Last spring, when a dozen over-weight and middle-aged tweaking audiophiles gathered to listen to big ole horns, tube amplifiers and crossover modifications, a knuckle-high, feature-laden, $380 Behringer professional 24-bit/96kHz digital equalizer ó the UltracurvePro 24/96 Digital Equalizer ó hit me with its natural and smooth response.
Thorsten Loesch thoroughly reviewed the DEQ2496ís predecessor, Behringerís 8024 model four years ago (January 2001). He used it to flatten system frequency response to 20Hz to 20kHz, within a very flat 0.5dB. He rated the 8024ís impact "in the same region as that of high quality full range drivers or single ended triodes!" The unit brought him "closer to the music and makes it easier to forget about the mechanics of reproduction." For the money, Loesch said the UltraCurve Pro was "a clear bargain if there ever was one!"
Please read his review first, follow the links and read them too. It gives a very informative grounding for the necessity for such sophisticated equipment, even in modest home movie and music reproduction systems. This review picks up where that one left off: it points out some of the differences between the two units and relates my experience with the new version. Go ahead, Iíll wait....
OK, now where were we?
This is only my third experience playing with an equalizer, and my first experience seriously auditioning a professional digital one. In my previous limited experience, I found that an old ADC equalizer (EQ) worked best if you apply a lot less medicine than the doctor recommends. If a 6dB boost was required, for example, then a mere three dB bump actually eased the problem while balancing the rest of the frequency spectrum better than applying the full measure. Sliding each of the frequencies to the full amount only made other frequencies worse. The sound got slow and muddied; other frequencies went out of whack. Too much 20Hz bass, for example, overpowered the mid-bass and slopped over into the mid-range. The main thing is to flatten the peaks softly and fill-in the valleys gently. The ADC unit corrected some serious flaws, making my original Klipsch Cornwall horns sing like Pavarotti.
In my current listening room, there is no possibility to employ my RealTrap acoustic panels to correct room anomalies with my current big ole horns. They measure the same as their previous location: dips at 63Hz and 315Hz, peaks at 800-1,000Hz and a bump from 5kHz to 8kHz.
Audio Equalization, Done Properly,
Theoretically, the DEQ2496, if used properly, can modify a modest system to sound like a meg-buck [megabuck] dream system! Of course, EQ doesnít modify any serious room or system anomalies. It canít make a bad room sound great, but it can make a good stereo sound better ó much better. EQ canít overwhelm deep nulls, but it can zap a few bright nodes. That is why proper equalization is like icing on the cake. Armed with the DEQ2496, now tweaking audiophiles can do a lot more EQ for a whole lot less!
This is why audio giant Bose has an auto EQ function in their new ADAPTiQ feature in several models. Other modern receivers have this equalization feature also. The Bose EQ automatically customizes their home entertainment systems to the room, improving their performance. Bose says "with poor room acoustics or less than ideal loudspeaker placement, even a great system can sound like one worth half the price." Move over Bose! With the DEQ2496, my paltry big ole horns, worth half the Bose price, can sound smooth, deep, sparkling, powerful, wide and dynamic!
The DEQ2496 was difficult to review. First, I needed special cables to covert the three-pin XLR inputs and outputs to the common tip and sleeve of the RCA cables. Next, I needed a microphone with a cable long enough to measure at my sweet listening spot and a tripod to hold it. Then, I waded through a 54-page manual and a cockpit of buttons and knobs, without knowing how to fly the fool thing.
Strangely, considering the valuable functions a microphone performs, the DEQ2496 does NOT come with one. For $50, Behringerís slender silver ECM8000 mike boosts a linear frequency response. Its omni-directional polar pattern allows simple measurement and alignment tasks throughout the entire room. Place the mic 6 to 10 inches above your seated ear height, slightly off axis from the speaker and away from the floor. Set it vertically or at 90-degree angle to the source, to avoid a slight rise at the top end of the spectrum. This would also be true for most 0.25- and 0.5-inch electret condenser omni mics. The mic should not be near reflective objects or sound absorbing upholstery.
Finally, on with the equalization:
Searching For The Soul Of The System
The DEQ2496ís pack of features makes it enticing for tweaking audiophiles: four selectable EQ modes, 31-band graphic EQ, 10-band parametric EQ, Feedback Destroyer and three Dynamic EQs. The Behringer unit offers a lot of bang for the buck with powerful EQ modes and the ability to store their settings. It has a Bypass button to test the effect of an EQ setting.
DEQ2496ís 61-band RTA works simultaneously with the EQ section. The slim DEQ2496 also stuffs in 24-bit/96 kHz analog-to-digital (A/D) and digital-to-analog (D/A) converters with two 32/40-bit floating-point processors for a huge 113 dB dynamic range.
In addition, there are also multi-functional level meters; peak/RMS, VU and SPL meters, with A and C weightings (via the RTA microphone input) that include 64 user memories for complete setups and/or individual module configurations. The slim control module has more capabilities than a PC. There is also word clock input and MIDI connections for full remote control, preset dumps and software updates (version 1.4 is there already).
But wait, thereís more! A Virtual Paragraphic EQ (VPQ) option allows parametric control of the graphic EQs. Moreover, there is a flexible compressor/expander function with peak limiter on each stereo channel, as well as an additional stereo image Width function with delays. Whew!
Here is the real goody that caught my attention. A high-resolution 61-band real-time Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) analyzer, for computing discrete data algorithms, with an automatic EQ function that makes room and loudspeaker equalization simple and powerful! This feature has the capability of flattening your overall system frequency response from 20 to 20,000 Hz!
The DEQ2496 has balanced inputs and outputs with gold-plated XLR connectors, stereo auxiliary output, AES/EBU and S/PDIF inputs and outputs, XLR and optical.
The professional-style XLR connects must be adapted to the common RCA pins on home systems. A 3-pin XLR connector wires pin one as ground (usually the cable shield), pin two as the "high" signal and pin 3 as the "low" signal. To wire it as unbalanced (for home stereo), just connect pin one to pin three. Pin two connects to the RCA phonographic-style tip plug and the one-three combo connects to the shell. The primary advantage of a fully balanced system is that nothing is referenced to ground, as in unbalanced home equipment.
If you are connecting balanced audio equipment, fed from two or more power circuits, you'll soon learn that the grounding pins on the AC outlet are not at the same potential. That's the primary cause of grounding loops or hum. At the time of this writing, The Cable Company had Cardas, Balanced Audio Technology and Purist Audio Design (cryogenically-treated) RCA-to-XLR adapters for sale from $54.00 to $160.00/pair.
The DEQ2496 is plugged into the tape loops of typical solid-state receivers and separate preamps or between the pre-amplifier and power amplifiers. Just treat the DEQ2496 as a tape deck or other outboard processor. You take it off-line with its Bypass button.
The DEQ2496 doesn't seem to have the drawbacks and limitations of the old analog EQs. The Auto EQ didnít seem to cause any loss of clarity. It didnít muddy the water as the ADC EQ did. If there are significant structural or architectural differences in one side of the room versus the other, say a set sliding doors in one corner, the DEQ2496 allows you to measure each channel separately. Measuring just from the listening spot for both channels can make the frequency response seem too bright or boomy. You can also measure the frequency response with the mic in front of the individual loudspeakers. In addition, the low bass response can be set differently for each loudspeaker, helping to smooth out room anomalies.
Clearly, the slim unit looks like the dashboard of a small airplane, yet packs in the features of a 747 cockpit. Endless tweaking and experimentation results. The good news is that the DEQ2496 saves 64 memory settings. The bad news is that only a PC could remember the sonic affect of each one.
Loesch was right, a home consumer version should either have extended cables, so tweaking audiophiles can make infinite adjustments from their sweet listening spot, or a remote control panel. Many was the time I pulled a stool up to my entertainment center for extended fiddling sessions with the DEQ2496 tone controls. Read the DEQ4896 manual at least twice before even turning on the unit, and then again slowly as you go through the steps. Then twice again while you fiddle with the controls. There are many features to learn! Yet there is no "DEQ2496 for Dummies" book.
The Soul Of The New Machine
Balancing your home movie and music reproduction systemís frequency response with the Real Time Analyzer and the Auto EQ is a slowly developed skill. Initial settings are only temporary and quickly become new ones, like too much bass at first, which after a while, wears out your ears. You find yourself playing music less and less. The improvement is false. Although it grabs your attention, you eventually realize that your enjoyment is less without it. Therefore, you dial back the bass (or any other initially impressive overkill setting) and Bingo! You listen and enjoy music more.
Inserted into my home movie and music reproduction system ó after a long afternoon of frequency response testing ó even an old ADC300 graphic equalizer increased audiophile qualities for my system. Without a subwoofer and with the lowest sliders notched up 8, 9 and 12dBs to firm up the bottom, female vocal images were more solid, enticingly palpable. Details shone, as if they were elevated to the same plane Ė not hidden in the background. Cymbals has more metal sustain, bass was clean, tighter, precise with generous, but not boomy bottom end. Even an old EQ was a definite improvement.
With digital capabilities that leap over the ADC graphic EQ in a single bound, the DEQ2496 easily does all this and more. Images are more solid, more palpable (there is more to taste). Small details, like the handling noise of the acoustic guitar, are distinct. Some tracks show more air for cymbals, more evenhanded and sweet vocals ó and, in all cases - a smooth and precise bass with deep bottom end.
Compared to the UltraCurve DSP8024 model Loesch reviewed, this unit has switchable input levels, wider bandwidth, greater S/N ratio, lower distortion and crosstalk, wider and variable mic levels, more input/outputs, higher sampling rates, more EQ filters, Dynamic EQ, wider thresholds, more resolution (320 x 80), on its tiny orange screen, fewer memory locations (gee, only 64 vs. 100!), but longer (16-digit) names, and half the weight.
Viewing frequency response instantly is a mixed blessing. You can see the objective level visually, but it easier to ignore your emotional response. (Not unlike the difference between solid-state and tubes when looking at THD charts.) Audio giant Harmon International published several informative white papers, which says a lot of interesting things for tweaking audiophiles. The papers are here.
Harmon Kardon concludes NO equalizer (EQ) unit can improve sound muddied by room effects. As nice as this sophisticated digital sound-shaping unit is, ideally your room should be treated with acoustic panels, such as the RealTraps, before employing the powerful DEQ2496. You should build a good cake before adding this slim silver icing unit. Still... converting the living room into a recording studio full of large panels is nigh impossible. The immediate and overall improvement with judiciously applied equalization makes an EQ unit a crucial ingredient in top quality sound.
Software downloads at the Behringer site update the DEQ2496. You can also find the latest firmware, a software update manual and a MIDI chart. Most power amplifiers are happy with just volt or so of input to produce full output. Page 1 of the Utility menu has a "Gain Offset" function which changes the overall output level.
First, the sophisticated DEQ2496 doesn't have the drawbacks and limitations of mere graphic EQs. The mic input, orange screen, RTA graphs and Memory permit in-depth understanding of your frequency response. You develop comprehensive knowledge of the limitations of your system and room.
Second, the clarity and feeling of emotions in music come out. Without minor system and room anomalies finally resolved, the music draws you the performance just like a live production. Sonic signatures can be reduced or eliminated. Artifacts which make it seem as if you are "listening to a stereo," take a back seat. Realism is improved.
Third, a good EQ addresses real weakness in system frequency response and room. The DEQ2496 partially filled my dips, while leveling the mid-range peaks and high-end bumps.
While tweaking audiophiles should optimize major room nulls and nodes first, EQ can still accomplish a lot. It provides a first practical alternative step to acoustic panels which crowd room and vision. The DEQ2496 brings out the best in your home movie and music reproduction system. No wonder Bose added auto EQ to their modest systems. It is better money spent than many minor tweaks or improvements.
Behringer's Ultra High-Precision Digital 24-Bit/96kHz EQ/RTA Mastering Equalizer is the ultimate tone control. It provides the tweaking audiophile an active role in shaping system response, making participation in music reproduction an involving interactive pastime. Loesch used the previous model to shape individual recordings. These units bring the passive spectator down from the stands to become a sound-shaping audio umpire on the field.
Blue With Notes
On the grading scale, I am as miserly as Ebenezer, barely awarding four above-average Blue Notes in most categories. Yet the eventual impact of the finally configured DEQ2496 affected most categories. I thought it improved Tonality, Sub-bass, Mid-bass, Midrange and High frequencies beyond the average.
Playing with its Width control, you can easily tweak the Soundscape width at the front. With my loudspeakers in the corners of a long wall, this feature alone was particularly nice. I could bring small group ensembles closer together. I could merge instruments like the piano, where upper notes seemed to come from the right loudspeaker and lower notes from the left, so all notes came from the center.
I didnít think DEQ2496 had Self-Noise or overt coloring. Bypassing all of the functions, I couldnít tell when it was in-line or not. By affecting the entire spectrum, the DEQ2496 even improved the realism of Imaging and boosted my own category, Enjoyment. If the manual did a better of job of explaining all of the DEQ functions to tweaking audiophiles, I might have given the unit 5 Blue Notes for my own personal category, Enjoyment. However, I still award the DEQ2496 five Blue Notes in the Value for the Money category! It is an excellent performer for the money. I am keeping this unit. Loesch thought using an EQ would get him burned at the stake by purist audiophiles, but the DEQ2496 makes me gladly join him. After all, this feature-packed slim unit dramatically gets the system out of the way and allows tweaking audiophiles to...Enjoy the Music!
Type: two channel digital equalizer with RTA and dynamic adjustment
High-resolution processor for all EQ, RTA and dynamic applications, especially for PA and audiophile mastering
Four concurrently selectable EQ modules (31-band graphic EQ, 10-band parametric EQ, Feedback Destroyer plus three Dynamic EQs per stereo channel)
Flexible Compressor/Expander function with Peak Limiter per stereo channel as well as additional Stereo Imager and Stereo Delay for delay line applications
VPQ (Virtual Paragraphic EQ) option allows parametric control of graphic EQs
High-resolution 61-band real-time FFT Analyzer with additional auto EQ function for room and loudspeaker equalization
Multi-functional level meters (peak/RMS, VU and SPL meter with dBA/dBC weighting via RTA mic input)
64 user memories for complete setups and/or individual module configurations
Separate RTA mic/line input with phantom power, professional word clock input and MIDI connections for full remote control, preset dumps and system updates
High-quality AKM 24-bit/96kHz A/D- and D/A converters (113dB dynamic range)
Open architecture allowing future software updates via MIDI
Two high-performance 32/40-bit floating-point SHARC digital signal processors for ultimate sonic resolution
Balanced inputs and servo-balanced outputs with gold-plated XLR connectors, stereo aux output, AES/EBU and S/PDIF inputs and outputs (XLR and optical)
Behringer 8000 Microphone
Behringer International GmbH
Voice: +49 2154 9206 0
Voice: (425) 672-0816
With special thanks to big ole horn lover Lee Clinton, Chief Engineer of Maintenance, Arkansas Educational TV Network, Conway, Arkansas