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Avalon Designs AD2055 Mastering EQ Print E-mail
Monday, 01 December 1997
ImageThe Avalon 2055 is a $5000 fully balanced, dual mono, professional mastering equalizer. It features four full adjustable parameters of equalization in a dual mono configuration (one set for each of your left and right channels). Via its smaller controls, located below the four main EQ controls for both the left and right channel, the Avalon 2055 is capable of honing in on the tiniest imperfections in your sound. Conversely you can tailor large portions of your music or film system's performance with sweeping equalization over wide sections of the musical spectrum.

You have always been told EQ is taboo.
The old wives' tale that equalization is bad and that it introduces the dreaded audio menace `phase shift' is simply outdated. Let's look into the basic process which creates a compact disc. When a band is doing a basic tracking session in a studio, each track they record has the potential to be EQed. That could be upwards of 128 or more individual tracks, all with their own EQ. Main loudspeakers, be them Tanoys, UREIs, JBLs or Westlakes, have their own fixed, outboard EQ to maximize the speaker performance in that particular studio as they relate to room acoustics.

Once the record is assembled by the producer and engineer, the mastering engineer, also known as `the man with the golden ears' (i.e. Bob Ludwig, George Massenburg, Bernie Grundman) takes the raw product and fine tunes it into the best sounding product possible. They too, use subtle EQ as one of their many tools.
Where we in high end audio--the high art form of musical playback--got off thinking we could live without EQ is unclear. EQ has been taboo to the average audio salesman and jaded audiophile for far too long. What most likely gave EQs a bad name were the old, noisy, low quality, consumer-grade graphic EQs from the 1970s which actually introduced so much phase shift into the signal that the EQs caused more problems and distortion than they solved.

As you sit and audition a $50,000 music system without EQ at your local high end dealer, ask yourself, "Will the majority of my CDs and LPs sound `great,' not good, `great' on this system?" I mean in your home, will nine out of ten of your records sound the way you want them to? If your answer is no. I urge you to audition a good EQ in your high end system.

Could it add phase shift? Possibly. Will a little phase shift really matter to the over all sound? Not really. Once you learn that the best EQ adjustments are subtle, your phase shift will be slight. However, you will have gained the power to exactly tune in your music to meet your taste. Changing interconnects, moving speakers and strategically stacking ebony dots near your preamp can't even come close to the improvement you'll get from even the subtlest EQ.

How do I EQ?
You learn quickly that a good equalization empowers you to change, drastically or subtly, the way your music sounds. Most importantly, and perhaps one of the most compelling reasons why EQ has never caught on in the high end community, is the fact that you need to believe that your ears know best. You and only you, know how your music should sound.

Who is to say that your EQ settings, in your room, with your system are wrong? Nobody! Once you start re-working your music collection you'll find that you begin to gain confidence in your upgrade decisions. This effect will happen within a hours of auditioning a good EQ. The ultimate effect of adding a mastering quality EQ to your system will be that you will start taking more chances in buying music at the record store and you will begin to enjoy your system up to or beyond the level of your interpretations.

More about the Avalon 2055
The Avalon 2055 is a killer EQ. To start, it lights up like a Christmas tree and features 22 knobs and 8 buttons on the front plate. Are you intimidated yet? Don't be. The top eight buttons, four on each side, are for tone control. The buttons below are to set the parameters for the EQ. In other words, you can decide exactly which point (a specific number) you want to add and subtract energy from. Simple, right?

The four buttons on each side are 10x controls which allow you to greatly expand the effect of a specific EQ adjustment. The last two buttons in the middle of the faceplate are the mute buttons so that you can wow your friends with the way the CD sounded before and after your personal re-mastering genius and then after.

Using EQ to bring Jimi Hendrix back from the dead.
As far as I know, there are no steadfast rules or standards from which you should EQ from, however a solid knowledge of where instruments fit into the audio spectrum (20 Hz to 20 kHz) helps tremendously.

I can feel you getting intimidated again. What do you do when you need to bring Jimi Hendrix's guitar sound slightly in front of the overall mix in a flat sounding 1969 `Band of Gypsies' recording? Guess a frequency range (hopefully in the midrange in this case) and start swinging the knobs. That's right, swing them back and forth all the way until you find just the right spot for your tastes, use your ears not your eyes. Don't worry if you swing a knob all the way and it doesn't make the change you want. You may need to either adjust the EQ point using the lower knobs to hone in your target, or you may need to switch to a higher or lower EQ range entirely.

You can adjust your EQ points anywhere you want using the lower, sub controls of the Avalon 2055. The most useful settings I found were: starting with the lowest (the farthest, big knob on the left) 35 Hz for deep bass control. Then I set the second EQ point for around 160 Hz to add or subtract lower-mid-bass energy that is a huge cause of the "bloated" sound. I set the third point at either 1.2 kHz or 2 kHz for mid-range control. The last point I set at 14 kHz and used it to add or subtract sizzle to the high end of the sound.

By no means are these points the law, but they do give you some serious tools to start with. The most useful EQ adjustment I made is to add good amount of deep bass on the first EQ point (35 Hz) and then to subtract just a little mid-bass (160 Hz). That gives you, in many cases, deeper and tighter bass. I use this on many cuts and low level listening situations to get the bass impact I want from a variety of records (recordings eclectically ranging from Led Zeppelin `II' to The Orb's effects-riddled `Peel Sessions').

You'll also want to use the fine controls of the Avalon 2055 to hone in on mid-range elements like horns, voices, guitars and more. You will need to hunt down the exact frequencies so that you can add or subtract to that particular sound. Take Coltrane's version of `My Favorite Things' from the same-titled album, I could extract a little more detail from his virtuoso sax by adding 2.5-t-3.5 dB at 2kHz. This was all the EQ I needed to make a great performance sound extraordinary.

Do you ever feel like your system is slightly too bright when listening to a certain CD? Adjust the last EQ point of the 2055 to around 10 kHz and click on the 10x button between .5-to-1dB flat. This should just take the edge off of the high frequencies your sound. I found this a useful effect for older CD pressings such as The Sugarcubes first album, ACDC's `Back In Black,' and Van Halen's `1984.'

In order to open up your music library to being enjoyed exactly the way you want it, I believe the Avalon 2055 mastering equalizer to be a powerful tool to add to a high end music system. The dual mono nature of the 2055 many seem intimidating for the non-mastering engineer, however as you become accustomed to the 2055, you will find that within seven days, you can perfectly set your EQ in the dark, trusting your ears not your eyes.

In comparison, the Cello Audio Palette ($23,500 to $25,500) is an easier tone control to use because it features a stereo configuration, in other words each EQ knob is for both left and right, unlike the dual-mono Avalon. In a side by side comparison, one finds the Cello to be slightly more noisy in the signal chain and much more expensive than the Avalon. The Cello also is limited because of its fixed EQ points. For casual users this is an advantage. For those who are enamored with re-mastering their entire CD library, the Avalon is more flexible.

Also, Z-Systems makes a digital competitor to the Avalon named the RDP-1 for $5000. Unlike the Avalon, which fits into your system between your amp and preamp via a balanced XLR connection, the Z-System RDP-1 goes between your digital sources like a CD or DVD transport and your DAC. It uses less expensive digital cables and gives your system the ability to accept more digital inputs. I have had a Z-Systems in my system for only a few days, yet on first listen the Z-Systems has a distinctly different flavor, which I found slightly warmer sounding. The Z-Systems has a completely different interface and is a whole other experience to use. It features EQ presets, a powerful remote control, and even more EQ options than the Avalon. Look for the Z-Systems own review in the coming months.

As for the Avalon, if you own a high end system in or above the $20,000 range and you aren't one-hundred percent happy with the way it (or more importantly, your music library) sounds you will want to audition an Avalon 2055. It is far from inexpensive, yet it gives you the tools you deserve to make your system sound the way you want without going off the deep end with endless audiophile tweaks. Embrace equalization, embrace the Avalon 2055.

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