Fancy a Pultec EQ ?
The word Pultec is one of those classic studio names that I used to hear talked about years ago when I first started working in recording studios. This, alongside other notable classics like 1176, LA-2A, Neve, Fairchild, Studer, SSL, Lexicon, Bell and Eventide led me to an environment of discovery and the excitement they could bring to the audio world.
Pultec was a mystical word, conjuring up this make-everything-better-magician of a tool, and I didn’t have much hands-on experience, as starting out as a Tape-Op my job was to watch, pay attention and listen. But a few years later when I started engineering, I started experimenting with these wonderful EQ’s and began to understand what the fuss was about.
Now fast forward to present day, and those old Pultecs I used are probably at least worth over £6k a piece but are holed up in a private studio collection and not being used very much, unfortunately. But not to worry, over the last few years every DAW plug-in manufacturer has probably got a variant of the Pultec in their catalogue, so that classic Pultec sound is now accessible to everybody,
Or is it ?...Do they really sound the same?....or are we just being convinced by Plug-in GUI’s looking the same. Do they sound great or is it just more convenient ( lazy perhaps ) to recall a Plug-in rather than printing, making notes and routing through hardware?
I’ve tried a lot of the software versions, and whilst they’re good in their own right as plug-ins, none of them quite reminded me of those early days of recording and mixing with the real thing.
A brief bit of history about the Pultec EQP1A
In 1953 Eugene Shenk and Ollie Summerland set up Pulse Techniques Inc in New Jersey, USA and their products were sold under their trademarked Pultec brand. In the early 1950’s they had designed an EQ which was based on a passive Western Electric EQ from the 1930’s that had been designed to improve telephone conversation systems.
Pulse Techniques Inc added a Vacuum tube gain make-up amplifier and this, in conjunction with the passive EQ and transformer saturation, provided an EQ that by the mid 1970’s and start of the 1980’s was in demand in many recording studios. They made a few different versions of Pultec EQ’s over the years, but the one I’m focusing on is the most widely used and popular, the 3u EQP1A. They also made a 2u version called the EQP-1A3, which some new designs are based upon.
The controls on a Pultec are unique and can also be a little unfamiliar, but the trick that worked so well, especially in the low end, is the ability to boost frequencies and attenuate them at the same time. This created something that is similar to a low-mid scoop, but with extra focus and detail, it has to be heard to understand the vibe in these boxes and what they can do.
Original units are in demand but at a price, and if you do have a pair they’ll need to be maintained as time has not been kind to many of the parts, so the cost can be a little prohibitive, especially with the need to be treated and cared for like the classics they are. So these days, with an improvement of manufacturing and design, many companies have decided to create either their own take on the classic EQP1A design or make it as close to the original as possible with varying degrees of success, features and some at a fraction of the cost.
There are plenty of Pultec inspired Plug-ins, with designs from companies like Universal Audio, IK Multimedia, Overtone, Softube, Nebula ( Poolteq and Doc Fear ), Cooltec EQP1, URS Fulltec, Nomad Factory Pulse-Tec and now Lindell Audio making a Plug-in version of their 500 series PEX-500 there's always a buzz when Pultec is mentioned - even in software.
Software versions also introduce new engineers to the workflow and sound of a Pultec, especially as originals are scarce. But in my opinion, a good hardware Pultec EQ is just unbeatable on the right source, whether it’s the mix buss, bass, kick, vocal, anything really - and there are now new inspired designs to cover every angle and budget based on that original EQ from the 1950’s.
It’s not called a classic without reason.
Units currently available and their suggested prices are below, not in any order of preference, but with many versions now being made both with valves and without, it’s well worth trying a hardware unit that fits your budget. There are also some DIY kits available but I’ve only listed products assembled and tested by the manufacturer.
The Tube-Tech PE1C was probably the first modern remakes of the EQP1A, made in Denmark by Lydkraft which was founded in 1977. They have been making their classic Blue Tube designs for over 25 years and the PE1C was seen - and still is - in many studios worldwide.
Manley were the only authorised user of the original Western Electric EQ circuit having gained permission from Eugene Shenk directly when they started making these EQ's. There are currently two versions of their Pultec EQ available, the Manley Enhanced EQP1A Single Channel
and their Manley Enhanced Pultec EQP1A Dual version. Both are extremely smooth sounding and have become Classics in their own right.
Designed and released originally in a kit format the Audio Maintenance Ltd eZP-1A is now only available assembled and tested at a very competitive price. An excellent-sounding EQ, hand made in the UK by Colin Adshead who has an excellent reputation for servicing and repairing old units, whilst also making many DIY kits and preassembled products based upon classic and new designs.
Amazingly priced Pultec inspired design, featuring 5 extra frequency points when compared to the original. The Warm Audio EQP-WA is manufactured in China in large quantities to keep costs down, but with high quality specified parts, design and quality control from the USA the unit on paper is unbeatable value. How it stacks up against the other Pultec EQ's I have yet to find out, but Warm Audio confirms they will be shipping shortly.
Cartec Audio EQP-1A : £ POA
The Cartec EQP-1A first came to the market over 5 years ago and was one of the first British-based copies of the Pultec design. Hand built in Manchester with an eye-catching stunning green metalwork faceplate, and an excellent sound to match, there are many happy original users out there. However they've had some quality control issues, and with poor customer service being aired on many online forums Cartec currently has no UK distribution. Whilst when they get it right Cartec gear is wonderful, I must caution against poor reliability. Hopefully, this is something they address.
The Retro Instruments 2A3 Program EQ is a dual channel Pultec inspired design featuring 3 additional frequency boost settings at 1.5kHz, 6kHz and 14kHz. With stepped controls for precise matching between each channel the Retro Instruments 2A3 has a vintage Class AB tube amplification for unity-gain make up. Stunningly built with a smooth sound for dual mono sources or stereo, it now includes a new subsonic filter at 40 and 90 Hz which :
"allows you to do peaking low frequency boosts that tame the excessive subsonic energy exhibited in the original design if that's what you want"
The Bettermaker EQ232P Mk2 is an unique take on the Pultec design. Featuring a dual channel analogue EQ consisting of a 4-Band Parametric EQ and a solid state Pultec EQ it has digital control from the front panel with 999 preset slots to recall your settings. This can also be controlled via a software Plug-in within your DAW via USB. Allowing M/S, dual-mono or stereo modes including a 24db HPF the high grade analogue and digital circuits are on different paths to provide optimum separation, making it sonically popular in Mastering Studios as well as mix environments.
The A-Designs EM-EQ2 is the 2u Rack dual-mono version of their popular EMPEQ which was released for the 500 series. Featuring a heavyweight power supply and larger controls than on their 500 module, I feel this non-valve take on a Pultec creates some of the tightest modern low end available and has a little more headroom compared to their already excellent sounding 500 counterpart.
Featuring Carnhill input and output transformers the Wes Audio LC-EQP is a Polish quality Pultec inspired design with a 3-year warranty. Having had success with an 1176 based design, but with modern updates, Wes Audio has applied the same approach to their Pultec based EQ. By adding extra frequency choices at 120 and 200 Hz in the low end and further choices in the mid/high range with 1, 1.5, 2, 6 and 20kHz this is a very well thought out take on a Pultec with a good sonic weight. Twin valves provide the make-up gain.
The USA made Mercury EQ-P1 Mk III has been available for a few years and in that time has found many welcome professional studio users, with excellent build quality and their improvements to the original design, they have created a solid EQ. By adding 200 Hz in the low end and a user switchable interstage transformer they have updated the audio potential, and this along with running DC rather than AC on the Valves has proven to be a very impressive modern Pultec EQ.
Probably the closest you can get to an original is a Pulse Techniques EQP-1A3. Meticulously made with as much care and detail to the original 'mojo' of a 1950's Pultec model. These are being used in many studios alongside vintage Pultecs, which is a testament to how these units sound. At the top of the price range for a mono piece for sure, but still less than a second-hand vintage unit, and of course these come with the warranty and a modern build quality that will no doubt stand the test of time. Absolutely stunning.
Stereo designed versions are rare so it's great to see Polish based IGS Audio design the stereo IGS Audio Rubber Bands EQ in the Pultec style. IGS Audio have designed for other manufactures for many years and within the 500 series format, but it's within their own designs that they're getting great feedback. With 0.2% accuracy between the hand chosen components for both channels, transformer inputs and outputs, 2 valves per channel and an external power supply, the Rubber Bands provides an easy musical approach to dialling in the sound you require over a mix buss or sub group.
The Amtech PEQ-10 is a Polish made updated version of their successful PEQ-1A. New in the PEQ-10 is a 10kHz shelf and modified peak frequencies on the HF boost section. Now featuring stepped controls, upgraded components and an improved power chassis.
500 Series Pultec Inspired EQ's
With the focus on rack based EQ's it's worth mentioning that there are a few 500 Series units that are based upon this EQ design. They have similar character and may be an option to those who already have a 500 series power chassis, and wish to try this style of EQ out.
Bettermaker has already featured with his respected EQ232P and following on from this successful design they've taken just the Pultec section and put it in a double wide 500 series module. Two modules exist, one with controls the Bettermaker EQ502P and one with a blank faceplate the Bettermaker EQ502P Remote. Both units are the same analogue circuit with digital control via the front panel or via Plug-in control with your DAW.
The A-Designs EM-PEQ was probably the first Pultec style 500 series module and has been extremely successful worldwide. This lead them to design the previously mentioned EM-EQ2 rack version which is based upon two of these units. It manages to create the tightest low end in a 500 series and just has that 'feel' like a Pultec should. Being available in a single channel also gives the option to expand to dual channel mix buss duties with another unit when the time ( and finances ) allow. One of the first 500 series EQP1A clones, the only negative being the dials may not suit large hands as it's a bit fiddly, but still probably the best in this format.
The Lindell Audio PEX-500 caused online fever when it was released, not just because of the price point but because these units felt and sounded 'more expensive' than their price tag suggested. The brainchild of Tobias Lindell the PEX-500 has taken his favourite frequencies form a Pultec and utilising modern manufacturing, and in very large quantities has created a very impressive 500 series EQ. Whilst some may desire more frequency choices, those Lindell has chosen tend to add the bite, and weight where needed, with well laid out controls and a quality feel in use. Clearly, a large growing user fan base has helped raise the profile, so much so a plug-in version of this 500 series format is now available as well. Personally, I feel the bottom end is where the unit works the best, and at this price, it's easy to recommend a pair for stereo duties!
IGS Audio were originally involved in the design of the Lindell PEX-500 range ( the Lindell circuit boards have the IGS logo ) and then released their own version in the 500 format called the IGS Audio Rubber Bands 500 . Featuring Carnhill input and output transformers and more frequency choices than the PEX-500 this has great heritage being based upon their already successful stereo rack version the IGS Audio Rubber Bands.
So... Still Fancy a Pultec EQ?
That's my roundup, and I have my favourites of course - but whatever the direction, try out a hardware version before upgrading your Plug-ins in search of that missing 'mojo'.
Do you already use a Pultec EQ, what's your favourite weapon of choice?
Or are Plug-ins fine ?