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Tone-masters and Tonmeisters

Antelope Audio adds vintage tone to the Synergy Core Native library

As musicians select different models or makes of instruments to fit the vibe of a tune, recording engineers choose an equalizer to sculpt and shape tone. Antelope has modelled six new tone-masters for the Synergy Core Native collection, capturing the spirit of three American EQ legends, and three Swiss console EQs originally used by classical Tonmeisters, and now cherished by gear-savvy recording insiders.

The American EQ shaping thousands of hits

The VEQ-55A, VEQ-55B and VEQ-56 plugins emulate Saul Walker-designed US hardware EQs first made in the late ’60. The unassuming little EQ modules were originally intended for custom-built mixing desks of the era: at the time, recording studios usually commissioned bespoke consoles to their own specifications. Walker went on to co-found a famous mixing console manufacturer – still making large automated analogue mixers today – after he and his partner designed a mixer for Apostolic Recording Studio, the first 12-track recording studio in New York City.

The 550A is a switchable three-band EQ, with 21 center frequencies and five steps of boost to a maximum of 12dB of gain at each point. The fifteen equalization points are divided into three overlapping ranges. The high and low frequency ranges are individually selectable as either peaking or shelving, and a band-pass filter can be utilized independently. The EQs were operationally defined by dual-concentric rotary knobs, with the outer boosting or cutting, and the inner knob a frequency selector switch.

With its more complex brother the four-band 550B EQ, the 550A’s unique audio-shaping feature is ‘Proportional Q’ – the filter bandwidth narrows quite dramatically as the amount of boost or cut is increased – allowing precise tone sculpting or gentle musical sweetening just by varying the gain. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Tusk albums were recorded and mixed through 550As at Village Recorders, Los Angeles. Rumours engineer Ken Caillat famously described EQing his way out of being fired from the project: “I literally just started turning knobs, and within about five minutes of doing this on a track we were trying to cut, it was sounding great!”

The celebrated Sunset Sound studio in Hollywood has custom-built DeMedio mixers featuring the 550A: The Rolling Stones recorded tracks for their most acclaimed albums at Sunset Sound, including Beggars Banquet and Let it Bleed. The staggering list of hit records made in this studio alone – including Louis Armstrong, the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Prince, Miles Davis, Whitney Houston, Van Halen, Neil Young and Frank Zappa – is testimony to the tone-shaping powers of this EQ. The intuitive wider filter bandwidth at lower boost/cut levels, and narrower at radical settings, together with its discrete electronics and transformers, contributed to the characteristic ‘punch in the gut’ sound, especially useful for drums and electric guitar.

Antelope Audio’s technicians have faithfully modelled the unique features of the 550A and 550B equalizers, together with their companion the 560 – a sweet-sounding miniature 10-band graphic EQ with 12dB of boost/cut per band. The VEQ-56 plugin shares the narrowing filter Q at extreme settings with the VEQ-55A and VEQ-55B, while providing a visually memorable curve with its sliders.

Swiss design: mix with the Tonmeisters

The 16 and 24-track analogue tape era was dominated by the beautifully engineered transports of a fastidious Swiss tape recorder manufacturer. This Swiss manufacturer also made well-respected portable mixers for European radio and television broadcasters, largely overlooked by rock engineers of the ’70s and ’80s because of their low channel-counts. The mixers were designed for recording outside broadcasts – from ear-bending opera to whispered interviews – with maximum fidelity and minimum noise and distortion.

The somewhat idiosyncratic 089 mini-mixer, with eye-catching red sliders, and the more conventional modular 169, were built like tanks and renowned for their massive headroom and audiophile sound. Several generations later, these compact mixers were re-discovered and used as the front-end for DAW recording by producers like Ben Hillier, who used two 089 mixers to record Depeche Mode and Blur. Producer Luke Smith (Foals, Crystal Fighters, Everything Everything) is also a fan of the compact mixers, which he says “have a unique tone, and punchy sound …the sound has this great vibe.” The tone of these versatile EQs has been captured by Antelope Audio with new plugins VEQ-STU 089 and VEQ-STU 169.

The VEQ-STU 089 is a semi-parametric EQ with two variable filters and a Presence rotary control with a slider to select center frequency. Together with high and low-pass filters each selectable to four frequencies, the simple controls belie this EQ’s ability to rapidly transform sound. Designed for broad-stroke tone shaping, the VEQ-STU 169 low frequency band is set to shelve at 60Hz, the midrange is sweepable from 150Hz to 7kHz, and the sweet-sounding high frequency shelving has a 10kHz turnover frequency.

The new VEQ-STU 900 plugin models a more sophisticated 4-Band EQ from the same Swiss manufacturer’s large format ’90s analogue consoles. Designed at the pinnacle of the analogue audio era, these mixers were often installed in large European opera houses and national broadcast studios. As these big consoles were replaced by more compact digital equipment, the extremely high-spec EQs from the 900 series mixers have been ‘parted out’ and are sometimes seen as hardware rack-mount outboard EQs.

HF and LF bands may be switched between bell and shelf modes, and its low-mid and high-mid bands have narrow and broad options for Q. Frequency selection for all four bands, and also for the high and low pass filters, is continuously variable, making this EQ an incredibly versatile tool for shaping any audio signal. Clean and detailed, you’ll find it easy to dial-in the exact boost or cut for any instrument with the 900, which Antelope Audio has carefully modelled in the new VEQ-STU 900 plugin.

– Nigel Jopson

Just eight weeks after the debut of Synergy Core Native, 11 new plugins have been added to the library!
Explore the Synergy Core Native collection HERE

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