perfectly achievable. It’s tricky to convey this sort of thing in words but, as with a Pultec, most of the magic can be found in the way these two bass bands interact; if you experiment with boosts and cuts in tandem, it’s possible to bring the bottom end of a mix forward in a surprisingly focused way.
The mid boost section is based on the Neumann PEV equaliser, which was found on mastering transfer consoles in the 1960s and is celebrated for its broad and gentle bell‑style EQ curves. On the CEQ, this band covers an extremely wide frequency range, from 310Hz right up to 8.2kHz. I work primarily as a tracking and mixing engineer (I’ll come back to this point later) and upon first using this band I was struck immediately by just how liberal I could be with the knobs — to the extent that I often found it helpful to exaggerate an EQ boost to get a better sense of how it was affecting things.
Because of this and the large frequency range, it took me a while to learn and, crucially, to appreciate how this band interacts with the high‑frequency shelf. But once I had become a bit more familiar with it, I found I was able to get just the results I was looking for. More often than not, that meant increasing the sense of presence, but without adding harshness around the cymbals or the 6‑8 kHz area in vocals.
As I mentioned earlier, the CEQ can almost be classed as a passive EQ: five of the six bands are passive. The lone active band is the mid cut section, and Terry describes this as “the most transformative and creative control”. The Q value for this midrange circuit is described as ‘dynamic’, which is a shorthand way of saying that its bell‑shaped curve becomes narrower the more you cut. Helpfully, this means you can use this section to achieve very different things. You can, for instance, pull out a little general harshness or low‑mid build‑up with a pretty broad curve. Alternatively, you can home in on a specific problem pretty precisely. As with the midrange boost, I initially struggled to hear and appreciate the subtle changes this section can often deliver, and I found myself wanting to exaggerate my EQ moves just to get a better sense of what I was doing. During the review period, I often got good results using this band to remove low mids in a way that helped me shape any low‑end boosts I’d dialled in. But I could imagine this mid cut band would become more and more useful the more you learned and developed your understanding of how this EQ’s stages interact.
The treble boost section is another one that’s inspired by classic Pultec designs, and Marshall Terry was keen to mention his careful selection of MPP inductors: a choice guided by his desire that the CEQ should be able to add subtle coloration in a particularly smooth‑sounding, pleasing way. You’re given only one knob to control this section, but you can do an awful lot with it because over part of its range it selects bell EQ boosts, while for the remainder it engages a shelving filter.
It’s always a pleasure hearing a high‑quality passive EQ add a sort of ‘neutral’ sense of brightness and clarity to a mix, and the CEQ really didn’t disappoint in this respect. I often liked the effect of adding a little high‑shelf boost, set quite far down the frequency spectrum (it ranges from 1‑18 kHz); this tended to elevate even dense mixes in a very broad, natural‑sounding way. Used in combination with the treble shelving cut control, you have plenty of high‑end ‘sculpting’ options. Sadly, I could only keep hold of the review unit for so long, and time pressure limited the nature of my experiments with this band to some extent. But I was left with a clear sense that there’s much more to be discovered here, and curious to know how I’d end up using the HF bands after more sustained use.
The aesthetics of the CEQ will no doubt split the room, but every single client who visited the studio asked me what it was — and more than one remarked how ‘cool’ it looked. From a user point of view, of course, the lack of values and descriptions will be a talking point, and I’m genuinely torn on the pros and cons.
Without question, the CEQ led me to choose settings that I probably wouldn’t have selected had I always been conscious of the values.
Marshall’s reasoning is that he didn’t want the controls to feel overly cluttered (I’ve reviewed a few devices like that!), and that the CEQ is intended as a tool whose operation should be based on ‘feel’ and ‘musicality’: something that encourages you to be guided more by your ears than your eyes or assumptions. That worked: without question, the CEQ led me to choose settings that I probably wouldn’t have selected had I always been conscious of the values, and using it gave me some positive food for thought. Still, I did find it frustrating at times, particularly when I was in ‘workmanlike’ mode, wanting to achieve a certain sound quickly. So it’s perhaps worth pointing out that the recall sheet shows the values, meaning you can easily find out what you’re doing. Also, I did find that I grew accustomed to what was where pretty quickly; I imagine that, over a few months’ use, this sense would develop to the point where you just know!
The CEQ may be billed as a mix‑bus and mastering EQ, but I’m sure Marshall Terry wouldn’t mind me describing it as being more akin to an instrument than a tool. In part, that’s down to the lack of EQ values on the front — a deliberate attempt to encourage you to listen carefully — but it’s also down to how the different controls interact, and I developed a real sense during the review period that the CEQ’s full potential will only really be properly appreciated in a critical mastering environment, once you’ve spent sufficient time getting to know it.
One of the main roles in which I used the CEQ was as a stereo mix‑bus EQ, and in that context, I tended to dial in broad changes that I liked, and stick with those same settings when working on a group of tracks together, to maintain sonic consistency throughout a project. It’s an approach that works brilliantly, even if it doesn’t fully exploit the flexibility and range of options described in the manual.
The CEQ can sound beautiful, and the unusual interface can be refreshing or even liberating. However, in real‑world use I also found that its action could be very subtle — to the point where my tracking and mixing‑focused ears sometimes struggled to discern quite what difference some of the controls were making when processing the more dense mixes I was working on. That applies especially to the Shift and Buffer settings (discussed in the box), though I could often hear a subtle low‑end ‘bump’ when switching the output transformer in and out of the signal path. Generally, I found the CEQ to be most satisfying when working on sparser acoustic styles of music: tracks that had more space just made it easier to appraise and appreciate the enhancements.
This lovely, high‑quality EQ makes as big a visual statement as it does a sonic one. It’s also one that requires a significant investment, both financial and in terms of the time you’ll need to spend learning how to get the best out of it. But it is intended to be a distinctive ‘centrepiece’ for serious mixing and mastering engineers and, as I mentioned above, you really need to judge its price in the context of what this hand‑built product aims to replace and improve upon. This is high‑level, almost obsessive audio electronics, and although the changes that some of the more esoteric features provide can be extremely subtle in practice, I can only admire the dedication that goes into developing and making equipment like this available to discerning engineers.
I’ve covered the CEQ’s EQ controls in the main text, but there’s more to this device than EQ alone, and a few switches provide the engineer with control over the sonic character.
- First, the Shift control is used to change the capacitors used in the low‑boost section of the EQ, the idea being that you can choose between a softer, more ‘vintage’ vibe and a more modern sound that’s a bit more ‘precise’.
- Next, we have the option to switch the custom‑wound output transformer in and out of the signal path, again allowing you to choose between a cleaner sound and a more coloured one.
- Finally, we have the option to employ or change a buffer at the input stage — this is another pretty subtle component‑level change, which can make the upper midrange a hint more/less present.
- Offers the sonics of some revered vintage EQs.
- Excellent‑sounding Pultec‑style low end.
- Surprisingly versatile midrange cut and boost options.
- High‑end boost filter sounds just that: high‑end.
- Distinctive looks.
- Encourages purely ear‑based judgements.
- Switched and continuous control options.
- Takes time to properly learn and appreciate.
- Some will find the lack of front‑panel markings frustrating.
- The extra circuit control features can be very subtle.
This distinctive‑looking, high‑end six‑band inductor EQ takes inspiration from several classic equalisers. The result is instantly impressive, and the layout encourages a focus on purely listening‑based decision making.
£5550 including VAT.
KMR Audio +44 (0)20 8445 2446.