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Thread: Great River EQ-2NV and DW Fearn VT-4 equalizers

  1. #1
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    Great River EQ-2NV and DW Fearn VT-4 equalizers



    A Tale of Two Equalizers

    Two completely different EQs compete for top honors

    by Lynn Fuston

    [Body]

    I spent several months with the Great River EQ-2NV solid state EQ. There are many things about it that I absolutely love. Then Doug Fearn sent me a pair of his VT-4 vacuum tube equalizers to try. I discovered lots to love about them too. But these two units are incredibly different. Except for one thing--they both sound great. Let me introduce them to you and then compare them.

    Great River EQ-2NV

    The Great River EQ-2NV is the 2 channel sibling of the enormously popular MP-2NV preamp. The kindred design goes beyond just design philosophy. Dan Kennedy (Great River designer) designed them to work hand in hand, with a TRS insert point on the EQ that allows using the input side of the MP (using the MPI setting) into the EQ and then the output section of either the EQ (with no transformer) or back through the output section of the MP for output gain and the output transformer. The two different outputs allow a broader range of sonic options. The EQ-2 draws its inspiration from the Neve™ 1083/1084 circuits (hence the NV suffix), just like the MP-2NV was inspired by the Neve™ 1073. The frequency selections are very nicely spaced and borrow numerical values from resistor values. (If you don't know what that means, don't admit it. Look it up.) Each channel features a six position hi-pass filter (ranging from 17 to 270 Hz) and four bands with a host of frequency selections (HIGH and LOW have 7, LO-MID and HI-MID have 10) which cover overlapping frequencies. Each band offers 15 dB of boost or cut, with shelving or peaking available on the HIGH and LOW and three different Q's on the LO-MID and HI-MID. In addition to a master bypass for each channel, there are also OFF positions on each of the frequency select knobs, allowing each band to be bypassed individually. This is a nice feature, but it is difficult to quickly bypass an individual band because you have to sweep across the other frequency selections. The INPUT control offers a 28 dB range of input settings, allowing for levels from -20 to +8. While I originally didn't understand this feature, it comes in quite handy when dealing with very low or high level material. With a list price of $3250, this EQ is a great "if I can only buy one" equalizer at a very reasonable price.


    D. W. Fearn VT-4

    When you first see the VT-4, you might think it is based on the Pultec EQP-1A, as I did. With its imposing physical size, big knobs and tubes, it is a common assumption. And in truth the sound is reminiscent of the desireable Pultec sound. But Doug Fearn told me it's a "clean sheet of paper" design. It offers his personal vision of what an equalizer should do. The active circuitry is nothing like a Pultec, using Russian 6N1P tubes. It also uses four tubes instead of the Pultec's two.

    You likely know the Pultec name even if you've never heard one in person (and no, plugin versions don't count), and you will be forgiven for not understanding what all the fuss is about if you haven't used one. For those who have, they understand why the vintage units command such enormous prices. The magic of a Pultec is a combination of the transformers, the tubes, the enormously broad frequency bands and the inductor/capacitor (LC) frequency shaping circuits. I've never heard the Pultec magic from any tube EQ ever, even very expensive clones. Until now. The VT-4 is no clone, but it does manage to capture the magic of a Pultec. I know because I've owned a pair of EQP-1A3s for 12 years now.

    Is it the VT-4's point to point wiring? Is it the Fearn-spec'd custom-built Jensen inductors that it uses? Or the custom-made Jensen output transformer? Is it the big knobs? Is it the tubes? I'd have to say that it is a combination of all the above (maybe not the big knobs). All I know is that Doug Fearn got it right. The frequency selections offer more options than a Pultec. Unlike the original EQP-1A, which only offers low boost and low cut at the same frequency, and high boost and high cut at different frequencies, the VT-4 has an extra mid band cut thrown in, which is very cool and opens up lots of sonic options. With limited frequency options (4 on the low cut, 5 on low boost, 6 on mid cut, 8 on high boost with variable Q and 4 on high cut) and in 2 dB steps at that, you might think that the control limitations would prevent you from getting the sound you want. That was not my experience. The sweet sound of this equalizer will let you dial in more EQ than you ever imagined possible. And if you close your eyes and just turn the knobs, you may find yourself adding 14 dB at 8k, a boost that would be intolerable from most EQs. But with the VT-4, you may find yourself smiling bigger and bigger the more you turn the knob. When you're done, you'll be shocked at what your eyes tell you (the settings) and delighted by what your ears tell you. You can add enormous amounts of EQ and it all sounds good. Just decide how much "good" you want. The bottom end gets big without getting muddy. The top end gets sparkly without getting harsh. What more could you want?

    Well, you might want all this at a lower price point. If you're looking for a cheaper alternative to a vintage Pultec, look somewhere else. At $4400 list for the single channel VT-4, you'll spend about the same as a vintage EQP-1A would cost. But with the vintage (old) unit there will be repair issues and parts failure or replacement that you won't encounter with the Fearn, plus the Fearn has more control than a Pultec. So, if you want the Pultec magic, but can't find one or two (I hunted for 8 years before I found my consecutive serial numbered pair), you can buy the Fearn and not have to worry about what you're missing. I dropped the VT-4 off at an extremely well equipped studio complex here in Nashville. They already have about 20 Pultecs in their three rooms. What did they think of the VT-4? They liked it enough to buy four of them. What does that tell you?

    You can never have enough great equalizers.

    How Do They Compare?

    So how do these units compare and contrast with each other. First, the similarities. Both are built like tanks, with solid chassis and high quality parts. Both sound wonderful, offering delightful results on everything I passed through them. Both use LC circuits for tone shaping. That's about it for their likenesses.

    In contrast, the first thing you might notice is that two channels of the VT-4 will eat up six rack spaces, while the EQ-2 will only take one. The VT-4 is bright red with yellow ochre lettering, while the EQ-2 features white lettering on a black panel. Though the Fearn makes a more impressive showing in a rack, the markings are difficult to read under low light. The EQ-2 is far more legible in dim studio light. The VT-4 has only one light on the front, an incandescent power indicator, but the EQ-2 has 22 LEDs and no power indicator. The Fearn has huge bakelite knobs, which make gratifying chunk sounds when you turn them. The EQ-2 has small knobs (one of my few complaints) that allow it to fit all its features into a single rack space. The Fearn features more limited control settings, but has a wonderful sweet sound that will allow extreme settings without complaint. The EQ-2 has amazing amounts of control and will let you tame problems that the Fearn simply cannot fix, but it can get hard when pushed to extremes (like +15 at 15K!). The Fearn features old-school build technique where the EQ-2 offers a blend of new technology with old, featuring digital-controlled analog circuitry. The Fearn lists at $4400 per channel, or $8800 for the stereo pair. The EQ-2 by comparison seems a steal at $3250 list price for the stereo unit.

    And the winner is...?

    If you're in the market for a great EQ, which should you choose?

    Both. They both offer amazing sounds and each does something the other will not. They make a great combination, allowing surgical precision from the EQ-2 and broad stroke sweetness from the VT-4. I would recommend these units to anyone. While the Great River is staying with me, I'm going to have to save up a while for the Fearns. But they'll be a great complement to my Pultecs, or a great Pultec for someone who doesn't have any yet. And they will likely be worth more in the future because, like the Pultecs, I don't think we can ever have enough great EQs.


    Sidebar 1

    Great River +:

    Incredible price/performance ratio
    Lots of control, great freq. selections
    Sounds great
    Takes up little rack space

    Great River -:

    Knobs are small and too close together
    Inductors can be sensitive to EMF interference

    D.W. Fearn VT-4+:

    Sounds great
    Looks as impressive as it sounds
    High quality construction
    Sounds like 40 year old Pultec, works like new

    Fearn VT-4-:

    Expensive, but worth it
    Rear panel power switch
    Very large

    Sidebar 2

    D. W. Fearn VT-4 Vacuum Tube LC Equalizer

    Low Cut: 0 to -18 dB (2 dB increments) at 30, 40, 100, 400 Hz
    Low Boost: 0 to +16 (2 dB increments) at 20, 40, 60, 100, 140 Hz
    Mid Cut: 0 to -16 (2 dB increments) at 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700 Hz
    High Boost: 0 to +14 (2 dB increments) at 1.5k, 3k, 4k, 5k, 8k, 10k, 12k, 16kHz, bandwidth options .6, .8, 1, 1.4, 1.7
    High Cut: 0 to -14 (2 dB increments) at 1.7k, 4.0k, 10k, 28k
    Gain switch: 3 dB steps from -9 to +9


    Great River EQ-2NV

    HiPass: Off, 17, 27, 47, 82, 150, 270
    Low: +-15 dB at Off, 22, 33, 56, 100, 180, 330, 470
    Lo-Mid: +-15 dB at Off, 220, 270, 330, 390, 470, 560, 680, 820, 1K, 1K2
    Hi-Mid: +-15 dB at Off, 1K5, 1K8, 2K2, 2K7, 3K3, 3K9, 4K7, 5K6, 6K8, 8K2
    High: +-15 dB at Off, 2K2, 3K3, 4K7, 6K8, 10K, 15K, 18K
    Gain switch: MPI, L+8, L+4, L-2, L-10, L-20
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    Lynn Fuston
    3D Audio

    Making beautiful music SEEM easy since 1979.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Anthem, AZ
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    What ELSE can I sell around here to get a few more thousand for some EQs...?

    eBay, here I come!!!

    Mmmmmm..... now it's off to bed to dream sweet dreams of sparkly EQs that don't get muddy when cranked... :p

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2001
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    Have you got a car?
    Lynn Fuston
    3D Audio

    Making beautiful music SEEM easy since 1979.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Anthem, AZ
    Posts
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    Actually, I'm trying to ditch my '98 Dodge Dakota extended cab. My wife and I had a baby girl on Halloween (sp?) last year, and the ext cab isn't quite big enough for the car seat.

    Renting a full-size car or SUV every weekend for 7 months can get kind of expensive It's just starting to get into the low 100's here in Phoenix... it's supposed to be 108 today, so... walking around the neighborhood is quickly diminishing as an option of transportation

    Thank GOD the house closes next week - Anthem is about 15 degrees cooler on average than Mesa, where I currently live.

    Hmmmm... Home equity loan?

    Naaahhhhh... I'd rather not have payments on my stoojo gear. I'll save my pennies.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2001
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    Originally posted by Pillar Audio:
    <STRONG>Naaahhhhh... I'd rather not have payments on my stoojo gear. I'll save my pennies.</STRONG>
    Smart move. Invest in your baby first.
    Lynn Fuston
    3D Audio

    Making beautiful music SEEM easy since 1979.

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