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The Perfection of Imperfection.

16 Jun

Akai EX85P... mmm.

Hi folks,

The advent of digital recording and the unrelenting pressure of pop music has ushered in an age of super-clean recordings. For the most part, this makes me sad. I tend to comfort myself by going on eBay.

I’m a fan of eBay. I can frequently be found scouring various lists on the hunt for audio gear of all types. Generally I buy obscure, unknown bits and pieces just to see what they sound like. Rarely do I bother bidding on well-known kit because the savings to be had are pretty slim – you just can’t get a TR808 for $250. Everybody knows that.

Most recently I picked up an Akai EX85P parametric equalizer for about AU$50. I’d never run across one before but it looked interesting. It’s a circa 1990 model of prosumer gear with all the classic beige and red design elements that old school MPC users can’t help but love. Aside from it’s appearance and what I could read from the screen, I knew nothing else about it. However, I’m yet to buy a bit of gear that I haven’t put to good use so I figured it was worth a bid. And, lo and behold, it’s an absolute cracker of an EQ.

The specs are as follows:

  • Mono, 6.5mm balanced ins and outs (hence prosumer)
  • High and low shelving (40hz and 12000hz respectively) with +/- 18db
  • Two sweepable mids ranging from 100Hz to 8000Hz (with considerable overlap) at +/- 18db
  • Adjustable Q for each mid frequency band (the Q factor isn’t listed but it seems to be about 6 to .7)
  • It has a footswitch input too, but I haven’t got a pedal for it and, moreover, I can’t see what it would do except engage and disengage the effects bypass.

Overall, it’s pretty standard in terms of features. However, the amount of boost/cut is pretty substantial and it can really have an enourmous impact on the shape of the sound. I haven’t put it on any tracks yet but I’ve been having a great time doing super-resonant filter sweeps on everything from synth lines to dodgey mariachi records. Good fun.

Many years ago I also bought a mono Ashly peak limiter/compressor for something like $40. Again, information on these units is thin on the ground. In short, it is simply not pro-grade gear. That said though, I’ve used this compressor on numerous recordings in the signal chain of numerous instruments and vocals and it is a lovely bit of kit. The design doesn’t allow you to set a threshold (a true peak limiter), which means you have to drive a signal hard into it before it starts to operate. However you can adjust attack, release and ratio settings (the ratios are all pretty intense) and you can adjust the level of output. The thing I love about this compressor, though, is not it’s features nor even it’s intended sound. Rather, I love it’s terrible design flaws and angry grittiness.

Since owning the unit, I’ve discovered that the manufacturers made a terrible mistake when they put it together. They used a kind of foam to line the top and bottom plate of the casing which worked fine for a year or two before age and heat began to make it disintegrate. Consequently particles of foam would build up on the circuitry causing the various transisters and op-amps to overheat and, essentially, malfunction. As a result, the unit I now own (though cleared of any residual foam lining) generates considerable harmonic distortion which, although far below “hi fi” standards let alone “pro audio” is not entirely unpleasant when used in certain circumstances.

Of late, I’ve been running the compressor as a parallel compression unit, driven very hard and then filtered and layered with clean vocal recordings to generate a gritty low end warmth. It’s pretty solid on live bass, too, particularly if you’re using a DI approach.

So, what’s my point? Well, just this – sometimes the best tones you can create don’t come from ultra-high end, super-clean studio gear. Sometimes, you’ll only achieve your own brand of perfection if you let the imperfections run wild for a while.

Any of you have stories about temperamental or downright lo-fi gear that has made you smile?

PEESHE

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