Weiss EQ 1 MkII

Review of Weiss EQ

The Weiss EQ 1 Mk II was the very first piece of “quality” outboard that I ever purchased for my business. It was very exciting, and it was very expensive. It seemed like an enormous amount to pay for a single digital stereo EQ, but as it has now been in almost constant use in the studio for well over a decade, and has received exemplary support from Daniel Weiss himself in Switzerland, it has earned its keep many times over and has turned out to be almost a bargain.

There are two reasons why people spend the money to buy a Weiss. (Well, actually there are three, but we’ll come to the much more general Reason 3 in later posts). The sound, and the ergonomics.

Weiss Ergonomics

The model that we have here at PBM is the all-singing, all dancing version with switchable Linear Phase and Dynamic options – it has a lot of functions, and in some digital equipment that can mean a nightmare of nested menus, tiny buttons, easily forgotten set-up routines, frustration and lost time.

You never have that kind of problem with analogue equipment, and the reason is simple: single-function controls. When you grab the frequency control knob of an analogue EQ it works by twisting it one way or the other – resting your hand on it for a few seconds when pensively considering the true meaning of your next move will not accidentally make it change its function, or open a digital dialogue. This cannot be guaranteed in the digital realm – and there are some real ergonomic horrors out there, especially from the early days of digital when the sheer number of functions that could be crammed into a single R-U unit seemed to be almost an end in itself.

With the Weiss we get single-function and gloriously touch sensitive controls. As you can see in the picture, the Weiss is 3-RU size with a screen and buttons on the left half and 22 knobs on the right (Gain, Frequency, Q for 7 channels of EQ, plus one central Gain control).

 

Weiss Digital EQ

Weiss Digital EQ

 

As you touch each of those knobs, the screen automatically changes to focus on the parameter you are about to work with. I doubt that there is any new owner of a Weiss who didn’t play with it at first, trying to see how quick the response to touch really was (answer: very fast) and trying to catch it out. After a while this touch-sensitivity simply becomes part of its charm, and after a few more months you realise how much of an ergonomic pay off this function really has.

 

DYN (Dynamic)

The DYN option adds a further function to the standard Frequency/Gain/Q set which allows you to specify an activating threshold for an EQ point. An obvious use is bass control: if you have an uneven or generally heavy bass, rather than making a potentially intrusive static over-all cut (e.g. 3dB at 60Hz Q 1.2) it can sometimes be more effective to set a threshold so that the EQ cut with those settings is only triggered when the signal has an over-abundance at that frequency but is otherwise inactive. Similarly any recurring harshness at 3.5k could be controlled in the same kind of way.

The feature works well enough, and has certainly helped on quite a few sessions in the past, but I rarely use it all that much these days. It is, of course, basically a species of narrow-band compression, and the lack of any of the other controls associated with compression other than threshold (ratio, attack, release) means that OCD mastering engineers probably never feel that they have quite enough control over it. No tweak, no geek. Its function has also been surpassed by two new pieces of equipment which I talk about in other posts: the analogue Maselec MLA-3 and the digital Sonnox SuprEsser.

 

Linear Phase

The whole subject of the use of Linear Phase EQ is one that falls under the much larger topic of Mastering Forums Bullshit. I will say a lot more about this in other posts, but its general form is this:

  1. A novel mastering technique arrives on the scene and it creates a fair bit of community interest and general discussion.
  2. Subsequently, for some reason, some part of the larger audio chat world then identifies that technique as being a main part of mastering (“an essential part of the mastering engineer’s toolbox”).
  3. Eventually a few senior mastering engineers mention in passing that this technique is a tad oversold as a central mastering process and has, in fact, never been any part of their own way of working.
  4. Hundreds of mastering engineers who have until that point been extolling the virtues of the technique, and even making a feature of it on their web-sites, now fall over themselves to get on the web forums to distance themselves from it and out-do themselves in trashing its reputation.

The fact is, that like every other technique under the sun, linear phase EQ has a place in some chains, in some projects, and in some mastering facilities, and not others, and that place is determined, again as with every other technique, simply by the balance good bits and bad bits it brings to the party. That is only ever the factor that counts.

Those good and bad bits in short form: the pre-ringing associated with linear phase operation can do odd things to transients – it will make your low end sound gooey, and it can quite quickly mess up a snare sound – so for dance music and for most rock it might not be the technique of choice. On the other hand, just a touch with a broad Q in the upper mids and higher frequencies can bring out detail and add a non-fatiguing sparkle to delicate material whilst being pretty much as invisible as it gets – so it can work very well with classical music and thick textured ambient electronica. Intelligent use can also be made of the “problem” of transient smearing, taking advantage of this to help tame mild (e.g. upper strings) harshness.

I used to use the Weiss in LP mode more than I do now. It hasn’t magically stopped being able to do what it once did so well, it’s just that I now have other – passive analogue – means for achieving the results I need.

Weiss Sound

Taking away the DYN and LP options leaves you with a 7-band stereo EQ which is still – IMNSHO – the best digital EQ in the business. I generally use it as the first item in processing chain – it is¬†unsurpassed as a way of cleaning up untidy frequencies –¬†prior to the dac to the analogue path.

Weiss Support

Exemplary – literally. Even over a decade after the initial purchase, Daniel does everything he can to keep the Weiss working in your rack and the engineers working with their clients. He answers e-mails the day he gets them and is readily available on the phone – never even a nano-second of nonsense of the “have you paid for continuing phone support” or suchlike kind – and he has even recently provided us with a new and upgraded board at a cost which clearly made no profit for himself.

Most mastering rooms runs on small margins, and so anyone, like Daniel, who both makes stellar equipment and knocks himself out to support it is a genuine hero.

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