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Black Box Analog Design HG-2
Old 9th December 2015
  #1
Black Box Analog Design HG-2


Rev. 1 shown (no trim on front on this pic).

Just got mine today, here are my initial thoughts. And a pic of the insides!

Sounds great and has very flexible options. Just what I hoped for. Low self noise, especially for a unit like this*. Good default calibration for a tube unit (±0.1 to 0.2 dB), depends on how hard you push the serial circuit or add in parallel of course. There's a front panel LR trim pot on this new revisions of the HG-2.

Used it on the first track today. Was able to increase midrange presence and bass definition on a hip hop track. Pulled up the vocals nicely and added a bit of stereo width, but the low end phase was still well centered.

I liked the air lift at first, then removed it a bit later, but it'll come in handy on other tracks. Otherwise I got the expected change in crest factor, peaks controlled slightly, RMS increased relatively.

The way the pentode pushes into the triode takes some getting used to from a workflow perspective, but I never expected to fully wrap my head around the practical use of the unit in the first hour. Parallel saturation can really take the sound OTT, so I didn't use it on this track, where I needed fairly clean 808s. Furthermore, engaging the alternative tube in the parallel chain takes the distortion up yet a notch. Since it's parallel it's easily blended at the correct level regardless of how aggressive it is.

Not as easy to recall as I could have wished for, but not as bad as I could have feared. A very low level hum from the unit itself in the rack (not a problem in the audio), which was not unexpected though. Might not be audible in most studios as it's close to very low noise floor of my room.

On/off on the back, on/off/standby on the front, parallel in/out + hard bypass on the front. Lotsa options, but I tend to use my Dangerous Liaison for any switching anyway.

All in all I'm very pleased and looking forward to playing around with this new toy. Arrived just in time for an album I'm doing tomorrow where the producer asked for added grit and dirt at the mastering stage. I shall oblige him.

PDF manual (older rev., no trim)
http://blackboxanalog.com/wp-content...al-REV-3.0.pdf

-
Attached Thumbnails
Black Box Analog Design HG-2-12347646_10153396850978655_656183963431774557_n.jpg  

Last edited by Lagerfeldt; 23rd December 2015 at 09:59 PM..
Old 9th December 2015
  #2
*noise measurement:

Actual measured noise floor in my DA > analog routing > AD is at -118 dBFS.

Noise floor with HG-2 engaged and active with both pentode and triode at 12 o' clock and output at maximum: -82 dBFS. Which means it's pretty much as silent as any other piece of gear of this type. I did worry about this with the tubes and trafos, but obviously not an issue.

So depending on your meter it probably wouldn't even register at unity gain with most PPMs in regular DAWs.
Old 9th December 2015
  #3
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Very nice of you to share some thoughts on this one. I have contacted them about the unit in the past. But unfortunately like many other gears, I'm not able to get a demo unit to try out here in Hong Kong.
Old 9th December 2015
  #4
So glad you are digging it!

The fact that the Pentode stage feeds the Triode stage does take a bit of getting used to but once you do, it opens up a huge range of possibilities (think guitar amp) because you can drive one into the other and leverage harmonics added at earlier stages. You can also get a wide range of tones by playing the Pentode and Triode stages "against" each other.

In terms of the air, it's currently set for just under 3db of boost but can be trimmed up or down to your taste with a set of internal trimmers. I personally like a bit less, Robert likes a bit more.

As you know, the "alt tube" switches between two sets of 12AX7s in the parallel saturation circuit, one voiced more aggressively. The "sat" knob allows you to mix in as much of the resulting saturated signal as you like but you can control the characteristics of the saturation by how hard you drive the input of the unit. This will allow you to get much more subtle results from that circuit and like almost everything else in the box, there are trimmers and adjustments that can be made internally.

Finally, the very slight physical hum is actually one of the (7) transformers. It's a good quality Hammond transformer and that slight hum is actually normal. We decouple it from the box to minimize it and although we would prefer to have it dead silent, it gives us great clean power. As you said, most people will never hear it but we could always see if we can find an alternative for you. We have gone through a lot of trouble to build the unit in a modular fashion so most parts and PCBs can be swapped or replaced without a single solder connection.

Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and let us know if you have any questions at all while you get to know your new toy!
Old 9th December 2015
  #5
Simon, the way I've seen you spend $ on gear that shouldn't be a problem, heh heh.
Old 9th December 2015
  #6
Quote:
Originally Posted by Black Box Analog View Post
The fact that the Pentode stage feeds the Triode stage does take a bit of getting used to but once you do, it opens up a huge range of possibilities (think guitar amp) because you can drive one into the other and leverage harmonics added at earlier stages. You can also get a wide range of tones by playing the Pentode and Triode stages "against" each other.
Yes, I noticed this. That's quite flexible. Love the whole way you designed this.

Quote:
In terms of the air, it's currently set for just under 3db of boost but can be trimmed up or down to your taste with a set of internal trimmers. I personally like a bit less, Robert likes a bit more.
On the first track it was a bit too much. Doesn't seem to affect mids at all or even higher mids very much, though. Robert sent a internal trim PDF for me, thanks. I think I'll trim it down a bit.

Quote:
As you know, the "alt tube" switches between two sets of 12AX7s in the parallel saturation circuit, one voiced more aggressively. The "sat" knob allows you to mix in as much of the resulting saturated signal as you like but you can control the characteristics of the saturation by how hard you drive the input of the unit. This will allow you to get much more subtle results from that circuit and like almost everything else in the box, there are trimmers and adjustments that can be made internally.
Yes, the power of parallel. Awesome. It still takes some experimentation since things earlier in the chain affect the parallel chain as well, it's all connected.

Quote:
Finally, the very slight physical hum is actually one of the (7) transformers. It's a good quality Hammond transformer and that slight hum is actually normal. We decouple it from the box to minimize it and although we would prefer to have it dead silent, it gives us great clean power. As you said, most people will never hear it but we could always see if we can find an alternative for you. We have gone through a lot of trouble to build the unit in a modular fashion so most parts and PCBs can be swapped or replaced without a single solder connection.
Not a problem. As you can see from my measurement it's not a issue in the audio. Almost inaudible in my rack, but my studio is dead silent, custom built from the ground up in a separate building, no fans - and it's in the country side on a 5 acre estate. I can hear a fly fart in here.

Quote:
Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and let us know if you have any questions at all while you get to know your new toy!
Appreciate your help, Eric.

Last edited by Lagerfeldt; 10th December 2015 at 09:09 AM..
Old 9th December 2015
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lagerfeldt View Post
I can hear a fly fart in here.
Old 10th December 2015
  #8
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Cool new toy!!

your G14 is rockin' very hard here! thanks again, this guy is a real gentleman!
Old 10th December 2015
  #9
Great, I see on FB it's being put to good use :-)
Old 10th December 2015
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lagerfeldt View Post
Good default calibration for a tube unit (±0.1 to 0.2 dB), depends on how hard you push the serial circuit or add in parallel of course. There's a front panel LR trim pot on this new revisions of the HG-2.

-
Greetings,

I do not post on GS anymore unless I'm doing a photo diary of something crazy I'm building for someone. Now that I'm also a "gear manufacturer", I no longer feel good about discussing gear which is difficult because I really love gear and I have very strong opinions about it. I did, though, want to chime in a bit on the calibration since Mastering Engineers are purchasing these units.

The default calibration is done at 4 set frequencies. 1k, 10k, 12.8k, 16k
Plus, I sweep around to look for anomalies that may jump out and, thus, require a different set of tube.

The reason I mention this is that Eric and I have to match 8 gain stages (though the max at any given time is 6 and could be as low as 4) using parts that can have big tolerances - sometimes as high as 20%.

Now, the unit might be dead on at 2k but could have a .2db "drift" at 2.2k. It could drift that much in the other direction at, say, 4k and so on.

To get the unit to do what we envisioned it doing just required the use of vacuum tubes - there was no other way around it - none. The non-linearity of the tubes are the foundation of the unit's character. It's like dating the most beautiful woman in the world that also just happens to be crazy - it is a real trade off.

To deal with all of this, there are 5 sets of "trimmers" that set L/R balance, top end, air, and trimmers to set the balance on the two saturation AX7's. This allows the unit to be re-calibrated as the tubes age and for easy replacement of tubes.

We have not made this info readily available just yet but plan on a series of youtube videos that will allow someone with nothing more than a screwdriver to calibrate their units. The concern, as you can well imagine is doing this in such a way as to ensure that no one ever ever ever hurts themselves. Frankly, I'd rather work at Walmart than see someone injured fiddling around with one of these.

With all of that said, if you happen to have one of these and you want to pop the lid off and have a look around like Holger did (thank you so much for buying one of these) then I'd strongly suggest that you first unplug the unit, turn the unit to its "on" position and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. There is a mechanism in the unit that slowly drains the high voltage capacitors when the unit is turned off. Even after doing this, approach it with caution. As they used to tell us in the Army, "treat every weapon as if it is always loaded".

As always, I so appreciate our customers and those that have shown interest in our products.
Old 10th December 2015
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rvwainscott View Post
It's like dating the most beautiful woman in the world that also just happens to be crazy
My favorite description of tubes, ever.
Old 10th December 2015
  #12
Heh heh, that's quite fitting. But if we wanted clean and predictable we'd use digital for that.

The only thing I'll be calibrating will be the air lift, probably reduce it by a dB or a bit more. Means I'll have to take that into account on the tracks I've already mastered using the air function, if I ever need to recall those. It makes sense with about 3 dB for mix bus duties perhaps, but personally I need it more subtle for mastering.
Old 10th December 2015
  #13
Deleted e461f65
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beautiful AND crazy?...my kind of girl
Old 10th December 2015
  #14
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You guys at Blackbox speak of your gears very "openly" and with great concern, it feels super great hats off to you guys
Old 6th January 2016
  #15
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An HG-2 to demo arrived last night. It started the tryout today @ 12kmastering before I get it back to try next monday. Has a third stop while here @ Black Knoll Studio.

will post after I spend some time
Old 6th January 2016
  #16
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nOiz's Avatar
jealous that you guys can demo it. I'm out of luck in the far east.
Old 6th January 2016
  #17
t_d
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as dietrich said, we've got an HG2 on demo here in the NY/CT area and i put it through some paces yesterday and will do more today....

a few quick notes, referencing what lagerfeldt said...

- yes, there's a hum in the unit. i noticed this right away when it turned it on. i'm glad it's normal and i never noticed it again during my day of using it.

- the air band can be quite useful to bring back some some lost high end if you're pushing into the tubes too much... but i felt it was often too much, i'm glad to read there's a trimmer inside to lessen the gain. i won't do it to this demo model, but if i get my own i'll probably cut that gain in half.


some of my own thoughts on it:

- i master primarily ambient/experimental music, but also move quite a bit into other forms of electronic.. so this is what i was trying it on mostly

- for starters, i was quite surprised at the variety of sounds you could get out of it. i've tried and perviously really wanted a culture vulture for mastering.. just to give a little "hair" to a track, a little edge when needed.. but i found the CV often went too far too quickly. the HG2 has a much much wider subtle sweet spot with a lot of different flavors. it can go from virtually unnoticeable, to full on distortion, but there's a lot in between and the interaction of all of the saturation stages gives you a lot of control.

- i liked it best when you don't quite hear what it's doing until you bypass it and then the mix falls apart. that's always the magic spot. i also found myself dialing it in to where i thought it sounded nice... then backing it off a bit. quite a bit like the Clariphonic.. it's easy to go overboard, because it sounds so good... so you have to be careful.

- i hit on an incredible sound when i was trying it on a thinly mixed pop track that lacked bottom end... where i set the saturation circuit to "low" and turned up the parallel knob.. it was an incredible sounding low end EQ effect that gave the track a great sounding weight.

- did some comparisons between it and the DSP on the HEDD.. the HEDD, after all of these years, still impresses me.. but next to real tubes it does sound like a plug in.. albeit a good one.



a couple of minor complaints:

- the buttons (the clear ones) feel a bit flimsy to me... especially when bypassing the unit in and out.. the button wiggles a bit and i fear that it would lose solder point or connection. i'd likely bypass via my Liaison, but, still.. it worries me.

- not a fan of italic typography on gear (or anywhere) ... but, that's from being a graphic designer for 20 years.. so i get picky about these things



OVERALL...., i really really liked the HG2.. it was what i was looking for, and what i wanted the culture vulture to be. like any of this gear i can't imagine using it on every single track, but it's another tool and flavor that i don't currently have and does its job really well. between the 3 or 4 of us who are testing this unit out i highly doubt it'll be getting sent back... and likely another one (at least) ordered..

Last edited by t_d; 7th January 2016 at 01:25 PM..
Old 7th January 2016
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by t_d View Post

- the buttons (the clear ones) feel a bit flimsy to me... especially when bypassing the unit in and out.. the button wiggles a bit and i fear that it would lose solder point or connection. i'd likely bypass via my Liaison, but, still.. it worries me.
Greetings,

Thanks for taking the unit for a spin and for taking the time to post your thoughts. The buttons that you refer to are held in by 12 solder connections and will never come loose but the feel of them is just that - the feel. It would be nice if I could have something custom in the way of buttons made but I'm stuck with off the shelf solutions. I have yet to have a button fail but should a button ever fail, they sit on their own "button" circuit board and it can be replaced with nothing more than a phillips screwdriver and two minutes of your time.

The unit was designed in a modular fashion so that a failure wouldn't take out the entire unit.

Finally, the Air circuit is really a tough one in that the mastering guys seem to want a bit less and guys like me always want to push it a bit more. Eric and myself fight over it all the time. Luckily, there is a simple trimmer that sets the air and I'll gladly walk you through it if you wish.

Again, thanks for the honest feedback and please do not hesitate to hit me up if you have any questions.
Old 9th February 2016
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rvwainscott View Post

Finally, the Air circuit is really a tough one in that the mastering guys seem to want a bit less and guys like me always want to push it a bit more. Eric and myself fight over it all the time. Luckily, there is a simple trimmer that sets the air and I'll gladly walk you through it if you wish.
Looks like an interesting product.

With various people mentioning wanting more/less of the air circuit, I'm suprised that you guys didn't put a trimmer on the front panel for this. Or is it a bit more like with studio monitors, once they are set how you like them, leave it be?

I'm interested to know if this unit would bring more perceived depth to a mix. For example when I listen to sound examples of the SSL Sigma, I can hear an improvement in the mix, but without necessarily much noticeable colouration. But, I'm not prepared to get into summing.

Although I do have some hardware synths and a modular, I am pretty much in the box doing DnB (neurofunk). I would not mind trying out an hardware SSL style compressor at some point (e.g. Serpent), but the HG-2 does intrigue me, especially as it brings up apparent RMS. I have tried saturation (such as BX_Saturator_V2) on the master buss before to increase RMS, and because my music has already many distorted elements within it (in main instance, the lead bass) I found, yes it was louder, but the distortion was too noticeable (as snare is prominent in the mix for example, this becomes too distorted).

So I guess my question is, I am not looking necessarily for warmth (I have already got my sound, and I normally find warmth=less clear), but a bit of depth, clarity and extra RMS would be great. My usual software Master Chain is 'The Glue (I love the SSL vibe and sheen/high end it gives) > Elysia Museq (transparent but smooth, my second favourite is NI Passive EQ) > Kazrog Kclip (bring up levels prior to limiter) > Voxengo Elephant (final loudness limiting 2db GR max). Hopefully this gives you an idea of the transparency/sound I like.

Hope that makes sense.

Thanks

Keith
Old 11th February 2016
  #20
Quote:
Originally Posted by keef321 View Post
With various people mentioning wanting more/less of the air circuit, I'm suprised that you guys didn't put a trimmer on the front panel for this. Or is it a bit more like with studio monitors, once they are set how you like them, leave it be?
You can trim it internally, and I'd simply do that. It's not a traditional high shelf EQ as such, but done with a capacitor on the cathode resistor on the triode.

Quote:
I'm interested to know if this unit would bring more perceived depth to a mix. For example when I listen to sound examples of the SSL Sigma, I can hear an improvement in the mix, but without necessarily much noticeable colouration. But, I'm not prepared to get into summing.
Adding harmonics generally tend to bring out information and using an analog unit tends to widen the image further.

You get what you expect from your mix + a bit (or a lot) harmonics and a some additional width. Since you can adjust the balance between the pentodes and triodes, as well as an injected low/flat/high signal, the options are quite flexible.

Quote:
but the HG-2 does intrigue me, especially as it brings up apparent RMS.
It certainly can. If that's what you want, I'd consider that more of a positive side effect than a goal in itself, though you can make it behave like an extreme inflator - with the side effects that usually go with that, though it'll never sound like digital distortion.

Quote:
So I guess my question is, I am not looking necessarily for warmth (I have already got my sound, and I normally find warmth=less clear), but a bit of depth, clarity and extra RMS would be great.
There's nothing muddy about the HG-2. By default it's you'll get a sensation of added details, but not quite being able to place what's going on. That's the harmonics bringing everything out without sounding like an EQ.

And if you want to smash things up a bit or specifically add some more low end, then use the parallel injection.
Old 11th February 2016
  #21
Look out for my video review next week:
https://www.youtube.com/user/thegeargrotto
Old 11th February 2016
  #22
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lagerfeldt View Post
You can trim it internally, and I'd simply do that. It's not a traditional high shelf EQ as such, but done with a capacitor on the cathode resistor on the triode

Adding harmonics generally tend to bring out information and using an analog unit tends to widen the image further.

You get what you expect from your mix + a bit (or a lot) harmonics and a some additional width. Since you can adjust the balance between the pentodes and triodes, as well as an injected low/flat/high signal, the options are quite flexible.
Thanks Lagerfeldt for the useful explanation. I think I am starting to understand this better now, thinking more about added harmonics, rather than just distortion (unless you want that), providing a wider image.

Quote:
There's nothing muddy about the HG-2. By default it's you'll get a sensation of added details, but not quite being able to place what's going on. That's the harmonics bringing everything out without sounding like an EQ.

And if you want to smash things up a bit or specifically add some more low end, then use the parallel injection.
Good to hear, it certainly sounds like a very flexible unit. Thank you for your time in explaining it further to me.

Will look out for your video review

Last edited by keef321; 11th February 2016 at 10:43 PM.. Reason: Seen next post
Old 17th February 2016
  #23
Uploaded!

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Old 17th February 2016
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lagerfeldt View Post
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Thanks for that, a good explanation of harmonics and the HG-2!!

Nice to hear the sound example, I could hear an increase in perceived volume, a more cohesive bottom and more 3D/better seperation. Nice!!

Last edited by keef321; 17th February 2016 at 10:31 PM..
Old 17th February 2016
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lagerfeldt View Post
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Well Done Lagerfeldt ! A beautifull and meaningfull video, in a very very nice studio
Old 18th February 2016
  #26
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yeah, nicely done. now i really want one of these.
Old 18th February 2016
  #27
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Yes, Lagerfeldt... very great and meaningful video of the HG-2.

Just one small critique... and it may be a matter of personal preference... but the parts where the audio is being demonstrated, for me, could be turned up louder, between your speaking phrases. I found myself trying to ride those parts with my monitor trim so I could better hear the audio examples. But then your speaking phrases would be much too loud, so I would end up turning up and down quickly.

But other than that, one of the best videos demonstrating gear I've seen. You have a great gift for that, as well as mastering! Right up there with Dan Worrall!
Old 19th February 2016
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by javahut View Post
But other than that, one of the best videos demonstrating gear I've seen. You have a great gift for that, as well as mastering! Right up there with Dan Worrall!
Greetings,

I've been sitting on my hands because I didn't think it fair to comment since he is reviewing something Eric and I built. Regardless of the comments on the gear being reviewed, the presentation was one of the best I've ever seen. The unit - what it is and what it does was explained so well that I would feel comfortable sending that video to anyone that had a question about the product.

I've suscribed to his channel and I am very much looking forward to subsequent reviews and opinions. I am, after all, a gear *****.

I hope we do not have to wait too long until the next product review.
Old 19th February 2016
  #29
Quote:
Originally Posted by javahut View Post
[...]one of the best videos demonstrating gear I've seen. You have a great gift for that, as well as mastering! Right up there with Dan Worrall!
That's very kind of you, and thanks guys for the comments in general.

Quote:
Just one small critique... and it may be a matter of personal preference... but the parts where the audio is being demonstrated, for me, could be turned up louder, between your speaking phrases. I found myself trying to ride those parts with my monitor trim so I could better hear the audio examples. But then your speaking phrases would be much too loud, so I would end up turning up and down quickly.
I did think about this, but riding the level means other problems. Some people asked for this music being turned down instead... can't please everybody all of the time :-D

However, I might do downloadable files for some videos in the future, on www.geargrotto.com (redirects to YouTube at the moment), but since the songs I use are commercial and copyrighted releases from Sony, Universal, etc. (used with permission in my videos), it's not always possible.
Old 19th February 2016
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lagerfeldt View Post
That's very kind of you, and thanks guys for the comments in general.


I did think about this, but riding the level means other problems. Some people asked for this music being turned down instead... can't please everybody all of the time :-D

However, I might do downloadable files for some videos in the future, on www.geargrotto.com (redirects to YouTube at the moment), but since the songs I use are commercial and copyrighted releases from Sony, Universal, etc. (used with permission in my videos), it's not always possible.
I think its fine like this, super review and gives the lust to the gear, wich is the most important
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