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Red devil

Focusrite Red 2

Article from The Mix, June 1995

Thoroughbred EQ


Focusrite have been through a few changes, but their reputation in professional audio circles can only be enhanced by the Red range of outboard gear. Bob Dormon checks out the Red 2 equaliser, and comes away with a rosy glow...


Focusrite's audio devices have a reputation as the aristocrats of the analogue design world. The company was, after all, founded by ace designer Rupert Neve, whose credits include the legendary Focusrite console.

Unfortunately, his design ideas are more plentiful than his business ones, and while Mr. Neve now resides in the Amek camp, Focusrite was acquired by a team of individuals with an appetite for audio excellence. The present Focusrite company have not only improved upon the existing range, but have been busy putting together the Red series of professional audio products.

While their Blue range continues in a similar styling to the original models, the Reds are an entirely new concept, not only to the eye but also to the wallet. Getting a piece of Focusrite technology has been beyond the reach of many, and it is the Red range that addresses this fact.

They are cheaper than the Blue models, but 'cheaper' still means you'll be paying almost £2,000 for the Red 2, two-channel equaliser. That's a lot of money, but it's also a lot of equaliser. If you don't believe me, try lifting one!

Weighing in at over 20lbs, the 2u rack mountable EQ is encased in thick, rigid, extruded aluminium side panels and fascia. The top and bottom panels are stainless steel, with elegantly punched ventilation holes in the shape of the Focusrite logo. It's this sort of attention to detail that reminds you you're dealing with something special.

Others, such as Manley Laboratories have tried to imitate the style, but those shiny metal knobs and the distinctive red hues can be easily spotted through the haze of the studio atmosphere.

Overview



The equaliser has two rows of identical EQ controls, divided into six sections, plus an input level control. On the left, below the large engraved '2', is an illuminated power button that (unsurprisingly) emits a red glow, as do the EQ In buttons, which activate each of the Red 2's channels.

The first knob we encounter is the High Pass Filter. This rotary switch provides five frequencies to roll off (33Hz, 60Hz, 105Hz, 185Hz and 330Hz), but starts with the flat position, marked '0'. The low frequency section allows a cut or boost of ±15dB. The gain pot has a detent centre, while another rotary switch selects the low frequency preset options.

The range (33Hz, 56Hz, 95Hz, 160Hz, 270Hz and 460Hz) neatly fills in the gaps left by the High Pass Filter, should you wish to be particular about a low frequency area.

If that's not enough, then the low mid frequency section provides a sweeping frequency pot, with an initial range of 40Hz to 400Hz. Press the yellow 'x3' button, and the range changes to 120Hz - 1.2kHz. A 'Q' control, variable from 0.3 to 1, allows you to vary the bandwidth you tune in to. This, combined with the cut or boost of ±15dB proves to be quite a versatile low-mid frequency parametric equaliser.

As for the high-mid frequencies, the controls are the same, only the names have been changed to protect the innocent! Indeed, this section covers a frequency range of 600Hz to 6kHz, and 1.8kHz to 18kHz using the 'x3' option, which curiously enough bears an exact mathematical correlation to the figures presented on the front panel. Clever buggers, eh?

The two mid sections have plenty of overlap between them, so that the mid range is thoroughly tweakable, but if it's top you're after, then the shelving high frequency section could have the knob you've been looking for. It has the same gain to hand as its LF counterpart, with six sizzling frequencies to choose from: 3.3kHz, 4.7kHz, 6.8kHz, 10kHz, 15kHz and 18kHz.



"I'd be loathe to get the old chinagraph pencil out, on such an exquisite piece of designer hardware"


But if that's all too much for you, then the low pass filter will take care of your tweeters, by allowing you to roll off the top end at -12dB per octave. The frequency range starts off with the flat 'bypass' position marked as infinity (∞), followed by 22kHz, 16kHz, 12kHz, 8.2kHz, and 5.6kHz. And if you find tonal treatments are doing strange things to your signal's output, then the gain input control offers a compensating trim of ±12dB.

If you're a thrill-seeker, then the back panel is likely to disappoint. Other than the IEC mains input and voltage switch (100-120/220-240VAC) the Red 2 is equipped with XLR connectors only. The pin configurations for these balanced lines are clearly marked for pin 2 hot. Americans are frequently dumb enough to wire their equipment to pin 3 hot, but as we make such great desks and outboard gear over here, they are at last catching on to the pin 2 'standard'.

Among the components that add to the Red 2's expense are the input and output transformers. These have inherent characteristics that make the job of DC isolation easier, and offer safety features. The op-amp alternative that is widely used these days requires additional compensating circuitry, to approach a transformer's performance.

In the box, besides the slim but safety-conscious manual/brochure, are two Allen keys. The larger one will enable you to open the Red 2, should you need to replace either of the two 250mA anti-surge fuses inside. The smaller key is for undoing the knobs on the front panel, should a pot need replacing in the future. You may never need them, but it's nice to know you've got them, just in case.

Character witness



One of the first things that any decent engineer will try when testing out an EQ is to see if there's any difference in sound/noise, when switching the unit in and out of bypass, with all the controls flat (inactive).

In this respect, the Red 2 performs like no other I've heard. Simply, you can't hear any difference. That's how things should be, but like so many things in life, it's not always the case. Why that is so important is because the circuitry within an equaliser should not colour the sound when the controls are flat. The only coloration you should hear is when you begin to make changes to the sound with the EQ.

Focusrite pride themselves on the specifications of their products, and the Red 2 boasts a noise floor that would make many a digital designer blush. In fact, the invisibility of the circuitry might well confuse those used to 'cheaper' (sonically inferior) equalisation units. The reason is that many equalisers introduce undesirable levels of distortion to the signal being treated.

Now many will say that's the character of the unit, and indeed that is a factor, but there are many rum characters as well as pleasant ones! The Red 2 falls into the latter category. Like the Neve EQs before it, it does not impose its 'character' on your music, but adds to it, creating very musical harmonic distortions that are pleasing to the ear. You could be boosting the hell out of something, but because the unit doesn't sound like it's going to bum out, you might think it's not working hard enough. The noticeable absence of grittiness can fool you.

Welcome to the world of professional EQ, and try to discard any previous expectations of an equaliser's performance. The Red 2 does exactly what you ask of it. It's just that it doesn't do the dirty on you at the same time, which is why you have to fork out two grand for an equaliser of this calibre!

Bass can be bloated, bruising only your speakers, while the flexible mid-range can toughen up guitars and pianos, or extract their essence before your very ears. As for the top end, cymbals can sizzle and spit, without cooking up a distasteful helping of noise.

In use



The Red 2 has an uncluttered, intuitive layout that makes for rapid results. While the true parametric upper and lower mid frequency sections offer little in the way of frequency calibration, the arrangement does mean that your ears are making the decisions for you, rather than numbers on a dial. Isn't that how it should be?

The only drawback with this kind of arrangement is when you want to recall an EQ setting. I'd be loathe to get the old chinagraph pencil out, on such an exquisite piece of designer hardware. However, Focusrite do provide a photocopy-able drawing of the front panel, to assist in the preservation process.

All the frequency knobs are smaller than the gain controls, and I found these little ones to be just a bit on the wiggly side. Also, the rotary switches didn't line up too well with their associated frequency legends. Their pointers always appeared ahead of the numbers and around the six o'clock position, making it difficult to tell which frequency band you'd selected. Of course, you can just click and count (a bit of a challenge), or once again, let your aural apparatus judge for you.

Furthermore, the high frequency shelving section would click a fair bit with high boosts, when switching through the bands. To avoid this, you'd have to wind the gain down a touch first, which highlights a drawback of rotary switching. Fortunately, these characteristics were not repeated at the bottom end.

Still on the subject of clicking, this particular Red 2 example did exhibit a most dubious trait. All six switches (three per channel) for EQ In and 'x3' activate relays, which you can hear slip into action from inside the box. Nothing unusual there. What surprised me was that when you switched them out, an enormous crack would be heard through the loudspeakers. This could be very dangerous at high monitoring levels.

Relays do produce a back EMF when turned off, and I was sure that Focusrite would have made compensations for this and that I must have a faulty unit. A phone call to Focusrite design engineer Rob Jenkins put my mind at rest, as I had indeed been given a Red 2 from a small rogue batch that had not been fitted with the diodes necessary to compensate for this electronic idiosyncrasy. It turned out to be an oversight by the folk who produce the boards for Focusrite. Anyone experiencing this kind of problem with a Red unit should get in touch with Focusrite, so that it can be remedied.

Summary



No doubt many of you would find the Red 2 more attractive if it had mic inputs too. The original Focusrite EQ modules had this feature, and are frequently used to record directly to tape, bypassing the desk entirely.

Now, the forthcoming Red 6 is designed to help improve on such methods. It's only a mono unit, but has input metering and a line output control. It's a shame it doesn't have a compressor to boot. The Red 2 itself will give you the results you're after, with the minimum of fuss. My only aural objection is that the 'Q' factor only goes up to 1. I would have liked a narrower bandwidth, so that I could perform laser surgery on sickly sounds. How about incorporating the Focusrite Blue 315's 'Q' factor of 2.4, Rob?

Well, two grand is a lot of money, but the chances are if you buy an equaliser with the Red 2's pedigree, it will outlive most of your other equipment. It has to be seen as something of an investment. After all, you might not be able to afford a great desk, so why not have a slice of one instead?

The essentials...

Price inc VAT: £2344
More from: Focusrite Audio Engineering Ltd, (Contact Details)


Spec check

Input gain -12dBu to +12dBu continuously variable
Input impedance 10kΩ +/- 15%, 20Hz to 20 kHz
Balance >60dB
Frequency response -3dB points at 5Hz and 85kHz, passively limited:
Within passband +0.1 dB
Noise Better than -98dB below +4dBu
Distortion 0.016% with input at -20dBu at 20Hz
0.02% with input at -10dBu at 20Hz
0.03% with input at 0dBu at 20Hz
0.0025% with input at 0dBu at 10kHz
Output +26dBm with output loaded 600Ω, balanced and floating.

Facilities (per channel)
Trim control Input Gain: ±12dB
Low pass filter Frequencies 5.6, 8.2, 12, 16, 22kHz and out;
-12dB per octave
HF section Frequencies 3.3, 4.7, 6.8, 10, 15, 18kHz; +15 dB of lift and cut with centre detent
HMF section Frequency ranges 600Hz-6kHz and 1,8kHz-18kHz;
±15 dB of lift and cut with centre detent; Q= 0.3 to 1.0
LMF section Frequency ranges 40Hz-400Hz and 120Hz-1,2kHz;
±15 dB of lift and cut with centre detent; Q= 0.3 to 1.0
LF section Frequencies 33, 56, 95, 160, 270, 460Hz;
±15 dB of lift and cut with centre detent
High pass filter Frequencies 36, 60, 105, 185, 330Hz and out;
-12dB per octave

General
Power requirements 100-120/220-240 VAC, 35VA
Dimensions 482 x 88 x 236mm (19 x 3.5 x 9.3")
Weight 9kg (20.2lbs)



Previous Article in this issue

Heads together

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Cook and chill


Publisher: The Mix - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
More details on copyright ownership...

 

The Mix - Jun 1995

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Mike Gorman

Control Room

Gear in this article:

Studio/Rack FX > Focusrite > Red 2


Gear Tags:

EQ

Review by Bob Dormon

Previous article in this issue:

> Heads together

Next article in this issue:

> Cook and chill


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