Parametric Equalization - George Massenburg Labs

George Massenburg
ITI Audio Products/ITIRI Studios
Cockeysville, Maryland
This presentation concerns the application of new
equalization techniques to professional audio control.
The device utilized is a parametric equalizer which: 1)
offers vernier control of frequency and amplitude, and
coherent control of "Q" or shape, 2) is suitable for
automatic voltage control, and 3) improves transient
and phase response by the use of all-active RC circuitry
which also eliminates parasitics.
The equalizer is a general device applied in many different forms throughout signal
processing. In most cases, equalizers correct for predictable variations in signal amplitude with
respect to frequency. In other cases they provide complementary response characteristics to
optimize operating conditions within such processes as tape and disc recording as a subjective art
rather than an archival, or simple communicative, process the use of active, variable equalization
as an additional control of subjective sound quality has expanded. The variable equalizer as a
processing tool is the subject of this dissertation.
Most console and program equalizers derive their operation from the same basic circuit, and
the tones perceived in their operation depend, for the most part, on different, chosen electrical
parameters in similar configurations. Three general characteristics determine the effect of, and
hence the sound of, the individual peaking or dipping section. These are center frequency, "Q" or
peak shape, and peak amplitude above a given reference.
After criteria of price and panel finish, most equalizers are chosen by ear and reputation.
And, although the average popular musical group is measured less stringently, a simple criterium
for equalizers is usually avoided. All other things being equal (and the circuits certainly are),
some engineers will choose equalization which renders the highest peak amplitude. How, an
engineer may never use a 24 dB peak but, like the plethora of patch points in most studios, it's
comforting to many to have it available it it's needed. The truth is that higher reliability and more
flexible switching will replace, to an extent, the unreliable patchbay; and more accurate and
flexible simulation of the equalization peak will be the dominant pursuit in equalization. Many
recent designs attest to this and have included ever more switch selectable frequencies. The
selection of characteristics in an equalizer is then a subtle balance of many factors including
sound itself.
An acoustic source in a reverberant field is, by its very nature, complex and unpredictable.
Attempts at correction with one simple peak are incongruent with a source which contains many
anomalies close together. To correct for this, graphic equalizers have been expanded to more
bands, closer together. Now, the graphic equalizer as we used to know it was, and still is, a
cumbersome device effecting independent control of the amplitude of a number of bands of set
The larger the number of bands, the greater the number of controls, the smaller the width of
the individual peak, and the greater control over the more subtle anomaly; all of these vary
together. Many commercial units are flexible to the detriment of operational practicality. The
more bands to set, the longer the set-up time, and the larger the units are. The large ones won't fit
in each mix position of the console and are prohibitively expensive. Smaller modular graphics
have recently been designed with fewer bands; however, they seem to be as complex and slow in
operation as any other graphic.
Figures 1A-1E show the classical forms of simple reactive and resonant circuits which
combine to yield low and high frequency shelves and droops and a peak which, with adjustment
of L & C, could occur at any frequency. To simplify matters for commercial and home
entertainment industries, a simple circuit (the Baxendall) with less pots was developed - the
circuit yielded a bizarre but sufficient low and high frequency equalization. The most popular
program equalizers combined Figures 1A-1E. All of these circuits required gain to restore
inherent losses and margin. Some could not provide one-knob control of a particular function
without switching (the L-C sections were usually controlled by a stepped switch to provide
incremental level change and inversion of the circuit to change from attenuation to equalization,
as in the Cinema unit). Other equalizers, like the Lang, provided separate controls for each
function. All units changed peak frequency by switching L-C values. Almost every equalizer
built before 1965 was a permutation of these circuits. Whether they had gain inserted thereafter,
or were a part of a feedback function, it was the same basic design.
With the advent of comparatively inexpensive hybrid and integrated circuits came consoles
with new equalizer format, as in the Data-Mix or the Electrodyne consoles of several years ago.
While overall performance suffered from disparaging operation with a new and undebugged
technology, the format was an improvement, and the equalizer had evolved to take full advantage
of the flexibility of operational amplifiers. A general schematic is shown in Figure 2A. Inherently
flexible, lossless, and containing fewere components, the circuit is adaptalbe to automatic
supervision of levels (the attenuator is a simple pot or ladder for the full range from pek to dip),
but still requires switch closers and more components to provide the selection of equalization
frequencies. And the simplest circuit still must contain inductors for peaks and for low frequency
shelves. Most commercial devices of this form have several frequencies in each of two or more
ranges. A graphic equalizer can easily be assembled in this configuration as shown in Firgure 2B.
Assuredly, almost every new equalizer resemble to above two.
The Parametric Equalizer evolved from an open set of non-ducible standards. As far back as
the early sixties, when multi-track as we know it today was coming into its own, it was relatively
obvious that the environs of recording could benefit from the advantages of automation organizing and memorizing routine and repetitive operations. Thus a new measure of designs of
all devices became their compatibility with basic computational and memory systems. The time
is, hopefully, not far away when we will concern ourselves with handling audio as a digital code
- that is, converting all audio input to digital words for all processing and mixing and converting
back thereafter only at the point of listening. the equalizer and switching projects simply
modified these circuit functions to interface with digital systems.
The thrust of the project became threefold. First automation: to reduce many switchable
functions to functions with could be controlled by either a variable resistor (or FET ladder) or a
variable gain stage. Second, how to eliminate the inductor? Now, the iron core inductor,
permutations therefrom, and applications are legend. But the crude and marginally sufficient
performance of popular inductors is becoming ever more unsuitable in compact, modern, highperformance systems. Transformers are disappearing, the electret condenser microphone is much
cheaper than comparable dynamics, even loudspeakers as we know them today could be replaced
by molecular pump loudspeakers. Third, to produce an equalizer of unparalleled flexibility - on
that would provide the audio engineer with absolute control over all variable EQ functions. Thus,
we have dispensed with the inductor and the variable inductor in the basic resonant section, and
dispensed with transformers for coupling; and present three high performance replacement.
The resultant performance from the equalizer was encouraging enough to persuade us to
release the device independently.
Our final specifications were stringent indeed. The device had to be adaptable to automatic
control with the most simple interface. The frequency should be continuously variable, as should
the peak and dip amplitude, and the peak shape. the unit should be small enough for a module in
an average console, without sacrificing operational performance - the controls should be
uncrowded and operationally useful. The three bands of 12 dB equalization should overlap
substantially and extend from below 20 Hz to above 20kHz. And, aside from this, the electrical
specifications (dynamic range, noise, frequency response, etc.) must meet or exceed state-of-theart values. We were also looking for much better phase response, and greatly reduced parasitics this effectively eliminated inductors and transformers.
There are several choices for replacement of the inductor in a resonant circuit. The most
direct analog is the gyrator as shown in Figure 3. The gyrator is a three-port device which
exhibits a negative impedance characteristic between the input and output. Let it suffice to say
that if one side of the circuit looks into a capacitor, the other side looks like an inductor. The
stray capacitances, hence parasitic oscillation, are much lower; hum pick-up is much less
(without shielding) and a better inductor results. Optimizing the circuit is tricky, and it can cost
more than an inductor; we offer the device as an option in the low frequency shelving circuit
The choice of replacement in the peaking system is a variation on the T-notch filter. By
adjusting R, C1, C2 as shown in Figure 4, a broad range of notch shapes and frequencies may be
achieved. And by changing the value or R, such that the two R's track tightly, the frequency may
be swept. The notch shape is chosen to be quite broad - that is, C1 much larger that C2 - and each
band's peak shape can be varied over a wide scale of values by operating at different point on the
basic curve as shown in Figure 5. Once the peak shape and its lowest frequency are chosen for a
given R, the notch frequency increases as the reciprocal of decreasing R. With the notch around
an amp as shown in Figure 6, a peak results. A control is added in the feedback of this amp to
adjust peak height and input level simultaneously; this adjusts the desired peak shape. An added
advantage of varying the shape in the manner is that the processed peak height remains constant
with rotation of the shape control, while only the skirts change as shown in Figure 7.
What we have now is a three-port device (an L-C-R is a two-port), and it cannot operate in
the manner shown in Figure 2. Therefore, the resultant operator, containing variable notch, notch
inverter, and shape control, is connected as shown in Figure 8. The operation of the level control
is such that the input of the processor is moved between the system input the the system output.
The equalizer will move from a peak to its perfect reciprocal with rotation of this control. Since
this function is not within the resonant circuit, the "Q" does not change with rotation of the level
control, as it does in conventional equalizers (Figure 9).
The final circuit is shown in Figure 10, and is as described with the addition of a shelver to
augment the device as a program equalizer. The circuit produces two low frequency shelves and
a high frequency shelf, all reciprocally as shown in Figure 11, in addition to the three Parametric
Equalization sections. Also, we add an active transformer on the input and output. These amps
are the same once we build for low-gain applications in other places in the equalizer and in our
consoles. The amps have much lower phase shift and distortion, and high power response versus
package size. They behave like transformers in that they have high common-mode rejection, and
will tolerate a short in one side of a balanced circuit without changing level or wasting power.
The device is automated by replacing the pots with FET ladders driven by a six level BCD
code with address. The simple form of the FET ladder is shown in Figure 12. The least
significant bit causes a resistance variation of one in sixty-four; the most significant bit, a
variation of thirty-two parts in sixty-four; which, although not a continuous scale, comes very
close. The pots which once directly controlled the three functions revert to a central clocked A to
D converter and are addressed sequentially. When the method of storage, whether it be static as
in punched tape or mass magnetic memory, or dynamic memory on the master tape itself - is not
to be utilized, the information from the individual pot is simply recycled back to its respective
function. The foremost advantage of the system is the rather uncomplicated decoding; the FET
ladder is inherently compatible with BCD input, and requires no individual D to A converters,
Sample and Hold gates, and reduces the complexity of the control signal-to-resistance interface.
The Parametric Equalizer is an appropriate compromise between a three-knob switched
frequency equalizer, a graphic equalizer, and a program equalizer; and adds the capability for
automation. The equalizer can produce a very sharp notch, like a graphic, and hold the shape
over various depths to remove, say, the low frequency resonance in an acoustic guitar being
picked up by a cardioid microphone. In its broadest position the equalizer looks broader than
most broad peaks in peaking equalizers. It can produce a peak at any frequency and shape and
contour its effect to match an anomaly to be removed. Although a three-band model cannot
construct as complex a characteristic as a graphic, its variable shape and frequency let it come
closer to an average correction than a typical equalizer. And it is much faster than a graphic in
that one can hear the peak being swept through the point of correction, and one can accurately
and quickly judge the frequency and amount of correction needed. its curves are broad enough so
that the mid-section can apply to broad boost to the upper mid-range, while the high frequency
section can apply a sharp dip to remove vocal sibilances concentrated around one frequency. The
unit can simulate perspective effects, like loudness contours, accurately. Finally, the Parametric
Equalizer can provide a number of special effects by sweeping frequency.
As equalizer performance requirement have become more stringent, new signal processing
techniques have become necessary. The development of Parametric Equalization is the first step
in providing the audio engineer with complete control of spectrum modification while providing
a foundation for future automation.
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