LANGEVIN MINI MASSIVE
From the stables of Manley Labs comes yet another class act.
Text: Calum Orr
If you’ve been anywhere near a mastering suite in the last eight years, chances are you’ve stumbled across a Manley Massive Passive. The ‘Massivo’ (as Manley likes to call it) is well known for its tube topology, its high quality hand-assembled construction and its easy-to-manoeuvre four-band tone-sculpting EQ. The Massive Passive can be counted as one of the world’s most flavoursome stereo parametric EQs – a modern ‘classic’, if you will.
But after years of feedback from customers (and potential customers), Manley concluded that not everyone wanted tube tone, or indeed had the money to fork out for the four-band Massive monster (which retails in Australia for $5899). Hence, a new EQ – dubbed the ‘Mini Massive’ – was born, with fewer EQ bands and a more modest price tag.
“But hang on a minute, isn’t the Mini Massive a Langevin?” I hear you cry. Yes it is. Manley Labs, has owned the Langevin brand for several years, and decided to release the Mini Massive under the Langevin name after initially placing photos of an early prototype on its website under the Manley marque. Both ‘brands’ are made under the one roof in Chino, California; the distinction between the two names being largely a marketing construct, although, broadly speaking, Langevin could be seen as the solid-state subsidiary.
The Langevin Mini Massive is a stereo two-band EQ that shares a similar (solid state) circuit design to its bigger tube-based brother. The Mini’s EQ points are taken from the high and low sections of the Massivo. Saying that, the four lowest bands (22, 33, 46 & 68Hz) have had their circuits re-designed for added fatness and punch, while the top-most bands have been revisited (more on that later). I can say straight off the bat that I never once listened to the Mini and thought, ‘gee I wish there was this frequency or that frequency’. As with the Manley Massive Passive, all the EQ points on the Mini are expertly selected for sculpting of the audio spectrum.
UNDER THE MINI’S BONNET
A big part of the solid state ‘sound’ of the Mini is derived from Manley’s new ‘Rapture’ transformers. And I must confess I found myself in some kind of rapture over the fresh detail and depth I was hearing from my record collection. Fascinatingly, the Mini’s manual notes state: “the Mini Massive came about due to the designer finally finding a solid-state gain stage he liked a lot (it was developed for an A/D converter)”. Interesting… has Manley got something digital up its sleeve perhaps?!
The Mini arrived in an excellent foam-lined box complete with power cord and a quirky printed manual labelled, “Preliminary Index and a few pages need work.” I might have chuckled at the informal labelling, but I found the manual to be a good read with plenty of useable information, ranging from examples of use, to technical articles on EQ.
The Langevin Mini Massive itself is quite different in appearance to anything else Manley Labs has made to date. Striking, space-age, red-anodised knobs that look like they’ve come from an industrial design art expo adorn the Mini’s 1U-high front panel. The fascia is constructed from thick black aluminium and like the ‘Massivo’, the Mini has an open grille at the top to disperse heat. To that end Manley suggests leaving one rack unit of space free above the unit to stop it getting hot under the collar.
Around the back of the Mini are XLR ins and outs, an IEC mains socket and a three-position toggle switch for balanced +4/–10 or unbalanced –10 operation. The review unit was fitted with optional output transformers and consequently has a second three-position toggle switch for selecting two types of transformer output (Iron and Retro) or, indeed, transformerless operation. I guess Manley didn’t want to clutter the front panel with a bunch of ‘set and forget’ switches (i.e., balanced or unbalanced operation), and I know the transformer output option is optional, but after engaging/disengaging the transformer alternatives on different material to great effect many times, I started to wish this control was on the front panel.
Both high and low EQ bands have 11 different (set) frequency positions and a ‘bandwidth’ or ‘Q’ control that is basically the centre of all the fun. This knob on either the high or low bands can offer you varying degrees of dig/spike before your boost/cut. This approach is like a Pultec only better because a) the Mini can do it with shelves; and b) you can vary the degree of ‘Q’ used and hence the shape of the slope and the dig/spike, which is cool.
I just mentioned the Pultec, and like the Massivo before it, the Langevin Mini shares some similarities, but there’s nothing slavish about the homage to recording’s most revered EQ circuit. For example, as mentioned, Manley has redesigned the four highest frequency settings to encompass tighter bell curves. This feature is accessed via the ‘Bell 2’ position. When using the EQ in Bell mode, the bandwidth control can give the user the flexibility of broad or narrow bells in a more conventional parametric EQ kind of way. Manley has also cleverly given bypass controls to both the high and low bands. This bypass switch enables the easy audition/disabling of each band without having to ‘normal’ the settings. There’s also an ‘All EQ Bypass’ switch with accompanying LED that glows red (bypass) and green (on).
The best way to test an EQ is to ‘just go for it’ and get your hands dirty, which is exactly what I did. In my time with the unit the Mini Massive has acted as a tracking, mixing and mastering EQ, and in all circumstance it has excelled. When tracking a mono source, I even fed one side of the unit into the other, transforming the Mini into a ‘Maxi’ of sorts – a four-band EQ that was sheer luxury. In this configuration I had the left side doing some shelving and the right side as bells. The Mini made light work of sculpting every sound I threw at it. I was able to buff up the sound of electric guitars with some sheen and attack while rolling out 10kHz-plus unobtrusively. It removed tubbiness from a kick drum while injecting thump. As a vocal EQ the Mini impressed me big time: broad bell in the 1.2 or 1.8k area, tight-ish dip at either 3.9 or 5.6k, roll off the ultra lows at say 22, 33 or 47Hz and add a hint of air at 12, 16 or 27k – sorted! And I could go on: synths, bass, cymbals… you name it. I could easily find room for two or more Minis in my rack when it comes to tracking or mixing, that’s for sure.
As a mastering EQ the Mini really fills a niche the Massivo can’t cover, i.e., solid state with a different style of sheen. In fact, the flavour is sufficiently different that I can see many mastering houses running both the Mini and the Massivo. The optional transformer output is very appealing as an added tone control with the ‘Retro’ setting really helping hard, digital mixes – ‘Retro’ engages a slight, and very natural-sounding roll-off effect. Sometimes the ‘Iron’ setting (which amounts to transformer ‘on’ but not pushing the signal into the transformer) was just enough to ‘hug’ a track nicely. At various times I also switched the transformer out altogether, particularly when the material wasn’t in need of a helping hand or colour. This ‘transparent’ setting is the Mini’s ‘stock ball’, with the transformer option bypassed. The output transformer can be retrofitted by a qualified tech easily enough, but I’d recommend buying the Mini Massive with it already installed – it’s a powerful feature that you don’t want to be without.
My time with the Langevin Mini Massive was like being sent a genius to your office to do temp work… you’re geniunely sorry to see them go when the fateful day dawns. If you’re a mastering engineer you need to make an appointment to meet the Mini Massive. Meanwhile, if you’ve never used a great analogue EQ before, you owe it to yourself to try out the Mini Massive. Just make sure you’ve got the bucks to buy it, because, like me, you won’t want to give it back!