Test Drive: "Tailor" Dynamic Equalizer from Hit Design

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by Jerry Vigil

The digital revolution continues to churn out audio processors of one kind or another as fast as a night club changes copy. Every time we turn around, it seems there's yet another interesting piece of equipment out there to review. Amidst all these digital toys, we came across an equalizer that stood out from the rest of the new arrivals. To begin with, it is an analog equalizer, and it looks like an analog machine. That, in itself, makes this equalizer stand out a bit; but it is the row of LIMIT knobs on the front panel that is the real eye-catcher.

It's from Hit Design, and it's called the Tailor. It's a ten band stereo equalizer with separate limit controls for each band. At first glance it appears this configuration would be just another multi-band processor like you'd find on your transmitter's audio processing chain, but the manufacturer makes it very clear throughout the manual that this is NOT a multi-band processor. They state that this is an equalizer with the ability to automatically control the gain of each individual band. While that still sounds like multi-band processing to this reviewer, there are differences between the Tailor and conventional multi-band processors designed for the transmitter audio chain.

Most conventional multi-band processors don't have ten separate bands to work with. The number is usually much less. In this respect, the Tailor is more of an equalizer. Also, many of the processors in use on transmitter chains use compressors on the individual frequency bands. There's a big difference between compression and limiting, but we'll save the lesson on compressors and limiters for another time. For now, let's just say that compressors "squash" audio energy into a smaller space while limiters actually reduce the audio energy beyond a set threshold. To the ear, limiting will sound somewhat like compression but without the "squashed" sound or processing "artifacts" that accompany compression. With this in mind, the Tailor can achieve the effects of multi-band compression without actually compressing. The result is a cleaner approach to achieving the much desired "apparent loudness" of a signal while still maintaining a good dynamic range.

There are other aspects of the Tailor that should interest your station's engineers should the unit be considered for the transmitter chain. The Tailor is a series equalizer as opposed to a parallel equalizer. This eliminates many phase error problems that occur with parallel equalization. Regarding the control signal, we'll quote the manual: "The Tailor sums the outputs together and passes this summed signal through each bandbass filter for each octave center. Each band has its own individual detector and time constants. These constants have been factory selected and optimized for each band. This resultant signal is then routed through the equalizer gain control section. The control signal is connected to both left and right channels. Therefore, both channels track identically, both in gain and control."

In response to why the Tailor doesn't have separate control signals for left and right channels, we quote once more: "...using one control voltage keeps the information change in the control voltage identical from left to right. If separate control voltages were used, several things would occur. First, unless the time constants were EXACTLY the same, one channel would have a different time constant than the other. This would create "aliasing" from left to right. The attack/release time in one channel would be slightly different from the other channel. The effect would be anything from annoying to downright disastrous."

Each of the ten bands in the Tailor has independent attack and release times that were carefully selected and preset at the factory. This eliminates additional controls on the front panel, and of course, reduces the cost of manufacturing the unit. As far as our ears could tell, the attack and release time settings were fine. Most attractive was the fact that fewer controls on the unit simply made it easier to use.

But why, you ask, all this engineering-type nonsense about the Tailor? The Tailor is unique in many ways, and once we hooked the unit up and started playing music through it, the advantages of using the Tailor in the transmitter chain became very obvious. It would be an injustice to the Tailor to not expose its value in this application. Let your engineers read this review if they don't usually read them. With all the efforts stations make to out-process one another, the Tailor should be a consideration in the search for processing tools.

"Fine," you say. "Now what about the Tailor in production?" Ahh, we're glad you asked. We saved the best for last. How many times have you received agency tapes with spots that needed further equalization? You get spots that don't have enough highs in them, spots with no low end, spots with too much low end, spots boosted so high in the upper mid-range frequencies that they jump right out at you when they're on the air. This boost in the upper mids is intentional so the spots will indeed jump out at you, but it doesn't make for very consistent sounding stopsets. The Tailor can fix this inconsistency.

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