Universal Audio Helios Type 69 EQ

Even with recent successes such as the Neve 1073 and 1081 EQ and 33609 compressor plugs, we all knew Universal Audio were not resting on their laurels. Still, when the Helios Type 69 — a vintage-style EQ full of personality — was announced, we were all a little shocked. And psyched. But mostly psyched.
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Though never blessed with the same name recognition as Neve or SSL, the Helios consoles were used to record scores of hits for some of the biggest names in rock history, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. And the Type 69 model (based on one of the original Helios designs, and synthesized with the help of original Type 69 owner and Berkeley, CA-based engineer Jason Carmer) — a passive EQ that UA boasts will impart a rich sonic coloration to anything it processes — has been unveiled, replicating all the controls of the original hardware, much as the UA-clones of the aforementioned classic consoles.

As you may or may not know, I usually go lighter on features and specs and heavy on applications in my reviews, but the Type 69 is such a departure from the gear many of us use on a day-to-day basis, it’s worth going over the key controls. So, bear with me as I dig in deep and let you know what’s really going on here with this VST/AU-compatible plug-in.

CONTROLS

From top to bottom (or left to right on the graphical user interface), the Bass band has two knobs — bass and bass gain. The bass knob has a strange set of markings. There is a horizontal line with a zero label. Above the line are frequencies (60, 100, 200, 300Hz); below the zero line are gain values (–3, –6, –9, –12, –15dB).

Confused? It’s actually simple: The bass knob functions as either a peak boost filter (“up”) or a shelf cut filter (“down”). The gain change is what’s tricky. When the Bass is set above the zero line (noted by frequency values), the low band functions in peak mode. In this setting, the Bass Gain knob determines the amount of bass gain applied to the selected frequency. Like the original hardware, setting this control on any frequency will yield a 3.5dB gain when the Bass Gain control is set to 0. When this knob is set to one of the decibel values, the low band is in “bass cut” shelving mode with a set frequency of 50Hz. In this mode, the Bass Gain knob has no effect.

However, if you set the bass knob below the zero (at one of the cut values), the bass section attenuates as a shelf filter, fixed at 50Hz. In this mode, the bass gain knob has no effect on the cut. The amount of cut is determined by the fixed value below zero.

The Mid band is straightforward, with a frequency selector, a gain knob, and a boost/cut toggle. The only wrinkle comes from the original hardware. The silk-screened legend had dashes instead of decimals, and this quirk is retained. Forewarned is forearmed here.

The Q (bandwidth) on the midrange band changes depending on the gain or cut desired. It has fairly wide low settings, and gets narrower as the gain value increases (a result referred to as “proportional-Q” in the parlance.) And to our ears, it often results in a more realistic, and natural-sounding EQ.

The High section is a shelf fixed at 10kHz. Cut is available at –3dB or –6dB, while boost can be dialed in 2dB increments up to +16. However, you can definitely hear that when the filter is boosted; it affects frequencies much further down than 10kHz. Finally, there is a 180° phase switch, a level adjust knob (–20 to +10dB final gain), and a line switch for true bypass. The EQ Cut switch, which is supposed to bypass the EQ, does not bypass the entire plug-in. This is useful if you just want to get a small touch of the plug’s color. (It’s a great trick for the UA Neve EQs as well. For example, I often instantiate a UA Neve or UA Helios but set the gain knobs to zero. Try it at home.) Word to the wise: If you’re bypassing to save DSP, the EQ out toggle won’t help — only the line button provides a full bypass.

ON ASSIGNMENT

On individual tracks and on bus assignments, the Type 69 definitely imparts its own signature on anything you send through it. It reminds me of the Neve in the sense that you really have to push it to get totally unpleasant results. For example, on a real Hammond B3 track for the Sugar Free AllStars, I could keep turning up the bass at nearly any frequency and the sound always remained in control. On the high end, you can add a nice touch on drum overheads or acoustic guitars — and I’m totally convinced that pairing the Type 69 with ribbon mic recorded guitar tracks has to be one of those secret recipes for WOW. It didn’t matter which ribbon mic I tried; they all loved the Helios Type 69, especially at 10k high-band.

For vocals I tried a real trial by fire on an R&B project: J’aira, a wide-ranged female vocalist. I had the stems for an R&B project I was mastering, and was able to tweak the high-mids using the Helios 69 in a way that added a slight touch of presence without getting too harsh or forward-sounding, something some other common EQ plugs set for the same frequencies were unable to replicate. Perhaps it’s the interaction of the Helios EQ, the proportional Q, and the other modeled Helios circuitry combined?

If you’re like me and have only one UAD card, you’ll be unable to run more than six copies (you can get about four stereo and six mono instances per card), so you can’t put it on every track. As a bus equalizer, I recommend the Type 69, especially if you do any cutting or slight boosting. The proportional-Q design of the Type 69 was made for this kind of last minute polish. In short: Pick your buses accordingly.

CONCLUSIONS

I must say, I do wonder why the GUI is horizontal, as the module would be vertical on a console. That aside, after a few weeks of using the Helios Type 69 (and reading the manual thoroughly, which you do need to do before employing this plug), I think I like it more than the Neve 1073 plug, especially on individual tracks. That’s saying a lot, but at the end of the day I was able to dial in sweeter sounds faster with the Type 69. Of course at a street price under $200 many of us can afford to buy both titles, and I recommend both. Some minor quibbles aside, this is a major coup for DAW users. Mark my words, this time next year Jason Carmer will be screaming to the sky, “Why did I let Universal Audio give my sound to the world?”