DACS FreQue II Modulator Processor

I was introduced to the original FREQue at the North American AES show three or four years ago and was thoroughly impressed. The ring modulator-based effect box sounded fantastic. I could not pass up the chance to review the new DACS FREQue II, the next generation FREQue.
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The Newcastle, England based DACS was established by Dr. Douglas Doherty with the goal of manufacturing customized equipment for audio professionals. The company's philosophy is simplicity of operation coupled with the highest audio performance possible. Although I do not have any experience with any other products in the DACS' line, the FREQue II ($1,500) meets these standards without a doubt.
Product PointsApplications: Studio

Key Features: Wide variety of controllable ring modulation effects; balanced I/O

Price: $1,500

Contact: DACS/Independent Audio at 207-773-2424, Web Site, www.independentaudio.com.
I was introduced to the original FREQue at the North American AES show three or four years ago and was thoroughly impressed. The ring modulator-based effect box sounded fantastic. I could not pass up the chance to review the new DACS FREQue II, the next generation FREQue.

Features

The FREQue II is a 2RU, 10-inch deep box and, I must confess, I am not too fond of how it looks. I may be in the minority though, a few weeks ago, a musician (a drummer that is) came in the control room with his jaw wide-open and proclaimed the FREQue II the best looking piece of audio gear ever created. To me it looks more like a Grateful Dead backdrop than a piece of audio gear.

Regardless of your aesthetical opinion, what is on the inside is what counts and at the heart of the FREQue II are two high quality, remarkably smooth sounding ring modulators. These modulators are equipped with two built-in oscillators, CV inputs, internal FM (frequency modulation), and a frequency shifter.

The principle of ring modulation is reasonably simple: the ring-modulated output contains frequencies generated by the sum of, and the difference between, the frequencies of the two inputs. After its rise to sonic fame in the '60s and '70s, ring modulation began to decline in use. This is presumably because the relatively low audio quality of the ring modulators was not compatible with the newer generation of low noise analog, and later digital multitrack recorders.

The FREQue II is optimized for the modern recording process. With a frequency response from 1 Hz to 55 kHz (my dog loves the FREQue II); the box is equipped with fully floating balanced inputs and outputs, an easy to use interface, adjustable input gain and an output mix (Wet/Dry) control.Ê

On the FREQue II's rear panel, an IEC connector accepts a standard IEC cable for power. The box can be set for either 110VAC or 240VAC depending on the position of the fuse holder. A pair of TS 1/4-inch jacks labeled CV1 IN and CV2 IN provides control voltage input. The CV inputs vary the frequency of the oscillator output over the range selected. These inputs can be used with and will combine with any internal modulation. A pair of TS 1/4-inch jacks labeled OSC1 OUT and OSC2 OUT provides outputs from the internal oscillators. These are the outputs from the oscillators as routed to the MOD inputs by the OSC switch after any CV processing.

A pair of TRS 1/4-inch jacks labeled MOD1 IN and MOD2 IN provides modulator input. The MOD input is used to modulate the signal going to the MUS input. The two MOD inputs are autoswitched so if only one jack plug is inserted, both MOD inputs receive the same signal.

A pair of TRS 1/4-inch jacks labeled MUS1 IN and MUS2 IN provide music input. These are the primary audio signal inputs. The manual recommends that both MOD and MUS inputs should be between +2 dBu and +12 dBu. This gives an output approximately equal to the two input signals. A pair of TRS 1/4-inch jacks labeled RM1 OUT and RM2 OUT provides audio output.

The front panel of the FREQue II has identical controls for both channels. The two spectral controls, Weight and Edge (shelving filters) are used to add or subtract weight (bottom end) and sharpen or dull the edge (top end). The Weight control offers ±12 dB @ 6 dB/octave at 30 Hz. The Edge control offers ±12 dB @ 6 dB/octave at 8 kHz. The EQ IN switch activates the Spectral Controls. When activated, an LED is illuminated.

The oscillator controls include Range, Coarse and Fine controls. The Range switch determines the range as .1 Hz - 10 Hz, .3 Hz - 30 Hz, 1 Hz - 2 kHz or 1 kHz - 16 kHz. The Coarse control varies the frequency over the full range and the Fine control over ±5% of the Tune's position.

In addition to the pairs of individual channel controls, additional controls offer extra features. The OSC2 to RM 1 Switch disconnects OSC1 and routes OSC2 to the MOD input of MODule8or 1, allowing the unit to be used as a stereo module with the same effect on each channel. The FM Switch uses OSC1 to Frequency Modulate OSC2. This feature can work in conjunction with external CV input and FREQue. The FM Knob varies the amount of Frequency Modulation.

The real difference between the FREQue II and other ring modulators is evident when the FREQue button is pushed. When engaged, outputs 1 and 2 produce frequency-shifted versions (up and down respectively) of the combined inputs shifted by the frequency of OSC2. Unlike traditional pitch shifting, the FREQue button shifts each spectral element of the inputs by a number of Hz and not by a fixed pitch.

In Use

The best way I know to describe the FREQueII is extreme ring modulation on steroids. The first few times I put the box to use it was fairly slow dialing in a usable setting, but once I got the hang of it I was able to get up and running in a relatively short amount of time. The box works best when taking sonic manipulation to the extreme and although the results can be particularly diverse, they all have the same character so it is not something that will work in every song.

The box works wonders with drums, percussion and loops. I often work with programmers who use stock samples from the standard loop CDs. With little effort, the FREQue II can alter a recognizable loop into a new creation that will not sound like the loops on everyone else's album. I also had great results creating my own loops by running a stereo mix of a drum kit through the FREQue II and then chopping up the resulting audio into 1 and 2 bar pieces in Pro Tools.

The box also works well with individual drums/percussion sounds. By setting the internal oscillators to the 3rd range, I was able to produce massive subharmonics on the kick drum. I also had good results setting the internal oscillators to the 3rd or 4th range to add a gritty sparkle to the hi-hat. I used the same setting on a shaker track and then panned the unaffected signal to one side and the FREQued signal to the other to create a stereo shaker. This setting also worked well on drum kit overheads.

Although my best results were with drums and percussion, I also found the FREQue II worked well with bass guitar (I was able to create a huge bottom end on a track that sounded like it had been recorded with the bottom end rolled all the way off) and vocals. By running a background vocal submix through the FREQue II I was able to create a sound that was a cross between a Nord Lead and a vocal ensemble.

Summary

The FREQue II is the best ring modulator I have ever heard. However, it is in no way a catch-all effect box. Even with its extreme power to twist, shape, transform and mutilate a sound, it most likely will not be a box that gets used on every tune. Although when it is right for a tune, it will take a production to a level never thought possible.