And A Review of the Maag Audio EQ4® with AIR BAND®
Pan60: Cliff, tell us a bit about yourself on a more personal level. What are your hobbies? (other than working: )~\Cliff: I finally got a minute to GITRDUN!pan60: LOL – Now, that’s what I would say: )~Cliff: I love recording and designing recording equipment. It is still my favorite hobby even though I make my living doing it. I have been recording and designing recording equipment for over 36 years. When I am not doing that, I love to go fishing with my wife. We go at night and often sleep on the boat. We will catch enough rainbow trout in the summer to last through the winter.My wife and I have been married for 41 years. We grew up together. We have 5 children and 14 grandchildren. We also like to go camping and fishing with our family. We have been doing that for many years. This has created great memories for them and for us. They are all setting up plans for this summer. We all just love to do that together. Our family is a big priority to us. We simply love to be together and have fun.pan60: We had a very nice chat last week and you have been around the industry in more ways than one. Tell us a bit about your background and how you first got into the audio recording industry.Cliff: I have been in the recording industry and recording equipment design for many years. I got started in the early seventies. It was 1970 when I stepped into a recording studio and realized what multi-track recording was. My life was never the same after that.I couldn’t quit thinking about it and how it worked. I had been writing songs prior to the studio experience and wanted to record them. I was a carpenter and had built two homes. I finally decided to build another to finance putting in a recording studio into my home. This was to fulfill the desire to record my songs. I did just that and put a recording studio into my house. I worked out things with the city to be able to make it a home occupation and they granted me a license.I worked at Geneva Steel as a pattern-maker and did the studio recording after work. It was a hobby at first, but very quickly turned into a part time business. I started out with a Teac 80-8, a Tascam 16 channel board and a Techniques Isolated loop - two track. It wasn’t long before I had clients and I decided to get a used 24 channel console, a new Stephens 24 track tape recorder and a new ATR 100 ½ inch 2-track.The console was built by a friend and was custom. I also had Steven Paul modify me an AKG C12 Mic. I still use it to this day. I bought a Boulder Mic Pre and a LA2A limiter. After experiencing the Boulder, LA2A and the C12 sounds, I needed to have more Mic Pres like that in my console. That is when I began designing Mic Pres and EQs.pan60: what made you get into making gear?Cliff: I couldn’t afford a Neve or API console, so we decided to build our own. I worked with the designer of the console and we decided to create new Mic Pres and EQs for the old console. It took many hours to accomplish this task, but when all was said and done, we had a console with new Mic Pres, new EQs and 6 patents. This is how the NTI EQ3 and the Nightpro EQ3D and PreQ3 were born.I just wanted to get the amazing sounds others were getting, but simply couldn’t afford to buy a Neve or API console. Now, I am glad I couldn’t, because I have learned how to do things that I never would have learned. I also learned how to design and manufacture equipment for others to use. Through this journey, I have met many gifted artist, engineers and producers. pan60: Tell us about the older company.NTI was the original name of the first company. We had investors and many partners to launch the EQ3. After we launched the EQ3 we found out that another company had the NTI name so the decision was made to change the NTI name to Nightpro. Under Nightpro, we designed the PreQ3 and put 4 Mic Pres into a one rack space.The next and final product for Nightpro was the EQ3D. We had some success with all of these units and were nominate for tech awards at AES. We also received Honorable mention there. Unfortunately, Nightpro could not sustain itself and the company had to close its doors.The equipment that was built during NTI/Nightpro era is still being used today by many Grammy Award winning engineers and has held up well. Many engineers would be surprised to know how many major artists vocals, mixes and masters were (and still are) cut through the PreQ3s and the EQ3s over the past 17 years. On the HYPERLINK http://www.maagaudio.com Maag Audio web site you will find this statement about our new company.Maag Audio was founded by Cliff Maag, who has been a recording engineer for over 35 years with a strong passion for high quality sound. Cliff is an inventor of the acclaimed NTI EQ3 and the Nightpro PreQ3 & EQ3D. He was also the President of Research and Development during the early years of NTI and Nightpro. The AIR BAND® is still known to this day as an unsurpassed element of the original NTI and Nightpro gear. Now available in the new EQ4® and PREQ4® 500 Series gear from Maag Audio. Cliff enjoys spending time in his production recording studio, HYPERLINK http://www.therecordlab.com The Record Lab. Whether Cliff is recording an established high-end client or a local band getting its feet off of the ground, each is treated the same... with respect for the craft.Five years ago, Cliff’s son Ryan approached him about starting Maag Audio due to numerous requests for the original NTI and Nightpro gear. They then approached Cliff ‘s other son Cliff Jr. and Travis Allen to join the Maag Audio team. Cliff Jr. was the Production Manager at NTI and Nightpro and his team built over 90% of all NTI EQ3s, Nightpro EQ3Ds, and PreQ3s located throughout the world. Ryan was a big part of that team. Travis Allen joined the Maag Audio family to help perpetuate the legacy of the NTI products. His contributions include the transformation of the original designs to fit the 500 Series product. The design remains true to the original while elevating the component quality resulting in new audio depth and clarity.Maag Audio was officially founded in 2009 and the Maag Audio team has worked hard to make the technology sound and function even better than the original gear. The need and desire for the best possible sound is what has driven Cliff and the Maag Audio team over the last 35 years and is the catalyst behind Maag Audio. The Maag Audio team is committed to excellence. Our goal is to provide all audio engineers cutting edge technology that they need to compete in their industry. Our Motto is: Audio gear isn’t the most important thing in life, but to us it’s pretty close to AIR on the “got to have it” list. GET SOME AIR BAND®!pan60: So, why the AIR BAND EQ on the pre, why not just an EQ? Was there a particular pre you based the PREQ4 on, I mean, did you have a pre you liked and felt you wanted to improve or build on? Or was it a ground up – ‘I can make a better’ -- product approach?Cliff: Back in the 1980s, I had a custom console that was built by a friend. It had 24 channels with Jensen transformer-based Mic Preamps and fixed band EQs on each channel. It served me well for many years, yet I still saved the money to buy a used Neve console and was heading down that route… My friend had built two other consoles after mine. Unfortunately he had fallen on to some hard times. He suggested that we update my old console with new Mic Pres, EQs and Summing.I decided to do that rather than purchase the used Neve console. It would help his situation and I knew that we would come up with something good and it would be an adventure. An adventure it became. I purchased a Boulder Twin Servo Mic Pre and a C12 with a Stephen Paul modification. This was a great preamp to learn from. We also had an incredible mic to do the testing.We started by adding 4 more Mic Pres to the Boulder, which had the space. In the process of designing the new Mic Pre, we had to test many components. This led to many questions such as which components were the best. There was so much listening and comparing the various components in the circuits that I eventually came up with a new way to test the components. This led to a breakthrough in selecting the best components.We didn’t sleep for weeks! We were able to do away with the myths that were based on hearing test alone. We could prove to ourselves now, which components were the best, at that time. No more being fooled by just listening, alone. This is when we really started to make big improvements to the Mic Pre. It was exciting. I wanted to try a high frequency boost on the Mic Pre to help improve the airy sound on dynamic microphones. I called it the AIR BAND®. This is where the name came from and is now a registered trademark of Maag Audio. I wanted to bring out the airy sound in all my microphones and I had a C12 to compare our progress in that regard.In the design process of the AIR BAND Mic Pre, we quickly realized that we could implement the AIR BAND EQ on top of our old 5 band EQ and take it beyond what we had. From this development came the NTI EQ3 with AIR BAND and the Nightpro EQ3D and PreQ3 with AIR BAND. The Mic Pre was the key to it all.pan60: For those that may not know, you also have a sweet EQ, care to chat about the EQ a bit as well?Cliff: The EQ4® is a 500 Series fixed 5 band EQ with the variable AIR BAND on top. Because of our design, there is very little phase shift. It keeps the integrity of the sound input and allows the user to enhance the Airy frequencies, while tonally shaping the sound from the top to the bottom. The lack of phase shift and the AIR BAND makes the EQ4 great on a final mix.One note: The band passes interact with each other. When turning the AIR BAND gain up, the overall gain will come up a bit as well; because of the interaction of the band passes. This is normal and a necessary byproduct of the design to maintain the integrity of the circuit.It is important to understand this concept in order to use the EQ4 correctly. To compensate for the added overall gain, simply turn each band pass knob down equal amounts.An example would be: Turn two clicks down on all five knobs. The EQ will remain the same shape, but the overall gain will be lowered. This compensates for the interaction of the band passes. This is the correct way to get the desired results from our EQ4.Here is another tip: If lifting a desired frequency you may consider bringing down the band pass above and or below. Always remember that the band passes interact with each other.The EQ4® is also available as a Plugin from our partner HYPERLINK http://www.plugin-alliance.com Plugin Alliance (the Brainworx team). pan60: Why ICs?Cliff: We use ICs in our designs. When testing years ago, we learned that the right ICs amplified a sound closer to the sound at the source (from a resemblance standpoint). When implemented, the ICs are just as quiet as or quieter than other options.The bottom line for me is that I have a desire for accurate clear recordings. This desire has lead to the new MAAG AUDIO PREQ4 and EQ4 with the AIR BAND. I use them every day in my recording studio and have done so for over 30 years.pan60: The PREQ4 is a very nice feeling pre (and it looks sweet as well! I like the light blue color ), from the top down, the PREQ4 starts with that AIR BAND we have been discussing. Vari Air, a robust and solid feeling switch, covering 2.5, 5, 10, 20, and 40 kHz, nice!Next, the Air Gain, nice detent potentiometer allows just the right amount of gain to be dialed in from 25-45 db (note: see the gain button).The pre gain follows with a LED peak indicator lighting at 23 dbu, just below a single LED indicator lighting up at -23 dbu.Next, there are a double row of buttons. First gain, this allows for an additional 20 db of gain if needed. The adjacent button engages or disengages the AIR BAND function.A 20db pad (pre transformer) follows. The adjacent button is High Pass Filter with the Knee starting at 160 Hz -3db at 70 Hz.Last, we see the 48v phantom power and the phase reverse buttons.Everything feels really nice on this pre. There has been a great amount of attention given to the detail, and quality build is evident from the start!Cliff Maag Sr. is a known engineer with some excellent credits to his name. He has be great to work with, and very passionate about his work, both as an engineer and as a manufacturer.I like the man and the company! And the pre?I have had an attraction to a number IC based pres in the past, particularly with the use of dynamic microphones, and the PREQ4 pre is no exception.Not only is it fit into the oh… so… fine 500 format frame that I love so much, but, this pre is taking its ranks among the list of my favored preamps.I would loved to have seen the +20db gain button be a potentiometer rather than a button, but I am just being a tad nit picken’, the button serves the purpose and functions fine. Besides, I bet that Cliff had his reasons why the button was the chosen tool.The following is straight forward and very, very easy to follow.The PREQ4 performs very well, in conjunction with a number of mics ranging from my favorite dynamics, to my most loved condensers. It is also great on sources from acoustic guitar, mic amps, vocals, and on to snare. I like this pre!Anyone looking to expand or if you are just getting into the 500 format, the PREQ4 should most certainly be on your list of gear to check out!