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Equalisation

A visit to any university's electrical or electronic


department's library will reveal vast quantities of books
about filters, often from floor to ceiling. Given the huge
amount of work expended in this area, and by necessity,
another mere scratch of the surface is offered here.
Purists require that equalisation, in any form, must
never be used, claiming consequential and objectionable
detriment to the 'purity' of any given signal. In the real
world the opposite proves to be the case.
Notwithstanding the variability that naturally occurs in
human perception, most forms of transmission and
recording use pre- and de-emphasis techniques to
improve, say, signal to noise ratios and frequency
responses without which there would be very little point
in proceeding further with the relevant technology.
Similarly, defficiencies in the equipment used may
require modification to increase listening comfort. Some
commercial RIAA deviations can amount to 6dB from
50Hz to 18kHz. One of the original functions for the
inclusion of tone controls in an integrated amplifier was
to accommodate differing recording curves like the old
Columbia, AES and London types or those used for
differing tape recording/playback standards/speeds.
Taking the highest quality signal source available to
many domestic users as an example, some tuners, like
the Technics ST-9600, had, apart from special 'hi-blend'
noise cancelling and 'pink-noise' circuitry, a record
function whereby a tape recording could be made before
the de-emphasis (post-MPX), playback then passing
through the de-emphasis thus reducing FM and tape
noise (4 channel MPX outputs - horizontal and vertical were also available). Many FM MPX decoders use output
filters that allow mixing of frequencies above 2kHz to
subjectively reduce noise without adversely affecting the
stereo image. Examples include

and

Perhaps the most extreme case in domestic terms is


that used by vinyl records (RIAA). Here, bass
frequencies will be boosted by some ten times, and high
frequencies reduced to a tenth, relative to a reference
at 1kHz. Some systems, like the RCA Dynagroove,
attempted to remove cutting lathe non-linearities.
Similar slopes are used for tape replay. Another striking
example are the crossovers inside a loudspeaker,
notwithstanding the modifications of a frequency
response made to cope with the anomalies that arise
when using speakers in any room. Other frequency
dependent conditioners are commonplace, including
noise reduction systems like Dolby, dbx, DNR, etc, and
digital systems (anti-aliasing, etc).

Although it might upset haughty audiophiles, it is a fact


that in virtually all situations, the first tool a
professional will reach for, after setting initial volumes,
will be the equalisation. A mere glance at any mixing
desk will confirm this.

It is arguable that, for example, with equalisation signal


to noise ratios can deteriorate especially with dirty or
worn switches or controls. Some will insist that the
'sonic qualities' of capacitors are objectionable.
However, most normal humans indicate agreeableness
with the ability to vary a system's frequency response,
or the slope of same. Contrary views appear to uphold
the belief in perfect systems, speakers, listening rooms
and ears that all somehow miraculously combine
simultaneously, often by sheer will-power, self-belief,
unknown laws of physics or because of the amount of
money that has been spent. Dispassionate hardware
always contradicts these.
At the same time, signal content that is outside the
audio band can cause distortion in the later stages of
the system's amplification or even contribute to the
destruction of speakers. These can arise from infrasonic
tone arm defficiencies or moving-coil cartridges that,
because of their low inductance, can easily provide an
ultrasonic frequency response. Tuners, tape decks and
digital sources can all exhibit unwanted high frequency
byproducts or a dangerous DC bias. Improvements will
then occur if these are then omitted. One audio
bandwidth filter is shown below, but other forms and
types abound.

Tolerances of 5% can give satisfactory results, but to


reduce channel mismatches 1% components are
recommended. Best driven by a low impedance source,
say 100R, these can precede the power amplifier or
tone controls.

Although graphic equalisers are often seen (best placed


before an active crossover, or power amplifier),
preference was given to parametric controls which, in
live performance particularly, proved more useful.
Whichever approach is used, a light touch is
recommended lest system limitations or architectural
resonances predominate. Reducing a system's overall
output, even by a relatively small amount, will allow
greater flexibility, whilst increasing enjoyment. When
recording, even experienced engineers will forget that
cutting the low frequencies will have a similar subjective
effect to boosting the higher ones. Cutting will give
more headroom and less likelihood of clipping. So
instead of raising the treble, say, cut the bass and boost
the overall gain and see if this sounds better than
simply raising the treble. Input peak detectors integral
with a system's equalisation can be useful for avoiding
distortion.
Even in the most rudimentary audio gear some form of
'tone' control can be found. Here, a simple RC network
is placed across the volume control.

In this case, an acceptable level of 'treble' would be set,


giving detail, the bass performance being determined by
the speaker's enclosure. It should be noted that the use
of high-value (500k+) potentiometers can introduce
problems because of the stray capacitances between the
wiper and the track's ends. At low volume levels, a few
picofarads across the upper arm can boost the treble
response by several dB at 12kHz or so, or introduce a
'spikiness' to square waves. These factors might have
been considered in this National Semiconductor
application.

More sophisticated Baxandall tone control configurations


are universal. With variants as diverse as language
(Ramon Vargas Patron offers an examination of the
James-Baxandall Passive Tone-Control Networks here),
a typical arrangement is shown below

Insertion losses will be near that of the gain available


referred to 1kHz and log pots are used which may not
match as closely as linear types.
Another version intended for the NE5532/4 opamps
which 'recovers' the losses and uses linear pots. To cope
with high Qs and frequencies, a good gain bandwidth
product (20 x Q^2 x Fc) and low-noise is
recommended. Regulated and well-smoothed supplies
are a prerequisite, include decoupling for each IC.

Experience has shown that often the depth of cut and


lift exceeds requirements . A more subtle control can
have less of a spread, say 6dB, compared to the
normal commercial range of 12dB. This can be
switched. Other configurations can be used, eg;

and

or

Tone controls in analogue synthesizers of 70's vintage


could use a range of 36dB.
Sometimes manufacturers can integrate tone controls
and filters into the feedback path of a power amplifier,
eg; Technics SA-100/600 tuner amps, Luxman, et al.
This is not recommended since unlooked-for
complications and instabilities can arise apart from,
usually, a drop in performance. This can be partly due to
the circuit having to be 'spread out' around the PCB.
Personal preference requires a 'clear' feedback path and
separate circuits (as in the SA-700), a failure then in
one section will not take another with it, making faultfinding easier, unless of course, a compact objective is
required, eg;

Slope or tilt controls can also be seen as has step


frequency adjustment. John Linsley Hood proposed a
'Clapham Junction' or spot-frequency step-type lift and
cut-type tone control in his Modular Preamplifier
(Wireless World, Nov, '82) which is worth a look.
However, this is reliant on a large number of mechanical
switch contacts whose noise performance could
deteriorate with use. Some amplifiers rely on large
numbers of switches to give flexibility.
The simple Bingham 'tilt' control boosted bass whilst
reducing treble and vice versa with one control.

The original version mixed inverted high and low-pass


filters, the cross-point being set by a single capacitor.
The variation of the 'Tone-balance Control' (R. Ambler,
Wireless World, Mar' '70) used in the Quad 34 gave
3dB tilt in 1dB steps and bass contour of +9dB to -3dB
in 3dB steps .

The author suggested that it augment Baxandall


controls with high and low-pass variable filters.

Tone controls were often accompanied by so-called


scratch and rumble filters intended to diminish
inadequacies found in records and record decks with
varying degrees of success since, obviously, mechanical
noise will vary from record to record and deck to deck.
Fixed filter's parameters chosen by manufacturers then
could not necessarily meet all needs, so switched or
variable types became preferred amongst enthusiasts.
An interesting commercial example could be the Leak
Stereo 30.

For these filters TL07x series opamps were specified.


As with the JLH design mentioned above, another
design could suffer from switch noise over time
(NE5532/4s). Electronic switching can be used although
this can give rise to a complex solution.

In this kind of situation the use of make-before-break


switches will avoid open-circuiting a feedback path
which can then give rise to interesting, but unwanted,
sound effects. To give a continuously variable facility, a
customised multiple potentiometer could be considered.
The next design varied the slope of a treble filter,
following the pattern used in the Quad 33 and others,
giving a more comfortable psychological feel. Any
reasonable, low-noise transistor will suit.

Such filters, though often peaking supersonically after


the fall-off, found uses with noisy tapes and broadcasts
as well as records. Alternatively, the frequency of a
steep slope can be switched.

Mains hum and rectification byproducts will invariably


have to be removed. To this end 50Hz and 100Hz (UK)
filters can be useful. The values then chosen for one
circuit can then be easily doubled or halved (paralleled
or put in series). When the output of a filter is fed back
to a node that is normally grounded the notch width can
be varied.

This can be useful when, with temperature drift, f can


vary. The absorption of humidity can increase a
capacitor's value, sealed types do not suffer this
problem. Although there is nothing wrong with 5%
carbon resistors, for best results use low-noise 1%
metal-film resistors and polystyrene, mica,
polypropylene or polycarbonate capacitors for filtering

and equalisation. A low temperature coefficient is


considered vital. With the node tied at close to the same
potential as the output, the notch becomes vanishingly
small and peaking can occur as can oscillation.
The following variable filter was used to subjectively
determine bandwidths before a fixed type was built.

At lower volume levels the perception of lower


frequencies falls off (Robinson and Dadson curves).
Some means of boosting these is often required and
'loudness' switches appeared. These, most often, reduce
the higher frequencies giving the psychological
perception that the bass has been boosted. In most
cases, one or more taps were taken off the volume
control to accommodate differing volume levels,
although simpler arrangements can be found, eg;

and

Again a manufacturer's fixed settings did not necessarily


meet personal needs. This arrangement combines
volume, balance and a variable loudness (NE5532/4s).

Personal preference would place the volume control on


the output. A simpler form is shown below.

A good range of audio filters of a variety of forms have


been designed by T Giesberts appearing in the

magazine Elektor and these are recommended for


study.

Many excellent variable filter designs call for the use of


ganged potentiometers. Dual-ganged types are easily
obtainable. However, those with four or more can be
virtually impossible to obtain. This would be the case if
the above design was required to function in stereo with
infinite attenuation (additional pot on output). Before
embarking on a design that employs, say, quad-ganged
pots research the sources for these and their
replacements. Digital potentiometers can overcome
these issues and others like matching and mechanical
wear.
As noted above, a listening area's acoustic
characteristics can change with the re-arrangement of
the items it contains or, say, when a mobile system is
required to function at differing venues. Reflections,
frequency peaks and 'holes' will occur that cannot
normally be anticipated. For example, the onset of
feedback can be a very distinct variable. To achieve the
best results, some means of dealing with these is
required.
Graphic equalisers are characterised by a large number
of sliders each with a fixed frequency that can be either
cut or boosted. The greater the number of sliders there
are, the greater the number of frequencies that can be
varied and, therefore, the tighter the resolution
becomes. Smaller domestic units can have as few as
five, but will usually consist of one filter per octave and
then have ten per channel. Professional designs will
have filters spaced at half or third octave intervals (28
or more per channel). Obviously the more filters there
are, the tighter the component tolerances (and Q /

bandwidth) must become. The appearance of the front


panel can give rise to the mistaken belief that the
frequency response of a system is then graphically
represented, although this is not the case.
Since the noise from the combined filter stages is
summed, this tends to cancel itself out. Earlier (and
some later) designs used inductors in the filters. The
individual resistance of each of these must then be
taken into account when calculating each filter's
characteristics. Ferrite-encapsulated inductors are
recommended to reduce magnetic coupling, and to keep
crosstalk at relatively high frequencies down to an
acceptable level (<-60dB @ 10kHz). For these reasons,
inductors have largely been superseded by gyrator
circuits, although, as with all filters, a number of diverse
forms exist.

Most commercial designs would employ 4136, 4559,


LM833, etc, opamps although the (10MHz) 4560 was a
good choice for eq. To increase flexibility, more
advanced models can include functions such as input /
output switching to accommodate record / playback, a
bypass switch that allows comparisons between
equalised and flat settings (some designs being able to
reverse, or invert, them), switchable filter gains (say
3dB, 6dB or 12dB) and variable outputs. Others

can include remote control, noise sources, metering


and/or spectrum analyser displays.
If greater care is taken setting up a sound system, for
example professionally, a pink noise source can be used.
In conjunction with a narrow bandpass filter and meter,
equalisation can be applied producing surprising results
with perhaps only a little filtering. Graphic equalisers are
common, but many prefer, as does the author,
parametric types which are felt to offer greater
flexibility. This is because a single frequency that falls
between the filters of a single, half or third octave
graphic equaliser (each being progessively more
complex and expensive than the next), can be found
faster and precisely tuned with a parametric, not only
the gain but also the Q (which determines the
bandwidth) and frequency being adjustable. To achieve
this the 'state variable filter' is often used. A simpler
version for a portastudio.

A more sophisticated system may use filters

and matching tone controls.

With the two circuits shown above, it is ventured that an


adequate solution for a hall or living-room would consist
of up to three filters and one set of tone controls per
channel.
A compact solution that the author favoured for halls,
studios and domiciles was the very excellent Technics
SH-9010 equaliser, shown below.

To prevent feedback, or 'howlaround' which can damage


speakers, in a hall without using delay or frequency
shifting techniques (assuming that sensible
microphone / speaker placement is observed) set up the
system for as flat a response as possible raising the gain
so that when empty the slightest echoing just becomes
apparent. As the hall fills with people, reflections will be
reduced retarding further any onset of feedback.
Alternatively, set up as above, then reduce the system's
overall gain by some 3-4dB. In disco situations there is
sometimes a compulsion to 'crank it to the max'. The
inexperienced are then easy to spot as soon as they
switch on a microphone, with consequent rushed
fumblings and complaints from the audience. True
professionals take the care, time and trouble to never
have feedback.
Contact me at paulkemble@hotmail.com
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