Cutec Graphic & Vesta Comp/Limiter
It's logical for professional studios and P.A. companies to own rack mounted signal processors costing several thousands of pounds each - but what if the total value of your home studio, small demo outfit or P.A. system wouldn't amount to the price of two up-market digital delays? Who caters for the average musician, working with small P.A.s or 4-track cassette machines up to (even) reel to reel recorders like the Fostex B-16?
One company who not only offer equipment suitable for this market but who actually specialise in it are MTR, whose products include the respected Cutec and Vesta Fire ranges from Japan.
We've chosen three of MTR's newest products to look at this month: the basic Cutec stereo 10-band graphic equaliser (at the seemingly giveaway price of just £98!), a Cutec stereo/mono switchable graphic, and the latest Vesta-Fire Dual Compressor/Limiter.
A recommended retail price of just £98 is outstandingly low for any rack mountable stereo graphic; after all you can spend more than that on mere effects pedals - so how good can this unit possibly be for such a price? The answer, we found, is very good indeed!
A one unit high standard 19" rack fitting unit, the Cutec GE2101 offers an impressive amount of control over your sound for the money. The unit is sturdily made and, with reasonable care, would seem to be capable of use on the road. The framework is of sheet metal and the facilities would suit it equally to use in studios or P.A. systems, or as part of keyboard or bass rack systems.
Connections on the back panel provide standard phonos for tape in and record out, ditto for line in and out, but with conventional 1/4" jack sockets also offering line ins and outs. Using these facilities, you could conveniently drive the Cutec with 'effects loop' ins and outs from mixing desks (both studio and P.A. types) or from suitably equipped instrument amps. Likewise, direct inputs from tape recorders are possible, but here you should use the front panel's 'tape/line' button to select the correct input level.
The Cutec's front panel is simplicity in the extreme. At the right hand end you have a mains on/off push button, tape/line switch and Equaliser in/out button - this latter enabling quick comparisons to be made between your 'equalised' and 'normal' sounds. The equaliser controls themselves comprise two sets of ten sturdy sliders, each giving you ± 12dB of cut or boost across selected frequencies of 30, 60, 120, 240, 500, 1k, 2k, 4k, 8k and 16k Hz. Between these is a single master volume slider.
Specifications claimed by the maker include a frequency response of from 5Hz to 100kHz ± 1.0dB (@ flat), 0.05% T.H.D. (Total Harmonic Distortion), 80dB signal/noise (@ 2.45 V input), an input impedance of 100 kOhms and output impedance at 600 Ohms.
A well made unit at an exceptionally low price, the Cutec GE2010 performed remarkably well on test for such an inexpensive machine. Used either to correct (hence 'equalise') sounds messed-up by other equipment, or to more creative ends (setting the tone of a sound exactly the way you want it), the Cutec worked virtually noiselessly and very efficiently. A particularly handy way of putting this unit to work would be in P.A. rigs, on foldback systems or with keyboards, to cut-back unwanted feedback generating frequencies. A quick 'tweak' of the offending band will often kill feedback instantly, and this is far better than cutting volume levels to achieve the same end (usually resulting in destroying your carefully achieved sound balance).
For home and smaller demo studios (even for Hi-Fi systems), for P.A. use or on stage, the Cutec is an ideal budget equaliser. You'd have to pay considerably more to improve on either the range or build quality of this unit. For users who wouldn't have unreasonable expectations, the Cutec GE2010 looks like offering outstanding value for money.
Considerably more costly (RRP £283), this unit does offer a lot more, both in terms of what it will do, and in the way it does it. The idea of it being a 'dual' graphic is simple to grasp. A push button on the front panel lets you use it either as a 15 band a side stereo graphic, or as a very precise (2/3 octave) mono graphic - in which case it offers a full 31 bands of individual frequency cut and boost. Connections on the back of this model comprise the usual phono twin inputs and outputs, or a set of jack socket equivalents, but there is also an XLR option which (oddly) only works when the Cutec is in its 31 band mono setting.
As befits the more advanced uses to which this model is likely to be put, the front panel has some useful extras. In addition to mains on/off and Eq in/out buttons, you also have the stereo/mono button, plus a twin-button low pass filter (cutting frequencies above 12.5kHz) and a low pass filter pair (cutting back sounds below 40Hz). When switched to its mono setting the TFE1531 has 31 sliders, nicely constructed and properly sealed, which control frequencies from 20Hz right to 20kHz. Set the unit to stereo and you then have 15 bands per channel, running from 25 Hz to 16 kHz.
Again, the makers claim impressive specs, for this model: a T.H.D. of better than 0.03%, Signal/Noise of better than 90dB and a 'flat' frequency response from 20Hz-20kHz.
A well made unit (both internally and externally), the Cutec TFE1531 is possibly more suited to the studio uses than P.A., although not because of any deficiencies in this latter role. In fact, if you could afford one, it would be excellent in a P.A. system for very precisely controlling your sound. No, the reason why this would suit studios particularly lies in the switchable mono/stereo facility. Where money is tight, the Cutec could serve to handle overall sound shaping when mastering or during playback (in its stereo role), and for really accurate control (as a mono unit) when trying to get a difficult sound down on tape. Being able to do both jobs makes it extremely handy and particularly cost-effective. It's quiet in operation and extremely versatile.
If we do have a criticism of either this or the cheaper Cutec equaliser, it's only that the handbooks which accompany them are rather poor. This is a failing of several MTR products we've seen (both Vesta Fire and Cutec), and it would be good if they could improve them as soon as possible. It's a pity to see such great value gear let down in this way - not that it detracts at all from the generally fine value or quality they offer.
Nonetheless, the Cutec TFE1531 is another excellent product, at a below average price, and we'd certainly recommend it for both better quality home studios and professional demo set-ups.
Again, a 19" rack mountable processor (one unit high), the RRP £283 Vesta Fire SL200 is also sturdily constructed, both inside and out.
The back panel shows the sort of professional uses for which this model is intended, in that it features no phono connectors. Instead, there are optional input and output sockets of both XLR and jack types - the XLR inputs being, commendably, of the locking type. In addition to these input and output connections there are also two pairs of jack sockets for Channel 1 and Channel 2 'detector loops' - more of which anon.
A silk-screened front panel provides the user with the control stages. Working from left to right you have a 2-way 'mode' switch (the key to the dual nature of the Vesta Fire), which enables you to either use the two channels independently or, switched together, as a stereo system. The rest of the controls are duplicated across the two channels, and comprise 'Attack', 'Release', 'Threshold', 'Ratio' and 'Output'. Both channels also feature flick switch 'effect on/off' selection and have LED chains showing the gain reduction (in dBs) from 24-4.
Having selected either mode, the Attack control allows you to choose the speed with which the onset of compression commences once the point at which the Threshold control was set is passed. 'Release' governs how fast the compression effect 'holds' once it's commenced - hence its name.
'Threshold' is the key to the whole effect, as it allows you to set the point at which peak signals are compressed; while 'Ratio' is the control which allows you to select the amount of compression applied.
'Output' does very much what its name suggests - i.e., it governs the level at which the outgoing signal moves on to the next unit in your processing chain. No signal, however loud, will pass beyond this setting.
Unfortunately, we couldn't get a brochure for this model as it had been very recently launched, and so no specs, were available. Taking the figures from the front panel controls, however, it would appear that the following apply; Attack (0.01-10ms), Release (0.07-1.5), Threshold (-40 to -20dB or -20 to 0 dB), Ratio (1:1 to :1).
In any studio a compressor/limiter is probably the single most useful device, once you've acquired a good reverb unit. Voices, percussion instruments etc., all are capable of delivering sudden peak signals which (however you set the level on your mixer) can rise so fast and at such levels that they will overload either (or both) the mixer and tape, leading to overload distortion or tape 'saturation'. Keeping the overall level down is one thing but this usually results in excessive hiss. What you want is to get as much level down on tape as you can without sudden signal peaks interfering. For this purpose, a compressor/limiter is the tool for the job.
As compressor/limiters go, this unit (in common with most Vesta Fire models) offers a lot of facilities for your money. Not only facilities, though - it also performs very well. The operation of the SL200 reveals an excellent signal to noise ratio as it's very quiet in its operation. It also delivers a very nice wide ratio of possible compression. Low frequency distortion on even short delay release times was well suppressed, and the 'detector loop' works well too, allowing you to link the unit to other outboard FX (like a graphic equaliser), so that emphasis can be given to hold back high or low frequencies - useful in eliminating unwanted mike effects, for example. Performance overall was smooth, with well limited 'breathing' or 'pumping' effects (a common problem with some compressor/limiters). Switchable from stereo to twin mono use, the Vesta Fire is a very versatile and capable unit at a very fair price. It's well made, highly effective, and very suitable for both high quality P.A. or studio use.
Undoubtedly good though this Vesta Fire unit is, the market for compressor/limiters is getting tighter these days, and this model does have some competitors. Nevertheless, it performs very well, is substantially built and has the extra attraction of being very versatile - the mono/stereo facility and the detector loop functions being particularly useful. It becomes even better value for money if you can make use of these extra abilities.
Cutec GE2010 10-band Stereo Graphic Equaliser (RRP £98)
Cutec TFE1531 'Dual Function' Graphic Equaliser (RRP £283)
Vesta Fire SL200 Dual Compressor/Limiter (RRP £283)
More details on Cutec & Vesta Fire products from MTR Ltd., (Contact Details).
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