© 2012 Pan60
EQSM1 Company: S&M Interview with Jeff Pan60  Jeff, let me start by saying thank you for taking the time for the interview. And a double-thanks for allowing the 'Pan60's Top Secret Mad Lab' the chance to check this EQ out! This thing looks righteous!             Before we get into the EQ, please tell me a bit about yourself. As always, I want to know what got you interested in the audio industry. Jeff       I started out as a musician, playing drums and guitar.  I never thought about engineering until the band I was playing in, at that time, recorded its first record.  I decided to go to college to become a recording engineer and that's where I met my partner in S&M Audio, Jake Swanson.  I got hired at the college after I graduated, and Jake worked there, too.             I started to engineer more and more records and was getting frustrated that I couldn't afford the gear that I wanted...go figure.             One day, I was talking with Jake, and he felt the same frustration. So, we decided to build a simple, but great sounding EQ, just for us.             I didn't exactly have an electronics background, like Jake did, so I started building different pre amp and compressor kits. Things snowballed from there. We didn't think about selling the EQ until our friends started asking to buy them.     pan60   What other hobbies do you have outside the industry?  Jeff       As far as hobbies (other jobs) go, I own a recording studio in Minneapolis called the Sound Gallery and I try to engineer as many records as my schedule allows.  I play drums in two bands and guitar in another.  Basically, my life is music, music, music.  I also enjoy camping and snow boarding. pan60   Basically music, music, music. : )~ It sounds like me. It is so awesome to know that so many of the engineers I get a chance to chat with, happen to be musicians.             So, as a studio owner, and engineer, you obviously have your likes and dislikes regarding the modern DAW, assuming you prefer (at least to some degree), outboard gear.  Tell us, are you a console mixing engineer, an ITB DAW engineer, or a mixture of both? Jeff       I do enjoy outboard gear!  Having a good and versatile front-end to your DAW is really important.  I like to color things on the way into Pro Tools...and in the mix as well, if needed.  I use a mixture of both.  I prefer to mix on a console, but I don't think it will make or break every record.  With that said, even if I am mixing in Pro Tools. I usually mix stems and sum them through a console.  pan60   Aside from guitar and drums, do you play any other instruments? Jeff       Sometimes I think I can play the piano, but I really want to play pedal steel. pan60   As a musician, do you find it more or less difficult to be an engineer? Jeff       I think being a musician is vital to being a good engineer, or at least understanding music theory.  Music is a language you need to be able to communicate with your clients. pan60   I agree. Being a musician helps, but, man, there are times when I really have to bite my tongue: )~ Do you have a favorite style of music? Jeff       I know it's vague, but I listen to all styles of music. pan60  I have a passion for swing jazz, blues, funk rock... Yeah, I guess I just love music, as well. It's hard not to: )~  Tell us about the EQ. Jeff       With all the pre amps in the 500 series market, we thought that an obvious first piece for us would be an EQ.  Basically, we wanted it to be a very straightforward, great sounding and functional piece that met a certain price point. We wanted it to be more of the "musical" or "colorful" variety, as there are plenty of "surgical" or "precise" EQ's included in almost any DAW.  Within the restrictions of the 500 series format, mostly with face plate real estate, it was difficult to make a fully parametric EQ work.  Because of that, there were a few sacrifices we had to make such as Q control and sweepable highs and lows. It was the only way to get it all in one slot and still make it easy to manipulate efficiently in the studio.             What we ended up with is the EQSM1.  It's a four band EQ with selectable hi and low shelves and sweepable/semi parametric mid bands. We feel that this combination was the most useful, universally.  For some, it might seem limited, but it's not meant to be an all- in-one (full-featured) equalizer. pan60   Let's chat about component choices and quality.  Why did you two choose the products you chose and what role do they play in the sound you were looking for? Jeff       It definitely seems to be the trend in equipment manufacturing in the past few years to create warmth and texture with analog equipment.  Not as many people rave about completely transparent pieces of gear, although they definitely have their place.  Most people are looking for something with "mojo" or "character".  From a design stand point that is very difficult. You tend to try to push the limits of creating something that performs sonically perfect, imparting nothing (or as little as possible) on the audio. That line of thinking had to be set aside through the design process.  Again, with the thought that we didn't necessarily need to be worried about complete sonic integrity, we were more shooting for a "vibe". Because of this, we spent time using our ears and experimenting with different components, rather then getting out the AP every time we tried a new cap type.             We tried a few different op amps, different capacitor types, and different resistor types.  We ended up using what we found to translate into the most universally usable equalizer, one that would impart its sound on the material, but still be versatile enough to work on lots of sources. pan60   Jake is welcome to chime in here as well. I love the knobs. Are they custom made? Jeff       Thanks.  We have the knobs custom machined from solid aluminum rods. The indicator is laser etched as is the faceplate.  They are made for us by a guy who lives in the country, off a scary gravel road…seriously. pan60   Is there a model you had in mind (as to sound), when you and Jake decided to make the EQSM1? Jeff       We wanted to stick with what we knew. Jake and I have spent years working on SSL, Trident, TAC/AMEK, and Otari consoles.  It was a logical transition to take what we liked from those designs and refine them to meet our tastes.  For example, we liked the distortion/dirt of the TAC/AMEK and Trident console EQ's, and the accuracy of the SSL. Vintage gear can be hit or miss. Two vintage units of the same make and model can sound completely different. We do make sure that every EQSM1 sounds consistently the same. pan60  What makes the EQSM1 your own design, and not a clone? Jeff       The EQSM1 is a combination of two different traditional EQ circuits. The mid bands are variable state filters with a set bandwidth and the high and low shelves are essentially baxendall circuits with selectable frequencies.  In short, the EQSM1 is our version of ‘tried and true’ filter circuit designs commonly used in products ranging from pro audio to guitar amps. pan60   Jeff, please add any of your thoughts where you see fit. Also, get me some specks we can place with the review. Jeff       I will forward you our spec sheet ASAP. pan60   Jeff what is the MSRP and what do you feel street is on the EQSM1? Jeff       The MSRP is $795, and the street price is $575.  The EQSM1 is available through Vintage King Audio as well as direct from us at www.sandmaudio.com. pan60   As an engineer, where do you feel the EQSM1 excels, or shine at its best? Jeff       The EQSM1 is designed to be good on everything, an all-purpose EQ.  That said, everyone is going to have a different opinion about what it excels on.  I love it on bass, distorted bass, drums, guitars, and synths.  I like them on vocals too, but I prefer something with a sharper Q.              The EQSM1 has a very distinctive color.  It's definitely not surgical, but it isn't as dirty as you would think.   I love the high shelf (8k) on snare.  It adds a really smooth bite that I haven't gotten with any other EQ I have ever used.  pan60   Okay, here are some of my thoughts on the S&M  EQSM1 - Let me start with my three pet peeves: (1) The company and its service, (2) the build and component choices, and (3) last, but not least, the sound!             Well, first and foremost, I want to know that any company I am doing business with will be there for me, with top shelf service when needed.  S&M Audio is new to this market, so we have to accept that we can only offer the consideration, S&M Audio will be there for you, the customer. I can say, from my prospective, Jeff has been a saint to work with, and I have immensely enjoyed the opportunity, and time I have been given!             Feel free to comment here as we are at your mercy, so to speak. Jeff       Thanks Pan, right back at you.  Customer service is a vital part of any company.  We make sure every customer is taken care of the way we would want to be taken care of.  pan60   So, on to the build... This unit looks great with good component choices. Also, let me add, the board looks nice and clean. Much cleaner than a lot of stuff I have seen. Thumbs up!             I do want to note the mounting holes are a bit wide. It’s nothing major, and Jeff mentioned there would be a correction, so I am good with that.  As an affects tool, I liked the EQSM1 enough to get it, so I will enlarge the holes a bit and move on.             Let me again add, for the record, there are units with much wider hole spacing, and no one seems to notice or be bothered by it.  Jeff has assured me these issues have been corrected, I would not be too concerned. Jeff      You are correct, we have changed the hole spacing of the mounting holes. The previous spacing worked, but it was a tight fit in some 3rd party racks.  We want our modules to work with every rack.  pan60   The concentric pot did feel a bit tight, and when adjusting the gain or cutting, the frequency selection knob did move a few times. But, after some use, things loosened up, and I have not seen this since.  If I could ask for one thing it would be an LED on the IN selection in order to indicate whether the unit was engaged or not.             On to the sound: )~  As most of us know, state-variable filter designs can tend to be plagued with a couple of audible characteristics, characteristics that can be difficult to overcome if great care is not taken. When the state variable filter design is implemented correctly, it does have quite the following, and justifiably so.  The S&M EQSM1 has followed a historical path laid down by many great console makers that have come before.              This, the EQSM1, will appeal to a large group expecting that very mojo.  I have no plans to try and do any kind of comparison with this EQ and any other, except with which I have already stated.  Why?  Well for one, I just do not like doing the tit-for-tat type of comparisons, and two, I feel any good solid piece of gear should be able to stand on its own.  No crutch needed.              I will say the S&M EQSM1 delivers the tone and vibe I would expect by this type of filter design, and I like it!  It did not trip my trigger on everything, but most gear does not.  The EQSM1 would not be my first choice for vocals, or many acoustical instruments, but then again, that would very much depend on other variables as well.  Variables such as, what am I going for, my pre choice, the room, and on and on and on.   I would not view the S&M EQSM1 as a surgical EQ either, but I do not need, nor do I want, a rack full of surgical only EQs.  Sometimes I want some mojo, or a particular vibe.             The mojo or vibe is just what will make the S&M EQSM1 welcome in a great number of racks and/or lunchboxs.  I loved the S&M EMSQ1 on electric guitar (a lot), bass, and drums.  For me, this type of filter brings a vibe to the table, one of which I view very much as an effect, an effect as much as an EQ.  The vibe for guitar and bass, is more than enough to justify the cost of admission. Enough so I will be buying this one.             As with any piece of gear, you really need to try it for yourself. We all have different tastes and expectations.  The S&M EQSM1 now has a home amongst my many prized 500 format gear. It is here to stay: )~  I am very glad to see, and welcome, yet another EQ to this, the 500 format. Watch for new gear from S&M Audio! My lips are sealed so don't ask.   Jeff, Jake, keep up the good work guys! Jeff       Thanks Pan! pan60 Jeff 


Audio News, Audio Reviews, Audio Equipment
Send Emails and inquiries to: pan60@pan60.com