The Maselec MEA2, first introduced in 1996, has become a fixture in many top mastering houses worldwide. The design has been upgraded steadily through its history, culminating in the current iteration.
The latest model offers both tactile and electronic improvements; the changes include a heavier and darker-colored faceplate, metal knobs, faster I/O amplifiers of wider bandwidth, improved LF filters, extended dynamic range, a full-bypass mode, and filters which effectively remove themselves from the circuit when set to 0 dB. The unit offers a formidable range of settings and takes on a shape-shifting ability to change its personality according to the task at hand. In a digital plug-in world, where the words “precision,” “mastering” and “equalizer” have become somewhat loosely defined, the analog MEA2 proves itself impressively in all three of those categories.
The MEA2 is a four-band, dual-mono unit with completely independent left and right channels. Each band comprises 21 frequencies, 21 steps of boost/cut ranging from +/- .5 dB to 8 dB, and six settings for Q or bandwidth. The frequency range runs from 19 Hz up to 27 kHz. Each of the four bands includes a shelf, which makes for some interesting possibilities in setting up dueling shelves at varying frequencies. The values for Q are listed as 4, 6, 9, 14 and 20, but are not so easily quantified due to the design’s asymmetric filter shapes. For example, a Q of “4” at 435 Hz yields about a 2.5 octave range on either side of the bell, while at 8 kHz the range might be one octave on either side. The actual Q value also varies with the amount of boost or cut.
End to end, the device offers a dynamic range of 117 dB and a harmonic distortion spec of .0006 percent with all filters engaged. These are very impressive specs for any device, no less one with the MEA2’s flexibility. The filters are of exceptionally high quality. Designer Leif Masses states that every filter position was listened to individually and optimized by ear for sound, not for hitting a specified numerical target. The minimalist, transformerless output buffer design utilizes two op-amps per channel run in parallel to keep impedance low. The topology avoids the poor response to reactive loads that some transformerless designs can exhibit. The output is highly stable, free from under and overshoot. The input buffer is a ground-floating design, which has the advantages of a transformer input and the accuracy of a transformerless front end.
The designer states that the new model uses a circuit innovation which effectively reduces a filter’s contribution to the signal to nil when set at 0 dB making hard-bypass of the individual bands unnecessary. There are illuminated individual hard-bypass buttons for each channel. Connections are balanced in and out. The unit appears very well built and feels solid to the touch.
Because of the large number of frequency and Q settings offered on the MEA2, there is a rather steep learning curve to this beast. Each filter position has its own tonality. It took a few months of use before I really had an intuitive feel for the device, but the time spent getting to know my way around was well rewarded. There are EQs that, like a certain type of person, greet you right off the bat with a glad hand and a friendly demeanor, telling you what you want to hear, but whose company wears thin in the long run.
By contrast, there are those individuals whose first impression might seem a little stoic and matter-of-fact but, over time and through all kinds of weather, earn your trust and admiration to become a life-long friend. To stretch a metaphor, the MEA2 falls in the latter category; the MEA2 does not seem to have a particular character or color of its own, but it is adept at taking on a broad range of characters. It can do everything from lean and mean to full and gentle, while spanning the range with robust quality and transparency.
My first project with the MEA2 was the mastering of Freddy Cole’s 2011 release, Talk To Me. Freddy’s voice is still one of the most resonant and engaging around, with an unmistakable family resemblance to that of his older brother, Nat. Vocal projects are a particularly good test of an EQ’s mettle because the human voice is so familiar and easily exposes any loss of naturalness and emotional effect when mishandled in a recording. The mixes, by engineer Katherine Miller, were the usual very high-quality level of her work. I patched the MEA2 into a loop of my two existing EQ units. After setting the MEA2 for a +.5 dB bell at 572 Hz, a +.5 dB bell at 2.4 kHz, and lift of 1.5 dB at a HF shelf at 19 kHz, the sound took on a richness, presence and air that was undeniably appealing. There was no need to do anything else. I was surprised by how immediate and compelling the presentation became from just a few small touches with this equalizer.
As time went on and I gained more experience the MEA2, it gradually took center stage as my go-to EQ. It played especially well with the Dangerous BAX EQ. Between the two of them, there seemed to be no challenge they couldn’t handle as a team. The MEA2 is especially impressive in the low frequencies where it can turn out a result with depth and gut-hitting punch. This proved especially effective on a recent country-rock single from Eric Durrance and Tobacco Road, an up-and-coming band out of Tallahassee. The MEA2 turned in a result with a deep, clear low end, warm present vocals, and sparkling guitars and drums. In addition to shaping frequency balance well, the unit seems to impart a quality associated with big-name, high-budget projects when the mixes have that potential.
During the course of the review period, I deployed the MEA2 over a broad scope of genres and artists, ranging from indies to established names such as Madeleine Peyroux and James Carter, with consistently successful results as gauged by comments from the artists and producers. This device, in my opinion, deserves its place alongside the most revered and respected mastering equalizers. It is truly a precision mastering equalizer in every sense. If the front panel says +.5 at 862 Hz, you will see exactly +.5 dB at 862 Hz on an accurate meter. The MEA2 is mastering-grade because there is virtually no audible loss of signal integrity due to noise, distortion or excessive phase shift. It is truly a universal equalizer in its ability to shape sound at will with versatility and finesse, without imposing a sound of its own.
Price: $6,999 list
Contact: Prism Sound | prismsound.com
NYC-based mastering engineer Alan Silverman is a two-time Grammy nominee in the Album of the Year category for mastering.