Paul White lends an ear to TLA's latest parametric EQ, an attractively‑priced valve/solid state design that keeps up the company's tradition of delivering quality without the cost.
Assuming you have a skilled engineer and a talented performer, the factors most likely to influence the quality of a finished recording are a clean signal path, good EQ, accurate monitoring, quality reverb and an appropriate choice of microphone. TLA hope to address the first two points with their Ivory 5013 parametric equaliser, a hybrid valve/solid‑state device that is loosely based on the EQ circuitry of the all‑solid‑state 3013 Crimson‑series unit (reviewed SOS August '97).
Like the Crimson 3013, the 5013 is a dual‑channel, 2U parametric equaliser. Each channel provides four bands of fully parametric equalisation, though the useful high‑ and low‑pass variable‑frequency shelving filters of the Crimson have been omitted, which I feel is rather a shame. Another difference is that whereas the Crimson also featured balanced mic amps, the 5013 is strictly a line‑level processor. The high‑impedance line input jack on the front panel, however, has been retained, allowing you to DI electric guitars and basses when necessary. The Input gain control has a ±20dB range, with an orange Drive LED and a red Peak LED to provide basic metering. The Drive LED provides an indication of how much valve colouration is being added.
Both balanced XLR and unbalanced jack audio connectors are provided on the rear panel, which is useful — most semi‑pro desks still use unbalanced insert points. Equally practically, power is supplied at mains level via an IEC connector rather than a wall wart. Both input and output levels can be changed via rear‑panel buttons; each set of connectors can be independently switched between +18dBu and +4dBu nominal instead of +4dBu and ‑10dBu (balanced and unbalanced respectively). A glance at the block diagram in the manual shows that each channel contains a dual‑triode valve gain stage, which directly precedes the solid‑state equaliser. Varying the input gain setting affects the degree of valve drive, enabling you to introduce a controlled degree of tube coloration.
The parametric EQ comprises four fully parametric sections with overlapping frequency ranges. Band one covers 30Hz to 1kHz, band two 100Hz to 3kHz, band three 1kHz to 12kHz and band four 3kHz to 20kHz. All have a ±15dB gain range, and the filter's Q can be varied from 0.5 to 5, but there is no facility for bypassing the individual bands — there's simply an EQ On button and green status LED for each channel next to the Output level control (‑20 to +20dB range). All the EQ controls are continuously variable rather than stepped. To the extreme right of the unit is a red Power button with green status LED.
...a sweet‑sounding parametric EQ that should be noticeably better than the EQ sections on the vast majority of mid‑priced mixing consoles...
As regular readers will know, I've checked out units from all the TL Audio ranges at one time or another, and their equalisers always perform extremely well when compared with competitors in the same price range. This model is no exception, though I'm sorry to lose the shelving filters and the individual bypass buttons of the Crimson predecessor. However, what you do get is a sweet‑sounding parametric EQ that should be noticeably better than the EQ sections on the vast majority of mid‑priced mixing consoles, not to mention being a lot more flexible. Specifically, you can add 'air' to the top end of a recording without making it sound harsh or making the mid range sound nasal, while at the low end you can really warm up the bass or add punch to a kick drum without the low mid dissolving into a sea of mud.
As with all equalisers, if you can deal with a problem by cutting rather than boosting, the result will sound more natural — but where you do have to boost, the 5013 lets you go a lot further than you can with a typical desk EQ before the sound starts to get mangled. Adding a wide Q boost at around 12kHz to 15kHz, for example, provides a nice airy sound, while a little 200Hz boost thickens vocals without making them muddy. Boost in the 1kHz to 3kHz area can start to sound harsh unless you're very sparing with it; but then that's a difficult part of the spectrum anyway.
At higher Q settings the filters are very selective indeed, so you have to be particularly careful how you use them in this mode. One useful trick is to tune the fo a hi‑hat sound, then apply a little gain to lift the hi‑hat out of the mix, but you can't usually do this with a musical line that's changing in pitch, as you'll find some notes will be emphasised while others won't. Once again, this is a characteristic of all parametric equalisers, so the general rule is to use a wide Q wherever possible, and use as little EQ boost as you can get away with.
Increasing the valve drive adds both thickness and definition to the sound, providing you use it with caution, and it can make solid‑state mics sound rather more assertive. Personally, I find that modest drive levels sound better than heavy drive for vocal use, whereas more drive suits percussive and synthetic sounds. Note that the valve stage is still in circuit when the EQ is switched out, so you can use the valve colouration on its own if you want to.
TL Audio's 5013 is a nice‑sounding, no‑frills parametric equaliser, with the bonus of a variable drive valve gain stage to add controlled distortion when required. It is keenly priced, very well engineered, and looks the part in a pro studio, though some desirable facilities (notably the shelving filters and the individual band bypass buttons) have been omitted to save cost. All the controls are set out clearly, with reasonable spacing between the knobs, and status LEDs are employed where necessary. Given that you can't have everything you want and still keep the price low, the 5013 gives you the core functions you really need from a parametric equaliser without compromising on quality.
|Gain Range:||‑20 to +20dB|
|Connections:||Unbalanced jack and balanced XLRs|
|Valves:||1xECC83 per channel|
- Good build quality.
- High‑quality, flexible EQ with variable valve drive.
- High‑Z DI input is useful.
- No individual band bypass switches.
The 5013 offers a good balance of facilities for the price, and sounds noticeably better than most mid‑price console EQs. Having variable valve drive is useful.