elysia musEQ by ionian
Elysia gear is well known for it's sleek looking European style looks, it's steel and blue color scheme hinting at the preciseness of its German heritage. Their equipment generally does what it says on the tin, does it well, and sounds good doing it.
Based on my experience with the Xpressor, I decided to demo the Elysia Museq for a month, being that I was in the market for a clean EQ that could function well for tracking and mixing as well as not coloring the sound. The Museq ticked many boxes for me; the pots were stepped so it's easy to recall and match the left and right channel, it's clean which is something I love as I don't like gear messing with my sound after I spent a long time getting the sound the way I want, and it's capable of functioning not only as a tracking and mixing EQ, but mastering one as well.
After demoing it, I ended up buying one. Now after owning one and using it constantly for over a year and the half, I can't imagine being without it and I almost consider it a secret weapon.
Before I get into the review, I'll detail the gear and frequency response of my equipment just for reference purposes. All frequency tests were done with just the converter, the Museq and a pair of one foot Mogami XLR patch cables. The converter used was a Mytek 8x192. All tests were done at 96k sampling rate.
A full frequency sweep of my converter with the Mogami cables is detailed below:
Before you complain that my converter isn't flat because it's not on the 0 dB mark, make sure to pay attention to the decibel scale on the left. The first mark is -0.05 so for all practical purposes, yes my converter is flat.
Here's a close up of the frequency roll off at the top of my converter:
The High frequency roll off starts at around 36 kHz and is down half a decibel at 47 kHz. That means that at the least, my converter is dead flat from 20 Hz to 35 kHz. Therefore, all frequency tests for this review were done between 20 Hz and 35 kHz so that the high frequency roll off of my converter would not affect the results of the Museq.
Here's a shot of the Museq in full, in my rack. Yes, I know the metal is aluminum and not copper so it should be silver and not have the brown tint from my lights but I didn't use a flash so what can you do? If you want better product shots, go to the Elysia website!
It's got a very balanced look to it, with clean graphics. The colors and knobs are keeping within the Elysia product line. Functions are all lit differently - the 'in' buttons are lit with a classy white ring, the warm buttons are lit with a blue ring and the 'cut' and 'q' buttons are lit with a red ring.
If you squint while looking at it, the Museq looks like Christmas.
The thick aluminum is impressively textured. Here's a closeup of the aluminum texture along with the striking blue faceplate. (I did use a flash here so the color is more accurate!)
The faceplate is also an impressive 1/4 inch thick. Weighing in at a heavy 17.5 lbs (8 kg) means that you should have a friend help you install this! In an average SKB case, the screws were just long enough to make it through the thick faceplate and grab the rack. Between the weight and faceplate I'd recommend using all 4 screws to mount it. I know some people like to use the two screw speed method, but this is a big boy. At 14.8 inches deep, it also stretches to the back of my rack. I've had it mounted for over a year and the half with all four screws and no problems.
Here's a close of up the faceplate, along with the knobs, which use a small hex screw to mount to the shaft.
The unit is straight forward and simple to operate. All the buttons are the toggle type: Press once to latch, press again to unlatch. When latched, the ring around the button is lit to let you know.
The knobs are stepped pots, each pot having 23 steps. They confidently stop in each click, so there's never a question as to what step you're in, yet they turn to the next one easily. If you've use the 500 series gear, the stops on the Museq are MUCH FIRMER than the 500 series gear, so don't go by that.
On the Elysia website, they say that they use a computer program to test and match the pots for stereo operation. After using analyzers sending test tones and pink noise through both sides with matching settings, the sides matched exactly every single time. It's an impressive feat. I have no reason to not believe they use a computer to match the pots, as the sides match identically.
Elysia cleverly decided to use a "cut" button instead of having cut and boost on the same dial. This effectively doubles the resolution of the 23 step pot, allowing the Museq to have a wide decibel range on each knob which is what gives it to the capability to have the broad strokes for mixing and tracking and the finer strokes for mastering.
There's no Q knob, instead Elysia opted for a single button that selects between a wide and a narrow Q setting. This is not a surgical EQ by any means so don't look for ultra narrow Q settings. The narrow Q is a bit more narrow than the wide setting. In practice, I found it worked great and never struggled with the limited Q settings. Elysia says the Wide Q is 1.3 and the Narrow Q is 0.5. To me, numbers don't mean much. If I hear the Museq grabbing too much, I switch to the narrow Q and vice versa. I think the Q settings are well selected as if I'm not happy with one, I'm happy with the other. I don't feel restricted with just the two settings. The "Q" is a constant Q. Regardless of the gain, the Q stays the same width.
Around the back (I don't have a picture, sorry!), there's a pair of ins and outs, an IEC jack for the power cable, and the power switch. I know the power switch being on the back is a bummer for some. My rack is open on the back so it's not a problem to reach it, but I know for some, it's a PITA because they can't get to the back and in that case, I'd use a power strip to turn it off and on. Elysia has the switch in the back because it cuts down on noise rather than run the power switch to the front. I've heard other companies like Manley have cracked that nut by putting the power switch on the front, with a rod attached that goes to the back which is attached to the power switch. That way they can keep the power switch in the back but still have an on/off switch on the front. That's definitely a clever solution but with respect to the sleek design of the Museq, that kind of solution would almost seem a bit klunky. Nevertheless, it was a judgement call on Elysia's part. If power switches on the back really bother you, it's something to take in to account then. Also on the back is a recessed dimmer screw to dim the "Elysia" logo. It has a happy face and a sad face. Turn it towards the sad face to dim the logo, and towards the happy face to make it brighter. Me? I'm happy!
The Museq has 5 bands. The top knob is for the gain and the bottom for the frequency. Every other step on the pot is marked, so for each setting, there's a setting in-between it.
For example, One gain marking is 1.0, then there's a step and then there's 2.5. Even though it's not marked, there's a gain setting between 1.0 and 2.5 (1.75?)
All the gain knobs start at 0 and end at 15 dB, but the steps are different for each band.
As an example, here's the settings for the gain ranges of the low bands:
Low: 0, 1, 2.5, 4, 5, 6, 7, Low, 9, 11, 13, 15
Remember there's a step between each of these EXCEPT 0 and 1, AND 13 and 15. I guess that's the way the pots are made. So in actuality, using the word "step" to illustrate a detent on the pot between a gain number, here's the stop on the low band:
0, 1, step, 2.5, step, 4, step, 5, step, 6, step, 7, step, low, step, 9, step, 11, step, 13, 15.
I won't go through every single band as it would just run up this review. Check the Elysia site to see the ranges of the bands. By the way "LOW" is the name of the band, which takes the place of where the number would have been. Space is a premium, you know!
The 5 bands also have huge gain ranges. In order:
Low band: 9 (yes, 9!) Hz to 200 Hz
Bottom band: 18 Hz to 400 Hz
Middle band: 150 to 3k5 Hz
Top band: 700 Hz to 16 kHz
High band: 1k8 Hz to 35 kHz.
That makes the total range of this EQ from 9 Hz to 35 kHz. I won't say for certain but this EQ has to have one of the widest, if not the widest range of any analog EQ I've ever seen.
The EQ also features a "warm" mode which slows down the slew rate of the amplifiers. It emulates the slower response of more vintage gear. The result is some THD as well as the top being rolled off a bit.
Now, onward to the tests! I also just want to note: I scale the decibel scale based on the response so it's easier to see, with much better accuracy, what the EQ is doing. The curves following are not as drastic as they appear! Please keep checking both the frequency and decibel scale so you can always take the scaling into account when looking at the curves. Also, make sure to look at the lower left of the frequency plot for the legend if you're not sure of what the colors represent when there's multiple curves.
Elysia claims on their website that the -0.2 points of the EQ are lower than 10 Hz up to 200 kHz. I don't have equipment to test that, but on my converter, from 20 Hz to 35 kHz, the unit is perfectly flat so I feel no reason to challenge their claim. Warm mode rolls off the top somewhat due to the slower response of the amplifiers. Here's a comparison of the Museq in, and in with warm mode:
You can clearly see the frequency response being rolled off while in warm mode.
Here's a close up of the upper frequencies showing the roll off starting near 2.2 kHz, and by 20 kHz it's at -3 dB. By 35 kHz, it's at -6. This response is for WARM MODE. The dark blue line at the 0 mark is the Museq with warm mode turned OFF. You can see it is perfectly flat.
Warm Mode also introduces a bit of 2nd and 3rd harmonic distortion into the sound, adding to the slight vintage flavor. You can see the 2nd and 3rd harmonic being introduced in the DARK RED markings. You can see the much lower distortion of the regular mode with the dark blue lines.
Here's a 15 dB boost at 1.1k illustrating both the Wide and Narrow Q.
Showing how the width of the Q stays constant with regard to gain, here's the wide Q at both 15 dB and 6.5 dB:
Here is illustrating the same with the narrow:
The cuts are pretty much symmetrical with the boosts. Here's the frequency response of a 15 dB boost at 1.1k compared to a 15 dB cut at 1.1k. This is the wide Q:
Here's showing that it is equally symmetrical with the narrow Q:
In general, it almost looks like the band, both wide and narrow Q, grab almost too much but in reality the way the bands interact on this EQ is amazing and that's where the magic lies. Again, I haven't had any issues with feeling like the Q with is too much. The Museq really shines when you use multiple bands to push and pull against each other.
There's more to this EQ than meets the eye! Elysia made the Low (bottom most) band able to function as both a low shelf OR a Low cut filter! Same with the High band. On top of that, the cut filter features a resonant peak that can be adjusted, adding to the usefulness of the cut filter. This resonant peak has to be heard to be believed, as it can turn a wimpy kick into a sledgehammer.
As if that wasn't enough, Elysia included a SECOND TYPE OF CUT FILTER. Yes, this unit has two types of cut filters! This one is more of a traditional cut filter, without a resonant peak but a steeper slope than the resonant cut filter (when the resonant peak is flat). I find this second cut filter to be indispensable for typical cutting duties such as guitar, piano, and pads, where I would use the resonant cut filter more for kick drums, bass, vocals that need some power, etc.
To access this second cut filter, this is what you must do.
1. DO NOT press the "HP/LP filter" button on the low or high band. PRESS THE CUT BUTTON, as if you want to cut the shelf.
2. Turn the gain all the way to 15. The shelf cuts to 13 dB. When you go to 15, the shelf instead TURNS INTO A CUT FILTER.
I've met some Museq owners who didn't even realize this, that's why I'm making it very specific here.
Here's a frequency plot of both filters at 200 Hz. The resonant filter in blue, introduces a small bump, even when set flat. The alternate, more traditional cut filter is in red, also set at 200 Hz:
Back to the resonant cut filter, the gain knob selects the strength of the peak. The resonant peak has its own way of responding so the gain settings aren't entirely accurate for the peak. Make sure to always USE YOUR EARS!
Here's a frequency plot showing the Resonant cut filter at 200 Hz at the Flat (blue), 7 dB (red) and 15 dB (green) settings. The steepness of the slope also changes with the strength of the peak.
The high band operates in the same manner, both with a resonant peak cut filter as well as a more traditional cut filter that's activated by cutting the shelf at 15 dB. Here's both the resonant peak filter, flat (blue), and the alternate cut filter (red) both at 35 kHz:
Like the low cut resonant filter, the high cut resonant filter still introduces a small bump, even when flat. The alternate (shelf) cut filter, even at 35 kHz, at 20 kHz is still 1.5 dB down meaning that the wide range of frequencies lets you use the cut filters to just take a tiny bit off the top. You don't have to kill the highs with the cut filter. The wide frequency range is what makes this so versatile.
To illustrate these high cut filters in a more practical range, here's them both at 1k8 Hz. The resonant cut filter (blue) is down -12 dB at 20 kHz while the alternate shelf cut filter (red) is down -20 at 20 kHz. This shows how the Museq has multiple ways to tame the top end of the mix from amazingly gentle to really digging in and everything in-between. There's no harshness that this EQ can't roll off.
Here's the filters at 1k8:
To further illustrate how you can tame the top end of anything from a track, to a full mix, you have the option of using the warm mode, which also rolls off the top. Here's a comparison of all three methods also showing the steepness and behavior of all three. The Resonant cut filter (red) at 5k7, the alternate shelf cut filter (blue) at 35 kHz, and the warm mode (green):
Or let's take it a step further and use the Resonant peak cut filter, but let's apply the warm mode to it! Here's the resonant cut filter at 5k7 (red) and the same resonant cut filter at 5k7, but with warm mode engaged (blue). You can see the warm mode tames the resonant bump a little and steepens the slope:
Enough of cut filters and roll offs! What about the shelfs? (shelves?!) Again, I say that the amazingly wide frequency range of this EQ is what makes it so powerful.
It goes down to 9 Hz. 9 Hz you say? What good is that? Speakers don't go that low! Well, what's so good about it, is that you can boost the shelf at 9 Hz and it will only affect the lower amounts of the audible range. It does this in a way that a regular shelf can't. For example, here's a full, 15 dB boost at 9 Hz. What's the result? The result is that at 20 Hz, just about 4.5 dB is being boosted. Because it's the end of the shelf, it only grabs the lowest amount which means that your shelf isn't even starting to go up until around 80 Hz, which is the half decibel mark! This means you can boost subs and low frequencies but not grab all that mud between 250 to 400 that usually gets sucked up along with a shelf!
Here's a frequency plot showing a 15 dB boost at 9 Hz:
The same goes for the high shelf. Since it goes all the way up to 35 kHz, a full 15 dB boost will still only result in a 6 dB boost at 20 kHz. You can just grab the upper frequencies and make them sparkle without bringing up a ton of harshness if you want. Here's the frequency plot of a 35 kHz boost at 15 dB:
Ok, so this EQ has shelves and it has cut filters, but what else can it do?! Well, the wide frequency ranges on the bands allow some nifty tricks! Did I hear someone say Pultec style cut and boost? Here's the low shelf boosting 9 dB at 200 Hz (blue). You want a Pultec style curve? Using the second (bottom) band, select the narrow Q, and cut somewhere near the low shelf frequency! I selected the step between 185 and 230 Hz and here was my result! Here's the shelf (blue) along with the same exact shelf, but now with the second band cutting (red). Want to scoop out more mud? Just cut more with the band that's cutting! Here's a plot with both curves superimposed to show how cut / boost curve looks compared to just the straight boost. The boosted shelf (blue) and then the same exact boosted shelf, but with the bottom band (2nd lowest band), narrow Q, cutting 6.5 dB (red).
I know exactly what you're thinking...if you can play those kind of games down low, can you play them up high? And the answer is a resounding, "Yes!"
Here's what you get when you cut the shelf at 1k8 and add a 6.5 dB boost at the same time with the wide Q at 4K9:
You get a nice bump around 3k that rolls off soon after.
To further illustrate, here's all three curves superimposed on the same plot. The shelf cut (red), the 4k9 boost (green) and when you combine them, you get the resultant curve (blue). This is what I meant when I said that the magic in this EQ is in how the bands interact with each other.
Now speaking of shelves, this brings me to the only real mystery with this EQ. While the boosts are generally very accurate, the cuts, particularly the shelves, don't seem to reflect the markings. The boosts do, but the cuts do not. I know there's a lot going on in this EQ, engineering wise and that the high and low bands are in parallel so that they don't affect the middle bands and so I don't know if that has anything to do with it but I would like to point out that when cutting the high shelves, what you think isn't always so. Here's a plot illustrating this.
A 7 dB high shelf cut at 1k8 (blue) is actually closer to 2 dB.
A 11 dB high shelf cut at 1k8 (red) is actually closer to 6.75 dB.
A 13 dB high shelf cut (green) is actually closer to 11 dB.
Here's a plot with this:
In all honesty, this really doesn't bother me. If I needed things to be accurate to the marked decibel, I'd be using a plug in but I EQ with my ears. I cut a shelf. If it's not enough, I cut more. The end. I just need the EQ to be able to be logged and recalled with 100% accuracy and the Museq is more than capable of that. I mean, some gear don't even use frequency markings, they use alphabet letters! Sometimes when I'm done EQ'ing, the settings look almost silly, boosts and cuts are so extreme! But things are not always what they appear with this EQ - Bands interact. Things aren't as drastic. Again, let your ears be the judge and never second guess when you see the settings.
Maybe I'm crazy, but I attached two mp3 files to this. It's showing up in my attachments but it's not in the post. Is that just me? Can any mods fix this so that my attachments show up in the post?!
I wanted to do a few audio examples, but being that the attachment function here is a bit convoluted, and it's difficult to insert audio files and there's a cap on the upload amount, and it's not like a thread where I can post follow ups with more examples, I just decided to run a mix through it and show how something can be cleaned up and transformed. Besides there a few good examples on the Elysia site and a really well done Youtube video out there as well which should give you some idea.
Impressions is a clip of something I did for an installation. The mix is muddy, has LF problems, is congested and cloudy on top.
The first example, "Impressions" is just the mix.
The second example, "Museq-Impressions" is after I used the Museq on it. I managed to clear away a lot of the low rumble, tighten up the kick, clear out some mud and open up the top which gives the impression of a nicer and wider stereo image.
Here's my settings I came up with, using my ears as my guide:
Low Band: Resonant Low Cut, +15 dB at 95 Hz
Bottom Band: Narrow Q, Cut, "Bottom" dB between 130 and 150 Hz
Middle Band: Wide Q, Boost, 4.5 dB at 300 Hz
Top Band: Wide Q, Boost, 2.0 dB at 16 kHz
High Band: Shelf, Boost, between 1.0 and 2.5 dB at 1k8 Hz
For those of you who are more visual, here's a photograph of my recall sheet:
And just to show you what the resultant curve looks like:
This shows how much you can transform an entire mix without unfavorable artifacts or mangling it.
To summarize, this is the last EQ I ever need to buy. I wrestled a bit with the ratings with the review and let me explain why I gave the EQ a "3" for Ease of use.
When Elysia built this EQ, I really believe they didn't want to box anyone into a single way of working. They gave you the freedom to choose your workflow. They gave you huge frequency ranges, they gave you big gain ranges with both small and large boost/cut ability. This EQ is really capable of getting from point "A" to point "B" in a lot of different ways. If you're not careful, you can get tied up trying different things.
For example, you need to boost the highs on your mix. How should you do it? Use the resonant cut filter and boost the peak? A straight shelf boost? A pultec style cut and boost? Maybe skip the high shelf altogether and use the Top band to give a bell boost at 16k instead (which sounds magical by itself!). All of these will achieve your result with a different sound.
You need to shape a kick drum. Should you use the resonant peak cut? Should you use a Pultec style cut and boost? Should you use the shelf and use the bottom band to cut the mud? Maybe boost with the bottom band (which goes down to 18 Hz!) and use the cut filter instead to roll off the boom. Which cut filter? The resonant one or the more traditional alternate one? See what I mean?
Again, I believe most of the magic is in how the bands interact and knowing what you want. I don't honestly see this as a "twist a knob, it sounds good" EQ. And I think to approach it like that would be to seriously limit what you, and this EQ are capable of, and a complete waste of Elysia's genius. To get the most from this EQ, think outside the box. Don't just approach it like a traditional EQ.
When I first demoed it, for three days I had trouble getting what I wanted from it because I didn't take the time to understand how it worked. Instead of blowing it off, I decided to really dig in, explore each band and try to understand this EQ. It took me a full two weeks to understand how this EQ works. How the bands interact. After I fully understood it, and how to work this EQ, I was blown away, and have been for the past year and the half.
For features I gave it a "4". I'm not referring to it's function as an EQ, as being that this EQ is capable of so much, it's definitely full featured in its equalization ability, but rather to more "hardware" based features. Some EQs have band bypass, which is nice. This EQ doesn't have a band bypass but I do use a workaround. Since the gain knob has a cut and boost button meaning the knob starts at "0", sometimes I just turn the knob all the way to 0 (since there's no worry about overshooting the 0 and cutting). If I do it fast enough it does almost sound like a bypass. A little bit klunky, but it gets the job done when I feel I need a band bypass to check something.
It's also not as full featured as other EQs - some of which might have adjustable Q or more types of distortion generating ability. In all honesty though, after working with this EQ for as long as I have, I don't feel that adding adjustable Q or more bells and whistles would make it any better. But I tried to be subjective when rating it on features.
It might have been nice to have output gain knobs (although I have no idea where they would go and I wouldn't trade any of the current knobs for it!) because this thing has massive headroom and it sounds so good that I'll do drastic cuts and boosts and find I'm clipping my converter to heck even though the Museq isn't breaking a sweat. In that case it'd be nice to be able to dial down the output. That's the only real thing I think it's missing.
And so to further expand on my comment, "The last EQ I ever need to buy" I say this:
I had a Clariphonic. I sold the Clariphonic after two weeks of owning this. The Clariphonic was redundant. The Museq has such clear, sparkling, and electric highs that it took over what I used to use the Clariphonic for. Not to mention that the Museq goes up to 35 kHz, so I could boost the upper shelf and just hook it under the uppermost frequencies to add that touch of sparkle, just like I had been doing with the Clariphonic.
I thought about buying other EQs but I can't find a good reason. Maybe a Pultec style, but really I don't see a reason. Unless I want the specific sound of the transformers of a Pultec, otherwise I can get the same type of curves with a little finesse of the low bands on the Museq.
I thought about getting a 500 series Maag EQ when it came out but again, why? I don't need the air band because the highs on the Museq are so pristine and have so much control. The sub band on the Maag is nice also, but again, the low shelf goes down to 9 Hz so I can get my sub boosting from the Museq.
Maybe a VOG? Again, not needed because the resonant peak cut filter serves the same function on the Museq.
See what I mean? Any EQ I thought about getting, I can fill that role with the Museq so to me, it's the last, and only EQ I need to buy.
The sound is pristine. The highs are electric and sparkle. The lows are thunderous, punchy, and tight. You can dig into the low mids and scoop the mud out without killing the sound. The high mids and highs are silky and not harsh at all. Go ahead, boost 3k. Boost 5k. This EQ will make it sound gorgeous.
It has massive headroom and it's a rack unit with a purpose built (and powerful) power supply - Not a single transient will suffer. The audio path is pristine and suitable for the most critical tasks you throw at it.
On top of that, this is the only EQ I've ever used where no matter what you EQ just sounds like you tracked it that way. Nothing sounds EQ'd, unless you do some crazy stuff like telephone effects! Seriously, it just has a way of changing the source. When I EQ with the Museq, I don't approach it thinking, "What do I cut, what do I boost?" Instead I approach it thinking, "What do I want this to sound like?" and then I change the track with the Museq. Simple as that. This EQ truly does make things sound like they were tracked like that, and not EQ'd.
And if you want the sound a little more dirty and vintage, slap on the warm mode. It's not a big color changer but it offers a nice alternative. And I've also found that it sounds different than the warm mode on the Xpressor, so that's a nice bonus.
Is it expensive? Well, at $5300, it is a nice chunk of change for an EQ, but honestly, for what I get from this EQ, it's worth every penny. I don't feel the need to buy any other EQs. The gain ranges work for Tracking, mixing, or mastering.
I have a lot of compressors and I'm always looking to buy another one, but EQs? This is the only one in my setup. And I'll tell you the truth, if I had extra money, I'd just buy another Museq instead of any other EQs.
Thanks for reading, I can be a bit verbose!