I think I have a problem. I am on a constant quest for more EQs. Neutral, transparent ones; thick, colored ones; edgy, fat, thin, dark… you name it—I want to hear it. My ears perk up at the slightest mention of a new EQ being introduced, and I start to wonder if it’s something I can use. Yep, I’ve got a problem.
Since I reside in the “ITB world,” my desire to acquire EQs has changed dramatically since my hardware days. Where an EQ purchase used to be more of a once-a-year event, nowadays I can purchase something new almost every month. The price of admission is much lower, so it’s easier to accumulate every different color and flavor without breaking the bank. In fact, most plugins are cheap enough that you can purchase something for a specific purpose, only use it occasionally, and still feel no regret.
In my ongoing quest for EQs, the Holy Grail remains the 2-Mix/Mastering EQ. These EQs are better suited to this important task due to their superior transparency, and their ability to make things sound better with little effort. If you’ve ever used a high-end hardware mastering EQ for any purpose, then you know what I’m talking about. The first time I tried a Sontec was as big an “a-ha” moment as I’d ever had about why some EQs are so expensive. It takes so little to impart an enormous benefit to whatever may pass through it. With this in mind, I was excited to give the UAD Chandler Limited Curve Bender EQ a test run.
The UAD Curve Bender is an emulation of the hardware unit from Chandler Limited with a few added features that are much easier to implement in the digital domain. This model was created by Softube and ported over to the UAD-2 platform. Since I own a UAD Quad Satellite, this was a no-brainer. Installation and authorization are as simple as everything else on the UAD platform, so I was up and running very quickly.
The Curve Bender is a 4 band EQ with 6dB/octave high and low pass filters. It is based on the EQ in the EMI TG12345 desk, and particularly on the first version of the console and amplifier, the MKI, which featured germanium transistors. This is a big part of its character and is what makes it sound unique. Wade Goeke (designer at Chandler Limited) took the design further by taking the original 9 frequency bands and expanding them to 51 points in total for their iteration of the hardware Curve Bender. He also added the high and low filters, a selectable bell/shelf response on the high and low bands, and a multiplier switch that changes the boost/cut steps from .5dB to 1.5dB (while simultaneously sharpening the Q). In other words, he retained the TG console EQ’s vintage flavor, but made it infinitely more useful and flexible for modern production.
In an effort to maintain its ability to accurately replicate the performance of the original TG12345 console EQ, the frequency selector designations appear in two colors, as they do on the Curve Bender hardware unit. The frequencies that are labeled white are the same that are available on the original desk; the yellow designations are the newly added frequencies. In either case, the curve of the original EQ is maintained regardless of frequency selection. If you’re a stickler for being true to the original, it’s not difficult to do. If you don’t care about doing it just like Geoff Emerick did, the Curve Bender’s still got you covered.
The plugin layout, like the Curve Bender hardware unit, is very clean and easy to read. It follows Softube’s “what you see is what you get” mantra, meaning it doesn’t take long to figure out how to use, and values are always clearly displayed. The EQ can be run in Mid/Side mode, which is very helpful in mastering applications, and the channels can be linked or run independently. It has a variable output level but no input level control.
On my UAD Quad, each instance of the plugin put an 8% load on the UAD CPU. That’s not a ton, but using 8% per instance may cause you to consider where and how often you want to use it in a high track-count, plugin-heavy mix. I tend to prioritize plugins of this type and designate them for only the most important tasks, or rather, in the places where they’ll offer the most help. The most obvious place? On the 2-mix.
Still, knowing that I couldn’t spread it across a bunch of channels, I decided to run it through its paces on a variety of sources to see if I couldn’t live without it.
The first thing I observed about the Curve Bender was how smooth it sounded. It seems almost impossible to make this thing sound nasty, regardless of the source or how much boosting or cutting you do. It was capable of being aggressive, while still not making you feel as if you were being poked in the ear with an ice pick. In fact, its smoothness and musical sound almost dares you to EQ more than you might otherwise. Each time I tried it on a new source, I would turn some knobs and get a sound that I liked quickly, but then go even further toward the extremes. Feeling guilty and ashamed about my misdeeds, and upon further reflection of my misguided EQ choices, I would eventually return to a level of sanity that worked better in the mix. However, even while being abused, the Curve Bender never sounded bad. That’s saying something.
Another observation was how unique the character of the EQ is. It really doesn’t sound like any other EQ plugin that I’ve heard (except the EMI TG 12345, of course) which is a nice benefit. Tonally, it seems to lie somewhere between more transparent EQs like a Massenberg MDW EQ, the Elysia Museq or Millennia-Media NSEQ, and passive/inductor EQs like a Pultec or the SPL Passeq. It’s not as light in the top end as the aforementioned EQs, though it’s still silky. Likewise, it’s not quite as thick and colored in the low end as the passive EQs mentioned, yet is still great at adding weight and girth to otherwise thin tracks.
I tried it on every track in a drum mix (separately—since I couldn’t use that many instances at once!) and it did not disappoint. It helped the kick drum feel full and heavy without the low end getting out of control. In fact, using a low shelf boost at 70Hz while adding the HPF at 20Hz was exceptional. I think the fact that the filters are such a gentle slope (at 6dB/octave) keeps the rumbly stuff at bay while allowing the boost to affect what you can hear and feel. Rolling that same boost up to 91Hz (!) made the kick a little less thunderous, but more audible on a small set of speakers. Even a healthy boost at 6.5kHz just brought out the attack of the drum without getting too pointed. Nice.
On snare, it was a thing of beauty. Aside from the lack of harshness with an extreme boost at 4.2kHz (+10dB!) it added an apparent few inches of depth to the drum with a 2dB boost at 150Hz. And, in doing something I almost never do, it sounded positively spectacular when boosting the midrange (at 500Hz, then 800Hz) to accentuate the ring and character of the drum. Too cool.