KuSh Audio Clariphonic for mastering [Review]
RRP USD $1,749 Concept
The Clariphonic is a dual mono parallel equalizer that splits up the signal into a series of parallel chains. You can use up to two simultaneous parallel chains per stereo side: one chain is called Focus
and the other is Clarity
Each chain has a variety of available filters and a blend potmeter. The pot adds the chosen parallel chain to the original full frequency signal.
You can switch between a variety of preset filter shapes: six shelves and two very wide bells, but there's no cutting.
The Clariphonic in effect rolls off most of the low end in the parallel signal, so any noticeable and unwanted phasing of the bass is avoided when the signal is blended with the original signal.
Part of the "sound" comes from the coloration that happens when the filters are pre-boosted. Saturation in the parallel chain can only be adjusted by feeding the Clariphonic with a weaker or a stronger signal, since there's no input gain on the unit.
There's a decent amount of headroom though, and intentional overdrive is not the main purpose of the Clariphonic. The sound of the Clariphonic has more to do with the shape of the filters and the parallel design. Build Quality and Interface
The unit is nice and sturdy. It's got a quality back panel with a switch for balanced and unbalanced signals. The front panel is old fashioned with chicken head pots. The switches work like they're supposed to, though you'll have to double check settings between tracks since they're small and there's no additional visual feedback.
For mastering purposes the non-detented and dual mono pots are not optimal. Recall is slightly difficult because the chicken heads cover the dots on the legend. However, it's a minor quibble, and the sides can be matched using test tones fairly quickly.
The pots are logarithmically tapered with the highest resolution from zero up to about 12 o' clock, at which point they really start grabbing. This design is useful for precise dialing of subtle settings.
There's no master bypass. If you don't have another way of bypassing the unit you'll need to switch off up to 4 switches in order to A/B, which is not practical. I'm using it with the Dangerous Liaison, so that's not an issue for me and not for the majority of mastering engineers.
By flipping the FF (Full Frequency) switches off you can solo the parallel chains. Signal Integrity
When the Clariphonic is active, but the parallel signals are bypassed, it virtually passes a 1:1 signal with just a 0.02 dB discrepancy. Of course this is irrelevant with a console/routing matrix.
The L/R accuracy of a processed signal will depend on your ability to set the non-detented pots precisely, more than anything else.
All other aspects of the sound and stereo image are perfect as well. No asymmetry or unexpected distortion. The noise floor in my base setup raised from -104.57 dBFS to -95.30 dBFS with the Clariphonic inserted and Focus: Lift-Diffuse on both channels being active, but turned down. Filters and Sound
In the Focus chain you can choose between two filters called Lift
. Each filter can be used in Tight
mode. Diffuse is a high shelving filter and Tight is a very wide bell. During the short period I've had the Clariphonic, I've not found the bell mode useful, but instead preferred to use a full parametric EQ for any such purpose.
Lift is a very wide shelving filter that gradually grabs from the upper bass region (though it's specified as >800 Hz in the manual) and opens up all the way to the top. Unlike the other filters, it's quite audible when Lift is merely engaged, before adding any signal with the pot. With Lift engaged I noticed subtle changes to the bass perception, probably due to some minor, but audible phase changes in the upper bass area. However, I still found it useful on one track for matching an overall sound without the necessity for combining several types of bands in a regular EQ.
The Open filter acts a bit further up, specified as >3 kHz in the manual. Again, these corner frequencies have little meaning in reality since the shelves are so wide and gradual that it's a question of listening, not intellectualizing. The sound of the filters in the Clariphonic is somewhat like a Baxandall curve in that they're smooth and natural sounding.
The Clarity chain offers four filters instead of two. The four filters are all high shelves and are entitled Presence
, respectively. The Clarity and Focus chains are separate parallel chains with no interaction between them, i.e. selecting a Presence filter in the Clarity chain will not affect the boost of a filter selected in the Focus chain.
Presence is useful for opening up the upper midrange and above, giving and extra presence to vocals and percussive elements, as well as anything else in the upper midrange and above, of course.
Sheen grabs from around or just above the sibilance area and is probably the closest to the sound of a regular, but wide, high shelf boost from around 9-10 kHz. However, like almost all of the filters in the Clariphonic, the sound is nice and smooth.
Shimmer is a unique band. The manual specifies it as >19 kHz, but again, the smooth curves mean it's not just supersonics. This is where the extended frequency range of the Clariphonic lets you boost for air in an interesting way. Try doing this with a plug-in and pre-warping and filter artifacts become audible. To paraphrase the manual: the Shimmer band could be a unit in itself - and I've found it very useful on several occasions.
Silk extends to 40 kHz, well beyond the audible range. I don't find this band quite as useful as the Shimmer band, since it's either too little or too much once it affects the audible range. It's there, and I may find more occasions in the future where it's the right thing. Conclusion
I find the Kush Audio Clariphonic useful and suitable for mastering and stem processing. It's definitely a right-brain machine, but not the color box I originally expected. I mean that in a good way, i.e. it can be used in moderation and in subtle ways for smooth enhancements. It's not leaving my rack, though I may add a Dangerous Music Bax EQ to complement it.
The Clariphonic was used in a setup with a Mytek 8x192 AD/DA, Dangerous Music Liaison routing, Crane Song STC-8/M Compressor, Summit Audio EQ-200, Gyraf G14 EQ, SSL XLogic Compressor, through a Danfield Monitor2 to Klein+Hummel O300D & O800 monitors.