Ashly Audio has stepped onto the scene with the new Protea digital EQ. This is Ashly’s first digital product in its 25-year history. Six different units are being manufactured; a two- and four-channel version with a screen, two- and four-channel faceless or slave units and two- and four-channel parametric slave versions for install applications.
Product PointsApplications: Install; live sound
Key Features: 28 bands of EQ; 4 channels of selectable compression; easy use interface
Contact: Ashly Audio at 800-828-6308.
+ Sound quality
+ Simple learning curve
+ No-glitch performance
– Power button in rear
The Score: Monitor systems, FOH and installations can all benefit from the this EQ.
At the head of the line, the Protea 4.24G is a four-channel standalone unit with a keypad and an LCD screen. The install version (4.24GS) is similar to the 4.24G, sans LCD screen or keypad. The 4.24GS operates as a slave with the 4.24G serving as the master visual unit.
Another option provided by Ashly is the 4.24RD, which is a portable remote unit that lets the user control up to 16 Protea models. The 4.24RD ($899) permits the user to be 1,000 away from the equalizers and controls them through two microphone cables. This portable unit has the face and controls of the 4.24G but contains no audio-related ports. A two-channel slave (faceless) unit, the 2.24GS ($1,199), is also available.
I tested the 4.24G ($2,599 list), a four-channel unit that takes up two rack-spaces and weighs in at around 10 lb. Its four channels of EQ provide more faders for the dollar than other equalizers. (Ashly also offers a 4- and 2- channel version, the 4.24 PS for $1,899 and the 2.24 PS for $1,199 -Ed.)
At the heart of each of these units is a 24-bit A/D and D/A converter. Motorola supplied the Digital Signal Processing (DSP), which governs time-delay, limiting, high- and low-pass filtering and equalization.
A handy keypad on the front panel controls the Ashly Protea 4.24G. Four bank buttons allow access to MIDI channels 1 through 16. These banks control four MIDI channels, each complete with a corresponding LED. Just to the right, are channel buttons 1 through 4, which control the prevailing EQ curve on-screen.
Ashly has provided channel linking, allowing the low number channel to control one or more of the other three. Doing so is a simple process – holding multiple channel buttons down for a matter of a few seconds. Each channel button is surrounded by three LEDs. One displays which channel is active, a second is a red LED for channel mute and the third is a dual-color LED that denotes signal present and clipping.
Further to the right on the keypad display are the five menu keys, which are similar to the menu (soft) keys on the familiar OmniDrive. The keys line up with onscreen labels to further dive into the Protea.
By pressing the menu key that corresponds to the label on the screen, a new window appears relating to the button pushed. The labels (top to bottom) are: EQ, Cmp/Lim, Limiter, HPF/LPF and Delay. Beside each label an In or Out is displayed, showing the user the particular feature is being used or not.
Eight general operation keys are on the far side of the main view screen. From left-to-right, top-to-bottom: Help button, Esc, Recall, Save, Flat, Copy, In/Out and Mute; all are instant access.
This is no ordinary digital EQ. With the EQ Menu button pressed, each of the 28 bands onscreen is accessible via the softkeys below the main viewing area. Each band has a boost or cut of 15 dB and a Q of 3.2.
Another row of 28 softkeys below the EQ bands enables the user to name or number the settings within the Protea. Once you get the hang of it, entering a few names can be done quickly. The limiter offers the usual popular features as threshold, ratio and attack.
A dual bargraph meter shows up within the limiter window screen to display gain reduction and output level. The limiter also can be switched for pre or post EQ operation. Within all these menu windows, modifications are made using the keys below the respective parameter. The High Pass Filter (HPF) and Low Pass Filter (LPF) are two 24 dB filters fully adjustable from 22 Hz to 19 kHz.
The delay features allow instant adjustment to each channel of the EQ. Delay time is shown in milliseconds at the top of the screen as well as being in terms of distance in meters and feet. The fifth button of the menu keys is labeled “more” and takes the user to new windows: metering, userprefs, MIDI and security features.
The metering window presents input and output displays for all four channels of EQ. Ashly suggests keeping input at 0 dBu for best possible signal-to-noise. General controls such as userprefs, MIDI and security have easy-to-understand windows to configure the Protea for permanent installs or daily use at live events.
The help button brings up a dictionary for the labels on the front panel. A list of topics can be scrolled through, allowing the user to figure out the use of a particular feature. This is helpful when the manual is not in sight. A save button asks the user for one of 127 spots to save the settings and then asks you to name the preset.
Moving to the rear, the usual setup of balanced XLR input and outputs are available. Additionally, Ashly provides balanced 1/4″ input and output connectors. Proper wiring must be maintained for proper use and can be determined by reading the manual.
To control multiple Protea units, Ashly provides MIDI connections. Data In and Data Out ports (3-pin XLR) are provided to control the 4.24RD remote unit. In conjunction with Ashly Protea software, a RS-232 serial data port allows a computer to manage Protea.
Unfortunately, Macintosh OS software is not available, but Windows 95 and 98 are supported. This software, as well as any upgrades, are free downloads from the Ashly Web site. The software also comes packaged with any purchase of a slave unit.
In my experience, this four-channel unit is one of the superior-sounding digital equalizers on the market. I would easily compare it to the T.C. Electronic 1128, the Klark Teknik digital EQ (DN-3600) or the analog version (DN-360). During swaps from the Ashly to a DN-360, I only noticed miniscule differences in sound quality. The Ashly had a barely noticeable edge to its overall tone and the width of the Ashly filters seemed to be slightly wider.
Products like the Ashly Protea will move the rest of us into the future of audio with digital equalization and digital control.
(After PAR received the Protea for testing, Ashly began manufacturing the Protea System II, a redesign of the original Protea Series with additions and improvements suggested to the company from the field. The model numbers remain the same. New features include a redesigned DSP chain with Motorola 100 MHz DSP and 24-bit A/D-D/A converters; dynamic range is now 110 dB; hum and noise is <-90 dBu. Contact Ashly for more details. -Ed.)