FIG. 1: The Portico 5033''s front panel is replete with continuously variable rotary controls and backlit push-button switches.
The 5033 single-channel, 5-band equalizer is the latest addition to Rupert Neve Designs' quickly expanding Portico line of pro-audio gear. The product line comprises highly compact and portable signal processors that can be interconnected to form an integrated system with much of the functionality of a large-format, modular console. That said, individual units are quite happy to be “home alone.”
The analog (solid-state) 5033 features one band each of high and low shelving filters and three bands of fully parametric filters. Proprietary input and output transformers designed by the legendary Rupert Neve lend the 5033 a subtle yet distinctive timbre.
On the Face of It
The ½U 5033 packs a lot onto its steel front panel: 14 rotary controls and 5 push-button switches (see Fig. 1). All of the rotary controls are continuously variable, and the switches are backlit by LEDs when their related functions are active.
The 5033's two shelving bands each feature separate rotary controls for gain and corner-frequency selection. The three parametric bands each sport independent gain, center-frequency, and Q controls (the last adjusts the respective filter's bandwidth and slope), all of which are also rotary. All five bands' gain controls, as well as a gain-trim control that directly follows the input transformer, have a range of ±12 dB and are detented at 0 dB (no boost or cut).
The five bands' frequency ranges overlap fairly widely, with the low-frequency (LF) band's range extending from 30 to 300 Hz, the low-midrange-frequency (LMF) band covering 50 to 400 Hz, the midrange-frequency (MF) band handling 330 to 2,500 Hz, the high-midrange-frequency (HMF) band delegated to 1.8 to 16 kHz, and the high-frequency (HF) band taking care of 2.5 to 25 kHz. Q values for each of the parametric bands range from 0.7 to 5 (roughly 2 octaves to ⅓-octave bandwidth), which is sufficient to handle all tone-shaping tasks you're likely to encounter.
Separate bypass switches are provided for each of the three parametric bands, whereas the low and high shelving bands can only be switched in and out of circuit together. A separate all-bypass switch takes all of the filters out of circuit but leaves the trim control and transformers in the audio path. This design allows you to run audio through the 5033's flattering transformers without applying EQ, while also adjusting the input-trim control to avoid clipping and to optimize levels downstream of the 5033. (The unit has no output-gain control for such purposes.) But unfortunately, keeping the input trim always in circuit also makes for difficult A/B comparisons of audio that's been EQ'd versus that which is flat (where all filters are bypassed). That's because the always-active input-trim control cannot be used to compensate for the five filters' net gain boost or cut without also changing net gain in the all-bypass state. In other words, there's no way to instantaneously match output levels for EQ'd and flat setups with this design.
Bringing Up the Rear
The 5033's spartan rear panel sports XLR connectors for transformer-balanced, line-level audio I/O, as well as a switch and coaxial jack for power (the latter serving a lump-in-the-line power transformer and 2-pin AC connector), and two Buss output jacks (see Fig. 2). The Buss jacks are ¼-inch TRS and wired in parallel; they provide high-impedance feeds to other Portico gear equipped with Mix or Buss inputs, to fashion a modular-console assembly as mentioned earlier. (Suggested block and system diagrams for such setups will soon be available at www.rupertneve.com.)
FIG. 2: Buss jacks on the 5033''s rear panel facilitate interconnection with other units in the company''s Portico line.
If field recording is your thing, you can power a daisy-chained arrangement of Portico units from a single 12V car battery. Multiple Portico units can also be racked in a number of ways, including horizontally or in an optional vertical rack kit.
To the Test
I got very good to excellent results with every application of the 5033, although I didn't always find the unit to be entirely user friendly. On a thin, peaky-sounding lead vocal track, boosting the LF band several dB in the upper bass and the MF band around 800 Hz warmed up and filled out the track nicely. Moderate boost in the HF band added a smooth, flattering sheen to the sound. If I'm being nebulous about the specific frequencies I boosted in the LF and HF bands, it's because I really don't know — due to the crowded control layout, only one intermediate frequency setting is noted on the front panel for each band. That is, only the noon position and full clockwise and counterclockwise settings are titled. Likewise, only three settings for each gain and Q control are noted. That's all understandable considering the lack of available real estate, but the owner's manual provides no additional documentation. The company is aware of the oversight and says it will have many intermediate settings documented on its Web site by the time you read this.
On electric bass guitar, boosting the LF band below about 80 Hz added some wonderful thunder. The LF filter sounded quite tight for analog EQ. But I missed having a lowpass filter to steeply roll off fret noise and a highpass filter to eliminate thumping on the track.
On a somewhat cardboardy-sounding kick drum, the 5033 fleshed out the sound nicely when I cut a few dB at around 600 Hz and boosted at 30 Hz. In the same song, I could thin out the kick and toms in a stereo track for the overhead mics (using two 5033s, one for the left channel and the other for the right) by applying generous amounts of shelving cut at around 150 Hz. To test how well the 5033's HF filter section sounded (always the acid test for equalizers), I applied around 7 dB boost at the 3 o'clock position in that band on the overheads. I was not disappointed. The high end sounded silvery-sweet and smooth, with no audible ringing or edginess.
Next up was a problematic electric guitar track. Even miking with a Royer R-122 ribbon mic patched through a Universal Audio 2-610 tube preamp and LA-2A tube compressor, the sound of this player's nasty transistorized rig remained somewhat harsh. A bell-curve cut of a few dB centered at 6 kHz, with the 5033's Q set to its broadest setting (0.7), smoothed the track's sound beautifully.
On a rock mix that needed no 2-bus EQ, I nevertheless found that patching my mixer's stereo bus through a pair of 5033s in all-bypass mode sweetened the sound. The 5033s' transformers softened the highs slightly, moderating any digital edginess.
Play It by Ear
Experienced engineers who can listen to audio and readily identify specific frequencies needing treatment might be a bit frustrated by the dearth of titling for the 5033's intermediate frequency settings (especially when dealing with the ultracritical low end). But once it's dialed in, the 5033 sounds great.
If portability and a small footprint — without the loss of audio quality — are of paramount importance to you, this unit is a great choice. Considering that the 5033's list price per channel is comparable to that of other high-end equalizers with more-spacious control layouts, however, studio owners with room to spare will likely be a little put off by the 5033's crowded front panel. That said, most competing models feature fewer bands per channel compared with the 5033. If you're looking for high-end sound in a tiny package and are willing to accept the attendant ergonomic compromises, check out this flattering equalizer.
EM contributing editor Michael Cooper is the owner of Michael Cooper Recording in Sisters, Oregon. Visit him atwww.myspace.com/michaelcooperrecording.
RUPERT NEVE DESIGNS
FEATURES 4 EASE OF USE 3 AUDIO QUALITY 4 VALUE 3
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: High-end sound quality. Five full-function EQ bands. Transformers can be used to sweeten the sound even with all filters bypassed. Frequency ranges for each band overlap. Highly portable.
CONS: No highpass or lowpass filters. Control layout is crowded. Few intermediate control settings are marked. Circuit topology makes unbiased A/B comparisons difficult. Pricey.
Rupert Neve Designs