Hands-on review: SourceAudio's Programmable EQ

(Brian Johnston | Posted 2011-11-25)

Hands-on review: SourceAudio's Programmable EQ

I recall about 30 years ago, in my mid-teens, the magic of hearing my first good stereo system (although owned by someone else). I’m not sure how good it was since I had little to compare it to, but what caught my eyes and ears were the EQ sliders and those little accompanying lights that danced up and down to the music. What further astounded me was how diverse the same record could sound simply by choosing more bass, mid-range or treble – to the point of co-producing your favourite records and customizing the output to your preferences.

Most people today are ignorant of such basic technology as they simply plug ‘n play their MP3 player or whatever else they use in a ‘ready-made’ state. Certainly most music mixes may be all right, sufficient or maybe optimal, but being able to customize how you want to hear music certainly brings sound on a personal level. I just don’t think most music listeners make the effort to EQ their music.

The same variation in tonal possibilities exists when using an EQ while playing music. The diversity of what you hear with the same equipment is so significant that I think some musicians (guitarist especially) are missing the boat. They constantly are in the hunt for new gear... a new drive pedal, fuzz, distortion, amps, and even guitar to achieve that all illusive ‘tone,’ and what they are seeking may be under their very noses... if only they had an EQ to manipulate the sound emitting from the gear already owned! In a nutshell, the basic idea of an equalizer (EQ) is to boost or cut particularly frequency ranges. This can be understood best through example: if you were to ‘boost’ a low range of an instrument, such as the electric guitar, it would sound heavy and thick. If you were to ‘cut’ the low frequency ranges and jack up the high (treble) frequency ranges, then you would hear a higher pitched (almost tinny or ‘thin’) sound. Obviously there a huge number of possibilities between, but you get the idea. And if you then applied an EQ to a basic fuzz pedal, and experimented with the tonal variations, you would be amazed as to how many fuzz pedals you actually own.

The Programmable EQ
I have only dabbled in EQs in the past, and usually the tone controls on my amp or through a multi-effects unit. I became interested in SourceAudio’s Programmable EQ for a few reasons: light weight (rugged aluminum housing), small in size (2.5 x 4.5 inches), and you can save four presets. I soon discovered that this unit is super quiet in operation and it offered some unique features that I’ll address shortly. I’m glad I subscribed to Source Audio’s newsletter, because this EQ is not like many other EQs on the market and I almost went in a different direction.

First, this unit is ideal for guitar and bass (or other instruments that span the range) as it offers eight frequency bands that range plus or minus 18dB from 62Hz to 8KHz – more than enough to achieve a great variation in sounds and tones and as extreme as its leading competitors. And it does this with a proprietary 56-bit signal processor and super clear 24-bit converters. I may be a bit green when it comes to today’s technology, but I do know that when you are speaking of ‘bits’ this is as good as CD audio technology... clean and pure!

Once you find a good sound to accentuate your equipment, you save it, and you can do so four times. Usually guitarists will fixate on 1-2 sounds for general guitar playing, including rhythm and lead, but to have access to more options at the flip of a switch without even having to touch the instrument’s tone control pickup selector is something unique and not found in most EQs. Conversely, with most EQs, you have to bend down, do your adjustments on the pedal and then resume – not anymore!

More Specifics
The Programmable EQ is super-easy to use and it’s amazing just how quiet this hard-wired true-bypass (no buffers or components between the input and output in bypass) pedal is. I base this on the technology, but also through the 12dB clean boost you can apply to your signal... even at full-steam the additional ‘noise’ is so insignificant, barely audible when not playing, that it’s hardly worth mentioning. More importantly, the ‘output’ dial that applies the boost can be custom saved to any of the presets.

For example, you may want a lot of bass, mid or treble to your signal in one preset, then something completely different for another preset. As you adjust/save varying frequency boosts or cuts to your customization each preset may or may not be louder than another preset (or your original signal if you eliminate the EQ in the chain). Consequently, you turn the volume up or down and ‘save’ to match all presets at the same level and to that of your original signal. Of course, you may want to have some settings louder than others, as with lead solos, and this is achieved easily and specifically. An interesting feature of the volume control is that the knob glows a blue light – and the more you turn up the volume the brighter it gets. You can tell visually where the volume sits in the mix.

The four presets are a god-send, and particularly when compared to some top EQ pedals that offer only one preset, such as MXR and Boss. What I did was create four unique sounds using my typical gear set-up: 1) heavy and thick distortion to give a fat metal rhythm sound [also a bit like old Hendrix and Cream]; 2) a not quite so fat classic-rock sound; 2) a 70’s rock sound with more mid-range; and 3) a thin fuzzy sound reminiscent of the the rhythm tracks from Pantera’s Cowboy’s from Hell album. Within the same composition I can shift from one sound to another; sounds so completely different that altering my guitar’s tone and pickup selections could not achieve anywhere near the effect.

And because this pedal has a ‘continuous’ function, I merely hold down the selector switch with my foot, continue playing and the EQ selection would shift from one pre-select EQ setting to the next. What this scrolling action produces is a fluctuation in the tone, from one preset to the next without stopping my playing. If you haven’t guessed it already, in doing so you can obtain some very unique tonal variations and even sequencer/tremolo type effects. Of course, if I wanted to stop the auto-scroll and have only one preset, I merely have to release the footswitch.

The Programmable EQ also offers MIDI input so that you can access presets or engage/disengage the EQ effects. For those unfamiliar with MIDI technology, it enables you to run the signal by way of other pedals, such as a reverb or other MIDI-compatible systems. Usually this feature is more at home with keyboard players, but bands like Rush certainly know the value of hitting the stage and controlling vast possible sounds and effects at the flip of a switch. If only Pink Floyd had access to this technology when experimenting with soundscapes on their early albums.

Controlling the EQ I had the Programmable EQ up and running in minutes, it’s that easy to use. Here is a basic run-down of the functions, although I covered a few of them already. As you move from one EQ band to the next (by pressing the Band Buttons left or right), you then use the Encoder dial to increase or decrease the frequency of each band in 1dB steps. That’s very straight forward, as it should be. As well, you can select a preset by pressing the Select button, or you can do so by stepping on the footswitch (which also turns the EQ on or off and allows for the auto-scroll when held down). And, there is an Output (volume) knob to adjust each preset to account for any boost or gain in an EQ setting, which you can save accordingly – no need to mess around live with different volume settings for different songs.

There also is a Backpage Parameters function, accessed by holding a button combination. This permits you to do a few things. First, it uncovers an 8th frequency band required by bassists (62 Hz), and its programming method is the same as with the other 7 bands. Further, you can control how quickly the switching (auto-scroll) function works, from very fast to a few seconds before shifting over to the next preset. Third, you can set the auto-scroll to continue even after the footswitch is released, ideal for those wild solos requiring a bit of auditory ingenuity as you move about the stage.

The flexibility and ease of use of the Programmable EQ is ‘slap-in-your-face’ obvious. The results are even more impressive as you can achieve that thick heavy distortion of Hendrix to the sizzling power-chord tone of Pantera, and everything between... all at the flip of a switch as you shift from one preset to the next. The tonal variations can be so extreme that it’s like having multiple distortion, drive and fuzz pedals at your disposal, and all the while using the same gear. If you want to customize your sound without adding noise or the inconvenience of fiddling around with sliders, the Programmable EQ is a must consideration.

For a sound sample that maintains all the same guitar and amp settings (the only alteration in tone is via the Programmable EQ), visit this link: http://profile.ultimate-guitar.com/logicbdj/music/all/play1060445

PLUSES: Rugged, yet light in weight; four pre-set function and highly flexible; has a volume control, which setting is saved with each preset; includes an auto-scroll function; bright LEDs to indicate which preset is selected and what the bandwidth is for each preset; extremely quiet. MINUSES: Auto-scroll moves in one direction only; you need to buy an adapter if you don’t like batteries. The MSRP is $209.00 and the street is $149.00.

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