Home   Contents   About   Links

Monday, December 22, 2008

Speck Model ASC

Speck Model ASC musically equalizes

When I started putting together my home studio, there was one item that got recommended to me again and again. It was the Speck Electronics Model ASC, which is a four-band parametric equalizer.

It's a 1U piece of gear in a half-width chassis. It doesn't come with rack ears so you'll need to get a universal 1U tray to mount the Model ASC in your rack. I found the Model ASC's fit and finish to be excellent. The graphics and coloring on the faceplate seemed oddly out of place in my rack with its light gray face and black lettering.

The Model ASC comes in two models. First, there is the standard Model ASC with active balanced input and output. And, then there is the Model ASC with output transformer option. Each is available in versions with North American and European power supplies. The Model ASC with output transformer gives you two choices of balanced outputs: The transformer is wired only to the male XLR output and the active balanced output of the standard Model ASC is wired only to the 1/4 inch TRS output. When using the 1/4 TRS output, the Model ASC's XLR output is automatically disengaged.

The outputs are on the back of the unit, which is also where you'll find a 1/4 inch input and female XLR connector. The 1/4 inch input accepts both balanced and unbalanced 1/4 plugs. There is also a ground lift switch on the back of the Model ASC as well as chassis ground.

Normally, you'd resort to the ground lift switch or grounding the chassis in the event of a hum or buzz. But, there is an electrical benefit to the output transformer. According to Vince Poulos, designer of the Model ASC, "The transformer, unlike its active-balanced counterpart, does not reference ground during the transmission of its signal. The transformer is great for interfacing to all kinds of gear in all kinds of environments." In essence, you should get no hums or buzzes when using the XLR output on the Model ASC with the transformer option.

The Model ASC provides four bands of EQ. There is a low frequency band, a selectable low or mid frequency band, a mid frequency band, and a high frequency band.

The low frequency and high frequency bands do not contain a Q control but rather a "simulated inductor." If you do not know, then a "Q control" will allow the user to adjust the width of the frequency band. Inductor circuits are known for the musical equalization but not known for being quiet. Hence, engineers developed different simulated inductor circuits to create a musical EQ band that is very quiet. The one in the Model ASC is proprietary to Speck Electronics. The low frequency band also contains a peak/shelf select switch.

The low/mid frequency band lets you choose between low or mid frequencies. This band contains a Q control as does the mid band.

The front of the unit also contains a gain control adjustable between -12 dB and +6 dB. And, there is also a bypass switch.

Let's talk about sound. I think of the Speck Model ASC in terms of "clean." Even so, the Model ASC put a tad of musicality on the signal when adding or subtracting frequencies in any of the four bands. I felt it a bit surgical but not precise enough to act as a notch filter.

How does the transformer affect the sound? It seemed to make sounds more organic by just being in the signal path. When hit hard, I noticed the transformer exhibited a bit of pleasing distortion. In any event, it is a subtle effect.

In my studio, I use both analog and digital EQ. I tend to prefer analog EQ going in and then tend to use a certain VST plugin in the box.

The thing I like about the Model ASC in action is how it allowed me to tweak sounds going in so that I was able to put onto disk what I heard in my mind.

For instance, I like a sonically rich low end on bass guitar. I used my Music Man Sabre through a Great River MP-2NV. The sound of the simulated inductor circuit on the low band put the Sabre across as one of the most musical bass sounds I've ever encountered.

By comparison, the sound of the low/mid band with the low band engaged let me set the parameters I wanted. I set the width with the Q control. I selected the frequencies. I selected the gain, which is +-15 dB on all four bands. The sound was a tad musical but it wasn't the "in your face" musicality of the simulated inductor.

I liked the juxtaposition of sounds between the simulated inductor circuit on the low and high bands against the low/mid and mid bands, which don't have the circuit. In essence, Speck gives you two sorts of musicality between the in-your-face musicality of the low and high bands versus the plain jane Q controlled low/mid and mid bands.

I tended to prefer the sound of the simulated inductor circuit on the low and high bands. But, I found the low/mid and mid bands better at tailoring the sound with their added Q control.

Another thing I like about the unit is the high end extension seemed to go on forever. I never felt a frequency ceiling through anything put through the Speck. The high end adjusted without distortion through its claimed 25 kHz extension.

The thing that makes the Model ASC stand out to my mind is not the transformer balanced output version. Instead, it's the simulated inductor circuits on the low and high bands. Whether you get the regular Model ASC or the Model ASC with transformer balanced output you'll still get the simulated inductor bands.

The Bottom Line: The Model ASC delivers a very musical sound with its simulated inductor bands. Recommended.

--Steven Langer

Speck Electronics

No comments: